[By Maulana Abdur-Rahmaan ibn Yusuf]
Upon entering some masjids, a person finds a multitude of different people. He observes some standing in prayer with their hands clasped together beneath the navel, some with their hands folded on the chest, and some with their hands just beneath thechest. He also sees a few praying with their hands at their sides.
After observing such a scene, the question that very often arises in the mind of these observes is: “What is the correct method of placing the hands while in prayer??” or “Where did the Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) place his hands??”The following discussion will seek to answer these questions and determine the Sunnah (and most preferred) method of positioning the hands while standing in prayer.
The first point needs to be clarified here is that all the positions mentioned in the hadiths are permissible, and the difference of opinion is only concerning which is the most preferable method out of them.
The second point is that there are very few rigorously authenticated [Sahih] hadiths concerning this issue, and most of the reports which explain the different ways of positioning the hands in salat have been classified as extremely weak or slightly defective. This makes the issue a bit more complicated than others. Nonetheless, it is hoped that by the end of this topic, the sunnah and more preferable method of positioning the hands in salat will become evident.
The First Difference of Opinion
The first difference of opinion is concerning whether the hands should be clasped together or not. Imam Malik Rahamtullah Alaih’s more popular opinion, as related by Ibn al-Qasim, is that the hands should be left hanging at the sides. A second view of his, related by Ibn al-Mundhir, is that the hands should be brought together and placed on the body.
Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Ahmad (rahimahumullah), as well as the majority of scholars, are of the opinion that the hands should be clasped together and not left to hang at the side. The great Maliki scholar Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (rahimahullah) states regarding this:
There is nothing reported from the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) which contradicts this [majority opinion], and this is the unanimous view of all the Companions and Followers [tabi’in] (Awjaz al-masalik 2:116)
The Second Difference of Opinion
Now, among those of the latter view, there is a difference of opinion as to exactly where on the body the hands should be positioned after clasping them together. Imam Abu Hanifa and Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi (rahimahumullah) from the Shafi’i school assert that the hands should be positioned below the navel. Imam Muhammad bin Idrees al- Shafi’i’s view, according to al-Wasit and Kitab al-Umm, is that they should ve positioned beneath the chest. This is his most popular opinion. A second opinion of his as mentioned, as mentioned in al-Hawi, is that the hands should be placed directly on the chest.
There are three opinions related from Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (rahmatullah alaih),the first of which is similar to that of Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alaih). Ibn Hubayra said this was his more popular opinion. Imam Ahmad rahmatullah alaih’s second opinion is similar to that of Imam Shafi’i rahmatullah alaih, and the third opinion is that a person has the choice of either placing his hands beneath his navel or on his chest, since both of these methods are derived from the sunnah.
THE HADITHS ON THIS ISSUE
The scholars state that there are no authentic hadiths that substantiate Imam Malik rahmatullah alaih’s Opinion of leaving the hands at the sides. Some have mentioned the reason for it to be profound fear, awe and reverence for Almighty Allah; that once a person is standing before Him,he forgets to his hands together and they are left to hang at the sides. Whatever the case maybe, there are reports to be found of some Companions praying with their hands on their sides [see Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 2: 391]
On the other hand, there are numerous narrations which establish tbat the Messenger Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam placed his hands on his body while standing in prayer and did not leave them hanging on his side. These narrations however vary greatly as to where exactly on his body he placed his hands. One very popular narration on this issue is that of Wa’il ibn Hujr (radhiyallahu anhu), which is found in numerous hadith collections. The scholars however have labelled this narration as being problematic [mudtarib] and inconsistent. In one version of this narration, which is found in sahih Ibn Khuzayma, Wa’il Ibn Hujr radhiyallahu anhu says:
“I performed prayed with the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam. He placed his right hand upon the left one on his chest”
The version of Musnad al-Bazzar states “near his chest” instead of “upon his chest,” and the version of Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba states, “beneath the navel.” The first two versions support the view of those who claim it is more preferable to place the hands on the hands on the chest or just below it, and the third version supports the Hanafi view. It should be noted, however, that all three versions contain some type of a weakness. Each version will be analyzed in the following sections along with other narrations to determine their status and the reasons for their weakness.
The First Version
1.The version of Wa’il Ibn Hujr radhiyallahu anhu’s narration, transmitted by Ibn Khuzayma in his Sahih, contains the words “Upon his chest” and is probably the weakest of them all. There are a number of reasons for this:
(a) Mu’ammal Ibn Isma’il is one of the narrators of this version. He has been called a weak narrator, ever since he erred in his narrations after his books were buried and he was subsequently forced to narrate from memory. Imam Bukhari (rahimahullah) states, “His narrations are rejected” [munkar al-hadith]. ‘Allama Dhahabi rahimahullah statea, “He makes many errors” [kathir al-khata] Abu Zur’a states, “His narrations contain many errors” [Fath al-Mulhim 2:40]
(b) This narrations, although found in many other books through various chains, does not contain the words “on the chests” in any other version. Versions of it are found in Sunan Abi Dawud, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah and in the Musnad of Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi. None of them, however, contain the addition “on the chest” ‘Allama Nimawi states that this is only found in the version of Mu’ammal Ibn Isma’il (and transmitted by Ibn Khuzayma).
Hence, it is a weak and unauthenticated version
(c) Another point is that Mu’ammal Ibn Isma’il relates this hadith from Sufyan al-Thawri (rahimahullah). Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (rahmatullah alaih) states that the link between Mu’ammal Ibn Isma’il and Sufyan al-Thawri rahimahullah is weak [Fath al-Bari 206U], This is another weakness of this version
(d) Sufyan Al-Thawri rahimahullah himself was of the opinion that the hands should be positioned beneath the navel. So when his narration is found to be in contradiction with his personal opinion, this narration of his will not be accepted according to the principles of hadith study [usul al-hadith]
(e)Some have stated that all the narrations of Sahih Ibn Khuzayma are authentic. However, this is not true.’Allama Suyuti rahimahullah states in his Tadrib al-rawi that Sahih ibn Khuzayma contains some weak and munkar [rejected] reports. Furthermore, Ibn Khuzayma rahimahullah, like Tirmidhi, routinely comments after every narration stating its level of authenticity. However, following this narration of Wa’il ibn Hujr (radhiyallahu anhu), he does not make any comments whatsoever regarding its authenticity. This narration therefore cannot be classified as authentic just because it is part of his collection. It is clear that if it had been a rigorously authenticated hadith, he would have surely designated it as such.
(f)Some have said even if this hadith was accepted to be authentic, the placing of the hands on the chest would definitely be considered an isolated [shadh] practice-something Allah’s Messenger Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam did a few times solely to inform his Companions of its permissibility [Bayanan li’l-jawaz]. In no way can it be proven from this narration that placing the hands on the chest in salat was a permanent practice of the Messenger Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam.
The Second Version
2.The second version of Wa’il ibn Hujr radhiyallahu anhu’s narration, found, in Musnad al-Bazzar, contains the words “near the chest” and is also weak. One of its narrators is Muhammad ibn Hujr regarding whom Imam Bukhari rahimahullah states,”His matter is unsettled.” ‘Allama Dhahabi rahimahullah states, “Some of his narrations are rejected” (Majma’al- zawa’id 2:135) Hence, this version is also weak and must be rejected.
3. Another narration which mentions the placing of the hands on the chest is the narration of Hulb radhiyallahu anhu transmitted by Imam Ahmad rahimahullah:
“The Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam would turn from his right and left side, and would place this [hand] upon his chest” (Musnad Ahmad)
‘Allama Nimawi has established with convincing evidence that there is an error in the wording of this hadith. In place of the words “ala hadhihi” [“upon the other hand”] the copyist has mistakenly written “ala sadrihi” [“on his chest”] (Atharal-sunan 87]. The narration cannot stand as evidence either.
4. Another similar narration found in Sunan al-Bayhaqi states:
‘Ali radhiyallahu anhu, [in order to] explain the meaning of the verse, “Therefore turn in prayer to your Lord and Sacrifice” [al-Qur’an: 108:2], placed his right hand over the center of his left one and positioned them on his chest, as though indicating that the meaning [tafsir] of this verse was to position the hands in this manner” [Sunan al-Bayhaqi 2:30]
However, ‘Allama Ibn al-Turkumani al-Mardini, in his book al-jawhar al-naqi establishes that both the chain [isnad] and text [matn] in this narration are inconsistent. Imam Bayhaqi rahimahullah has mentioned a similar narration from Ibn Abbas radhiyallahu anhu in which there is the narrator Rawh ibn al-Musayyib. About him, Ibn Hibban states:
He narrates fabrications. It is not permissible to narrate from him.
‘Allama Sa’ati writes:
It is not correct to attribute this exegesis [tafsir] to ‘Ali or Ibn ‘Abbas radhiyallahu anhum. The correct meaning of the verse, as Ibn Kathir rahimahullah states, is that it is regarding the sacrifice (qurbani) [Al-Fath al-Rabbani 3:174 U]
Of the four narrations that have been analyzed so far, each one has been defective. There are some other narrations similar to these which state that the Messenger Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam did not position his hands beneath his navel. The explanation of the Hanafis for them is that the Messenger Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam did, at one time or another, place his hands on his chest or just below it. However, he did this only to demonstrate the permissibility of such a posture [bayanan li’l-jawaz], whereas the normal and routine practice of the Messenger Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam was to place his hands below his navel. The following narrations will establish this point more clearly.
