Published in  
August 20, 2022

Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat | Book of Salah | Imam and the Congregation

 Imam and the Congregation – اَلْإِمَامَةُ وَمَا يَلْحَقُهَا

اَلْأَقْرَأُ اَلْعَالِمُ فِقْهَ صَلَاتِهِ أَوْلَى مِنْ اَلْأَفْقَهِ

According to the madhab the one most worthy of being the Imam is the one who is best in reciting. Best in reciting means the best in the quality of tajweed and its rules. It’s not the Hafidh or the one with a beautiful voice, but rather one who can recite with proper tajweed. If there are 2 people who have more or not the same knowledge regarding the rulings of salah but one has memorized more of the Quran and one who has a better recitation. We go for the person with a better recitation (tajweed) than the one who has memorized more. It is is the quality of the recitation that matters.

Abu Mas’ud ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amr Al-Badri Al-Ansari reported: Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

يؤم القوم أقرؤهم لكتاب الله، فإن كانوا في القراءة سواء، فأعلمهم بالسنة، فإن كانوا في السنة سواء، فأقدمهم هجرة، فإن كانوا في الهجرة سواء، فأقدمهم سنًا، ولا يؤمن الرجل الرجل في سلطانه، ولا يقعد في بيته على تكرمته إلا بإذنه‏‏

“The person who is best versed in the recitation of the Book of Allah, should lead the prayer; but if all those present are equally versed in it, then the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah; if they are equal in that respect too, then the one who has emigrated (to Al-Madinah) first, if they are equal in this respect also, then the oldest of them. No man should lead another in prayer where the latter has authority, or sit in his house, without his permission”. [Muslim].

In another narration in Muslim: Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

‏فأقدمهم سلمًا‏”‏ بدل ‏”‏سنًا‏”‏ ‏:‏ أو إسلامًا

“One who is senior most in accepting Islam, should lead the Salat (prayer)”.
Yet another narration is: Messenger of Allah ﷺ said,

يؤم القوم أقرؤهم لكتاب الله، وأقدمهم قراءة، فإن كانت قراءتهم فيؤمهم أقدمهم هجرة، فإن كانوا في الهجرة سواء، فليؤمهم أكبرهم سنًا

“A man who is well versed in the Book of Allah and can recite it better, should lead the Salat (prayer); if (all those present) are equal in this respect, then the man who is senior most in respect of emigration, if they are equal in that respect too, then the oldest of them should lead the prayer”.

Other scholars opine that “أَوْلَى مِنْ اَلْأَفْقَهِ” means the one who is a faqih, more versed in Fiqh rather than more versed in rules of recitation. But the Prophet mentioned Sunnah and knowledge as the second condition.

وَلَا تَصِحُّ خَلْفَ فَاسِق ٍ إِلَّا فِي جُمُعَةٍ وَعِيدٍ تَعَذُّرًا خَلْفَ غَيْرِهِ,

The Imamate is not valid behind a fasiq. A fasiq as per the scholars is the one who acts upon major sins or repeatedly falls into minor sins without repentance. This cannot be guessed nor assumed. A person must be certain that the person is acting upon these actions or their actions are known by the people. The default ruling for every Muslim is that unless proven otherwise, every Muslim is free from committing sins (major), from Shirk and from innovations.

Shaving the beard according to the Hanabila is Haram. Likewise with smoking and keeping the clothes below the ankles. The assumption for such people is that they are not committing a sin. We give them a benefit of doubt and say that maybe they think it to be not impermissible but only disliked as is the case of the Shafi’ madhab with regards to smoking. A fasiq is the one who commits a sin, that which is agreed upon, knowing that it is a sin. This fisq could be in the actions or in matters of Aqeedah such as the one who has hatred for the sahaba. Based on this prayer behind the Rafidah is invalid as per the Hanabilah.

Note: The seeming position of Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله as reported by Ibn Muflih رحمه الله is that it is fine to keep the clothes below the ankle. The position of the madhab is that it is makruh and disliked to do so without any need per say.

