The Sunnah Prayer of Fajr

[Mufti Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Yusuf]

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) laid great emphasis on the sunnah prayer of Fajr, saying, “it is more superior than the world and everything within it” (Sahih Muslim 1:251). Likewise there are a number of narrations from which the importance of this Sunnah prayer can be understood. This means that a person should ensure that it is performed prior to the fardh prayer, since no sunnah prayer is permissible until after sunrise, once the fardh prayer of Fajr is performed.

So what is one to do if he arrives late to the masjid for Fajr, and finds the congregational salaat about to begin or already in progress? On the one hand, he remembers the emphasis regarding the sunnah prayer of Fajr, yet on the other, he knows the Hadith of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) stating that once the call to commence (Iqamah) has been made, only the fardh prayer  should be performed. The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said:

Once the call to commence (Iqamah) is made for the prayer, there is no prayer except the fardh prayer (maktuba) [Sahih Muslim 1: 247]

The worshipper (musalli) is unsure of what to do in this situation. Should he hurry and perform the sunnah prayer, then catch up with the imam for the fardh prayer, or should he abandon the sunnah prayer altogether and join in the congregation? There is a difference of opinion among the scholars on this issue.

THE VARIOUS OPINIONS

One opinion is that it is necessary for this person to immediately join the congregation for the fardh prayer, and that it is no longer permissible for him to perform the sunnah prayer during the congregational fardh prayer, just as in the ruling for other prayers.

Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Malik are of the opinion that the person should attempt to perform his sunnah prayer, as long as he think he can complete it quickly and join in the fardh prayer before it ends, i.e. even if he catches only the last sitting. This means that he must be confident of not missing the congregation completely, otherwise ge should leave performing the sunnah and join the congregation; because, technically speaking, the congregational fardh prayer is more important.

One point to remember, however, is that once the congregational prayer begins, the sunnah prayer should not be performed where the main congregation is in progress. It should not be performed outside the main prayer-hall (masjid) area.

Another view of some Hanafi scholars is that a person should only attempt to perform the Sunnah prayer if he feels confident of acquiring atleast one rak’ah behind the imam. This means that he must be certain of catching up with the imam before he stands up from the bowing (ruku’) of the second rak’ah of the fardh.

This difference of opinion is only concerning the two rak’ats sunnah of Fajr, and there is no controversy regarding the sunnah in other prayers. All the scholars are unanimous that once the congregation for those prayers commences, no other sunnah prayer is permissible, because although the sunnah prayers in them are important, they are not as emphasized as the sunnah of Fajr. Also, if a person happens to miss the sunnah prayer of Zuhr for instance, he can make it up after the fardh, since it is not a prohibited time for it.

IMPORTANCE OF THE SUNNAH PRAYER OF FAJR

1. Aa’isha (radhiyallahu anha)  said,

The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was not as regular in any supererogatory prayers (nafl) as he was in the two rak’ats before Fajr. [Sahih Muslim 1:251]

2. Aa’isha (radhiyallahu anha) said,

I did not observe the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) hasten towards any supererogatory (nafl) prayers as fast as he would to perform the two rak’ats before Fajr. [Sahih Muslim 1:251]

3. Aa’isha (radhiyallahu anha) reports that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said,

The two (sunnah) rak’ats of Fajr are more superior than the entire world [Sahih Muslim 1:251]

4. Aa’ishah (radhiyallahu anha) reports that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said regarding the two (sunnah) rak’ats at the break of dawn:

They are more beloved to me than the entire world. [Sahih Muslim 2:251]

5. Abu Hurayra (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said,

Do not abandon the sunnah rak’ats of Fajr, even if horses trample over you. [Sunan Abi Dawud 1:186, Athar al-Sunan 1:224]

All the above hadiths explain the significance of and emphasis placed on the sunnah prayer of Fajr. Since the Sunnah rak’ats of other prayers are not as greatly emphasized as the sunnah of Fajr, they are treated differently.

THE COMPANIONS AND FOLLOWERS ON THIS ISSUE

There are also many other rigorously authenticated hadiths which confirm that the Companions of the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) attempt to complete their sunnah prayer prior to joining the congregational fardh prayer of Fajr if it had already commenced.

1. Imam Tahawi reports from Nafi’:

I wakened Ibn ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) for the Fajr prayer, while the prayer had already commenced. He arose and performed the two rak’ats (sunnah first). [Sharh Ma’ani’l Athar 1:375]

2. Abu Ishaq says,

‘Abdullah Ibn Abi Musa related to me from his father regarding the time Sa’id Ibn al-‘Aas called them. He has called Abu Musa, Hudhayfa and ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud before the Fajr prayer. When they departed from him, the congregation had already begun, so ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) positioned himself behind a pillar in the masjid and performed two rak’ats sunnah first, then joined the congregation.  [Sharh Ma’ani’l Athar: 1:374]

3. Abu ‘Uthman al-Ansari reports:

‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) arrived while the imam was leading the Fajr prayer. Since Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhu) had not yet performed the two rak’ats (sunnah), he performed them behind the imam (i.e. separately), then joined in the congregation. [Sharh Ma’ani’l Athar: 1:375]

4. Imam Tahawi has transmitted a report from Abu’l Darda’ (radhiyallahu anhu):

He would enter the Masjid while everybody would be in rows performing the Fajr prayer. He would first perform his two rak’ats in a corner of the masjid, then join everyone in the (fardh) prayer.  [Sharh Ma’ani’l Athar: 1:375]

