Summary of the Rules Concerning the Prayer of a Traveller
The well-known custom of the people is that when a person intends a journey, he gathers what he needs of provision and preparation (e.g. he collects food, clothing, puts petrol in the car, or purchases a train ticket, etc), then he leaves the limits of his town―so when he looks behind him, he sees the buildings and dwellings of his hometown― and he sees that he is out in the open (a motorway, or desert, or forest, etc)― so in that case he (or she) is considered a traveller.
This would explain why Anas Ibn Mālik (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) would shorten the prayer to two rak’ahs at a distance of three miles or three farsakhs.” (Read) ―meaning that the Prophet (ﷺ) left his city intending a journey, and when he was out in the desert with the city of Madinah behind him, and the Prayer time had begun, he would pray shortened―even if that was only a short distance from Madinah.
Introduction and various views:
Living in the UK, USA, Canada, etc, Muslims are often faced with questions as to what constitutes a journey that entails shortening and combining prayers, and allows the obligatory fast to be broken. Sometimes, these questions arise because towns and cities have expanded such that there is no longer any countryside or open land between towns. Furthermore, many Muslims are unsure about the distance they must travel before they are considered travellers according to the Sharee’ah. These rulings also affect women since they are required by the Sharee’ah to travel along with a male chaperone (mahram) on their journeys. So let us begin by offering a summary of the rulings, followed by a more detailed discussion:
1. A journey is that wherein one intends to travel 80 kilometres (km) or more from their hometown. It makes no difference whether this travelling is by walking, cycling, riding, driving, aeroplane, or ship. It does not matter whether it is difficult or easy. (Ibn Bāz, Al-Fawzān)
2. The alternative to this view is the customary practice (Arabic: ‘urf) of a particular land as to what defines a journey. In some countries, the custom maybe less than 80 kilometres, whereas in other countries it may be much more than that. (Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn ‘Uthaimeen, Al-Albāni, Muwaffaqud-Deen Ibn Qudāmah) People of some lands regard travel out of the home-city to be a journey, and others see exiting the region to be a journey. The point being, that a journey is what the people call a journey, and regard it to be such. (Al-Albāni) This position neither fixes a distance nor a time period and is a strong position that is given a distinct heading at the end of this article (See Part Ten). It is strongly advised that you read it.
3. In a country where the people differ over the custom (‘urf) that defines for them a journey, then one should stick to the limit of 80 kilometres which is proven by certain narrations and is the saying of a large body of scholars. (Ibn ‘Uthaimeen)
4. When one intends a journey of 80 kilometres or more, then they are considered travellers once they have left the buildings of their town behind them. This is known to people when they enter into open land or countryside and they see their town dwellings behind them. (Ibn Badrān Al-Hanbali)
5. Where townships merge together over time such that there is no open country (or desert) between them, then walking or driving between one and the other is not considered a journey. (Ibn ‘Uthaimeen)
6. The journey which allows one to shorten the prayer, combine it and break the fast is the journey that is permitted, and not one taken in order to commit sins or to disobey Allah. A journey wherein one intends to commit sins (drinking alcohol, robbery, fornication, etc) or bid’ah, then it is not allowed to shorten the prayers on such a journey. (Ibn Balbān Al-Hanbali, Al-Fawzān)
7. It is the Sunnah for the traveller to shorten all the four-rak’ah prayers to two rak’ahs. Additionally, he is allowed to combine between Dhuhr and ‘Asr, and between Maghrib and ‘Ishā. Fajr must be prayed at its correct time. Maghrib remains as three rak’ahs.
8. If a traveller prays behind a resident in a congregation (jamā’ah), then he must pray the full pray without shortening. (Ibn Balbān, Al-Fawzān)
9. Once a traveller reaches his destination and has the intention to stay there for a fixed time that exceeds four days, then he no longer shortens or combines his prayers. Rather he prays just as a resident prays (full prayers), even though he is not in his hometown. (Al-Fawzān, Ibn Bāz) However, the saying that there is no limit to how long a person is a traveller is a very compelling position supported by proofs. See Part 10 below from Ibn ‘Uthaimeen.
10. If a traveller reaches his destination and intends to stay there for less than four days, then he shortens for the whole period. And he is may combine the prayers. (Ibn Bāz)
11. If a traveller reaches his destination and does not know how long he will stay because his return home is connected to him accomplishing his purpose of travel, then he is to shorten for as long as he is there, even if that amounts to months or years. And he is allowed to combine. (Ibn Bāz, Al-Fawzān) This is a situation where someone travels for medical treatment or trade, etc., so his intention is to return when he has finished from his need, whether it be a week or a year.
12. A traveller shortens his prayers on the route to his destination and he is allowed to combine the prayers. (Ibn Bāz)
13. A traveller who arrives back to his hometown is not allowed to shorten his prayers once inside the town limits because he is no longer a traveller. This is the case even if he was travelling (for example) during Dhuhr, and entered his hometown before ‘Asr. In this case, he must pray four rak’ahs for Dhuhr.
14. There are no Sunnah prayers to be prayed alongside the obligatory shortened prayers except for the two before Fajr, and the Witr prayer in the night.
15. If a person was in his home at Dhuhr time, then left out from the city upon a journey without praying Dhuhr first, then he should pray four rak’ahs for Dhuhr even though he is now travelling. But at the time of ‘Asr, he prays two rak’ahs. That is because he was a resident at the time Dhuhr started, but a traveller at the time ‘Asr started. (Al-Fawzān)
Part One: Shortening Prayers Is An Established Sunnah For The Traveller
Al-Wazeer Ibn Hubayrah Al-Hanbali (d. 560H) stated, “The scholars are agreed that is it legislated to shorten the prayer whilst on a journey.”  Ibn Hajr (d. 852H) stated that Qasr (to shorten) in religious terms means to shorten a four rak’ah prayer down to two rak’ahs. 
Ibn Qudāmah (d. 620H) stated, “The shortening of the prayer has its origin in the Book, the Sunnah and Ijmā’ (consensus). As for the Book, it is in the saying of Allah,
وَإِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌ أَن تَقْصُرُوا مِنَ الصَّلَاةِ إِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَن يَفْتِنَكُمُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ۚ – 4:101
‘And when you travel throughout the land, there is no blame upon you for shortening the prayer, [especially] if you fear that those who disbelieve may disrupt [or attack] you.’ (An-Nisā 4:101) Ya’lā Ibn Umayyah said, “I mentioned to ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb the verse, ‘There is no blame upon you for shortening the prayer, [especially] if you fear that those who disbelieve may disrupt [or attack] you.’ But now the people are in safety?” He replied, “I too had the same concern you had so I asked Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) the same question. He answered, ‘It is a charity that Allah has bestowed upon you, so accept His charity.’” 
As for the Sunnah, the narrations from Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) are numerous leaving no doubt (mutawātirah) that he would shorten his prayers whilst on a journey whether during Hajj, Umrah or on campaigns. Ibn ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhumā) stated, “I accompanied Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) on his journeys till he died, and he never exceeded beyond two rak’ahs. I accompanied Abu Bakr till he died, and he never exceeded beyond two rak’ahs. Likewise was the case with ‘Umar and ‘Uthmān.”  Ibn Mas’ood (radiyallahu ‘anhu) said, “I prayed two rak’ah alongside Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), and two rak’ahs alongside Abu Bakr, and two rak’ahs alongside ‘Umar. Then you people differed in your opinions. I would love that the two of my four rak’ahs were accepted by Allah.”  Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said, “We travelled along with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) to Makkah and he prayed two rak’ahs (shortening the four-rak’ah prayers) until he returned. We remained in Makkah for ten days shortening the prayers until we had returned (to Madinah).” 
The scholars have agreed (Ijmā’) that the one who is on a journey shortens the prayers as he (ﷺ) did during Hajj, Umrah, Jihād (etc) — that a person shortens the four rak’ah prayers down to two.” This consensus was also reported by Ibn Mundhir, Ibn Hazm and An-Nawawi. 
Abu Haneefah (d. 150H) held it is obligatory that the four rak’ahs are to be shortened to two rak’ahs, and this is attributed to Mālik Ibn Anas also. They took this understanding from the hadeeth of Ā’ishah (radiyallahu anhā) who said, “The prayer from the outset was two rak’ahs, then it was increased for the resident, and remained as two for the traveller.”  ‘Umar said, “The prayer on a journey is two rak’ahs, the Jumu’ah prayer is two rak’ahs. These are complete, not shortened upon the tongue of your Prophet.”  Ibn Abbās (radiyallahu anhumā’) stated, “Indeed Allah has obligated the prayer upon you by the tongue of your Prophet: for the resident four (rak’ahs) and whilst on a journey two (rak’ahs).” 
