Taking note of the Shia and Sunni traditions that have been passed down to us, the Prophet (PBUH) would both combine the Dhuhr and Asr, and the Maghrib and Isha prayers, as well as pray them separately.
The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) would at times combine the prayers in order to make it easy for the people.
Imam Sadiq (PBUH) has stated: “The Prophet of God, without any particular excuse, performed the Dhuhr and Asr, as well as the Maghrib and Isha prayers with one Adhan and two Iqamah.”
Performing prayers in five times is not obligatory, because when the infallibles practice something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wajib; it can mean that it is wajib, mustahabb or just simply permissible. To say that something they have done is wajib calls for a separate reason than just the fact that they did it.
Before conveying the response, it’d be constructive to explain about prayer times (specific and mutual):
The beginning of the time for the fajr prayer is when the night ends and the twilight in the east of the sky moves upwards and slowly spreads out into the sky. The end of the time for the fajr prayer is when the sun rises. At this time, the fajr prayer’s time has ended and the fajr prayer becomes qaza. [i]
As for the dhuhr and asr, and maghrib and isha prayers, each have an exclusive and a shared time:
The exclusive time for the dhuhr prayer is from dhuhr time (the beginning of the sun’s decline at midday) till the time that one needs to pray four rak’ats of prayer; this time only belongs to the dhuhr prayer and one cannot perform the asr prayer at this time (for example, if it takes a person five minutes to pray four rak’ats, then the exclusive time for the dhuhr prayer would be from dhuhr till five minutes).
The exclusive time for the asr prayer is the time needed for four rak’ats left till sunset.
The shared time of the dhuhr and asr prayers is from the end of the exclusive time of the dhuhr prayer till the beginning of the exclusive time of the asr prayer. In this time span, one can pray the two prayers one after another immediately.
The exclusive time for the maghrib prayer is from maghrib time till the time it takes to pray three rak’ats and in this period, one must only pray the maghrib prayer.
The exclusive time for the isha prayer is the time needed to pray four rak’ats before midnight [in Islamic terms, midnight differs from 12 o’clock midnight and there is a specific way for calculating when it is; sometimes it may fall before 12 midnight and sometimes after]. In this period, only the isha prayer must be performed.
The shared time of the two is from the end of the exclusive time of the maghrib prayer till the beginning of the exclusive time of the isha prayer; in this time both prayers can be perfomed.
Meanwhile, the Sunni school of thought maintains that from dhuhr time (the decline of the sun at midday) till the time when the shadow of things reaches their respective lengths, is the exclusive time for the dhuhr prayer and the asr prayer cannot be performed in that time span. The time for the asr prayer extends from then on, until the time for the maghrib prayer and the dhuhr prayer cannot be performed therein. Maghrib prayer can only be performed from sunset till the time when the redness in the west of the sky disappears, and from then on belongs to the isha prayer, until midnight [the same explanation given above about midnight in Islamic terms applying here as well].They deny the permissibility of combining the Dhuhr and Asr and the Maghrib and Isha prayers. However, while in the state of travel or in peril or in the instance there is rainy weather, they consider combining the prayers in one time permissible and they perform the prayers just as the Shias do.
While the Shias believe that Dhuhr and Asr can be prayed at dhuhr time at one time while observing their respective orders—meaning that there is no problem in praying Dhuhr and Asr consecutively, just as with Maghrib and Isha.
The Sunni reasoning is that according to hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) would put distance between the Dhuhr and Asr prayers. However, according to the Shia this is a tradition and performed tradition cannot be used to establish that the act is obligatory, because when the infallibles practice something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wajib; it can mean that it is wajib, mustahabb or just simply permissible. To say that something they have done is wajib calls for a separate reason than just the fact that they did it
Shias, apart from not accepting the claim of the Sunnis, have proof for their own claim. The proof of the Shias are the narrations indicating that the Prophet combined the Dhuhr and Asr prayers.
Some of the Sunni narrations regarding this:
Ibn Abbas has said: the Prophet of Islam prayed seven rak’at together and also prayed eight rak’at together.
Saeed ibn Jubayr has quoted Ibn Abbas as saying: The Prophet of Islam, without being in a state of danger or a state of travel, prayed Dhuhr and Asr and Maghrib and Isha together. He asked Ibn Abbas about the wisdom behind combining the prayers, which he answered: The Prophet wanted there to be no hardship and difficulty for his followers.
In a narration, the reason why the Prophet combined the two prayers was inquired, to which Ibn Abbas replied: The Prophet has done this for ease and discount on his nation. Malek and Ahmad ibn Hanbal have recorded these narrations in their books as well.
In addition to these, there are many narrations by the Imams (PBUH) in this regard.
Imam Sadeq (PBUH) has said: “When the sun begins its decline at midday, the time for the Dhuhr and Asr prayers has come, except that the Dhuhr prayer is before the Asr prayer.
There is no doubt that the Prophet of Islam would perform the prayers at three times and would say: “I do this so that my nation can be comfortable.” Imam Sadeq (PBUH) has stated in this regard: “The Prophet of God (PBUH) performed Dhuhr and Asr and Maghrib and Isha with one Adhan and two Iqamah, without having an excuse.”
Imam Sadeq (PBUH) elsewhere has stated: “The Prophet of God, absent an excuse, prayed Dhuhr and Asr at one time. Umar asked the Prophet: Has something new been found in prayer? The Prophet (PBUH) replied: “No, nothing new has come regarding prayer, however I wanted to provide my nation with ease.”
In conclusion it is important to note that based on these proofs Shia scholars only attest to the permissibility of establishing prayers three times a day. Otherwise, there is no argument against praying five times a day being better and we are well aware of this. The permissibility of praying three times a day does not mean that it is obligatory to pray three times a day. 817