There is a difference between what is recommended from and Imam and that which makes him being the Imam valid. The Imam should be held to a higher standard of dressing and conduct etc.

No matter what Masjid you enter, the default ruling is that they are Muslims. Just because that you may not agree with a few positions they hold or what a few people from among them do, you cannot put them all out of the fold of Islam or even label them all as fasiqs. Everyone cannot be painted with the same brush and this is injustice. People differ and so do their approaches. What matters is what comes with these approaches and labels. Based only on that can a decision of it being an innovation, major or minor shirk be made.

The scholars say that if you don’t know the Imam, then the default ruling is that you pray behind them. This is mentioned in Sharh al-Muntaha and others.

It is not permissible to pray behind a fasiq unless it is the salah of Jumuah and Eid etc and there is no one else to pray behind. This could be understood and appreciated in a better manner when we understand that the duty of establishing these congregations is the duty of the leaders and the state. Across history, many times these states were corrupt and they haven’t left the fold of Islam.


وَلَا إِمَامَةُ مَنْ حَدَثُهُ دَائِم ٌ وَأُمِّيٌّ وَهُوَ مَنْ لَا يُحْسِنُ اَلْفَاتِحَةَ, أَوْ يُدْغِمُ فِيهَا حَرْفًا لَا يُدْغَمُ أَوْ يَلْحَنُ (فِيهَا) لَحْنًا يُحِيلُ اَلْمَعْنَ ى إِلَّا بِمِثْلِهِ.

It is not valid for someone to lead the prayer whose hadath (ritual impurity) is constant. Ex: Constant passing of wind etc. It is not valid for an illiterate person to lead the salah and this is the one who:

  • Cannot recite Surah al-Fatihah properly.
  • One who makes idhgam (ﺇﺩﻏﺎﻡ) of a letter that shouldn’t have that performed on it. Idhgam is a tajweed rule – sounding the two letters as one letter with a shaddah on it.
  • One who makes mistakes by mispronouncing words to such an extent that it changes their meanings. The meaning spoken of here is that of al-Fatihah because that alone is a pillar. Making a mistake in other Surahs won’t invalidate the salah.

The mistake should be known properly and not just assumed. If the mistake is indeed major which invalidates the salah then continue with the congregation but intend to make up your own salah where you follow the actions of the Imam, but the recitation is that of your own. This is to be done only in extreme cases where the mistakes are really major with utmost certainty and not just based on minor errors or waswasa.

It is invalid for such a person to lead unless he is leading other who are just like him for salah needs to be established.


وَكَذَا مَنْ بِهِ سَلَسُ بَوْلٍ
وَعَاجِزٍ عَنْ رُكُوعٍ وَسُجُودٍ, أَوْ قُعُودٍ وَنَحْوِهَا, أَوْ اِجْتِنَابِ نَجَاسَةٍ أَوْ اِسْتِقْبَالٍ
وَلَا عَاجِزٍ عَنْ قِيَامٍ بِقَادِرٍ إِلَّا رَاتِبًا رُجِيَ زَوَالُ عِلَّتِهِ,
وَلَا مُمَيِّزٍ لِبَالِغٍ فِي فَرْضٍ،
وَلَا اِمْرَأَةٍ لِرِجَالٍ وَخُنَاث ٍ وَلَا خَلْفَ مُحْدِثٍ أَوْ نَجِسٍ, فَإِنْ جَهِلَا حَتَّى اِنْقَضَتْ صَحَّتْ لِمَأْمُومٍ

It is not valid for a person to lead who has a constant case of passage of urine.

It is not valid for a person to lead who is not able to perform sujud, rukuh, sit properly, avoid najjasa, cannot face the qiblah etc.

Someone who cannot stand should not lead sitting if the congregation behind is standing. The only exception to this is that unless the Imam is a regular Imam of the congregation and the people are hopeful of the temporary illness disappearing soon.

If the Imam begins the prayer sitting then the congregation also follows and completes the salah likewise in a sitting position as per recommendation. However if the Imam starts the salah standing but sits in the middle due to the illness then the congregation complete their salah normally as is required by standing. This is how the Hanabilah combine between the various different ahadith regarding this matter.

The one who has passed the age of 7 should not lead the one who has passed the age of puberty in the fardh salah. The intentions of the fardh and nafil should not be joined for the opposition of the intention is the greatest opposition to the Imam. By this, when the congregation is praying taraweeh and a person joins late to pray Isha, he doesn’t join the congregation of taraweeh and make up his Isha. Rather he is to pray his Isha separately and then join the congregation for his taraweeh. This is the position held by the Hanabilah and the majority of the scholars.

Nafil can be prayed behind a nafil and a fardh behind a fardh. But, a different fardh salah cannot be prayed behind another fardh salah. Ex: Maghrib cannot be prayed behind Isha.

It is not valid for a woman to lead the salah if she is leading a congregation of men or kunatha. Kuntha (Hermaphrodite) is someone whose gender is unknown. Ibn al-Najjar رحمه الله in al-Muntaha says that it is the position of the early Hanabilah that a mother who has memorized the Quran can lead her young child in salah for tarbiyah. There is scope in such closed scenarios. This is the second opinion in the madhab and it is a strong opinion. The matter of who leads the salah is a matter of religion and is not to be debated upon based on gender. If the women could lead, then there was no one better to lead than Khadijah, Aisha, Umm Salamah etc and this never happened.

It is not valid for a person to pray behind someone who has physical or spiritual impurity. If the Imam prays while forgetting his state of purification till the end, then the salah of the followers is valid. The Imam is to make up and repeat the salah on remembering. If the Imam knew that he wasn’t in a state of purification, but still continued then the salah for both is not valid. If the congregation comes to know later, they also have to repeat but this is not wajib.

This is because the Imam is supposed to be in the most complete and best of forms for the Imam is being followed by the congregation. There are certain standards that need to be maintained. This doesn’t mean a person is sinful, such a person just shouldn’t lead the salah.


وَتُكْرَهُ إِمَامَةُ لَحَّانٍ وَفَأْفَاءٍ وَنَحْوِه ِ

It is disliked for the one who is known to makes mistakes in recitation (that which doesn’t change mistakes) or the one who repeats the فَ repeatedly or the one who makes similar mistakes to become the Imam. Ideally the best person should lead. After this the least qualified person should go forth to lead.


وَسُنَّ وُقُوفُ اَلْمَأْمُومِينَ خَلْفَ اَلْإِمَامِ, وَالْوَاحِدُ عَنْ يَمِينِهِ وُجُوبًا

It is recommended for those praying with an Imam to stand behind the Imam. If they were to stand beside, the Imam then this is also valid. To stand in front of the Imam without a valid excuse makes the salah invalid. This is also the linguistic root of the word “Imam” meaning someone who is in the front or the one ahead. It is obligatory for the Imam to be in the front of the congregation.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

إِنَّمَا الإِمَامُ لِيُؤْتَمَّ بِهِ فَلاَ تَخْتَلِفُوا عَلَيْهِ فَإِذَا كَبَّرَ فَكَبِّرُوا وَإِذَا رَكَعَ فَارْكَعُوا وَإِذَا قَالَ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ لِمَنْ حَمِدَهُ ‏.‏ فَقُولُوا اللَّهُمَّ رَبَّنَا لَكَ الْحَمْدُ ‏.‏ وَإِذَا سَجَدَ فَاسْجُدُوا وَإِذَا صَلَّى جَالِسًا فَصَلُّوا جُلُوسًا أَجْمَعُونَ

The Imam is appointed, so that he should be followed, so don’t be at variance with him. Recite takbir when he recites it; bow down when he bows down and when he says:” Allah listens to him who praises Him,” say:” O Allah, our Lord, to Thee be the Praise.” And when he (the Imam) prostrates, you should also prostrate, and when he says prayer sitting, you should all observe prayer sitting.

