The Meaning of ‘the beginning of the day’, ‘the end of the day,’ & ‘a portion of the latter part of the night’.
His (sallahu alaihi wassalam) saying, ‘Journey [to Allah] in the beginning of the day, the end of the day, and a portion of the latter part of the night’ has the meaning of his (sallahu alaihi wassalam) saying in another narration, ‘Seek help in this by journeying [to Allah] at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day and a portion of the latter part of the night.’
The meaning of this is that these three periods are times of journeying to Allah through performing actions of obedience. These are the end of the night, the beginning of the day, and the end of the day. Allah, Exalted is He, has mentioned these times in His sayings,
‘Remember the name of thy Lord at morn and evening, and worship Him (a portion) of the night, and glorify Him through the livelong night.’
Allah, Most High, mentions the remembrance of Him at the two ends of the day in numerous places in His Book such as,
‘Ask for forgiveness for your sin, and glorify your Lord – all the while praising Him – at the fall of night and in the early hours.’
Out of these three times there are two which are at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. At these two times one finds both obligatory and optional actions to do. The obligatory actions are the prayers of Fajr and Asr and these two are the best prayers of the five daily prayers. These are the prayers prayed ‘at the two cool periods.’ And whoever preserves these two prayers shall enter Paradise. [Bukhari, Muslim] It is said about both these prayers that they are the ‘Middle Prayer’. [al-Baqarah] As for the optional deed then it is to remember Allah after the Fajr prayer until the sun rises and after ‘Asr until the sun sets, there are many texts concerning the excellence of this. Likewise there are many texts concerning the remembrances to be said in the morning and evening and concerning the excellence of one who remembers Allah when awaking and when sleeping.
Ibn ‘Umar reports that the Messenger of Allah (sallahu alaihi wassalam) said, ‘Son of Adam, remember me for an hour in the beginning of the day and an hour at the end and I will forgive you your sins committed between them save any major sins for which you must repent.’ [Abu Nu’aym, vol. 8, p. 213, records a hadith with this meaning on the authority of Abu Hurayrah and it is da’if.’
The Salaf would place greater emphasis on the end of the day than the beginning. Ibn al-Mubarak said, ‘It has reached us that the one who remembers Allah at the end of the day will be recorded as having performed remembrance throughout the day.’ Abu’l-Jald said, ‘It has reached us that Allah, Exalted is He, descends to the lowest heaven during the eve of every day and looks at the deeds of the children of Adam.’
One of the Salaf saw Abu Ja’far al-Qari in a dream saying to him, ‘Tell Abu Hazim – al-A’raj i.e. – the ascetic and highly perspicuous person-that Allah and His Angels look to your gathering in the evenings.’ [Ibn al-Jawzi] It seems clear that Abu Hazim used to narrate stories to people at the end of the day.
A hadith mentions, ‘Remembrance after Fajr is more beloved than freeing four slaves and remembrance after ‘Asr is better than freeing eight slaves.’ [Ahmad]
The end of the day of Jumu’ah is better than its beginning due to its containing an hour wherein the supplication is answered. [Bukhari] The end of the Day of ‘Arafah is better than the beginning because the end of the day is the time for standing. The end of the night is better than the begging of the night as was stated by the Salaf and they adduced the hadith of the Descent as proof. [Bukhari]
All of these facts strengthen the opinion of those who say that ‘Asr is in the ‘Middle Prayer.’
The third is the duljah: journeying in the last part of the night. The meaning here is performing deeds at the end of the night which is the time for asking forgiveness. Allah, Exalted is He says,
‘And those who ask forgiveness in the early hours of the morning.’ [Ali-Imran 3:17]
The period referred to in this verse is the last part of the time of the Descent in which Allah fulfils the needs of those asking and grants forgiveness to the penitent. The middle of the night is reserved for the lovers who wish to spend time in intimacy with their Beloved and the end of the night is reserved for the sinners to seek forgiveness for their sins. Whoever is unable to join the striving of the lovers in the depth of the night should at least join the penitent at the end of the night.
Some narrations mention that the Throne quivers during the last part of the night. Tawus said, ‘I cannot imagine that someone would sleep during the last part of the night!’
'Journey to Allah' by Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali