[By Maulana Abdar-Rahman ibn Yusuf]
One question that is probably in the minds of many people is: How should I stand in prayer [salaat]?? Should I stand with my legs wide apart so that my feet touches to the next person?? Or should i stand to my own comfort without touching the feet of the next person?? Or should i stand with the gap of four fingers between as some people do?? Questios of these nature has confused the minds of many people, and they would like to discover the precise Sunnah method of standing in the prayer [salaat].
This chapter attempts to answer these questions and offers the reader a clear view on the correct Sunnah posture, It should be understood at the outset that the discussions on this point by the scholars are very few in comparison to the detailed discussions found on the other key issues of Salaat. Thus, very limited information is found in the many books of jurisprudence regarding this issue. In fact, the precise views of even the four Imams too on this issue is quite difficult to determine.
There are number of Hadith on this issue that emphasizes on maintaining orderly rows during the prayers. These narrations are usually accompanied by a warning from the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam on the consequence of not straightening the rows during Salaat, one such narration states:
“Straighten your rows, or else Allah will cause discord between your hearts” [Sunan Abi Dawud: 1:97]
There are also other narrations which contain similar admonitions.
When a musalli [person praying] observes others spreading their feet apart and touching them to the feet of the next person, he cannot help but wonder from where such a method was derived. The upholders of this view present a hadith in which the Companions touched their feet together (i.e each one joined his feet with those of the person next to him) after receiving admonition from the Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam)to straighten the rows, This Hadith, though quoted as being a proof in support of this view, does not in any way make the joining of the feet a wajib [necessary]act as the supporters of this opinion so claim.
The following sections of this chapter will work to clarify this point by first discussing the different opinions on the issue of positioning the feet in the prayer. Therefore, the above Hadith will be independently analyzed in-depth in an attempt to explain its true implications.
To form an orderly row, whether by joining the feet together or not, is undoubtedly a very important requirement for the congregational prayer. It is also the Imam’s responsibility to ensure that this is done correctly before he initiates the prayer. Although, technically speaking, having the rows in perfect order cannot be classified as an integral of fard of the prayer, it is definitely an important Sunnah due to the strict instructions that have been related about it from the Messenger of Allah [Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam]
THE VARIOUS OPINIONS
We will begin by stating some of the opinions of the Hanafi school on the issue of feet position in prayer. In all, there seems to be two dominant opinions found in the Hanafi texts. The first of these calls for a gap of four fingers to be left between the feet of a person when he is praying. This opinion is found in Imam Ibn ‘Abidin Rahimahullah’s authoritative commentary on ‘Allama Haskafi’s al-Durr al-mukhtar, where it states:
The gap to be left between a person’s feet should be equal to that of four fingers of the hand, because this [amount] is very effective in creating [the posture of ] submission and humility [sought in prayer] [Radd Al-Mukhtar 1:299]
Leaving a gap equal to four fingers has been described by the fuqaha [jurists] as being the superior method, as it sometimes proves quite uncomfortable to stand with legs spread wide apart for an extended period of time. This discomfort makes concentration difficult and often results in the loss of focus and devotion in the prayer.
The second method according to the Hanafi school can be understood from the following. In Ma’arif al Sunan, a commentary of Sunan al-Tirmidhi by the late Hadith scholar ‘Allama Yusuf binnori [rahmatullah alayh], it is stated that there is no mention, among authentic Hadith narrations, of a stipulated amount of space to be left between between one’s own feet during the prayer. For this reason, it could be concluded that the sunnah method of positioning the feet in prayer is whatever distance a person finds convenient and comfortable while praying [Ma’arif Sunan 2: 298]
A Hadith is reported in Sunan al-Nasa’i which states that:
‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud [Radhiyallahu Anhu] saw a person standing in prayer with his two feet together [i.e touching each other] and judged it to be against the sunnah. He advised the person that if he had practised murawaha it would have been more preferable [Sunan al-Nasa’i 1: 142]
The Arabic word murawaha usually means to stand on one foot and then the other, alternating between them as one becomes tired. However, another meaning of murawaha is to leave a slight gap between the feet, and this seems to be the most probable meaning of this word in reference to the above narration, since the person had been standing with his feet together. If we take this latter meaning of the term murawaha, the hadith means that Hazrat ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud [Radhiyallahu Anhu] instructed the person to maintain a small gap between his feet, since the Sunnah was not to completely join the feet together [nor to keep them so far apart]
From the above, We learn of the flexibility of the Hanafi school on this issue. It would therefore be permitted for a person to stand with a gap between his feet equal to or greater than the width of four fingers.