The majority of the scholars hold that the shortening of the prayer whilst on a journey is an established and preferred Sunnah, it is better and more virtuous, but not an obligation. This was the saying of Mālik (d. 179H), Shāfi’ee (d. 204H) and Ahmad (d. 241H). This is due to saying of Allah, “There is no blame upon you for shortening the prayer.” Ash-Shāfi’ee said, “The words, ‘There is no blame upon you’ is not used except in terms of allowance (not obligation) as in saying of Allah, ‘There is no blame on you if you seek the favour of your Lord.’ (2:198) And His saying, ‘There is no blame on you if you divorce your wives.’ (2:236)” They also utilise the hadeeth of Ya’lā Ibn Umayyah cited above wherein the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “It is a charity that Allah has bestowed upon you, so accept His charity.” The scholars are agreed (Ijmā’) that when a traveller prays behind a resident who leads the prayer with four rak’ahs, then the traveller also prays four rak’ahs behind him and not two.
As for the distance before one can shorten, Ash-Shawkāni makes the point, “The ruling upon the least distance before one can shorten the prayers also applies to what is more than that.” More on the distances later in this article.
Part Two: A Known and Intended Destination
Al-Wazeer Ibn Hubayrah Al-Hanbali (d. 560H) stated, “The scholars agree that if a person travels from his home without intending any particular destination then he is not to take the allowance (of shortening his prayers).” 
The scholars have stated, “If a leader of a troop leaves out searching for the enemy but he does not know where he will find them (i.e. he doesn’t know his destination). In this case, they continue to pray the full prayer (without shortening) whilst they are travelling away from their residence, even if that lasts a long time. However, on their return back home they shorten their prayers, even if the journey lasts a long time.”  That is because, on their return, they have a destination in mind. And this was not the case when they left out.
Part Three: Combining the Prayers is Allowed
It is allowed for the traveller to combine his prayers. Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallahu ‘anhu) said, “When the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) set out on a journey before the sun declined (from noon), he delayed the Dhuhr prayer till the ‘Asr prayer. He would dismount from his ride and combine them, but if the sun had declined before his setting out on a journey, he observed the noon prayer and then mounted his ride.”  Mu’ādh Ibn Jabal (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) stated regarding the campaign of Tabook, “If he set off before the sun had declined (from noon), he would delay the Dhuhr prayer until he would combine it with the ‘Asr prayer and would offer them combined. However, if he set off after the sun had declined, he would combine the Dhuhr and ‘Asr prayers, and then he would proceed on his journey. And, if he set off before the Maghrib prayer, he would delay the Maghrib prayer and would offer it along with the ‘Ishā prayer. However, if he set off after the Maghrib prayer, he would offer the ‘Ishā prayer earlier and offer it along with the Maghrib prayer.” 
Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyallahu ‘anhumā) said, “Allah’s Messenger combined Dhuhr and ‘Asr, and also Maghrib and ‘Ishā (while resident in Madinah) — and we were not in fear (of attack) and it was not raining.” In a narration, he said, “And we were not in fear (of attack) and were not on a journey.” When Ibn ‘Abbās was asked about that, he replied, “He did not want hardship for his Ummah.”  This hadeeth is a proof used by the scholars to allow combining of the prayers in times of need such as rain and other adverse weather conditions, and also whilst travelling.
Aslam (rahimahullah) said: While I was with ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar on the way to Makkah, he received the news that Safiyyah bint Abu Ubayd (his wife) was seriously ill, so he proceeded at greater speed, and when the twilight disappeared, he dismounted and offered the Maghrib and ‘Ishā prayers together and said, “I saw the Prophet (ﷺ) delaying the Maghrib prayer and combining it with the ‘Isha when he was in a hurry on a journey.” [15a]
The combining of the prayers should be done so that there is only a small gap between each of the prayers. The person makes the tasleem at the end of the first prayer, then calls the iqāmah and prays the second prayer. The scholars understand this from the fact that the purpose of combining (al-jama’) is to combine two prayers as if they are one, and the meaning of the term al-jama’ is to bring something close. [15b]
Part Four: The Distance At Which The Prayer Is Shortened
Imām Muhammad Ibn Badr Ad-Deen Ibn Balbān Ad-Dimashqi Al-Hanbali (d. 1083) stated, “It is a Sunnah to shorten a four rak’ah prayer whilst on a long journey that is permissible to embark upon. The traveller upon his return home prays the full prayer for any prayers he has to make up. And the one who has embarked upon a journey after the prayer time has begun must still pray it in full even when travelling.”
