Misconception regarding the Asr prayer time
As indicated in the title of the present article, the problem is how to determine Asr time. It is commonly understood that Asr time corresponds to the position of the sun, such that the length of the shadow of an object is:
- equal to the length of the object (Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali'), or
- equal to the twice length of the object (Hanafi).
The above rules are according to the hadith of Prophet Muhammad PBUH as narrated by Jabir ra about the time of prayers. If someone with no equipment to mark the time (no watch or clock), how can he determine the time of Asr? Is it sufficient for him to go out and bring with him a stick and measure/compare the stick length and its shadow length? When he finds the length of the shadow is equal to the length (or twice length) of the stick, can he then pray Asr? Further question is which shadow length should he pick? One time or two times?
The short answer to this question is that no, it is not sufficient. It is mainly due to at noon, for most of the time there is shadow, see Misconception Regarding the Duhr Prayer Time. As indicated in the linked article that even in Makkah, the shadow at noon varies between 0 (in summer) to 1 time (in winter) of the object length throughout the year.
Based on this fact (i.e. even in Makkah, the shadow at noon varies between 0 to 1 time of the object length) and the understanding of the hadith narrated by Jabir ra, the differ rules for different madzahib (either one time or two times shadow) actually can be compromized. Taken Makkah as study case, which is the place where Islam was propagated from. In summer, since the shadow at noon is 0, then the Asr should start when the shadow equal to its object length. In winter, since the shadow at noon is already one time of the object length, then the Asr should start when the shadow equal to two times its object length.
Furthermore, we should note that the shadow at noon is actually the shortest shadow in the day. This is valid for Makkah and also valid for other places. Therefore, we can generalize the method to determine Asr time for other places by saying that Asr time starts when the shadow length is equal to the length of the object plus the length of the object's shadow when the sun is at its zenith (at noon).