In determining the opinion of the Shafii’s on this issue, a careful study of their literature reveals that their most popular view is that a person shouls maintain gap equal to one hand span between his feet [Nihayat al-muhtaj 1:347 U], However, it is recomended in Al-Anwar, another text on Shafi’i fiqh, that the gap should only be four fingers- as is one view of the Hanafis. Furthermore, the great Shafi’i scholar Imam Nawawi [Rahmatullah Alaih] concludes:
It is undesirable [makruh] to join the feet together; it is preferable [mustahab] to keep some distance between them. [Sharh al-Muhadhdhab 3:266 U]
In total, we have three opinions of the Shafi’i school: 1] a gap equivalent to one hand span; 2] A gap of four fingers; 3] as much a gap as the person deems necessary. The first opinion is particular to the Shafi’i school, whereas the latter two opinions are common to both the Shafi’i and Hanafi schools.
One has probably noticed by now that not a single opinion mentions that a person’s feet must be joined together with the feet of the adjacent person(s). If indeed this was the correct and sunnah way of standing in prayer, it would have undoubtedly been accepted as such.
THE HADITH ON JOINING THE FEET
There is hadith in Sunan Abi Dawud which describes the Companions joining their feet with each other to form oderly rows. Abu’l Qasim al-Jadali reports:
I heard Nu’man Ibn Bashir Radhiyallahu Anhu relate the the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam faced the people and instructed, “Straighten your rows, By Allah, you should straighten your rows or else Allah will create disagreement between your hearts” Nu’man Ibn Bashir Radhiyallahu Anhu then said, “I saw each person join his shoulders with those of the next person” [Sunan Abi Dawud 1:104]
This is one of the Hadith put forward as evidence by those who assert that each person’s feet should be joined with the next person’s during congregational prayer. Some of them are overtly particular about this, so much so that if someone standing next to them happens to draw in their feet, these people would adjust their legs even further just to maintain foot contact with their neighbour. They continuously criticize those who do not leave a wide gap between their feet, as though the sunnah method is only what they claim.
In vain, however, are their attempts to use the above hadith and other similar hadith to establish that joining the feet in Salaat is necessary [wajib]. This is true for a number of simple reasons:
1) The words which actually describe the joining of the feet are not the words of the Messenger of Allah [Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam], but are rather the words of the narrator. Hence, this portion of the Hadith is not a direct statement from the Prophet Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam himself [marfu’] , but rather the narrator’s description of the reaction of the Companions to the Prophet Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam’s warning. In fact, this observation added by the narrator cannot be found in the majority of the narrations that emphasize having orderly rows. Hence, it becomes quite clear that the Prophet Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam did not command the joining of the feet together, but merely commanded that the lines be straightened. In order to fullfil the command, the Companions employed this method of joining the feet.
2) The Hadith of Nu’man ibn Bashir radhiyallahu anhu merely tells us about the behaviour of the Companions before the prayer began, In other words, the observed behaviour of the Companions was to join their ankles, knees and shoulders together prior to the prayer’s commencement. Nowhere in the hadith does it indicate that this posture was maintained throughout the prayer.
3) If for the sake of argument, we were to accept that the joining of the feet was maintained throughout the prayer, a number of questions arise, One such question is whether the feet should be joinec together in all postures of the prayer or only during the standing posture [qiyam]. If the answer is that it is required only during the standing posture, then the next questions are “What is the evidence for that??” and “Why is this arrangement confined to the standing posture only and not required in any other posture??” If the answer is that it is necessary in all postures of prayer, then the question is: “How will the people in each row go about joining their feet and shoulders together while in prostration or in the sitting posture??” Clearly, it would be quite impossible to achieve this.
Moreover, if the counter-argument is that it is only necessary to have the feet together while in qiyam because of its difficulty in the other postures of prayer, then the reply is that it is also very difficult for a row of people to ensure that this joining arrangement is maintained between them during the standing posture as well.