If there is just one person praying with the Imam, then it is obligatory upon him to stand to the right of the Imam.

Narrated Ibn Abbas: Once I passed the night in the house of my aunt Maimuna. The Prophet ﷺ stood for the night prayer and I joined him and stood on his left side but he drew me to his right by holding me by the head. [Bukhari]

Scholars say that this type of movement is a lot of movement, not something light. This would be allowed only if it was something really important. This shows that standing on the right of the Imam is an obligation. If anyone stands to the left of the Imam without anyone on the right, then the salah of such a person is invalid.

According to the Hanabila it is recommended that the person standing beside the Imam stands slightly behind based on the above evidences so that he doesn’t go in front of the Imam by mistake. Standing exactly level with the Imam is also valid but the likelihood of stepping in front of the Imam is quite high. The Shariah not only prohibits something but also that which leads to it. Likewise, even in salah the Hanabila write that the follower should stand a few centimeters or so behind the Imam so that the person is on the safe side. Any narration which states of a sahabi like Ibn Abbas standing at the right of the Prophet, doesn’t contradict this since standing just slightly behind is also considered as the same.


وَالْمَرْأَةُ خَلْفَهُ,
وَمَنْ صَلَّى عَنْ يَسَارِ اَلْإِمَامِ مَعَ خُلُوِّ يَمِينِهِ أَوْ فَذًّا رَكْعَةً لَمْ تَصِحَّ صَلَاتُهُ

It is recommended for the woman to stand behind. This is because if a woman would stand next to a man, then this is valid. If a couple are praying together then the wife stands behind the husband. If she wants she can stand beside him or slightly behind him since it is her husband and such a salah is valid.
If a woman starts praying beside another man like in Masjid al-Haram or any other open space then their salah are both valid individually since they are not linked. In such a case she could even stand in front of him and the salah is valid. Keep in mind that at this point we are talking about the validity of the salah, and not if it is recommended or not. Its upon the woman to find a space where she is more concealed and not right in the middle of everything.

Based on القاعدة: الكراهة تزول بالحاجة Something which is disliked becomes permissible due to a need.

But if the man, is not her mahram then it is a problem standing side by side as the bodies could touch or the distance is too close etc. In such a case if there is no space at all, then it is better for them to pray one by one or further away. Many of the scholars have written that it is disliked for a man to lead a congregation who are all females and not his mahram and without another male present with him.

If men and women are praying together, then it is an established Sunnah from the time of revelation till the 15 Century After Hijrah that the men stand in the front and the women stand at the back in a congregation. Here the salah is linked to a single Imam who is being followed.
We are entering a time where people are innovating men and women praying side by side in congregation, women leading the salah and women giving khutbas from the minbar. This is sinful, the salah is not accepted, valid or garners any reward for it to be valid it should follow the set guidelines laid down by the Prophet. If women would have been allowed to lead salah or give khutbah, then our mother Aisha would have done so for she was the most knowledgeable of her time. The sahaba used to visit her to get fatawa on a plethora of topics. Why can’t we focus on female scholarship instead of innovating and trying to make excuses? The rulings of the Shariah are not based on Men VS Women. It is submission to the wisdom and command of Allah. We cannot take the rulings going in the favour of one gender and ignore that which favour the others rights etc.

If someone prays on the left of the Imam while there was no one on the right then the salah is invalid. If someone prays an entire rakah behind the Imam on his own or behind the rows on his own, then his salah is invalid.

Wabisah bin Ma’bad narrated: “A man prayed alone behind the row so the Prophet ordered him to repeat the Salah.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]

If it is less than a rakah, then this is acceptable as someone is going to join him. This is valid. It is disliked to pull someone from the row in the front to the back to make their own salah valid. Imam Ahmad, Imam Malik and others have said that this is makruh. A person could make a request with words, without disturbing the congregation.

