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Towards Understanding the Quran
With kind permission: Islamic Foundation UK
Introduction to Tafheem | Glossary | Verbs
Other resources: Maarif | Dawat 

 Surah Al-Isra 17:78-79 [9/12]
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Verse Summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ٱلصَّلَوٲةَthe prayer,
لِدُلُوكِat the decline
ٱلشَّمْسِ(of) the sun
غَسَقِ(the) darkness
ٱلَّيْلِ(of) the night
وَقُرْءَانَand Quran
ٱلْفَجْرِ‌ۖat dawn,
قُرْءَانَthe Quran
ٱلْفَجْرِ(at) the dawn
مَشْهُودًاever witnessed.
وَمِنَAnd from
ٱلَّيْلِthe night
فَتَهَجَّدْarise from sleep for prayer
بِهِۦwith it
نَافِلَةً(as) additional
لَّكَfor you;
عَسَىٰٓit may be
يَبْعَثَكَwill raise you
رَبُّكَyour Lord
مَقَامًا(to) a station

اَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ لِدُلُوۡكِ الشَّمۡسِ اِلٰى غَسَقِ الَّيۡلِ وَقُرۡاٰنَ الۡـفَجۡرِ​ؕ اِنَّ قُرۡاٰنَ الۡـفَجۡرِ كَانَ مَشۡهُوۡدًا‏  وَمِنَ الَّيۡلِ فَتَهَجَّدۡ بِهٖ نَافِلَةً لَّكَ ​ۖ  عَسٰۤى اَنۡ يَّبۡعَـثَكَ رَبُّكَ مَقَامًا مَّحۡمُوۡدًا‏ 
(17:78) Establish Prayer91 from the declining of the sun92 to the darkness of the night;93 and hold fast to the recitation of the Qur'an at dawn,94 for the recitation of the Qur'an at dawn is witnessed.95 (17:79) And rise from sleep during the night96 as well- this is an additional Prayer for you.97 Possibly your Lord will raise you to an honoured position.98

91. The Muslims have been commanded to establish Salat immediately after the mention of obstacles and adversities. This implies that the perseverance required to face adverse circumstances is obtained by the establishment of Salat.

92. We have translated the words of the Arabic text into “the declining of the sun.” Though some of the companions and their followers are of the opinion that it means “the sunset”, the majority of them are of the opinion that it means “the declining of the sun from its zenith.” Umar, Ibn Umar, Anas bin Malik, Abu Barza-tal-Aslami, Hasan Basri, Shaabi, Ata, Mujahid and, according to a tradition, Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them all) are of this opinion and Imam Muhammad Baqir and Imam Jaafar Sadiq also are of the same opinion. Besides this, there are some traditions from the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the same effect, though they are not so authentic.

93. According to some, the original words of the Arabic text mean “darkness of the night”, while others take it to mean “midnight”. If the first opinion is accepted, it will imply “the beginning of the time of the salatul-isha, the isha prayer” and according to the other it will mean “the last limit of the time of salatul-isha.”

94. The literal meaning of the word fajr is dawn, that is, “the beginning of the morning after the darkness of night.”

Here the “recital of the Quran in the morning” stands for the salatul-fajr, the morning prayer. At some places the Quran has used the word salat for prayer and at other places a particular part of salat for prayer as a whole, e.g. tasbih, hamd, zikr, qayam, ruku, sajud etc. Likewise, here “recital of the Quran at dawn” does not mean the mere recital of the Quran but its recital during the salatul-fajr. Thus, the Quran has also incidentally referred to the different parts of which salat is composed and these guided the Prophet (peace be upon him) to prescribe the definite form of salat in which it is performed by the Muslims.