5. Abu Uthman al-Nahdi says,

We would arrive at (times to the masjid were) ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (radhiyallahu anhu) (was the imam), not having performed the two rak’ats (sunnah) of Fajr. ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) would have already started the prayer, so we would first perform our two rak’ats at the rear of the masjid, then join in the congregation. [Sharh Ma’ani’l Athar: 1:376]

6. ‘Abdullah Ibn Abi Musa (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates:

‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu) arrived will the imam was leading the Fajr prayer. He performed the two rak’ats (sunnah) behind a pillar, as he had not yet performed them. [Musannaf ‘Abd al Razzaq 1:444]

7. Haritha Ibn Mudrib says,

‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud and Abu Musa (radhiyallahu anhum) left Sa’id Ibn al-‘Aas (after visiting him). The congregation (for Fajr) had just begun. So ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu)  performed two rak’ats (sunnah), then joined in the prayer with everyone else. As for Abu Musa (radhiyallahu anhu), he joined in the row immediately thereafter. [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah: 2:251]

8. Abu Darda’ (radhiyallahu anhu) regarding the Sunnah of Fajr

Yes, By Allah! If I ever enter (the masjid) and find everyone in prayer, I proceed to a pillar of the masjid and perform two rak’ats quickly; then I join the congregation and perform my Fajr with them.  [Musannaf ‘Abd al Razzaq 1:443]

9. Abu Darda’ (radhiyallahu anhu), according to another reports, states,

I (sometimes) approach the people while they are standing in rows performing Fajr. I perform two rak’ats (sunnah) then I join them. [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah 2:251]

10. It is reported regarding Ibn ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhu),

He would sometimes join in the congregation (immediately) and at other times he would first perform his two rak’ats at one side of the masjid. [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah 2:251]

11. Sha’bi narrates regarding Masruq:

He entered the masjid to find the people engaged in the Fajr prayer. Since he had not yet performed the two rak’ats (sunnah), he performed them at one side, then joined the congregation in prayer. [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah 2:251, Musannaf ‘Abd al Razzaq 2:444]

12. It is reported that Hasan al-Basri (rahimahullah) had instructed,

When you enter the masjid and find the imam in prayer and you have not yet performed the two rak’ats of Fajr, perform them (first); then join the imam (in the fardh prayer). [Musannaf ‘Abd al Razzaq 2:445, Sharh Ma’ani’l Athar 1:376]

These are just some of the many hadiths wgich highlight the practice of the Companions and Followers. A great jurist (faqih) like ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (radhiyallahu anhu), as well as many other prominent Companions, such as Abu Darda’ and Ibn ‘Umar (radhiyallahu anhum), would first the two-rak’ats sunnah of Fajr and then proceed to join the main congregation. Hasan al-Basri (rahimahullah), a prominent follower (tabi’i) who requires no introduction, orders in clear words that the sunnah prayers be performed before joining the congregation.

OTHER REASONS FOR THE HANAFI OPINION

(1) The emphasis regarding the sunnah of Fajr is far greater than that of any other sunnah prayer. It has been ordered that the sunnah of Fajr be performed even if there is a danger of horses trampling over the person. Due to this emphasis, there should remain no doubt as to why the Hanafis excluded the sunnah prayer of Fajr from the command of the Hadith that informs us of only fardh prayers being permissible when the congregation begins.

(2) It is sunnah to make a lengthy recitation of the Qur’an during the fardh of Fajr. Hence, it is possible that one could quickly perform his two rak’ats sunnah first and then join in with the imam during the first rak’a, or the second rak’a, or just before the imam makes the salaam. This is normally difficult in other prayers where a relatively shorter recitation is made and the number of rak’ats recommended before them is four.

(3) In the above Hadith, the command regarding the impermissibility of any non-fardh prayer at the time of congregation cannot be taken as a general command encompassing all prayers. If it was an absolutely general command, then it would also be prohibited for someone to perform the sunnah prayer in his house once he was aware that the congregation had commenced in the masjid. However, many scholars have permitted that the sunnah prayer be performed at home, even though the congregation may have already begun in the masjid. Consequently, this leaves no room to ceiticize the Hanafi school for excluding the sunnah of Fajr from the prohibition. Many other scholars have also not taken the command to be an absolutely general one.

(4) The word ‘maktuba’ has been used in the hadith to describe the fardh prayer. The general meaning of this word includes the missed [qada’] prayers also, which indicates that it would be permissible to perform the missed prayers even after the congregarion has begun. However, some scholars do not allow this. From this, it is understood that the hadith (see beginning of the article) is not taken literally, just as its command is not taken in a general sense.

After mentioning these points, it could be concluded that the Hanafi school has reconciled both types of hadiths by saying that the person should only perform the sunnah prayers first if he feels he can acquire that congregational-fardh prayer before it ends. Otherwise, he should enter immediately into the congregation with the imam. In this way, the person benefits by attaining the reward of the sunnah prayer of Fajr and also the reward of performing the fardh salat in congregation.

ONE MORE POINT TO REMEMBER

At times, some narrations are quoted which explicitly exempt the fardh sunnah from the command of the hadith (which mentions the impermissibility of prayer once the congregational fardh prayer has commenced). However, those narrations are usually weak, and have neither been used  as a basis for the Hanafi position nor as evidence to prove the Hanafi opinion against other opinions.

Likewise, there are some narrations which specifically indicate that the sunnah rak’ats of Fajr are included in the prohibition of the hadith. The narrations mention details of a Companion confirming with the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam): “Are the sunnah rak’ats of Fajr also invalid if they are performed after the congregation has begun?” The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) answers him in the affirmative  saying, “Yes!, they are also invalid.” These narrations, being even weaker than the others, will not stand as evidence  to strengthen the other group’s opinion.

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