It is established in the Sunnah that the Messenger (ﷺ) would shorten the prayers on all of his journeys from the time he left until he returned. Allah (the Most High) stated:
وَإِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْكُمْ جُنَاحٌ أَن تَقْصُرُوا مِنَ الصَّلَاةِ – 4:101
“And when you travel throughout the land, there is no blame upon you for shortening the prayer…”
Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb asked the Prophet(ﷺ), “Why should we shorten the prayer whilst we are in a state of safety?” The Prophet (ﷺ) responded, “It is a charity from Allah that He granted upon you, so accept from Allah His charity.” (Reported by Muslim). The Prophet would shorten the prayer on all his travels even in a state of security and safety. This ease and allowance continues for this Ummah until the Day of Resurrection. The reason is that a journey brings about hardship in most cases and there occurs in a hadeeth that it is a portion of punishment. And there is a narration that states, “Indeed Allah loves that His allowances are taken just as He hates that His commands are disobeyed.” There is also a hadeeth of Ā’ishah (in Bukhāri and Muslim) which states that in the beginning the prayer was prescribed as two rak’ahs each, and it remained as such for the traveller, except for the Maghrib prayer, and it was increased for the resident.
The length of journey that requires one to shorten the prayer is a journey of two marhalah. One marhalah is a journey of a day’s travel, which amounts to 40km — that is the amount of distance covered from Fajr to Dhuhr walking. So a journey is only considered a journey when one intends 80km or more. Intending less than this is not considered a journey. And there is the saying of Ibn ‘Abbās that, “The prayer is shortened for a journey from Makkah to ‘Usfān or to Tā’if.” And it is known that the distance between ‘Usfān and Makkah is 80km on the road to Madinah. And between Tā’if and Makkah is likewise 80km. 
Part Five: Conditions And The Allowance To Shorten Is Not For Sins
The journey that is permissible is one that is not sinful – on this journey, one shortens the prayers. Visiting shrines of “saints” and other innovations, or for stealing, drinking, fornicating, etc. then on these types of travels, it is not allowed to shorten the prayer because they are journeys of disobedience to Allah.
To shorten the prayer requires fulfilling three conditions:
1. The journey must be permissible such as trade or visiting family members, or for Hajj, Umrah, etc.
2. The length of the journey is the distance travelled over two days or more, from the start of the one’s journey to the intended destination, i.e. 80km.
3. The shortening of the prayers begins from the time the traveller leaves behind him the dwellings of his town, or the tents of his tribe if he is from the Bedouins or desert-dwellers.
If a traveller has to make up a prayer (qadā) that was mandatory upon whilst travelling, and he has now returned home, then he must pray it in full. And if a prayer time has started, and the person does not pray it until he has embarked upon his journey, then he must pray it in full, not shortened.
Imām Muhammad Ibn Badr Ad-Deen Ibn Balbān Al-Hanbali (d. 1083) stated, “Whoever intends to stay in a place for a defined period, or for more than four days, or that he is led in prayer by a resident, then in each of these situations he prays the full prayer.”
So a person on a journey who prays behind someone (imām in prayer) who is resident must pray the full prayer without shortening. The Prophet stated, “The imām has been appointed to be followed.” (Bukhari and Muslim) It is not permitted to shorten the prayer behind the imām who is praying the full prayer. When Ibn Abbās was asked why a person who is travelling should pray the full prayer behind the resident who leads him. He replied, “That is the Sunnah, Oh son of my brother.” [16a]
Part Six: For What Length Of Time Can A Person Shorten The Prayer?
If a person intends to stay in a place until he fulfils the purpose of his visit, but he does not know not know how long it will take (i.e. it could be a short or a long time), then such a person continues to shorten the prayer until he achieves what he came for, and then returns home. This one shortens for the whole period of his stay.
So a person travels to a land for the fulfilment of a need, but he does not know how long it will take, or he falls sick, or he is held back due to heavy rainfall, or snowy and icy conditions, or due to enemy attack, or if he is imprisoned unjustly — then this person continues to shorten his prayers even if he is there for years, until he returns home.
If a person is held in custody or imprisoned justly due to a crime, then he is to pray full prayers and not shorten. That is because his imprisonment is just, known and normally has a time period connected to it.
A person who does not intend to stay in a place, and waits for an opportunity or way of return to his hometown, then he continues to shorten indefinitely, for as long as it takes. Ibn ‘Umar was in Azerbaijān and he shortened the prayer there for six months because he was held back due to snow. (Sunan Al-Kubrā of Al-Bayhaqi, 6/174. Al-Albāni in Al-Irwā, 3/28). That is the case even if he is delayed for a long time. It is established that the Prophet (ﷺ) remained in Makkah for nineteen days after the Conquest and he shortened his prayers. He remained in Tabook for twenty days and he shortened the prayers. And this was due to the fact that he did not make an intention to stay, but instead intended to leave once he had accomplished his needs. [16b]
Part Seven: More on Combining Prayers
Imām Muhammad Ibn Badr Ad-Deen Ibn Balbān Al-Hanbali (d. 1083) stated, “A traveller is permitted to combine the Dhuhr and ‘Asr at one time, and then later he can combine Maghrib and ‘Ishā at one time.”
Combining the prayers are allowed: 1. For Dhuhr and ‘Asr. 2. For Maghrib and ‘Ishā. As for Fajr, it is prayed on its own. Combining the prayers are considered to be mubāh (allowable) and not a Sunnah (recommended).
Combining is allowed for a purpose, either: 1. When one is on a journey. 2. Due to an illness (which includes the prolonged bleeding of a woman, or the continual uncontrollable discharge from the private parts of a man or woman). 3. In the case of rain, snow, bad weather, or another pressing need.
The combining can be done at the time of the early prayer or at the time of the later prayer. So one may combine Dhuhr and Asr together at Dhuhr time. Or delay them and combine them at ‘Asr time. Also, one may combine Maghrib and ‘Ishā at Maghrib time. Or delay them both and combine them at ‘Ishā. One chooses whichever is easier for him. [16c]
Part Eight: Abdul-Azeez Ibn Bāz And A Group of Scholars Who Limit A Journey To A Fixed Distance And Length of Time
Shaikh Ibn Bāz (rahimahullāh) said, “That which the majority of the scholars hold is: That a journey is that which amounts to approximately 80 kilometres, whether by car, aeroplane or ship. This is the distance (or approximate distance) which is termed a journey. This distance is the custom that is well-known among the Muslims. So when a person travels by camel, or foot, or car, or aeroplane or ship for this distance or more, then he is a traveller.” 
Shaikh Ibn Bāz stated, “The majority of the scholars of the scholars have specified a journey to be a day and night of travelling by camel or a steady walk. And that approximates to 80km. That is because this is the distance that is considered a journey in the customary practice of the people (‘urf). And less than that is not a journey.
The majority of the scholars hold that a person who resolves (i.e. intends) to stay in a place for more than four days is obligated to pray his prayers in full (without shortening) and he fasts the month of Ramadān. If his stay is less than that, then he can shorten his prayers and combine them, and break his fast. That is due to the fact that the origin with respect to the resident is that he completes his prayer in full, and it is legislated for him to shorten when he is on a journey.” 
The Permanent Committee alongside Ibn Bāz (Al-Lajnah Ad-Dā’imah) was asked, “A man travels away from his family for work for a distance that allows him to shorten the prayers. Is it only allowed for him to shorten prayers on the route to work and back home? Additionally, from the outset, he intended to stay (at his destination) for a complete month?” So they answered, “He should shorten and combine during the route of the journey. And if he intends to stay at his work for a month, then it is not allowed for him to take the allowances of the journey whilst he is settled at his work location. So, in that case, he prays each prayer at its proper time and full (without shortening).” 
The Permanent Committee stated in another ruling, “A person remains under the category of a traveller if he remains in place (he has travelled to) for four days and nights or less. This is proven through the hadeeth of Jābir and Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyallāhu ‘anhum) who stated that the Prophet (ﷺ) entered Makkah on the morning of the 4th Dhul-Hijjah for the purpose of the Farewell Hajj. So he remained there for the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Dhul-Hijjah. Then he prayed Fajr at a place called Al-Abtah on the 8th Dhul-Hijjah. So he shortened the prayers during these days. He had made the intention to stay for this time period (of four days) as is well-known. So whoever is a traveller and intends to remain in a place for the same period that the Prophet (ﷺ) remained (in Makkah) or less, then he shortens the prayer. And whoever intends to remain longer than four days then he prays the prayers in full because in that situation he does not take the ruling of the traveller.” 
The Permanent Committee also stated that there is no need for a person who shortened his prayer for longer than he ought to have to make up any prayers. They stated in this fatwa that there was no need for a Saudi man who was sent to Germany for one and a half years (for work) to make up prayers which he shortened or combined. This is because he considered himself to be upon a journey unknowingly. However, in the future, if he finds himself in a similar situation where he intends to stay for a period of time and knows the length of his stay away from home, then he must pray the prayers in full and on time. And he should pray in congregation if that is easy for him and not pray alone. 
Part Nine: Ibn ‘Uthaimeen, Al-Albani, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qudāmah And Those Scholars Who State A Journey Is According To The Practice And Custom Of A Land
Some of the scholars hold that there is no fixed limit of distance when considering whether one is travelling. They hold that a journey is whatever the people of a land consider to be a journey. So if it is called a journey in their customary practice, then it is treated as such: so they shorten the prayers as is the Sunnah, join the prayers and break the fast (if they choose). Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah stated: “The evidence supports those who say that the legislation allows the prayer to be shortened and the fast to be broken on whatever falls into the category of a journey — and they do not single out one type of journey to the exclusion of another.” 
Ibn ‘Uthaymeen was asked regarding the distance one needs to travel on a journey which requires one to shorten the prayers and whether it is permitted to combine instead of shortening the prayers. He answered, “The distance at which some of the scholars stated as a limit at which one can shorten the prayer is approximately 83km. Other scholars have considered the customary practice of the people (of a land) to be the measure which decides a journey even if that does not extend to 80km. And that which the people (of a land) state regarding a travel, “It is not a journey” then it is not a journey even if it reaches a 100km. And this was the preference of Shaikhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullah). That is because Allah (the Most High) and His Messenger (ﷺ) did not specify a particular distance at which one is permitted to shorten the prayers. Anas Ibn Mālik (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) would shorten the prayer to two rak’ahs at a distance of three miles or three farsakhs.”  The saying of Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah’s mercy be upon him) is the closest to what is correct.
And when the custom (‘urf) of the people differs between themselves, then there is no harm if a person takes the saying of those scholars who set a limit (of approximately 80km) before one is considered a traveller — because that is the saying of some of the Imāms, Scholars and Jurists. So there is no harm in that (inshā’-Allāh). However, if the matter is clearly defined by the practice (‘urf) of the people, then it is returned back to that — and that is what is correct.”  Shaikh Al-Albāni also agreed with the position of Ibn Taymiyyah. Al-Albāni makes the added point that the ‘Urf of the people is the best measure as it agrees with the ease that Allah has prescribed for mankind in worship. 
Part Ten: Ibn ‘Uthaimeen Explains What Constitutes A Journey And How Long It Lasts
This part is extracted from Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaimeen’s (rahimahullah) Sharh ‘Umatul-Ahkām (2/320-329):
The scholars have differed with respect to what is defined as the journey that allows one to shorten the prayers — so there are three sayings:
- A journey is every type of travel where a person leaves his land – and he stays away for as long as he wishes.
- A journey is that which is limited to a specified distance, beyond which one is regarded as a traveller.
- A journey is that which the custom of a land (i.e. its people) regard to be a journey, ‘Urf in Arabic.
Since we have already discussed the position of those scholars who hold that a journey that allows shortening of the prayers (and other allowances) is limited by distance travelled and length of stay, then here we shall discuss the third saying of the scholars, i.e. the ‘Urf of a people.
Firstly: Shortening the prayer for the traveller is a confirmed Sunnah (mu’akkadah) and to pray the full prayers on a journey is disliked (makrooh).
Secondly: If a traveller prays behind a person who is resident, then it is obligatory upon him to pray the full prayer and not to shorten even if he joined the prayer having missed the first two rak’ahs. This is due to the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ), “Whatever you have reached pray it (with the imām), and what you missed, complete it (after the imām makes tasleem).” (Bukhari, 635 and Muslim, 603). Ibn ‘Abbās was asked, “How should I pray when I am in Makkah when I am not praying behind the imām?” He replied, “Two rak’ahs as is the Sunnah of Abul-Qāsim (ﷺ).” (Muslim, 688)
Thirdly: The saying that a journey is defined by the normal practice of a people (‘urf) is the preferred position of Ibn Taymiyyah (Majmoo’ Al-Fatawa (24/135), Al-Muwaffaqud-Deen Ibn Qudāmah (Al-Mughni 2/152) and a group of other scholars. So whatever is known and called a journey by the people is a journey by definition. These scholars argue that to limit a journey to a specified distant requires specific proof, and there is no proof. Following from that: It is possible that a short distance is a journey if it takes a long time. For example, it is conceivable that we can leave from one place to another and it is a journey due to the distance travelled and the length of time one stays. So if we travelled to the town of Buraydah (38 km from ‘Unayzah), and we stayed there a day or two days, then we are travellers. But if we returned the same day, we are not travellers. That is because the distance is short, and the time spent there is small. However, if the distance was far and the time spent was small, then it is a journey. So, if we travelled to Riyadh by aeroplane (351 km from ‘Unayzah and 55 minutes by flight), and we returned the same day, then this is a journey — this is due to the fact the distance was far.
So this now becomes a journey defined by custom and practice (‘urf). Therefore a journey can be called a journey (where a person shortens his prayers) even though the distance travelled is small if the time spent on the journey is long. And a journey can be called a journey (where a person shortens his prayers) when the distance travelled is far even though it did not take a long time. This viewpoint from the aspect of reason and insight sits comfortably with one’s soul.
Thirdly: Does a person’s journey come to an end when he intends to remain at his destination alongside the fact that his intention of being a traveller remains? In this too the scholars have differed. Some of them said, “Wherever he intends to remain for four days or more, then his journey comes to an end and he must pray the full prayers. And he can no longer take the allowances and ease of a journey.” An-Nawawi (rahimahullah) mentioned in Al-Majmoo’ Sharhul-Muhadhdhab (4/321) over twenty sayings, each one conflicting with the other — and not one of them has a clear proof that brings tranquillity to the heart and upon which one can make a firm ruling. For this reason, we return to the origin of the affair, and that is: A traveller remains a traveller so long as he does not intend to settle in a place, or remain there indefinitely. “To settle in place” means that he leaves one lands for another land to live there permanently. “To remain there indefinitely” means he departs from his land and intends to stay in the new land indefinitely, and when he finds a suitable opportunity he will return to his land or to he will go to another land. So these two affairs stop him from being considered a traveller and taking the allowances and ease of a traveller.
If his journey is interrupted by a specific event such as work, or some days (of rest), then his being considered as a traveller does not come to an end. For example, a businessman stops in a land to purchase some goods or to sell some goods, but he does not know whether he will be purchasing (or selling) goods for a day or two days, or three days, or a month, two months, a year or two years — such a person takes the ruling of a traveller.
A person who leaves out on a journey to work (to another land or city), and he knows the exact length of his time away. For example, a person comes to a land to attend a conference (or a course) that lasts for three months, then such a person is considered a traveller who shortens his prayers because his journey has not come to an end.
Another example is a sick person who travels to a hospital (away from his land or city). He does not know when he will be fit enough to return, then it is allowed for him to shorten his prayers, even if he remains there for years on end. This is the position of the Hanbali scholars — and some of them reported ijmā’ (consensus) on the matter: That so long as a person remains on a journey that is restricted by a need that one has come to fulfil, he shorten his prayers until he returns to his land.
The issue of a journey being restricted (upon a person) by a time constraint is a matter of differing among the scholars. However, it is not necessary to dispute concerning this issue because he is just like the first example of the person who is constrained to remain at his destination due to work or a need (i.e. the businessman), or the second one who is constrained to remain at his destination due to the length of time (i.e. the three-month conference). Neither of them intended to discontinue their journey. So one was restricted from returning home due to completion of work (i.e. the businessman) and the other was restricted from returning home due to completion of a time period (i.e. three-month conference). There is no difference between the two — both are travellers.
Added to that: If a man intends to stay in place for four days, and another man intended to stay in a place for four days and ten minutes — so would we expect the first to shorten his prayers because he is a traveller but the second is not a traveller just because of the difference in their remaining at a destination is ten minutes?! How can that be?!
Therefore, that which the evidence points to, which leaves no discomfort in the soul is: So long as a person does not intend to stay in a place indefinitely or that he does not settle in a place to live permanently, then he is a traveller regardless if his remaining in a destination is due to a time restraint (as in the example of the person who attended a conference for three months) or whether his remaining in a destination is due to a need he wishes to fulfill (like the example of the businessman or the hospital patient). There is no difference between the two situations as far as the rulings of a traveller are concerned.
Fourthly: What is the reply to those who say that it is authentically reported that the Prophet (ﷺ) remained in Makkah for four days and that he only shortened his prayers for those four days? Then this hadeeth is actually a proof against those who use it to show that one can only shorten for four days once they have reached their destination. That is because the Messenger’s (ﷺ) arrival in Makkah on the 4th Dul-Hijjah was not something planned. The Prophet (ﷺ) knew that there were many other Muslims who had arrived to perform Hajj well before the 4th of Dhul-Hijjah. The season of Hajj begins from the 1st of Shawwāl and Allah has stated, “[Preparation for] Hajj is in the well-known months.” (2:197) And we know therefore that most pilgrims arrive before the 4th of Dhil-Hijjah. So did the Prophet (ﷺ) say to those who arrived before that they are to pray their prayers in full? If praying the prayers in full was an obligation then it would have been necessary for the Prophet (ﷺ) to convey that to them. So since he did not command them, then we can understand that the matter is not restrictive but open. So this hadeeth does not support the position of those who limit shortening of prayers to four days only, rather it is against them.
Also, it is known that the Prophet (ﷺ) stayed in Makkah for ten days as is proven by the hadeeth of Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallahu ‘anhu) when he was asked how long they remained in Makkah in the year of the Farewell Hajj, he replied, “We stayed there for ten days.” (Bukhari, 1081 and Muslim, 694). They arrived on the 4th of Dhul-Hijjah and left for Madinah on the 14th Dhul-Hijjah.
It is proven also that the Prophet (ﷺ) stayed in Makkah for ten days at the Farewell Hajj. He stayed in Tabook for twenty days shortening the prayers (Abu Dawood, 1235). He stayed in Makkah for nineteen days in the year of the conquest shortening the prayers. So he stayed in different places for different lengths of times and he would always shorten the prayer. So it is not for us to restrict that which Allah has left unrestricted, because the religion is ease and the spirit of the religion calls for ease and expanse for the worshippers — and it is not permitted for anyone to prohibit a person from that which Allah has allowed.
That which has been stated is the closest to the proofs and free from blind following and hardship upon the worshippers, It is the position of Ibn Taymiyyah (Majmoo’ Al-Fatawa 24/7, 15, 42, 44, 136, 141), Ibn Al-Qayyim (Zād al-Ma’ād 1/448) and Abdur-Rahmān As-Sa’dee (rahimahumullah). All of them stating that there is no proof to restrict the length of time one can shorten the prayers whilst travelling.
Question 1: A man who leaves out to shepherd his camels, is he a traveller?
Answer: He is a traveller because his heart is connected to his hometown and he knows that he has only left out for the welfare of his camels.
Question 2: What is the affair of the migrants who come here to work?
Answer: Those who are staying here, I think that they have the utmost desire to obtain a permit that allows them to stay indefinitely. So I would be very wary to say to them that you are travellers. They renew their permit to remain continually, and they would love to be given citizenship. So I cannot issue a verdict and say they are travellers. So I say they should pray the complete prayers, and it is not permitted for them to shorten. This also applies to the ambassadors. The origin is that they are resident in their respective embassies unless they are limited by time.
End of the notes from Ibn ‘Uthaimeen (rahimahullah)
 Kitāb Al-Ifsāh ‘an Ma’ānee as-Sahāh fee Madhāhib Al-A’immatil-Arba’ah, 2/55
 Al-Fath, 2/653.
 An-Nasā’ee, 1450.
 Bukhari, 1657.
 Bukhari and Muslim.
 See Al-Ijmā’ (p.9), Marātib Al-Ijmā’ (p.25), Al-Majmoo’ (4/209). Ibn Qudāmah in Al-Mughni, 3/104-105.
 Bukhari and Muslim.
 An-Nasā’ee, 1440.
 Al-Ifsāh 2/64. He added, “Except that which is ascribed to Abu Haneefah: that if a person in this condition reaches three days distance of travel, he shortens the prayer.”
 Sharh Fathul-Qadeer (2/28), Al-Majmoo of An-Nawawi (4/216), Al-Mughni (3/110), Al-Qawāneen Al-Fiqhiyyah (p.59).
 Muslim, 704.
 Abu Dawood, 1220. Saheeh.
[15a] Bukhari, 3000.
[15b] Notes on Al-Ifsāh 2/70.
 References for parts 4 to 7: “Kitāb Akhsar Al-Mukhtasarāt fil-Fiqhi ‘Alā Madhhab Al-Imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal” by Imām Muhammad Ibn Badr Ad-Deen Ibn Balbān Al-Hanbali (d. 1083H) with notes by Imām Abdul-Qādir Ibn Badrān Ad-Dimashqi (d. 1346H), and the recorded explanation of Al-Allāmah Sālih Al-Fawzān.
 Majmoo’ Al-Fatawa 12/267.
 Fatāwa Ibn Bāz 12/270.
 Fatāwa 8/94-95.
 Fatawa of the Lajnah 8/109.
 Fatawa 8/155.
 Majmoo’ Al-Fatawa 24/106.
 Reported by Muslim, 691.
 Fatawa Arkān Al-Islām, p. 381.
 Reference audio.