EVIDENCE OF THE HANAFIS
Wa’il ibn Hujr radhiyallahu anhu relates:
I saw Allah’s Messenger (Sallallaahu Alaihi Wasallam)lacing his right hand upon the left one below his navel in prayer (Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba,Athar al-Sunan)
This is the third version of Wa’il ibn Hujr’s (radhiyallahu anhu) narration, mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, containing the words “below the navel.” Some Hanafi scholars have stated that this version cannot be used as conclusive evidence for the Hanafi opinion, because the words “below the navel” are only to be found in some editions of Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba, and not in them all. This is aside from the fact that, as we mentioned, it has an inconsistent text.
However, it is quoted in Fath al-Mulhim that ‘Allama Qasim ibn Qurlubgah has judged this version to be of sound transmission. ‘Allama Muhammad Abu’l-Tayyib al-Madani writes in his commentary on Sunan al-Tirmidhi that this narration has a strong chain, and Shaykh ‘Abid Sindhi states, “Its narrators are trustworthy.” Also, a number of scholars have verified that the addition, “below the navel,” is to be found in many manuscripts of Musannaf Ibn Shayba, even if it is not found in the recently published editions [see Athar al-sunan 148]
Therefore, despite the problematic nature of Wa’il ibn Hujr radhiyallahu anhu’s narration, this version of it cannot be rendered totally unacceptable, since there are many other reliable reports that strengthen it.
2. ‘Ali (radhiyallahu anhu) states:
To place one palm over the other beneath the navel is from the sunnah acts of prayer (Sunan al-Bayhaqi 312 U, Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 1:391)
It is a known fact that whenever a Companion utters the words, “It is from the Sunnah,” regarding any action, it means it is something acquired from the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam himself. Hence, ‘Ali radhiyallahu anhu could have only reported this practice as Sunnah after observing Allah’s Messenger Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam do it.
The problem with this narration is that it contains ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Ishaq in its chain, who had been classified as weak. The Hanafis have not fully relied on this narration as a basis for their opinion, but since there are many other narrations which reinforce it, it could still stand as supplementary evidence.
3. Hajjaj ibn al-Hasan relates:
Either I heard Abu Mijlaz saying it or I enquired from him, “How should one position his hands [during prayer]??” He replied, “He should place the inner portion of his right hand upon the back of the left one beneath the navel” Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 1:390)
The transmission of this hadith is sound [hasan], as ‘Allama ibn al-Turkumani al-Mardini states in his book al-jawhar al-naqi
4. Ibrahim al-Nakh’ai rahimahullah relates:
One should place his right hand upon the left one beneath the navel while in prayer (Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 1:390)
The transmission of this hadith is also sound [hasan]
5. Abu Hurairah (radhiyallahu anhu)narrates:
The placing of one hand over the other in prayer should be beneath the navel [al-jawhar al-naqi 2:31 U]
6.Anas (radhiyallahu anhu) reports that:
There are three aspects from the characteristics of prophethood [nubuwwah]: to open fast early; to delay the pre-dawn meal [suhur]; and to position the right hand over the left hand beneath the navel while in prayer (al-jawhar al-naqi 2:31)
OTHER EVIDENCES FOR THE HANAFI OPINION
The scholars have provided various other reasons as to why the hands are best placed beneath the navel and why this method has been classified as most preferable.
(1) Although most of the hadiths on this issue are weak in one way or another, the narrations presented by the Hanafis have been judged to be more sound than the rest.
(2) The great Hanafi Jurist Ibn al-Humam (rahimahullah) states
Due to the inconsistency and contradictions found between the various narrations, it is best to resort to analogy and reasoning.
Standing before the Lord demands a posture which expresses respect and reverence. Since positioning the hands beneath the navel is probably the most respectful way of standing, it will be considered most superior. On the other hand, the reason for women being instructed to position their hands on their chest , is so that greater concealment (and modesty) can be achieved (Fath al-Qadir)
(3) ‘Allama Badr al-Deen ‘Ayni (rahimahullah), the author of the great commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, ‘Umdat al-Qari, writes:
To position the hands beneath the navel holds great virtue. It is a posture which signifies great respect. It displays greater contrast to the postures of the disbelievers.
He also writes:
This is the same posture in which one stands before the rulers [of this world]
He then writes:
Placing the hands on the chest creates a similarity with women, hence, that cannot be classified as the sunnah for men (‘Umdat al-qari 3:16 U )
It could be concluded that although the hadiths presented by the various schools of thought contain some form of weakness or other, the hadiths presented by the Hanafis have received less criticism, and they have many stronger reports to supplement the weaker ones. Therefore, the hadiths presented as evidence for placing the hands on or below the chest cannot be taken to denote the normal practice of Allah’s Messenger (Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam). The Hanafis do agree, however, that the Messenger (Sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) sometimes placed his hands upon his chest and below it to express
permissibility of such a posture [bayanan-li’l jawaz]
Placing the hands beneath the navel exhibits a greater amount of respect and humility, and just as many postures of prayer for a male differ from that of a female, the method of positioning the hands also differs between them.