HOURS OF PRAYER. The terms “Hours of Prayer” and “Canonical Hours,” being used in the Christian Church (see Johnson’s Engl. Canons and Canons of Cuthbert, ch. 15), we shall consider under this title the stated periods of Muslim prayer. [PRAYER.] They are five: (1) Fajr فجر, daybreak; (2) Zuhr ظهر, when the sun begins to decline at midday; (3) ‘Asr عصرmidway between the zuhr and maghrib; (4) Maghrib مغرب, evening; (5) ‘Isha عشاء, when the night has closed in. According to the Traditions (Mishkt, book xxiv. ch. vii. pt.1), Muhammad professed to have received his instructions to say prayer five times a day during the Mi’raj, or the celebrated night journey to heaven. He said, God first ordered him to pray five times a day, but that Moses advised him to get the Almighty to reduce the number of canonical hours to five, he himself having tried fifty times for his own people with very ill success!
It is remarkable that there is but one passage in the Qur’an, in which the stated hours of prayer are enjoined, and that it mentions only four and not five periods Suratu ‘r-Rum, xxx 15, 17: “Glorify God which it is evening (masa), and at morning (subh), and to Him be praise in the heavens and in the earth – and at afternoon (‘ashi), and at noon-tide (zuhr).” But al-Jalalu, the commentators say all are agreed that the term, “when it is masa” (evening or night), includes both sunset and after sunset, and therefore both the maghrib and ‘isha prayers are included.
Three hours of prayer were observed by the Jews. David says, “Evening, morning, and at noon will I pray.” (Ps. lv. 17.) Daniel “kneeled upon his knees three times a day.” There three hours of the Jews seem to have been continued by the Apostles (ss Act iii 1), and were transmitted to the early church in succeeding ages, for Tertullian speaks of “those common hours which mark the divisions of the day, the third, sixth, and ninth, which we observe in scripture to be more solemn than the rest.” (De Orat., c. 25.) And Clement of Alexandria says, “If some fix stated hours of prayer as the third, sixth, and ninth, the man of knowledge prays to God throughout his whole life.” (Stom. I. vii. c. 7, sect. 40) Jerome says, “There are three times in which the knees are bent to God. Tradition assigns the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour.” (Com. In Dan., c. vi. 10.)
In the third century there seems to have been five stated periods of prayer, for Basil of Cappadocia speaks of five hours as suitable for monks, namely, the morning, the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, and the evening (Regulæ fusius Tract. Resp. as Qu., 37, sections 3-5.)
It is therefore probable that Muhammad obtained his idea of five stated periods of prayer during his two journeys to Syria. But he changed the time, as will be seen from the table annexed, which was drawn up by Mr. Lane at Cairo, and shows the times of Muslim prayer with the apparent European time of sunset, in or near the latitude of Cairo at the commencement of each zodiacal month:-
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam