A long time ago I heard and read somewhere that food takes precedence over prayer. Meaning, if Asr came in at 5pm for example and dinner was being served at 5pm or a couple of minutes prior, would we delay prayer until our dinner was done or would delay eating until our Salaah was done? I heard that one should eat first but not take too long to eat or eat too fast.
There are traditions (Ahadith) recorded by Imam Bukhari which state that the Prophet (SAS) said that when food is ready and the time for prayer has entered, then pray first. The commentators of hadith have explained these traditions saying that the hadith does not give a general ruling.
Instead, it refers to specific cases like that of a person who is extremely hungry and he fears that if he engages in Salaah then his mind and heart will be pre-occupied with the thoughts of the food. In this case, it is better for him to eat first, (provided that there is sufficient time remaining for Salaah after he finishes his meal) and then perform Salaah so that he will be able to be more devoted and attentive in his Salaah. (Umdatul Qaari- commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari).
Some scholars of hadith have stated that the teaching of the traditions also refers to fasting people who are very hungry and are about to break fast at a time when Magrib Salaah is about to begin. In this situation, the fasting people must first partake of their meals before performing the Salaah of Maghrib.
Some scholars have also stated that the teaching of the hadith refers to a state that if the food is not eaten at that specific time, then it may spoil afterwards by the time the Salaah is completed. In this case, in order to avoid this from occurring, they should partake of the food first, and then perform the Salaah.
Some scholars of hadith have stated that the teaching of the hadith also refers to a situation where the food is a little, and one fears that if he occupies himself with Salaah, then he can be deprived of getting something to eat due to the fact that others may consume it. In this case, in order to avoid this from occurring, the person should partake of the food first, and then perform the Salaah. (Taqreer Al Bukhari- Explainations of Sahih Al Bukhari vol.3 pg 71).
It should be noted that in these cases, the allowance to eat first before performing Salaah is given only in such cases where there will still be sufficient time for Salaah after partaking of the meal.
All the above explainations which have been given by the great scholars of hadith show that the mentioned allowance is not a general one, but instead, it is specific to valid cases. In normal circumstances and in a general manner when such valid reasons do not exist, then one will perform Salaah first and then partake of his meal. This is clearly established from the practices of the Prophet (SAS) himself. In this regard, Imam Bukhari has mentioned the narration in which it is stated, ‘The chapter when the Imam is called for Salaah and in his hand is something which he is eating- Amr Bin Umayyah (RA) said, ‘ I saw the Messenger of Allah eating a piece of meat, and he was cutting it with a knife. At that time, he was called for Salaah (that is, the Iqamah was called) and so, he stood up and placed the knife (away) and performed Salaah and he did not make wudhu’ (Sahih Al Bukhari- vol.1 pg. 93 Arabic print). This hadith shows clearly that the Prophet(s.a.s) stopped eating in order to go for salaah, and he did not delay salaah in order to finish his meal.
On account of this practice of the Prophet (SAS), the scholars have stated that, ‘Beginning by eating food (when Salaah is present), is allowed at a time when a person is extremely hungry and he wishes to eat, but there is sufficient time for Salaah. If this is not the case, then he must begin with Salaah since this was the practice of the Prophet (SAS). (Umdatul Qaari –Commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari).
And Allah knows best,
Mufti Waseem Khan.