The Key to Salah
The Opening Takbeer in the Salah - (الله أكبر) - is called Tahreemuha al-Takbeer or Takbeeratul Ihram (from the word Haraam). The Takbeeratul Ihram aka the opening takbeer is one of the pillars of salah. It is this takbeer that marks the person's entry into the salah. Without the Takbeeratul Ihram the salah is invalid.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “The key to prayer is purification, its opening is to say AllahuAkbar and its closing is to say al-Salamu’ Alaykum.” [Ahmad and Abu Dawud]
Imam Ibn Qudamah رحمه الله said: This is the view of the majority of scholars, past and present. [al-Mughni]
In another longer narration of tarbiyah, Abu Hurairah narrated رضي الله عنه , Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) entered the masjid and a person followed him. The man prayed and went to the Prophet and greeted him. The Prophet (ﷺ) returned the greeting and said to him, "Go back and pray, for you have not prayed." The man went back prayed in the same way as before, returned and greeted the Prophet who said, "Go back and pray, for you have not prayed." This happened thrice. The man said, "By Him Who sent you with the Truth, I cannot offer the prayer in a better way than this. Please, teach me how to pray." The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "When you stand for Prayer say Takbeer and then recite from the Holy Qur'an (of what you know by heart) and then bow till you feel at ease. Then raise your head and stand up straight, then prostrate till you feel at ease during your prostration, then sit with calmness till you feel at ease (do not hurry) and do the same in all your prayers. [Bukhari]
The opening takbeer (الله أكبر) as a pillar is not waived because of forgetting or not knowing about it, and it cannot be substituted with anything else. If a person remembers during his prayer that he forgot to say the opening takbeer, or he is not sure whether he said it, he has to start the prayer over again.
The difference between conditions and pillars of prayer is that the pillar of something refers to a component of it that exists within it. As for the condition, it is not one of its (interior) components- it either preceded it or continuously accompanies it as in the case of ritual purity during salah. The pillar or essential part (rukn) cannot be omitted deliberately, by mistake or out of ignorance, rather it must be done. The obligatory part (wajib) may be omitted due to ignorance or forgetfulness, and it may be compensated for by doing the prostration of forgetfulness (sujud al-sahw).
The wording and pronunciation is very important. Just like we cannot pray 5 rak'at for Dhuhr instead of 4, we cannot start the salah with something other than AllahuAkbar (الله أكبر) such as, “SubhanAllah”‘, “Alhamdulillah” or “La hawla wa la quwwata ilia billah”. Saying any other phrase is forbidden and renders the act invalid.
It is to be pronounced as AllahuAkbar (الله أكبر) and not Aaaallahu Aaakbar with a long madd which is wrong, as in reality, it is now questioning Allah's Greatness instead of affirming it. Allahu Akbaar, with a stretch on the ba’, is also not valid because this will change the meaning. Likewise, having a long pause (such that something else can be said) between saying Allah and Akbar is wrong. The Prophet ﷺ used to open/start his salah with "AllahuAkbar" and this is the first thing to be said.
Imam Ibn Qudamah رحمه الله said, “The Prophet (ﷺ) would initiate the prayer with the statement “AllahuAkbar”. It has not been transmitted from him that he diverted from this up until he departed from this world. This indicates that it is not permissible to depart from it, and that which Abu Hanifah has stated opposes the evidence established by the narrations. Therefore, it (i.e., Abu Hanifah’s view on this issue) should not be adhered to. [Mughni]
What is the issue alluding to? Imam al-Quduri رحمه الله mentions in his Mukhtasar, "According to Abu Hanifah (رحمه الله ) and Muḥammad (رحمه الله ) it suffices him to say, “ Allahu all – Allah is more majestic,” or “[Allahu] A‘ẓam – Allah is more tremendous,” or “ar-Raḥmānu Akbar – the Most Merciful is greater,” in the place of the (normal) takbeer.’ He further says that Imam Abu Yusuf (رحمه الله ), his student did not agree with the teacher and considered it prohibited. He says,‘Abu Yusuf (رحمه الله ) however, said that it is not permitted for him to say anything but, “ AllahuAkbar” or “ Allahu’l-Akbar – Allah is the Greatest,” or “ Allahu’l-Kabeer – Allah is the Great.”
