Hanafi Stance on Not Reciting Behind an Imam Explained

[By Maulana Abdur-Rahman Ibn Yusuf]

WHETHER OR NOT ONE SHOULD RECITE Surat al-Fatiha behind the Imam has been a topic of great controversy and dispute since early times. The controversy is not just regarding which is superior and more virtuous, but rather it is a debate concerning the actual permissibility of reciting Surah Al-Fatiha when praying behind the Imam. For this reason, it holds a very important position among the various issues of prayer, and scholars have written lengthy discussions on the subject.

The issue differs from that of raf ‘al-yadain, which is only about determining whether or not it is more superior to raise the hands at the time of ruku’. The issue of qira’a khalf al-imam or “reciting behind the imam” is far more serious. It is about whether the recitation is wajib [necessary] or totally forbidden.

The following study deals with the verses and hadiths on this issue, and the rulings of reciting Fatiha for the muqtadi or “one following an imam” in the silent [sirri] and audible [jahri] prayers.


Firstly, there is no difference of opinion concerning whether or not the Imam or the person praying by himself [munfarid] have to recite Surat al-Fatiha. All scholars agree that it is obligatory on both of them to recite Surat al-Fatiha. They also agree that the muqtadi is exempted from reciting anything beyond Surat al-Fatiha, whereas, the Imam and the munfarid have to recite atleast a few short verses or a small chapter in the first two rak’ats [units] of the fard [obligatory] prayer and in all rak’ats of non-fard prayers.

The difference is regarding whether or not the muqtadi should recite Surat al-Fatiha when praying behind the Imam.

Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad [rahimahumullah] are of the view that the follower is not required to recite Surat al-Fatiha in the audible prayer, but is required to do so in the silent. Imam Malik [rahmatullah alayh] has said that it is undesirable [makruh] for the follower to recite in the audible prayers. (Fath al-Mulhim 2:20)

Imam Shafi’i’s [rahmatullah alayh] popular view is that it is necessary for the follower to recite Surat al-Fatiha in both types of prayers-audible as well as silent. This view, although being the popular one, is not necessarily his final opinion. A careful study of his works reveals this opinion to be his former view, as Ibn Qudama states in his book al-Mughni (1:601): The words of Imam Shafi’i [rahmatullah alayh], as relayed in his book al-Umm, inform us that it is not necessary for the muqtadi to recite Surat al-Fatiha in the audible prayers; however, it should be recited in the silent prayers. He writes:

And we say that the follower should recite in every prayer performed behind an imam in which the imam recites in a non-audible tone (Kitab al-Umm 7: 153U)

Al-Umm is one of Imam Shafi’i’s [rahmatullah alayh] later works, as affirmed by Hafiz Ibn Kathir [rahimahullah] in his al-Bidaya wa’l nihaya (10: 252) and ‘Allama Suyuti [rahmatullah alayh] in his Husn al-muhadhara. This indicates that what is understood from al-Umm is his later opinion, which in most cases is the more correct one.

There is another group of people who claim it is fard [obligatory] for the muqtadi to recite the Fatiha even in the audible prayers, This is a very isolated and unique position, since even Dawud al-Zahiri and Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahumullah) were of the view that the Fatiha should not be recited in the audible prayers.

Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad (rahimahumullah) are unanimous in their opinions regarding this issue. They state that it is forbidden [haraam] (though it does not nullify the prayer) for the follower to recite any portion of the Qur’an, whether it be the Fatiha or any other verse, in both the silent and audible prayers behind the Imam. Whatever has been related about the Imam Muhammad saying it is more preferable for the follower to recite in the silent prayers is a weak report, Ibn al-Humam states this opinion to be erroneously attributed to Imam Muhammad. He says,

The truth is that Imam Muhammad’s opinion is the same as that of Imam Abu Hanifa ans Imam Abu Yusuf (rahmatullah alayhim), Imam Muhammad (rahimahullah) has clearly stated his view to be the same as that of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Abu Yusuf in his Muwatta and kutab al-athar (Fath al-Mulhim 2:20)

A few points are derived from the above review of opinions concerning the recital of the muqtadi:

1) No Imam considers the reciting of Fatiha to be fard, or necessary, for him in the audible prayers.

2) Some say it is necessary for him only in the silent prayers.

3) The opinion of the Hanafi school is simple, and that is no recitation should be undertaken by the follower, as his imam’s recitation is sufficient for him.

Now we will look at the various verses and hadiths on this issue, and determine the closeness of the Hanafi opinion to the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah.


1. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“So, when the Qur’an is recited, listen to it, and remain silent, that you may receive mercy” [i.e during the compulsory congregational prayers when the imam is reciting] (al-Qur’an 7:204)

This verse is sufficient proof that no recitation whatsoever should be undertaken by the follower, and that it is obligatory for him to remain silent and listen attentively while the imam is reciting.

It is stated in Tanzim al-ashtat, a commentary of Mishkat al-Masabih, that this verse issues two commands to the follower: the first, to remain completely silent- which relates to both the silent and audible prayers – and the second, to listen with concentration- which relates only to the audible prayers. This means that the follower should maintain total silence in order to listen attentively to the recitation of his imam during the audible prayers; and he should remain silent in the silent prayers because of the command in the above verse to remain silent, even though he is unable to hear the recitation.

The above-mentioned Qur’anic verse is very general and encompassing in its command. It states that one must remain silent ans, if possible, also listen “When the Qur’an is recited,” i.e whether audibly or silently. It does not confine it to any particular state such as “remain silent when you hear the Qur’an is recited,” or “…when the Qur’an is being recited aloud.” Hence, it becomes clear from this verse that it is necessary for the muqtadi to remain silent in the silent and audible prayers while the imam is reciting. The muqtadi should also listen attentively in the audible prayers.

Some claim that this verse was revealed concerning the Friday sermon [khutba] only, and not concerning maintaining silence in prayer. This is an incorrect claim since a number of factors prove otherwise. Hafiz Ibn Taymiyya writes in his fatwa:

It comes to be understood from the pious predecessors [salaf as salih] that the verse was revealed concerning reciting in prayer, and some have said [it was revealed] concerning the sermon. Imam Ahmad (rahmatullah alayh) has  reported a consensus [among the scholars] that it was revealed concerning prayer. (Majmu al- fatawa 23:269)

Ibn Qudama writes in his book al-Mughni:

Imam Ahmad [rahmatullah alayh] states after a report of Abu Dawud, “The people are unanimous that this verse was revealed concerning the prayer” (1:601)

Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullah) writes:

Imam Ahmad (rahmatullah alayh) has reported a consensus that reciting is not necessary for the muqtadi when the imam is reciting audibly (Majmu’al-Fatawa 23:269)

It is reported in al-Mughni that Imam Ahmad (rahmatullah alayh) explicitly said:

We have never heard any Muslim scholar state that if a follower observes silence when his imam recites aloud, his prayers will not be valid. He further states, “This was [the practice of] the Messenger of Allah Sallallaahu Alaihi wasallam, the Companions [Sahaba], and the Followers [Tabi’in] . This is [the opinion of] Malik from Hijaz, Thawri from Iraq, Awza’i from Syria and Layth from Egypt. None of them have said that a muqtadi’s prayer will be invalid if he does not recite while his imam is reciting” (al-Mughni 1:602)

Both Ibn Jarir and Ibn Abi Hatim in their commentaries [tafasir], and Imam Bayhaqi [rahmatullah alayh] in his Kitab al-qira’a have related a hadith from the great exegete Mujahid:

This verse was revealed concerning some Companions of the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) reciting behind the imam.

Although this report is mursal (i.e one in which a follower reports directly from the Messenger of Allah sallallaahu alaihi wasallam, without mentioning a Companion in between), it will still stand as strong evidence since it is reported by Mujahid, who is known as one of the greatest exegetes of the Holy Qur’an [a’lam al-nas bi’l-tafsir]. Hence, his mursal reports are accepted by the scholars.

Ibn Jarir al-Tabari relates another hadith from Yasir Ibn Jarir regarding Ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) was performing prayer when he heard a few people reciting with the imam. Upon completing his prayer he remarked. “Has the time not come for you to understand?? Has the time not come for you to realize that when the Qur’an is being recited, you must listen to it attentively and remain silent just as Allah has ordered you to??” (I’la al-sunan 4:43, Tafsir al-Tabari 11: 378)

Hence, all the aforementioned points and starements justify that the verse was indeed revealed concerning prayer in general and not just for the friday sermon.
It is also worth knowing that this is a Makkan verse, whereas the Friday prayer (during which the sermon is deluvered) only became obligatory later on in Madinah.

2. Allah says,

“So recite as much [“ma”] of the Qur’an as may be easy [for you]” (al-Qur’an 73:20)

This verse commands that some portion of the Qur’an, regardless of its length, should be recited during the prayer. It does not confine the obligation to Surat al-Fatiha but rather indicates that any portion of the Qur’an can be recited to meet the obligation [fardiyya].

However, those who hold the view that it is obligatory to recite Surat al-Fatiha in prayer have used this verse with the hadith: “There is no prayer except with Surat al-Fatiha,”  as proof to substantiate their claim.