95. The recital of the Quran at dawn is witnessed by the angels of Allah to testify it as has been explained in the traditions. Though the angels witness each prayer and each good deed, the special mention of their being witnesses at the time of the recital of the Quran during the salatul-fajr gives it a particular importance. That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to recite long passages from the Quran during the salatul-fajr. His example was followed by the companions, and the succeeding Muslim scholars held it to be a desirable thing. In this verse, it has been briefly stated how to establish salat which was made obligatory at the prescribed timings on the occasion of Miraj. It has been ordained that the first prayer is to be offered before the sunrise and the remaining four after the declining of the sun till the darkness of the night. Afterwards Angel Jibril was sent to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to define the limits of the timings of each prayer. According to a tradition of Abu Daud and Tirmizi related by Ibn Abbas, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Jibril led me in the five prayers twice near the Kaabah. On the first day, he offered the Duhr prayer just after the declining of the sun, when the shadow of everything was the shortest. Then he offered the Asr prayer when the shadow of each thing was equal to its own length, then the Maghrib prayer at the time when one breaks hiss fast, and the Isha prayer was offered just at the time when twilight had disappeared, and Fajr prayer at the time when it becomes unlawful to eat and drink anything for the one who intends to observe a fast. The next day he offered the Dhuhr prayer at the time when the shadow of each thing became equal to its own length and the Asr prayer when the shadow had doubled. The Maghrib prayer was offered as on the previous day and the Isha prayer when one third of the night had passed away, and the Fajr prayer when light had spread all over. After this Jibril turned towards me and said: O Muhammad, these are the timings of salat of the Prophets and the right tunings are between these two extreme limits.

The Quran has also pointed to these five times of Salat on different occasions:

(1) And listen; establish salat at the two ends of the day and in the early parts of the night (Surah At-Tauba, Ayat 114).

(2) And glorify your Lord with His praise before the sunrise (Fajr) and before sunset (Asr) and then glorify Him during the night (Isha) and then at the ends of the day (Fajr, Dhuhr and Maghrib). (Surah Taaha, Ayat 130).

(3) So glorify Allah when it is evening for you (Maghrib), and when it is morning (Fajr). Praise is only for Him in the heavens and the earth and glorify him in the later part of the afternoon (Asr) and in the afternoon (Dhuhr). (Surah Ar-Room, Ayats 17-18).

There is great wisdom in this system of the timings of salat. One of these is to avoid the timings of the worship of the sun worshipers. This is because the sun has always been in every age one of the greatest deities of the mushriks, who worshiped it especially at the time of sunrise and sunset. Therefore, these two times have totally been forbidden for salat. Besides this, they worshiped the sun at the time of its zenith. That is why Islam has ordained that the Muslims should offer their two prayers during the day time after the sun has declined and the Fajr prayer before the sunrise. The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself has stated this wisdom of the timings of prayer in several traditions. For instance, in the tradition related by Amar bin Abasah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have replied to a question to this effect: Offer your morning prayer, but refrain from it when the sun is about to rise until it has risen high. For the sun rises between the horns of Satan and the unbelievers fall prostrate before it at that time.

Then after mentioning the Asr prayer, he said:

After Asr prayer, refrain from any prayer until the sunset, for during that time the sun sets between the horns of Satan and the unbelievers fall prostrate before it.

The rising and the setting of the sun between the horns of Satan is a symbolic expression that has been used in this tradition. This implies that both these times are used by Satan as temptations for the people. This is, as if to say: that Satan is so pleased with the worship of the unbelievers at the time of sunrise and sunset that he appears to carry the sun on his head as a mark of approval. This interpretation of the tradition is based on this remark of the Prophet (peace be upon him): The unbelievers fall prostrate before it.

96. The literal meaning of tahajjud is to rise up by breaking sleep. Therefore, it means: Rise up from sleep after the passing of a part of night and then offer your prayer.

97. Nafl literally means: Something done in addition to an obligatory duty. This shows that the tahajjud prayer is in addition to the five prescribed prayers.

98. “Will raise you to an honored position”. You may attain such a high position in this world and in the next world that people from everywhere may be full of praise for you, and you may become a praiseworthy personality. This is, as if to say: Now your opponents are engaged in calling you names and are trying to defame you throughout the country, and have raised a storm of false accusations against you but that time is not far when the world will ring with the echoes of your praise and in the Hereafter you will become worthy of praise by all creatures. The exaltation of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the high position of intercession on the Day of Resurrection is also a part of that honored position.