What is the ‘Ṣalātul-wusṭa’ – the ‘middle’ prayer that is mentioned in the Qur’ān?
- The ‘Ṣalātul-wusṭa’ that is mentioned in the Qur’ānic verse, is the middle prayer or mid-afternoon prayer, ‘aṣr.
- While it has long been acknowledged that there are alternative views reported that it may relate to other designated prayers, the weight of evidence in totality supports the view that it is the ‘aṣr.
The word ‘wusṭa’ [وُسطى] is derived from wa/sa/ṭa [و/س/ط], denoting the middle, the centre. The verse in question that details this is to be found in the second chapter of the Qur’ān (al-Baqara), 238:
حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَىٰ وَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ قَانِتِينَ
Attend constantly to prayers and to the middle prayer (ṣalātul-wusṭa) and stand up truly obedient to Allah.
Commenting in general on the verse, al-Qurṭubi says in his Tafsir [Vol. 1, (English), p. 617]: ‘The command is in the plural, directed at the entire community. The verse is a command to persevere in performing the prayers at their correct times with all their preconditions. Safeguarding implies constancy in a thing and perseverance in it. The ‘middle’ of something is the best and most balanced part of it. Allah uses the terms in another place in the same way when He says: In this way, we have made you a middlemost community [2: 143].’
There are several authentic (Ṣaḥīḥ) Prophetic traditions (aḥādith) which specifically report the Prophet peace be upon him explaining that the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ is the ‘aṣr prayer. These are narrated upon the authority of several leading companions, including Ali and Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with them. Imām Abu Ja’far Muḥammad ibn Jarir al-Ṭabari provides an exhaustive overview of these traditions in his Tafsir [Vol. 4, pp. 342/375]. He cites over fifty narrations of varying authenticity, including the aḥādith to substantiate the ‘wusṭa’ as being the ‘aṣr prayer. He concludes this analysis by saying: ‘The most correct view in relation to that stems from the narratives from the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him that we mentioned previously in relation to its interpretation, namely that it is the ‘asr (prayer)’ (p. 372).
Ibn Kathir provides quite a comprehensive summation of the companions, their successors (Tābi’in) and other scholars who followed thereafter, all of which concurred upon the view that the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ relates to the ‘aṣr prayer. He writes in his Tafsir [Vol. 2, pp. 647/648]:
It was said: it is the ‘aṣr prayer, according to the majority of the scholars among the Companions and other than them, as al-Tirmidhi and al-Baghawi said, may Allah have mercy on them. Al-Qādi al-Māwardi said, it is the view of the majority of the scholars of the Tābi’in. Al-Ḥāfiz Abu Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Barr said that this is also the opinion of the majority of the scholars of reports (al-athar). Abu Muḥammad ibn ‘Atiyah said in his Tafsir, it is view of the majority of people. Al-Ḥāfiz Abu Muḥammad Abdul Mu’min ibn Khalaf al-Dumyāti stated in his book entitled: ‘Khasaf al-Mughaṭṭa’ fi Tabyeen al-Ṣalātul-usṭa,’ and we insist that it is the ‘aṣr prayer, as reported from Umar, Ali, Ibn Mas’ud, Abu Ayub, Abdullah ibn ‘Amr, Samurah ibn Jundub, Abu Hurayrah, Abu Sa’eed, Ḥafṣa, Umm Ḥabiba and Umm Salama. And (also) from Ibn Umar, Ibn ‘Abbās, ‘Aisha, upon Ṣaḥīḥ from them. ‘Ubaydah, Ibrāhim al-Nakha’i, Razin, Zirr ibn Ḥubaysh, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, Ibn Sirin, Al-Ḥasan, Qatādah, al-Ḍaḥḥāk, al-Kalbi, Muqātil, ‘Ubayd ibn Abu Maryam and other than them said it. It is the school (madthab) of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal. Al-Qādi al-Māwardi said, and al-Shāfi’i. Ibn Munthir said It is authentic from Abu Ḥanifah, Abu Yusuf and Muḥammad. And Ibn Ḥabeeb al-Māliki decided upon it, may Allah have mercy upon all of them.
In al-Muḥalla, Ibn Ḥazm undertakes a detailed review of the varying opinions that have been advanced to claim that the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ is other than the ‘aṣr prayer, accompanied by his customary refutations upon each. Concerning those that claimed every prayer could be designated as ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’, he writes: ‘This is not permissible because Allah the exalted specified this as being an attribute of a (designated) prayer. It is not lawful to make this upon more than one (prayer) and not upon other than what Allah the exalted has intended. Doing so what would attributing a lie to Allah the exalted after the proof has become established’ [Issue. 505, Vol 3, p. 172].
Following this, Ibn Ḥazm details some of the clearest authentic narrations to substantiate that the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ is the ‘aṣr prayer. He writes:
Concerning the intention behind Allah the exalted designating the ṣalātul-wusṭa, it is obliged to adhere to that which is elicited from the statement of the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him and not from other than him. He the exalted said: ‘That you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them’ [16: 44]. Hence, we looked in relation to that and we found that it is narrated to us:
حدثنا عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله ثنا إبراهيم بن أحمد ثنا الفربري ثنا البخاري ثنا عبد الله بن محمد هو المسندي وعبد الرحمن ثنا يحيى بن سعيد هو القطان وقال المسندي: ثنا يزيد، ثم اتفق يزيد ويحيى قالا: أنا هشام هو ابن حسان عن محمد بن سيرين عن عبيدة السلماني عن علي قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يوم الخندق: شغلونا عن الصلاة الوسطى حتى غابت الشمس، ملأ الله قبورهم وبيوتهم – أو أجوافهم نارا
Abdur-Raḥman ibn Abdullah narrated to us Ibrāhim ibn Aḥmad narrated to us al-Farabry narrated to us al-Bukhāri narrated to us Abdullah ibn Muḥammad he is al-Musnadi and Abdur-Raḥman narrated to us Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed, he is al-Qahṭān narrated to us and al-Musnadi said: Yazeed narrated to us, then concurring (with) Yaḥya and Yazeed, they said: Hishām, he is Ibn Ḥassān narrated to us from Muḥammad ibn Sireen from ‘Abida al-Salmāni from Ali, he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said on the day of Khandaq: They have prevented us from offering the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ till the sun had set, may Allah fill their houses and graves with fire – or their bellies with fire.
حدثنا عبد الله بن يوسف ثنا أحمد بن فتح ثنا عبد الوهاب بن عيسى ثنا أحمد بن محمد ثنا أحمد بن علي ثنا مسلم بن الحجاج ثنا محمد بن المثنى ثنا محمد بن جعفر وابن أبي عدي قالا: ثنا شعبة قال: سمعت قتادة عن أبي حسان هو مسلم الأجرد عن عبيدة السلماني عن علي قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يوم الأحزاب: شغلونا عن الصلاة الوسطى حتى آبت الشمس، ملأ الله بيوتهم وقبورهم نارا
Abdullah ibn Yusuf narrated to us Aḥmad ibn Fatḥ narrated to us Abd-al Wahāb ibn Esa narrated to us Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad narrated to us Aḥmad ibn Ali narrated to us Muslim bin al-Ḥajjāj narrated to us Muḥammad ibn Muthanna narrated to us Muḥammad ibn Ja’far and Ibn ‘Adi narrated to us they said: Shu’ba narrated to us he said I heard Qatādah from Abu Ḥassān, he is Muslim al-Ajrad, from ‘Abida al-Salmāni from Ali he said: the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said on the day of al-Aḥzāb: They have prevented us from offering the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ till the sun had set, may Allah fill their houses and graves with fire.
This is the wording of Ibn ‘Adi, in the wording of Muḥammad ibn Ja’far: ‘their graves,’ or ‘their houses,’ or ‘their stomachs with fire.’
حدثنا يحيى بن عبد الرحمن بن مسعود ثنا أحمد بن دحيم ثنا إبراهيم بن حماد ثنا إسماعيل بن إسحاق ثنا محمد بن أبي بكر المقدمي ثنا يحيى بن سعيد القطان وعبد الرحمن بن مهدي ثنا سفيان الثوري عن عاصم بن أبي النجود عن زر بن حبيش قال: قلت لعبيدة: سل عليا عن الصلاة الوسطى فسأله، فقال: كنا نراها صلاة الفجر، حتى سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول يوم الأحزاب: شغلونا عن الصلاة الوسطى صلاة العصر، ملأ الله قلوبهم وأجوافهم أو بيوتهم نارا
Yaḥya ibn Abdur-Raḥman ibn Mas’ud narrated to us Aḥmad ibn Duḥaym narrated to us Ibrāhim ibn Ḥammād narrated to us Ismā’il ibn Isḥāq narrated to us Muḥammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Miqdami narrated to us Yaḥya ibn Sa’eed al-Qahṭān and Abdur-Raḥman ibn Mahdi narrated to us Sufyān al-Thawri narrated to us from ‘Aāṣim ibn Abi al-Najud from Zirr ibn Ḥubaysh he said: I said to ‘Abida: Asking Ali about the ṣalātul-usṭa, he said: We saw it as being the ṣalatul-fajr, until I heard the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him saying on the day of al-Aḥzāb: They have prevented us from offering the ṣalātul-usṭa – ṣalātul-‘asr, may Allah fill their hearts, bodies (or) their houses with fire.
Ali (Ibn Ḥazm) said: It is also reported from the channel of Ḥammād ibn Zayd from Aāṣim ibn Bahdala from Zirr from Ali ibn Abi Ṭālib from the Prophet peace be upon him. And it is also reported from the channel of Muslim from Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shayba, Zuhayr ibn Ḥarb and Abu Kareeb, they said: Abu Mu’āwiya narrated to us from al-‘Amash from Abu al-Duḥa from Shuteer ibn Shakl from Ali from the Prophet peace be upon him. Shuteer is a Tābi’ and is trustworthy (thiqa). His father was one of the companions and he heard from him from Ali. It is also reported from (other) channels. Hence, this is a demonstrable report that cannot be departed from and it is the statement found from the majority of the salaf.’ [al-Muḥalla, Vol 3, pp. 173/174].
In the round, the weight of evidence, particularly the authentic (Ṣaḥīḥ) clarifying aḥādith from the Prophet peace be upon him, supports the view that the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa’ is the ‘aṣr prayer. These authentic ḥadith are reported across the major collections, including Bukhāri and Muslim, as well as the Sunan collections of Abu Dāwud, Tirmidhi and al-Nasā’i.
May Allah grant us all the presence of mind to guard strictly all prayers, especially, the ‘ṣalātul-wusṭa.’