They state that the article “ma” in the above verse is an “unexplained” or mujmal term and that the above hadith serves as its explanation.

Hence, according to them, the Qur’anic verses means: “So recite Surat al-Fatiha from the Qur’an [during prayer].”

The problem with this explanation is that the article “ma” is not an “unexplained” or mujmal term as they purpose, but a “general” or ‘aam’ term. According to the principles of jurisprudence [usul al-fiqh], the article “ma” is normally used in this context, and the verse should read, “Recite whatever is possible for you to recite from the Qur’an.” This means that any portion of the Qur’an could be recited to fulfill the obligation laid down by this verse, since its general tone encompasses the whole Qur’an. By confining it to Surat al-Fatiha only, it would abrogate the general nature of the verse.

This does not mean that the Hanafis  have disregarded the hadith altogether. Through the hadith, they have rendered the recitation of Surat al-Fatiha to be wajib [necessary]. According to Hanafi jurisprudence, there is a difference between wajib and fard. Fard  is an obligation that is established through decisive proof [dalil qat’i], and wajib is an obligation that is established through speculative proof [dalil zanni]. Although it is important and necessary to fulfill both types of obligations, there is a difference in the ruling of one who does not fulfill them. For instance, neglecting a fard act in the salat will render the entire prayer invalid, whereas neglecting a wajib will render it deficient but not entirely invalid, A wajib act that is neglected can be compensated through the “prostrations of forgetfulness” [sajdat al-sahw]; however, neglecting a fard act cannot be compensated in this manner. There are many other rulings concerning these two types of obligations that can be found in other works of jurisprudence [fiqh].

The Hanafis thus conclude that reciting any portion of the Qur’an in prayer is fard based on the above-mentioned verse. And based on the above-mentioned hadith, they conclude that the recital of Surat al-Fatiha in prayer is wajib.

In summary, the imam and the person praying alone have to recite Surat al-Fatiha along with some other verses, but the muqtadi does not have to recite at all because he has been commanded to remain silent and because his imam’s recitation is sufficient for him (as will be further discussed under hadith 5)

3. Allah says,

“And say your prayer neither aloud nor in a low voice, but follow a way between” (al-Qur’an 17:110)

Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) relates the circumstances of revelation for this verse:

This verse was revealed when the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) was still in the stage of discreetly inviting [mutawarin] people to Islam in Makkah. He wpuld lead the Companions in prayer and would lead the Companions in prayer and would recite aloud. When the polytheists [mushrikeen] would hear his recitation, they would revile the Holy Qur’an, the One Who revealed it [Allah], and the one who conveyed it [Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam)]. Thus, Allah instructed His Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), “And say your prayer neither aloud” that the polytheist hear your  recitation, “nor in too low a tone,” but make it so that the believers can hear you (al-ta’liq al-sabih 1:366, Sahih Muslim).

In this verse, Allah commanded His Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) to recite loud enough for his Companions behind him to hear, which would only be possible if they remained silent during the prayer. Hence, this proves that the muqtadi needs to remain silent, and that the recitation is the responsibility of the imam only.


Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (radhiyallahu anhu) relates:

1. “The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) delivered a sermon in which he outlined our Way [Sunna] for us and taught us our prayer. He instructed, “When you prepare for prayer, straighten your rows; then one of you [should become the imam to] lead the others in prayer. He instructed , “When you prepare for prayer , straighten your rows; then one of you [should become the imam to] lead others in prayer. When he proclaims the takbir you also proclaim it; when he recites remain silent; and when he reaches “ghayr al-maghdubi ‘alayhim wala’l-dallin,” say “amin,” and Allah will answer your prayer” (Sahih Muslim 1:174)

2. Abu Hurayra (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said:

The imam has been assigned to be followed. When he proclaims the takbir you also proclaim it; and when he says “sami Allahu liman hamidah,” say “Rabbana laka’l-hamd” (Sahih Abi Dawud 1:96, Sunan al-Nasa’i 46)

These two hadiths give a better explanation of the verse 1 above. They clearly distinguish between the duty of the imam and the follower. Where the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) commanded the follower to follow the imam in proclaiming the takbir and other prayers, he did not command him to recite Surat al-Fatiha with the imam, but rather instructed him to remain silent. This proves that if reciting the Fatiha had been necessary for the follower, the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) would never have ordered the contrary. Therefore, it becomes clear that the imam’s duty is to recite and the follower’s duty is to remain silent and listen to the imam’s recitation.

It is also understood for hadith 1 that the only time the follower is permitted to say anything is when the imam reaches “wala’l-dalleen,” when he should say amin. The reason why the follower says amin– which means “O Allah, accept”- is to strengthen and endorse the du’a [invocation] the imam made to Allah in the Fatiha.

Surat al-Fatiha begins with praises to Allah, then follows up with a du’a to Him, in which the servant humbly asks:

Guide us to the straight path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace, not [the path] of those who earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray (al-Qur’an 1:5-7)

If it had been necessary for every follower to recite Surat al-Fatiha, they would have been ordered to say amin at the end of their own recitations; which is not the case since the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) ordered it to be said collectively upon completion of the imam’s recital of the Fatiha.

Another important point, which is derived from hadith 2, is in the statement, “The imam has been assigned to be followed.” Here the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) explains that the main reason for the muqtadi to remain silent during the prayer is so that he can follow his imam by listening to his recitation. It would be very rude for the follower to begin reciting on his own while the imam is reciting, as it is virtually impossible to listen attentively to someone else while absorbed in one’s own recitation.

3. The next hadith further explain why the muqtadi has been exempted from reciting and how his obligation stands absolved by the imam:

Jabir (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that whoever prays behind an imam, his imam’s recitation is sufficient for him (al-jawhar al-naqi 2:159, I’la’ al-sunan 4:61, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 1:377)

4. The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said:

Whoever prays behind the imam, his imam’s recitation is sufficient for him (‘Umdat al-qari 3:12, Muwatta Imam Muhammad 96, I’la al-sunan 4:61)

5. The following hadith of ‘Abdullah ibn Shaddad explains this in more detail:

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) led the ‘Asr prayer. A person began reciting behind him, so the person next to him gave him a nudge. After finishing his prayer the person asked, “Why did you nudge me?” The person replied, “The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) was in front of you, and I did not approve of you reciting behind him.” The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) heard thos and said, “Whoever has an imam, the recitation of the imam is sufficient for him” (Muwatta Imam Muhammad 98, I’la al-sunan)

6. Someone asked the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam):

O Messenger of Allah! Is there recitation in every prayer? The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said yes. Somebody from amongst the people asked, “[Does that mean] it is necessary?” The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) replied, I consider the imam’s recitation to be sufficient [for the muqtadi]” (Majma’al-zawa’id 2:110)

The above hadiths have made it clear that “the imam’s recitation is sufficient for the follower,” and that the follower does not have to recite behind the imam. If he were to recite, how would he fulfill the obligation of listening and remaining silent? Ibn Taymiya (rahimahullah) writes in his Fatawa:

The recitation of the imam is sufficient for the muqtadi. The consensus of the Companions and the Followers proves this. The hadiths from which this [rule] is established are narrated without any companion being omitted from the transmission [mursalan]. The legal rulings [fatawa] among the Followers were also that the [imam’s] recitation is sufficient. Above all, it is in total accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah (Majmu al-fatawa 23:271)

7. The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) even expressed disapproval at a person who recited behind him, as indicated in the following narration of Abu Hurayra (radhiyallahu anhu):

The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) turned towards [us] after completing a salat in which he had recited aloud and asked, “Did one of you recite with me??” A person replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) remarked, “I was wondering why I felt as if the words of the Qur’an were being taken from my tongue”

Abu Hurayra (radhiyallaahu anhu) relates that when the people heard him say this, they discontinued reciting behind him during the audible prayers (Sunan al-Tirmidhi 1:71, Muwatta Imam Malik 51, Sunan al-Nasa’i 1:146, Sunan Abi Dawud 1:146, Sunan Ibn Majah 61, Sunan al-Bayhaqi 2:157)

8. There is yet another similar narration from ‘Imran ibn Husayn (radhiyallahu anhu):

The Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) was performing the zuhr prayer when a person behind him began to recite “Sabbih isma rabbikal- a’la… [Surat al-A’la]. Upon completing his prayers, the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) asked who it had been. The person identified himself, so the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) remarked, “I thought one of you was taking it [the verses] from my tongue” [Sahih Muslim 1:172, I’la al-sunan 4:56]

9. There is yet another hadith of this nature in which ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) says,

The Companions would recite behind the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam). [Once] he said to them, “You have caused me confusion in my recitation of the Qur’an” (Majma’ al-zawa’id 2:110, al-jawhar al- naqi 1:162)

These hadiths are concrete evidence that the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) was not too pleased with people reciting behind him. It is also clear that the Companions would not have been reciting very loudly either, as that would constitute gross disrespect on their behalf, which is unthinkable regarding the Companions. Therefore, even though they were reciting in subdued tones, the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) admonished them, as it was disturbing his recitation.

