Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: I was asked this question by a friend and don’t really know the answer. Why was the first prayer prayed after the Prophet’s ascent (mi`raj) Zuhr and not Fajr?
Answer: As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
We pray this reaches you in the best of health and imaan.
There is no clearly-stated reason in the primary sources of Islam as to why Dhuhr was the first official congregational prayer after the Night Journey, and not Fajr. However, scholars over the centuries have proposed various explanations as to the wisdom behind this.
A narration in the Musannaf of `Abdur Razzaq explicitly tells us that Gabriel (peace be upon him) visited the Prophet (peace be upon him) on the morning after the Night Journey in which the five daily prayers had been made an obligation. The Companions were gathered at Dhuhr, and Gabriel showed the Prophet (peace be upon him) the exact timings, postures, order and number of cycles of each prayer by praying with him, while the Prophet (peace be upon him) immediately taught the same to the Believers by leading them in prayer. This continued for each prayer over two days till the obligatory prayers were learned and established.
Does this mean that Fajr that morning was not prayed at all, and because of that, Dhuhr was the first prayer?
Allamah Binnori says in his commentary on Sunan al-Tirmidhi:
“Some claimed in regards to the descending of Gabriel (peace be upon him) during Dhuhr rather than for the Fajr prayer… that the Prophet (peace be upon him) slept through Fajr, and so Gabriel did not descend… this claim is a great mistake and the one who opined this got mixed up…
Our Shaykh said, ‘The reason for starting with Dhuhr, in my view, is that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) already used to pray Fajr and `Asr before the obligation to pray the five daily prayers, so it wasn’t as critical to start by teaching the Fajr prayer. Some scholars even opined that Fajr and ‘Asr had been obligatory even before the Night Journey, and many Qur’anic verses have indicated towards [the early emphasis on] these two prayers…” [Binnori, Ma’`rif al-Sunan]
Hence, this opinion tells us that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not miss Fajr that morning, but that he prayed it in the way he was usually would, namely by himself, but since Dhuhr was being introduced for the first time to the Ummah, Gabriel was sent to demonstrate and enjoin it first out of the five obligatory prayers to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Muslims.
Others who did not necessarily hold that Fajr and ‘Asr were obligatory before the Night Journey have opined that although the five prayers had been announced as an obligation the night before, the Fajr of that day was not obligatory on the Muslims since the timing and the way of praying it had not been revealed to them, nor were most Muslims even aware of the obligation at that early hour in the morning right after the Night Journey, and so if the instruction had not been conveyed, there was no moral responsibility on them if they didn’t pray it. [al-Mubarakpuri, Sharh Mishkat]
Ibn Hajar in his commentary on al-Bukhari cites Qadi `Iyad’s view that the obligation of prayer on the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Muslims was indeed announced on the Night Journey, but since it was dependant on the news being publicized, the obligation on the entire Ummah only came into effect after the first group prayer was performed and everyone was made aware if it. [Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]
Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari tells us a fourth viewpoint, perhaps the most beautiful:
“Because there is a sense of secrecy or hiddeness at the time of Fajr [since most people were asleep], if the announcement had occurred at that time, there would be no sense of bold manifestation like there was in Dhuhr; with its symbolizing that the Prophet’s religion (peace be upon him) would likewise boldly manifest itself over all other religions, the time of Dhuhr is manifest and apparent [in broad daylight] over all the other prayer timings. But the obligation of performance is dependant on the knowledge of how to perform an act, and that couldn’t have happened except at Dhuhr [when everyone could be informed]…” [al-Qari, Sharh Mishkat]
Practically speaking, it would have been difficult to gather the Muslims at such an early hour and explain the significance of the previous night’s events, since Muslims could not worship very freely in those times and many were slaves or Muslims in secret. Also, in an age without lights and lamps, to teach the prayer by example in the dark would have been unduly challenging. This way also left Fajr to be taught last, as it is usually the most challenging to attend since one must sacrifice one’s sleep to stand before Allah.
Hence, as Imam Alusi said in his tasfir, the entire incident was commanded in the chapter on the Night Journey [al-Isra] in the Qur’an:
“And establish the prayer [O Prophet, peace be upon him] after the sun has fallen from its zenith [Dhuhr then ‘Asr], until the dusk of the night [Maghrib then ‘Isha], and [establish] the recitation at Fajr – indeed the Qur’an recited during Fajr is witnessed!” [17:78]
May Allah Ta’ala keep us firm on our daily prayers and accept them, Ameen!
-Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani