Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear questioner, thanks for your important question, and we implore Allah to help us all gain insight to understand the teachings of Islam in the best way.
Before attempting to answer this question, let us refer to the fact that although prayers have to be performed in fixed times, the flexibility of Islamic teachings tends not to impose hardship on Muslims, especially those living in countries where there is a great time gap between Maghrib and `Isha prayers. Such easiness and flexibility is best demonstrated in the Qur’anic verse that reads:
(And strive for Allah with the endeavor which is His right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship; the faith of your father Abraham (is yours). He hath named you Muslims of old time and in this (Scripture), that the messenger may be a witness against you, and that ye may be witnesses against mankind. So establish worship, pay the poor due, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protecting Friend. A blessed Patron and a blessed Helper!) (Al-Hajj 22: 78)
Tackling the first point raised in the question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a Senior Lecturer and an Islamic Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:
The time for `Isha, as has been stated clearly in the authentic traditions, starts as soon as the red rays of sun disappears from the horizon, and night creeps in.
It is all well known that the time for Maghrib starts as soon as the sun sets. Unlike other prayers such as Dhur and `Asr, there is not much gap between Maghrib and `Isha. Stated differently, the time for `Isha starts as soon as Maghrib’s time expires.
Based on the above evidence, Imams such as Shafi`e concluded that the time of Maghrib lasts only as much as one can perform ablution well and pray five rak’ahs of Prayer comfortably. This can be estimated conservatively as not more than half-hour. Accordingly, based on this, one is allowed to pray `Isha half an hour after Maghrib.
From what has been stated above, it is reasonable to deduce that one is allowed to pray `Isha one hour after Maghrib without incurring sin, especially if he/she has to go bed early in summer when Maghrib’s time is somehow late or in such places where there is no much gap between `Isha and Fajr.
Students, and people who are in dire need of going to bed early because of their studies or job situations can readily make use of this relaxed rule. So are those who are elderly, sick and weak who may be experiencing hardship in putting off their fixed time for slee.
Having said this, we must add: If a person does not experience any of the time constraints described above, and has the leisure of delaying `Isha, it is preferable for him/her to delay ‘Isha for some time- although not later than midnight -as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said “If it would not have been hard on my Ummah, I would have ordered them to delay `Isha Prayer.”
The same conclusion drawn by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty is also maintained by the prominent Azharite scholar Sheikh `Abdul-Majeed Subh, who adds:
One can, as long as he is driven by necessity, pray Maghrib, then wait for one hour and perform `Isha afterwards. This ruling is special to Muslims living in the West who find it very difficult to stay awake for `Isha prayer.
Tackling the last point concerning the possibility of combining both Maghrib and `Isha prayer in the given case, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, concludes:
“Originally, Muslims are required to perform prayer at their appointed times. However, the case of Muslims living in the West may necessitate them to get up early in the morning to reach their work on time. With this, they find it difficult to stay up late to perform `Isha at its appointed time. If we force people to perform `Isha at its appointed time, then we are ordering them to do something beyond their capability.
It stands to reason that Islam is the religion of easiness. It tends to remove hardship from its followers. Thus, Muslims living in the West who face such difficulty may be allowed to combine both Maghrib and `Isha together. However, the issue of necessity is left to the conscience of those Muslims, and Allah will reward each according to his intention
Thus, it has become clear after reading the above opininions of scholars that there are two opinions regarding the issue raised in the question. The first one states that Muslims who face such a difficulty in the West can wait one hour after performing Maghrib and then perform `Isha prayer. The other opinion states that those Muslims can combine both Magrib and `Isha, if they are deriven by the same necessity. Thus, you can choose the opinion that best suit your case, keeping in mind that Islam is the religion of easines.
You can also read:
Times of the Five Daily Prayers
The Five Daily Prayers: Any Mention in the Qur’an?
Combining Salah for a Need
If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to write back!
May Allah guide you to the straight path, and guide you to that which pleases Him, Amen.