The second position in the madhab says that it is invalid for a person to pray alone behind the rows unless there is a need. Instead of standing alone at the back, a person should if possible go and stand beside the Imam without pushing or pulling. Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله and others write that if a person cannot do anything else then it is valid for him to stand alone at the back of the rows by himself. You cannot just stand there missing the congregation waiting for someone to come join. This is the madhab of Malik, Ahnaf and the Shafi’is. They base it on the ayah,

فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَاسْمَعُوا وَأَطِيعُوا وَأَنفِقُوا خَيْرًا

So fear Allah as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend [in the way of Allah ]; it is better for yourselves. [Surah at-Taghabun, Ayah 16]


فَإِذَا جَمَعَهُمَا مَسْجِدٌ صَحَّتْ اَلْقُدْوَةُ مُطْلَقًا, بِشَرْطِ اَلْعِلْمِ بِانْتِقَالَاتِ اَلْإِمَام ِ
وَإِلَّا شُرِط َ رُؤْيَةُ اَلْإِمَامِ أَوْ مَنْ وَرَاءَهُ أَيْضًا, وَلَوْ فِي بَعْضِهَا.

The one who is leading and the one who are following him are in the same building. This is acceptable on the condition that one has knowledge of the movements of the Imam. This could be by seeing the movements of the rows in front if the Imam directly can’t be seen. If neither the rows nor the Imam can be seen but the voice of the Imam can be heard then that is also valid. Even if the rows in the front can be seen partially, it is valid.

The only condition is that the person has to be at the masjid. Praying in the hotel in Makkah and following the Imam is invalid.

What if a person is outside the masjid and the person is reliant on the speakers? If it is completely disconnected from the masjid, and not even in the courtyard etc then this is problematic as per the madhab.


وَكُرِهَ عُلُوُّ إِمَامٍ عَلَى مَأْمُومٍ ذِرَاعًا فَأَكْثَرَ
وَصَلَاتُهُ فِي مِحْرَابٍ يَمْنَعُ مُشَاهَدَتَهُ
وَتَطَوُّعُهُ مَوْضِعَ اَلْمَكْتُوبَةِ
وَإِطَالَتُهُ اَلِاسْتِقْبَالَ بَعْدَ اَلسَّلَامِ
وَوُقُوفُ مَأْمُومٍ بَيْنَ سَوَار ٍ تَقْطَعُ اَلصُّفُوفَ عُرْفًا إِلَّا لِحَاجَةٍ فِي اَلْكُلِّ
وَحُضُورُ مَسْجِدٍ وَجَمَاعَةٍ لِمَنْ رَائِحَتُهُ كَرِيهَةٌ مِنْ بَصَلٍ أَوْ غَيْرِه ِ

It is makruh for the Imam to be higher than those behind him in congregation for the length of a dira’a. A dira’a is measured from the tip of the middle finger till the elbow. Sheikh Musa Furber says this is about 32 cm. Others like Sheikh Ahmed Bahjat say that it is 48 cm. So, the Imam shouldn’t be praying on a stage or a minbar.

The Imam can pray upstairs and that is valid for he still has people standing at his level behind him.

It is disliked for the Imam to pray in a mihrab if that is going to be a cause of him not being seen by the congregation.

It is makruh for the Imam to pray Sunnah in the same place as the Fardh. This is because it might lead to confusion for those who come late or that the people might think that he is adding a rakah etc. But if it is clear that the salah is finished, then the Imam can pray at the same place.

It is makruh for the Imam to continue sitting facing the qiblah for a ling time after tasleem. This is because again, this could cause confusion that the salah is still going on or that the Imam is going to make Sujud as-Sahw. This is as long as there are no women in the congregation, then it is allowed and recommended to keep facing forward so that the women have time enough to disperse.

It is makruh for someone to stand besides pillars that break or block the rows. What counts as being cut off? This depends on the urf of the people. Sheikh Mansur al-Buhuti رحمه الله mentions that a break in the row is the width of 3 average men. If the pillar is not too wide then it is permissible to stand at either sides of the madhab, but if it is more than that then it is better to make a new row.

People shouldn’t skip the row or leave people standing in a row that has pillars. This is a common misunderstanding. The Shariah doesn’t stipulate that all the rows are of equal length for the row behind it to start. They should join the row and if Allah decrees, they can make another row when and if the row breaks because of the pillars.

It is makruh for someone to attend a masjid or a congregation who smells bad due to onions or its likes.

All the things which have been mentioned above stand as long as there is no special need or compulsion.


وَيُعْذَرُ بِتَرْكِ جُمُعَةٍ وَجَمَاعَةٍ مَرِيضٌ, وَمُدَافِعُ أَحَدِ الْأَخْبَثَيْن ِ وَمَنْ بِحَضْرَةِ طَعَامٍ يَحْتَاجُ إِلَيْهِ, وَخَائِفٌ ضَيَاعَ مَالِه ِ أَوْ مَوْتَ قَرِيبِهِ أَوْ ضَرَرًا مِنْ سُلْطَان ٍ   أَوْ مَطَرٍ وَنَحْوِهِ, أَوْ مُلَازَمَةَ غَرِيمٍ وَلَا وَفَاءَ لَهُ, أَوْ فَوْتَ رُفْقَتِهِ وَنَحْوِهِم ْ

If a person feels they have a genuine excuse for something and they have tried their best then they should hope that Allah will accept from them and forgive them for their shortcomings. But if a person has the capacity to do an obligation, yet looks for loopholes to avoid them then know that this might work in the Dunya but for sure will be held accountable in the Akhirah.

The following are excused from Jumuah and congregational salah:

  • The one who is ill. It is the illness that if they were to attend the congregation, it would make things worse for them. Likewise if a person fears falling ill by going outside. Ex: Extreme winter.
  • The one who is fighting urine, bowl or other such related irregularities. Ex: Diarrhea.
  • The one who is occupied or distracted by food that he needs and this is available. This might seem very flexible but this is established from the Sunnah. The Prophet allowed giving preference to Asha’ over Isha. This is for the one who needs it (يَحْتَاجُ إِلَيْهِ).
    It was narrated from Nafi’ that Ibn ‘Umar said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
    إِذَا وُضِعَ الْعَشَاءُ وَأُقِيمَتِ الصَّلاَةُ فَابْدَءُوا بِالْعَشَاءِ
    ‘If food is served and the Iqamah for prayer is given, then start with the food.” He said: “Ibn ‘Umar ate dinner one night while he could hear the Iqamah.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
  • The one who fears that his money would be lost or his relative would pass away. Here the relative is someone whom you care about. It could even include a friend or someone for whom you are in-charge. Even if there is someone else who can take care of them, but they prefer your company then many scholars including the Shafi’iyyah allow this concession. Ex: Car accident.
  • The one who fears an unjust ruler. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the Khalifa, but could be any person of authority.
  • The one who experiences severe heat/cold, heavy rain/snow or its likes.
  • The one who fears facing whom he owes money and he has nothing (genuine) to pay back the person with. This excuse has to be legitimate for it to hold.
  • The one who fears that a group with whom he is is going to disappear or leave him behind. Ex: Caravan/group moving ahead in travel or similar fears.

Such a person prays Dhuhr instead of Jumuah. This shows the ease and mercy that Islam brings from Allah. Islam isn’t here to make unnecessary changes, rather it is here to help us maintain order and toe the line. Islam caters to human needs and is not unreasonable and unrealistic.



Based on the Hanbali primer, Akhsar Al-Mukhtasarat authored by Ibn Balban al-Hanbali as taught by Sheikh Zahed Fettah حفظه الله

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