4) Based on the above-mentioned hadith, if it is deemed necessary to join the shoulders and feet together, then why have the knees been excluded from the ruling?? In the above narration of Sunan Abi Dawud, the Companions joined their knees together as well. It should therefore follow that the joining of the knees also be treated as an obligatory act throughout the prayer. However, one must be warned that standing even for a short while with one’s knees joined to the next person’s knees can be quite painful. This is even impossible in some cases, when there is a significant size difference between two people standing besides one another.
5) Another inteepretation of the above hadith offered by some scholars is that the narrator Nu’man Ibn Bashir Radhiyallahu Anhu only intended to show how the Companions attempted to form extremely straight rows at the instructions of the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam, and not that they actually joined their feet,shoulders and ankles together. It is for this reason that the title of this chapter in Sahih al-Bukhari, “Chapter on the Joining of the Shoulders and Feet Together While Forming the Rows,”
has been classified by Hafiz Ibn Hajar Rahmatullah Alaih as an exaggeration. He writes in his commentary. Fath al-Bari, that:
“[Imam Bukhari’s] reason for choosing this specific title is to exaggerate (mubalagha) the importance of straightening the rows and filling the gaps in between” [Fath al-Bari 2:247]
It is deduced from this statement that the above-mentioned narration is not to be taken literally. Imam Shawkani, who is constantly referred to by the Ghair Muqallideens, also does not take the hadith’s literal interpretation. He writes in his Nayl al-awtar:
[The statement] means: place the parts of the body [shoulders, etc.]in line with each other, so that the shoulder of each person performing prayer is in level with the shoulder of the next person. This was everyone’s shoulders, knees and feet will be in a single straight line [Nayl al-awtar 3:65 U]
In clear words, he indicates that the actual reason for joining the shoulders and other body parts, was to straighten the rows and because the joining itself was an obligatory act.
6) Hadhrat Anas Raziyallahu Anhu has also stated in a narrarion of Ma’mar, which Ibn Hajar Rahimahullah has recorded in his Fath al-Bari, that:
“If I were to attempt this [joining shoulders and feet together] with anybody today, they would scurry away like reative mules” [Fath-al-Bari 2:247]
It is apparent from Anas Radhiyallahu Anhu’s statement that even the Companions did not continue this practice after the death of the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam (Sunnah Mustamirra), the Companions would never never have abandoned it, let alone speak of it in such a manner
7) Once it is established that the primary reason for the Companions joining their feet together was to achieve perfect order in their rows, it can be easily understood that this joining of the feet is not required any longer, since, in most of the masjids and places of worship today, the lines are well marked on the carpets, marbles and floor coverings. By standing together with their heels on the markings, the worshippers will automatically come together in perfectly straight rows. Hence, there is no need to be overtly critical and go around ensuring that everyone’s feet have been joined together.
Other points to be considered
A noteworthy point to mention now is that many of those who assert hat the feet be joined together are normally observed widening their feets even during their individual prayers. In fact, on many occasions, they widen them beyond shoulder width. Even if they consider the joining of the feet in congregational prayer to be necessary, It does not mean they must alsi widen their feet beyond shoulder width. The reason for this is that if every body stood shoulder to shoulder and joined their feet together, the gap between the two feet would only be as wide as the shoulders. It would be quite impossible to spread them any more and still maintaun shoulder contact.
Another reason why one should not overspread his feet during individual prayer is that the above-mentioned hadith only describes the Companions joining their feet while im congregation. Hence, this hadith cannot be used as evidence for widening the feet for individual Salaat.
In the end, we can conclude, without fear of contradiction, that those who insist on joining the feet together have failed to comprehend the true meaning of the hadith, and, as such ,do not have any evidence to support their position. It is not possible to follow the Qur’an and Hadith by always employing verbatim translations, which is the methodology of the Literalists [Zahiriyya], whose many views majority of scholars have not accepted. The grave consequences of following this type of methodology is quite apparent.
Indeed, it is important to come together during prayer, but this is normally achieved by joining the shoulders together (which had been ordered in the hadiths) and standing with the heels on the lines. It is virtually impossible not to leave any gaps at all as some people insist.