The expression translated as “both ends of the day” is used twice in the Quran.

[20:130] Therefore, be patient in the face of their utterances, and praise and glorify your Lord before sunrise and before sunset. And during the night glorify Him, as well as at both ends of the day, that you may be happy.

 فَاصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ غُرُوبِهَا وَمِنْ آنَاءِ الَّيْلِ فَسَبِّحْ وَأَطْرَافَ النَّهَارِ لَعَلَّكَ تَرْضَىٰ

[11:114] You shall observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) at both ends of the day, and during the night. The righteous works wipe out the evil works. This is a reminder for those who would take heed.

(١١٤) وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِنَ الَّيْلِ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

But how do we define both ends of the day, and what times in the day is this in reference to? This answer may seem straightforward, but as we will see this question is a lot more tricky than most people think as most common understandings actually cause conflicts in interpretation.

The Meaning of Ataraf and Tarafayi

Before we look at possible explanations let’s first understand the meaning of the word طَرَفَيِ / ṭarafayi from 11:114 and أَطْرَافَ / aṭrāfa from 20:130 that is translated as “ends” in the above verses. The root of both these words is ط ر ف and has the following derivative meanings.

This root occurs 11 times in the Quran.

The meaning of this word per the context for these two verses is translated as “ends”, as in boundaries or borders, and not as an end such as a finish line. So in the context of these verses, it is to be understood as the boundaries or borders of the day.

The only other item worth pointing out for is that طَرَفَيِ / ṭarafayi from 11:114 is the dual form while أَطْرَافَ / aṭrāfa from 20:130 is the plural form.

Now let’s look at the possible assumptions of when these borders of the day could signify, and the possible conflicts that arise with each of these assumptions.

Assumption #1: Dawn & Sunset

If we assume that the ends of the day correspond to dawn and sunset an apparent problem arises. This is because the translation of 20:130 also mentions the times “before sunrise” which would also signify dawn, which would be the same time if we assume that one end of the day is “dawn”.

[20:130] Therefore, be patient in the face of their utterances, and praise and glorify your Lord before sunrise and before sunset. And during the night glorify Him, as well as at both ends of the day, that you may be happy.

 فَاصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ غُرُوبِهَا وَمِنْ آنَاءِ الَّيْلِ فَسَبِّحْ وَأَطْرَافَ النَّهَارِ لَعَلَّكَ تَرْضَىٰ

So under this understanding, if God tells us to glorify Him before sunrise (at dawn), yet we assume that one end of the day we are to glorify God is also at dawn, then this creates a conflict as to why would the verse command to glorify God twice at dawn. So this assumption can be ruled out.

Assumption #2: After Sunrise

If on the other hand, to avoid the above conflict, we assume that the one end of the day corresponds to after sunrise to avoid the dawn conflict, then this would cause a conflict with 11:114. This is because if we assume that one end of the day is after sunrise then this means that we are to perform Salat after sunrise, which is not one of the designated Salat times.

[11:114] You shall observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) at both ends of the day, and during the night. The righteous works wipe out the evil works. This is a reminder for those who would take heed.

(١١٤) وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِنَ الَّيْلِ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

Since the Dawn Salat must occurs before sunrise, and the first Salat of the day is the Noon Salat, then there is no Salat between sunrise to noon. Therefore this assumption also cannot be true.

[17:78] You shall observe the Contact Prayer (Salat) when the sun declines from its highest point at noon, as it moves towards sunset. You shall also observe (the recitation of) the Quran at dawn. (Reciting) the Quran at dawn is witnessed.

(٧٨) أَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِدُلُوكِ الشَّمْسِ إِلَىٰ غَسَقِ الَّيْلِ وَقُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ إِنَّ قُرْآنَ الْفَجْرِ كَانَ مَشْهُودًا

Assumption #3: Noon

Another theory is that if we understand طَرَفَيِ / ṭarafayi from 11:114 and أَطْرَافَ / aṭrāfa from 20:130 as boundaries or put another way as the extremities of the day, then one of the extremities of the day could be understood as astronomical noon when the sun is at its highest point.

While this understanding can reconcile the part of the issue identified in Assumption #2 regarding the Noon Salat, it doesn’t resolve the underlying contradictions posed in the previous two assumptions. This is because we just increased the ends from two to three and are still stuck with how to define the other two ends.

This conflict becomes apparent when we attempt to apply this understanding and its implications in regards to طَرَفَيِ / ṭarafayi from 11:114, in the dual form [both ends], and أَطْرَافَ / aṭrāfa from 20:130, in the plural form [ends]. While we could reconcile that the two ends of the day in 11:114 could correspond to noon and sunset because this verse uses the dual form of the word, the same cannot be said for 20:130 which uses the plural form. So 20:130 will still run into the same challenges as posed above in Assumptions #1 and #2 where we would still be stuck forming a contradiction if we apply one of the boundaries to either before or after sunrise. So this assumption does not resolve the discrepancy, and also cannot be true.

The Riddle

One of the fun things about a well-constructed riddle is that on the surface the answer looks obvious, and it is not until the supposed straightforward attempts are proved to be futile that the real complexity of the riddle comes to light. At that stage, while many may call it quits an intelligent person after exhausting all “obvious” possible assumptions will reassess the foundations of their hypotheses in order to find the right answer.

For instance, one of my favorite riddles is the following:

There is a farmer who has a job that will take exactly 6 days to complete. For payment, he has one solid, regular, rectangular gold bar that he will provide for the fully completed work. The caveat is that each day of work he can only pay what is due for that day, no more no less. Or put another way, the farmer can only pay 1/6 of the bar for each day of work. The only contingency is that he can only make two cross-sectional cuts to the bar. So how should he cut the bar so that the exact payment is able to be made for each day of work?

I won’t give the answer in this article but will discuss the typical process people go about trying to solve this riddle. If you don’t want to have any clues to the riddle then you can skip the next paragraph, but at a minimum, I do recommend trying to think about the problem and how you would go about solving it before you continue reading.

I have given this riddle to many people for many years and the fascinating thing is that the people’s path to solving the riddle is quite consistent. First, the person attempts to haggle regarding the payment e.g. what if I do all the work in one day? But these are not the right answer so they must move on. Then the person will contemplate all the various ways they can try to make two crossectional cuts to a rectangular bar to get six equal pieces. Finally, after realizing that it is impossible to make two cross-sectional cuts to a rectangular bar and end with six evenly sliced pieces, then if they don’t give up they start down the path for the real answer.

Reconcling The Contradictions

Trying to reconcile the meaning of the phrase “ends of the day” utilized in both 11:114 and 20:130 causes the same pattern of thinking as solving a good riddle. At first, a person will try different meanings to assess what could be meant by “the ends of a day”, but as shown by the above, each of these leads to a different contradictions and dead ends. So how do we reconcile this?

To understand this paradox it requires a closer evaluation of what is stated in 20:130. In order to do this, it helps to take a careful look at the Arabic.

 فَاصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ غُرُوبِهَا وَمِنْ آنَاءِ الَّيْلِ فَسَبِّحْ وَأَطْرَافَ النَّهَارِ لَعَلَّكَ تَرْضَىٰ

To better understand the proper meaning of this verse it helps to break it into three segments.

Segment #1:

201301فَاصْبِرْSo be patientfa-iṣ’bir
201302عَلَىٰoverʿalā
201303مَاwhat
201304يَقُولُونَthey say.yaqūlūna

Segment #2

201305وَسَبِّحْAnd glorifywasabbiḥ
201306بِحَمْدِwith praisebiḥamdi
201307رَبِّكَ(of) your Lordrabbika
201308قَبْلَbeforeqabla
201309طُلُوعِ(the) rising (of)ṭulūʿi
2013010الشَّمْسِthe sunl-shamsi
2013011وَقَبْلَand beforewaqabla
2013012غُرُوبِهَاits setting;ghurūbihā
2013013وَمِنْand fromwamin
2013014آنَاءِduring / hours (of)ānāi
2013015الَّيْلِthe night.al-layli

Segment #3

So far the above understanding is fairly consistent with almost all translations. The problem actually lies in the next section which is the root of the confusion. If we look at the next word we see that it is فَسَبِّحْ / fasabbiḥ. Notice that this has the prefix فَ / fa which makes the translation “So glorify” or “Then glorify” or “Therefore glorfify” as opposed to وَ / wa, which is used at the start of segment two when it uses the term وَسَبِّحْ / wasabbiḥ / “And glorify”. This may seem trivial, but this difference is showing that segment #3 is not an addition to segment #2, as most translations state, but actually a confirmation of segment #2.

Secondly, notice that the word وَأَطْرَافَ / wa-aṭrāfa has a perfix وَ / wa. While this prefix is typically mistranslated as “and” like we saw in وَسَبِّحْ / wasabbiḥ / “And glorify” this is not the case in this instance because translating the وَ / wa in وَأَطْرَافَ / wa-aṭrāfain as and would be grammatically incorrect and would create an incoherent statement. This would make the translation of the statement: Therefore glorify and ends of the day.

Even if we look at corpus.quran.com they don’t even translate the وَ / wa in وَأَطْرَافَ / wa-aṭrāfain, even though they add the note that the wa signifies “and”, because I suspect the authors realize that adding “and” to the word would not make sense in the context of the statement.

So what is the meaning of the وَ / wa in وَأَطْرَافَ / wa-aṭrāfa? In Arabic, وَ / wa in can mean “and” or “by” as in swearing “by” something. So what this statement is saying is “Therefore glorify by the ends of the day, so that you may be happy.”

2013016فَسَبِّحْTherefore glorifyfasabbiḥ
2013017وَأَطْرَافَby (the) endswa-aṭrāfa
2013018النَّهَارِ(of) the dayl-nahāri
2013019لَعَلَّكَso that you may belaʿallaka
2013020تَرْضَىٰ[you be] satisfied / happy.tarḍā

This means that the “وَأَطْرَافَ النَّهَارِ / wa-aṭrāfa l-nahāri is telling us to glorify “by the ends of the day” as in a swear. This means that the ends of the day are what is referenced at the first part of the verse which is clearly stated as: before the rising of the sun, and before its setting.

Additionally, if we apply this to 11:114 we find this understanding to also be consistent without any contradictions. This is because it corresponds to the Dawn (before sunrise) and Afternoon (before sunset) Contact Prayers as prescribed by God.

[11:114] You shall observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) at both ends of the day (before sunrise and before sunset), and during the night. The righteous works wipe out the evil works. This is a reminder for those who would take heed.

(١١٤) وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ طَرَفَيِ النَّهَارِ وَزُلَفًا مِنَ الَّيْلِ إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ

Conclusion

God tells us that the Quran is consistent and that it has no contradictions.

[4:82] Why do they not study the Quran carefully? If it were from other than GOD, they would have found in it numerous contradictions.

(٨٢) أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا

[39:23] GOD has revealed herein the best Hadith; a book that is consistent, and points out both ways (to Heaven and Hell). The skins of those who reverence their Lord cringe therefrom, then their skins and their hearts soften up for GOD’s message. Such is GOD’s guidance; He bestows it upon whomever He wills. As for those sent astray by GOD, nothing can guide them.

 اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُتَشَابِهًا مَثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ ثُمَّ تَلِينُ جُلُودُهُمْ وَقُلُوبُهُمْ إِلَىٰ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ ذَٰلِكَ هُدَى اللَّهِ يَهْدِي بِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَنْ يُضْلِلِ اللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ هَادٍ

The above verse informs the students of the Quran that God offers contrasting pairs مُتَشَابِهًا مَثَانِيَ / mutashābihan mathāniya for us to discern the correct understanding from the words of the Quran. By having two verses that use this statement we can refine our understanding in order to come to the right conclusion and eliminate any contradictions.

The typical reading of 20:130 in most translations depicts an understanding that creates a contradiction either against itself or to its contrasting verse in 11:114. But upon more careful reading, we see that 20:130 actually clarifies that the ends of the day are before the sun rises and before it sets, which corresponds to the start and end of the day.

2 thoughts on “Both Ends of The Day

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