At times we join our prayers and most frequently exercise this option during travel, but are there further scenarios where this can be done?
First, let us display the source Prophetic tradition on this topic and then examine its applications.
"The Prophet prayed in Madinah seven and eight, Thuhr and Asr then thereafter Maghrib and Isha." Agreed upon from the Hadith of Ibn Abbas.
And within a wordage, "He joined between Thuhr and Asr then thereafter between Maghrib and Isha, within Madinah, due to neither fear nor rain. It was said to Ibn Abbas, 'What did he mean by that?' He stated, 'He meant for there to not be a burden upon his nation.'"
And within a further wordage, "Due to neither fear nor travel."
Whilst scholarship holds solidarity in the purpose of this legislation being to lessen burden and difficulty, scholarship differs with regard to the application of this Prophetic tradition.
Within this body we find varying views:
1. This act is a figurative joining and not an actual joining of the prayers.
2. It is lawful to join prayers when there is valid reason.
3. It is lawful to join prayers without reason so long as this is not taken as normative practice.
As for the first, how can joining be figurative and not actual? One joins or does not, right? Not necessarily. This is the idea of delaying one prayer to the end of its time whilst praying the succeeding prayer at the onset of its time.
The premise for this is citing a Hadith then connecting it to our source Hadith as an explanation of its meaning.
That Hadith presents, "I prayed with the Prophet Thuhr and Asr joined as well as Maghrib and Isha joined. He delayed Thuhr and expedited Asr. He delayed Maghrib and expedited Isha."
This Hadith is collected by an-Nasa'i and, interestingly, has also been reported by Ibn Abbas. This Hadith speaks to joining prayers in a specified fashion and has the same narrator as our source Hadith. Scholarship then reasons this Hadith to be Ibn Abbas explaining the application of our source Hadith. We find a similar Hadith reported from Ibn Umar.
This view is debated with the reasoning that specifically delaying a prayer until its end time and praying the following prayer at its onset can create challenge and defeats the purpose of this Prophetic tradition, lessening burden and difficulty. One may also question the validity of whether the second Hadith of Ibn Abbas is actually an explanation of the first. It is possible for these two to be separate occurrences.
Next we have the most popular view amongst scholarship, joining prayers can be done but should not be done without valid reason.
This is substantiated by the specific and general reasoning provided in or understood from the source Hadith. The specific reasons being fear, rain, illness, and travel, while the general reason is any situation requiring burden to be lessened.
This is easy to rely upon as Ibn Abbas is specifically asked the reason as to why the Prophet joined the prayers and provided the answer of lessening burden.
This view can be debated with the reasoning that while these reasons are clearly stated within the Hadith, we do not have a reason directly from the Prophet, rather the action was left open by him without reason.
This thought serves as an excellent segue into the third view, joining prayers is lawfully open without restriction. Again, this is due to the Prophet himself not specifying reason for the action and leaving the action unrestricted.
Whilst there is a maxim that the statement of the Prophet bears precedence to his action, there is also a maxim that his action bears precedence to his statement. So the understanding is that the Prophet left the reasoning for joining prayers open, hitherto we also do the same.
This maxim is substantiated by the companions' action on the Day of Hudaybiyah when they withheld from sacrificing their camels after the Prophet instructed them to do so until he sacrificed his camel first, as an example and model, after Umm Salamah encouraged him to do so. They withheld as they were unsure whether the Prophet had exited Ihram or remained within Ihram at that time, yet once he performed the sacrifice, they were certain of what to do.
This view is debated by merit of the fact that the reasons to join prayers are explicitly mentioned by Ibn Abbas within the Hadith, and the understanding of the companions is precedent to those who succeed them.
So within this discussion, we can extract justifications to join our prayers beyond solely travel, such as fear, inclement weather, illness, and burden in general.