The same type of disturbance can occur if the muqtadi recites Surat al-Fatiha or some other verses with it while praying behind the imam. In either case, it is possible that the imam may be led confusion. This proves that the command of the Qur’an, for the muqtadi to remain silent, is indeed concerning both silent and audible prayers.


‘Allama ‘Ayni writes in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, ‘Umdat al-qari, that it was the opinion of approximately eighty Companions that the muqtadi should not recite behind the imam. Some of them very strictly implemented and enforced their opinion l. A few of their reports and comments are mentioned here so as to gauge the swriousness of this issue.

1. ‘Ata ibn Yasar enquired from Zayd ibn Thabit (radhiyallahu anhu) regarding recitation behind the imam. He said,

There is no recitation behind the imam (Sahih Muslim 1:215)

2. Malik (rahimahullah) reports from Nafi’ that,

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) was asked whether anything should be recited behind the imam. He replied, whenever one of you prays behind the imam, the recitation of the imam is sufficient for him; but when you pray alone, you should recite for yourself.”

The narrator  reports that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) would not recite behind the imam (Muwatta Imam Malik 51, I’la al-sunan 4:76)

3. ‘Ubaydullah ibn Muqsim narrates that

he enquired from ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, Zayd ibn Thabit and Jabir ibn Abdullah (radhiyallahu anhum) [concerning this issue]. They informed him that there should be no recitation behind the imam in any prayer (Athar al-sunan 1:116, I’la’ al-sunan 4:81)

4. In the following report, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) expresses great disapproval at reciting behind the imam. He says,

Would that the mouth of the person reciting behind the imam be filled with dust (Athar al-sunan 1:116, I’la’ al-sunan 4:81)

5. Abu Jamra reports:

I asked ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu), “Should I recite when the imam is in front of me?” He said no (Athar al-sunan 1:116, I’la’ al-sunan 4:81)

6. Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates from the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) that the recitation of the imam is sufficient for the muqtadi, whether he recites silently or aloud. (Daraqtuni 1:331, I’la’ al sunan 4:82)

7. Musa ibn ‘Uqba reports that the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) would forbid [people from] reciting behind the imam (‘Umdat al-qari 3:67U, I’la al-sunan 4:84)

8. Musa ibn Sa’d ibn Zayd ivn Thabit narrates from his grandfather [Zayd bin Thabit (radhiyallahu anhu)]:

Whoever recites behind the imam, there is no prayer for him (Muwatta Imam Muhammad 100, I’la ‘al-sunan 4:87).

9. Ibrahim al-Nakh’ay (rahimahullah) states:

The first thing the people innovated [in religion] was recitation behind the imam- the Companions did not recite behind the imam (al-jawhar al-naqi 4:169)

10. This statement is further strengthened by the following one, in which he states:

The first person to recite behind the imam was a person accused [of innovation] (Muwatta imam Muhammad 100, I’la al-sunan)

11. Muhammad ibn Sirin informs us:

I do not consider reciting behind the imam to be from the Sunna (Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 1:377, I’la’ al-sunan 4:90).

12.’Abdullah ibn Zayd ibn Aslam reports from. His father that

ten Companions of the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) strongly prohibited reciting behind the imam: Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, ‘Umar al-faruq, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, ‘Ali ibn Talib, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, Zayd ibn Thabit, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhum) (Qala’id al-azhar 2:42U)

13. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (radhiyallahu anhu) said:

Whoever recites behind behind the imam, his prayer is not valid,

And in another narration he said:

[…] such a person has deviated from the natural path [fitra] (al-Jawhar al-naqi 2:218, Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 1:376).

14. Sa’d (radhiyallahu anhu) says,

I desire a burning ember be placed  in the mouth of the one who recites behind the imam (Musannaf ‘Abd al-Razzaq 2:138, Musannaf ibn Abi Shayba 2:376)

15. A similar statement has been related from ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu),

Would that there be a stone in the mouth of one who recites behind the imam (Musannaf ‘Abd al-Razzaq 2:128)

It becomes very clear from the above reports that the Hanafis are not isolated in their position, since it was the view of many of the Companions and Followers.


(1) The imam has been ordered to recite aloud in the audible prayers so that the followers can listen to him. In order for that to happen, they have to remain silent. If the follower is commanded to recite as well, he will not be able to concentrate on his imam’s recitation. This in turn would mean that the imam has been ordered to recite aloud to a congregation which does not need to pay attention to his recitation. It is quite clear that the Shari’a would not encourage such a practice.

(2) As mentioned earlier, part of Surat al-Fatiha constitutes a du’a’ [invocation] for guidance to Allah; and all those who recite this sura [chapter] make the du’a‘ for themselves. In the case of the follower, his du’a’ is made by the imam’s recitation is sufficient for the entire congregation.

In a typical everyday situation, a group of people intebd to submit a proposal or make a request to someone of authority, would normally not do so on an individual basis; rather, they would appoint someone to represent them. The representative would then act in the interest of the group and would do so without any interference from other group members. Anyone who does not adhere to this arrangement would be frowned upon.

The same is the situation with the imam in prayer. He beseeches Allah on behalf of the whole congregation, while they stand by in ab orderly manner listening to him. Once he completes his du’a’, they endorse it by proclaiming amin. Just as the aforementioned group would do so with their signatures. Hence, the hadiths clarify this by stating that the recitation of the imam is sufficient for all the members of the congregation.

(3) If a person arrives late for the congregational prayer and finds the imam in the bowing posture [ruku’], the correct procedure gor him to follow would be to first raise his hands and say “Allahu Akbar” [takbir] while standing; and then to join the imam in ruku’. Although this musalli has missed the standing posture [qiyam], he is still considered to have acquired that whole rak’a with the imam, and therefore does not have to make up that rak’a later on.

Everyone agrees that if the person did not say the takbir while standing, but went directly into the bowing posture instead, his rak’a is not valid since he has missed the takbir and the standing posture. However, no scholar has stated that his rak’a will be invalid because he was not able to recite the Fatiha. This not only proves that Surat al-Fatiha is not fard on the muqtadi, as the opening takbir and standing posture are; but it also proves that his imam’s recitation is sufficient for him.

(4) When the imam makes a mistake in his prayer, the whole congregation is obligated to perform the “prostrations of forgetfullness” [Sujud al-sahw] with him; and when he recites a “verse of prostration” [ayat al-sajda], the whole congregation is also obliged to perform the “prostration of Qur’an recital” [sajdat al-tilawa] with him, even if the imam recited it silently. Likewise, a single barrier [sutra] in front of the imam is sufficient for the whole congregation. In light of these commonalities, would it be a stretch of the imagination to take the imam’s recitation as being sufficient for the entire congregation?


There are a number of hadiths, authentic as well as weak, which apparently conteadict the verses and hadiths that were mentioned
earlier in this chapter. These seemingly contradictory hadiths have been used to establish the claim that it is obligatory to recite behind the imam. However, in reality, there is no contradiction between these hadiths and those previously mentioned proofs texts, as the scholars have reconciled the apparent contradictions and have brought their meanings to be in complete harmony with one another. We will now take a look at some of these hadiths.

1. ‘Ubada ibn al-Samit (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) narrates that the Messenger (sallallaahu alaigi wasallam) said:

There is no prayer for the one who does not recite Surat al-Fatiha (Sahih Muslim),

and in another narration he says:

There is no prayer for the one who does not recite Surat al-Fatiha and [some] more [verses]. [Sahih Muslim]

This hadith has been classified as rigorously authenticated [sahih] and is normally presented as evidence for the recitation of Surat al-Fatiha being fard on the muqtadi. It seems to be in apparent conflict with the Hanafi opinion. However, the scholars have provided many explanations to remove the conflict between it and the previously quoted proof texts of the Hanafis. The following are some explanations which should assist in understanding the true implications of the Hadith:

(a) The imam and the muqtadi are both obligated to recite Surat al-Fatiha according to this hadith, as it seems to entail a general command that also includes the muqtadi. The Hanafis do not reject this, but instead state that the obligation upon the follower to recite the Fatiha will be fulfilled through his imam’s recitation. This is because the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) has said that the imam’s recitation is sufficient for the muqtadi.

(b) This hadith will be interpreted as concerning the imam and the person praying by himself only and will not relate tp the follower, since he has been commanded in the Holy Qur’an to remain silent and listen. Hence, the follower is excluded from the obligation of this hadith

(c) There are rigorously authenticated hadiths (as presented above) that totally prohibit the follower from reciting behind the imam. Hence, in purview of those hadiths, he is exempt from the obligation of this hadith, and it becomes clear that this hadith is actually directed at the imam and the person praying by himself only.

(d) The first narration only mentions Surat al-Fatiha as being necessary; whereas the second narrationalso includes the words “fasa’idan” which means “and more” what is difficult to understand here is that even though the second narration mentions both the Surat al-Fatiha and “some more verses” as being necessary, only reciting the Fatiha has been considered to be fard and not reciting anything beyond it. Hence, whatever explanation is offered for not considering the extra verses as being obligatory upon the follower, will also be our explanation for not making even the Fatiha obligatory upon him. The only difference will be that we would have considered the full hadith by declaring the same ruling for both Surat al- Fatiha and the extra verses – that they are both absolved by the imam’s recitation- and according to the other view, only one half of the hadith would have been considered (i.e by making only the recital of the Fatiha necessary and not the extra verses).

On the other hand, if the explanation is that the imam’s recitation of the extra verses is sufficient for rhe follower, as it sometimes suggested by the proponents of the other view, then that is exactly what the Hanafis state about the Fatiha also.

(c) The obligation of Surat al-Fatiha, as understood from this hadith, is not directed at muqtadi but rather is directed at the imam and the person praying alone only. Imam Tirmidhi (rahimahullah) has narrated the following statement of Jabir  (radhiyallahu anhu) with a reliable transmission:

Whoever performed a rak’a’ in which he did not recite Surat al-Fatiha, it is as though he has npt performed it, unless he was [praying] behind the imam (Sunan al-Tirmidhi 1:71)

This clearly proves that the command in the above hadith is not for the follower. Imam Tirmidhi (rahimahullah) further mentions the comments of Imam Ahmad (rahimahullah)  concerning the above statement:

This [Jabir radhiyallahu anhu] is a Companion of the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam), “There is no prayer for the one who did not recite Surat al-Fatiha,” to mean that this is the case only when the person is praying  by himself” (I’la al-sunan 4:75)

We ask: Who can explain the meaning of a hadith better than a close Companion of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam)?

2. ‘Ubada ibn al-Samit (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates:

We were performing the Fajr prayer behind the Messenger if Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam). He began reciting but experienced difficulty in doing so. Upon finishing he said, “Perhaps you were reciting behind your imam??” We replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah,” So he said, “Do not recite anything besides Surat al-Fatiha, for there is  no prayer for the one who does not recite it”

Imam Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and Nasa’i have transmitted similar reports to this one in their Sunans. A narration from Sunan Abi Dawud states:

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) exclaimed “I was wondering why the words of the Qur’an were being taken from my tongu. Do not recite any portion of the Qur’an while I am reciting aloud, except Surat al-Fatiha” (Mishkat al-Masabih 1:81 from Sunan Abi Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i)

In another narration from Sunan al-Tirmidhi, ‘Ubada ibn al-Samit (radhiyallahu anhu) reports:

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) performed the Fajr prayer but experienced difficulty in reciting, so upon finishing he remarked, “I noticed you reciting behind your imam!” We said, “Yes, by Allah.” So he instructed, “Do not recite anything besides the Umm al-Qur’an [Surat al-Fatiha], for there is no prayer for the one who does not recite it.”

The apparent wording of the above narration in its various forms that a muqtadi is obligated to recite Surat al-Fatiha. The scholars have mentioned a number of reasons why this hadith cannot be taken for its literal meaning. They have either interpreted it in light of the above mentioned hadiths, or they have completely waived it due to its weakness. Some of these interpretations are presented below.

(a) First, present in the chain [isnad] is a Muhammad ibn Ishaq. Although some have called him a trustworthy narrator, most hadith scholars have criticized him in a veru harsh terms. Sulayman al-Taymi and Hisham have called him a “flagrant Liar” [Kadhdhab], and Imam Malik (rahimahullah) has labelled him a “flagrant liar from among the flagrant liars” [dajjalun min dajajila]. Ibn Zahir, Wahb ibn Khalid, Jarir ibn ‘Abd al-Hamid, Daraqutni and others also have made grave statements about him. Therefore, it will be completely unfair to accept such a transmission as evidence.

(b) Second, its transmission is full of confusion. Makhul sometimes relates the hadith from Muhammad ibn Rabi’, sometimes from Nafi’ ibn Mahmud and sometimes from others. With regards to Nafi’ ibn Mahmud, hadith experts, such as Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Tahawi and Ibn Qudama, state that he is ”unknown” [mahjul]. Since there is a multitude of other rigorously authenticated hadiths regarding this issue, to employ such hadiths (like the one under discussion), especially when it contradicts the other rigorously authenticated ones.

(c) Third, some hadiths experts have classified this hadith as being defective [ma’lul] since its transmission has been said to have only reached ‘Ubada ibn al-Samit (radhiyallahu anhu) [marfu’]. Ibn Taymiya explains in more detail:

This hadith is defective [mu’allal], for a number of reasons. Imam Ahmad (rahimahullah) and others have judged it to be weak. A discussion on its weaknesses has already been detailed at another place, where it was clarified that the actual authenticated [sahih] narration of the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) [in this regard] is, ”There is no prayer without the Umm al-Qur’an.” This hadith has been transmitted by Imam Bukhari and Muslim in their collections [sahihayn], and Zuhri has related it from ‘Ubada (radhiyallahu anhu) through Muhammad ibn Rabi’. As for this hadith, some narrators of Sham [the Levant] have erred in its transmission. The reality of this is that ‘Ubada ibn al-Samit (radhiyallahu anhu) was the imam of Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem] when he related this hadith. They confused his narration, which was meant to end with him [mawquf], as having been related directly from the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) [marfu’]” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi 1:71).

Hence, this hadith is inadmissible as evidence as it is not a direct report from the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam).

(d) Fourth, if we were for a moment to accept the hadith as rigorously authenticated and unblemished, even then, statements like, ”Perhaps you were reciting behind you imam.” Indicate that the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) had not instructed them to recite anything. He would not have asked such a question otherwise.

3. Abu Hurayra (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates

that the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said: ”Whoever performs a prayer in which he does not recite the Umm al-Qur’an, his prayer is incomplete and deficient.” A narrator of the Hadith enquired from Abu Hurayra (ra), ”I am sometimes behind the imam [so what am I to do]?” Abu Hurayra (ra) instructed, ”Recite it in your mind” [fi nafsik] (Majmu’ al-fatawa 23:187).

If we look at this narration carefully, we find that it actually consists of two segments: the first is the portion in which Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wadallam) himself emphasizes the importance of Surat al-Fatiha (hence, marfu’); and the second is a statement of Abu Hurayra (radhiyallahu anhu) (hence, mawquf) and not of Allah’s Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam). It is from the second segment that some attempt to attribute the obligation of reciting Surat al-Fatiha to the muqtadi, by taking it to mean, “recite it yourself,” and not “recite it in your mind.”

Since the first segment of this narration is quote similar to the first hadith analyzed in this section, the explanations mentioned there will be also in effect here, The conclusion is ”The recitation of the imam is sufficient for the follower.” And hence, the follower will be automatically have hos obligation of reciting Surat al-Fatiha fulfilled by his imam.

The second segment of the hadith is explained as follows:

(a) It is a mawquf narration, which in this case is the statement of Abu Hurayra (radhiyallahu anhu), not related directly from the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam). Since the second portion (if taken as some intrepret it) also contradicts many other rigorously authenticated hadiths that are naratted directly from the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) [marfu’], it cannot be used as an evidence.

(b) As mentioned earlier, the Hanafis have taken the words, ”iqra’ha fi nafsik,” in the narration to mean: ”recite it in your mind and ponder over it, and do not utter it with your tongue.” No doubt, if the muqtadi concentrates on his imam’s recitation, he would be fulfilling this requirement. The Hanafis have not interpreted these words to mean that the muqtadi is obligated to recite Surat al-Fatiha.

(c) The words, ”iqra’ha fi nafsik,” could also be translated as, ”Recite it when you are performing prayer individually.” The following  hadith, which the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) narrated directly from Allah [hadith qudsi], contains a similar expression and supports this translation. Allah says,

If the servant remembers Me while he is alone [fi nafsihi], I remember him similarly [fi nafsi]; and if he remembers Me in a gathering, then I remember him in a gathering more superior to his.

The opposite of being in a gathering with a group of people is being alone. Hence, the meaning of Abu Hurayra’s statement will be, ”Recite Surat al-Fatiha when you are performing prayer alone,” i.e. When not in congregation.


After reaching the end of this discussion, one can quite easily conclude that there is overwhelming evidence in favor of the Hanafi opinion on whether or not one should recite behind the imam. The understanding acquired from the verses of the Holy Qur’an and the many hadiths is that the muqtadi has two obligations to fulfill: one is to remain silent, and the other is to listen carefully. According to Hadiths, the imam’s recitation is considered sufficient for the follower. The recitation undertaken by the imam is considered by the hadiths to be totally sufficient for the muqtadi. Since the Qur’an actually prohibits that any word be uttered while the recitation of the Qur’an is taking place, it will be accepted as such; and the muqtadi will be required to maintain perfect silence, in both silent and audible prayers.

There should now remain no doubt as to why the follower should remain silent when praying behind the imam, even in a silent prayer when he is unable to hear his imam’s recitation. It has been explained that the verse 1 above contains two commands: one of them being the observerance of silence, which relates to the silent prayers, and the other of listening attentively, which relates to the audible prayers.

The Hanafis have taken all of these points into consideration and formed an opinion that encompasses all the various aspects of the hadiths. Hence, it could be concluded that their opinion is probably the closest to the Qur’an and Sunna.


Related Articles:

The Distance to be kept between the feet during Salaat [Hanafi view]

The Position of the Hands in Salaat [Hanafi view]


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