The Holy Qur'an mentions that there are only two obligatory prayers. (Surah Bani Isra'il (Q 17) mentions the Morning, dalūk al-shams and the tahajjud prayer. It also explains that tahajjud is a nafl (supererogatory). This means only two prayers are obligatory. Similarly Surah Hūd (Q 11) mentions tarafi al-nahaar and Surah Ṭāhā (Q 20) uses the words ānā'a al-layl.)
However, the ahādith tell us that the Holy Prophet (sws) has commanded the believers to pray five times a day. Is it possible that the Prophet (sws) contradicts the commands of the Book of God and gives a different command?
The main problem with this question is that it considers the Holy Qur'an the only source of religion and tries to set the timing of prayers exclusively in the light of the Book of God. Our teacher Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has resolved this problem. He explained that prayer is part of the sunnah (religious practices instituted by the Prophet (sws) as necessary part of Islam). When the Holy Qur'an mentions them it merely refers to a known practice. That is why the Holy Qur'an does not discuss the method or timing of prayer like it does regarding ablution. The fact that ablution has been discussed in the Book also explains that the prerequisites of prayer needed some clarification but the methods and timings of offering prayer were clear that the Holy Qur'an did not see any reason to mention them. As for the explanation of the expression 'dalūk al-shams', it cover all the three prayers i.e. zuhr, 'asr and maghrib. Explaining this phrase Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhi writes:
Dalūk means decline of the sun. It has three stages. First, when the sun declines from over the head. Second, when it is in the midway (between its peak time at noon and complete setting in the evening). Finally, when it sets in the horizon. These three times correspond to zuhr, 'asr and mahgrib. (Islahi, Tadabbur-e-Quran 4/529-530)
The word 'dalūk' is followed by the word ghasaq al-layl. Explaining this word Mawlānā Islāhū asserts:
Ghasaq al-layl connotes the thick dark of early night. This is time of ishā prayer. (Islahi, Tadabbur-e-Quran 4/530)
This phrase is followed by the word qur'ān al-fajr. Islāhī has explained it as follows: This refers to the recitation of the Holy Qur'an in the Morning Prayer.
The above mentioned interpretation of Islāhī indicates that though this is the divine command relating to the prayer timings, yet this cannot be taken as the sole guide to determine the timings. It merely hints at the times of prayers to be offered during the whole day. That is why we cannot seek any guidance to set the number or the times of prayers from these verses. However, if we consider it in the light of the Sunnah, we come to the conclusion that this refers to the five daily prayers rather succinctly.
The same case applies to the phrases expressed inSurah Hūd (11:114), tarafayi al-nahāri and in Surah Tāhā (20:130), ānā al-layl.
(Translated into English by Abid Mahmood)