We can easily conclude and repeat what Imam Ibn Qudamah stated and say that it is invalid to start the salah with anything other than - AllahuAkbar (الله أكبر). Also, research done by scholars in this context also raises the question if this opinion is just attributed to him; it's not certain if Imam Abu Hanifa really held it.
The opening Takbeer must be pronounced in the Arabic language. If a person cannot pronounce it in the Arabic language, then it is upon them to learn it at the earliest. If it cannot be learnt before the time of the prayer expires, then the meaning should be explained for him, and he can express it in his language for the time being.
This opening takbeer is likened to ihram because certain things become impermissible while in this state of worship. This takbeer makes it haram for the worshipper to eat, drink or do other things that are permissible outside of the prayer, or that one enters into the sanctity (hurmah) of the prayer by saying the takbeer.
The takbeeratul ihram is to be done standing in a firm and stable manner such that the feet are moderately spread apart. Standing is a pillar for obligatory prayers unless one has a valid legal reason for otherwise.
If the takbeeratul ihram is done on the way to standing up or leaning forward to bow such that it was completed while not standing then such a salah is invalid - in the sense that - it loses its obligatory status. This salah will now be counted as a voluntary salah. Some scholars have gone a step further and said, the prayer is completely invalid.
If there is not enough time to complete the now relegated to be voluntary prayer and then repeat the obligatory prayer separately- one has to abandon this voluntary prayer and restart the obligatory prayer in the proper manner.
If the congregation is in rukuh when you join - Say takbeeratul Ihram and fold the hands in qiyam position. Then say the takbeer again (with raf'ul yadain if everyone is in rukuh) to join where the rest of the congregation is at. But even one takbeer suffices provided that the intention for it was the takbeeratul ihram.
The opening takbeer counts for the takbeer of bowing too. Imam Abu Dawud رحمه الله said: I said to Ahmad (رحمه الله) : What if I catch up with the Imam when he is bowing? He said: One takbeer is sufficient for you. [Masaa’il al-Imam Ahmad]
This was narrated from Zayd ibn Thabit, Ibn ‘Umar, Sa’eed, ‘Ata’, al-Hasan and Ibrahim al-Nakha’i. It was also the view of the four imams - Abu Hanifah, Malik, al-Shafi’i and Ahmad رضي الله عنهم.
As mentioned, it is best to do both the takbeerat. That is - one for starting the prayer and one for bowing, that is better. Imam Abu Dawud رحمه الله said: I said to Ahmad (رحمه الله): Is saying two takbeers dearer to you? He said: If he says two takbeers there is no dispute on the matter." [Masaa’il al-Imam Ahmad]
As for catching the raka'at if the Imam is already in ruku' - Imam Abu Dawud رحمه الله said, "I heard Ahmad (رحمه الله) being asked about a man who catches up with the Imam when he is bowing; He says takbeer and bows, then the imam stands up. He said: If he placed his hands firmly on his knees before the imam stood up, then he has caught up with the rak’ah." [Masa’il al-Imam Ahmad]
Raising Hands With The Takbeer
In this section we will also look at raising the hands (raf' al-yadayn) in other parts of the prayer along with that of the opening takbeer.
Our Sheikh Maqsood al-Hassan Faizi حفظه الله said, "Imam al-Bukhari has cited an ijma regarding Raf' al-Yadayn and mention of it can be found in the 6 Books of Hadith. The narrators of Raf' al-Yadayn includes and can be found in the practice of the 4 Khulafa-e-Rashidun as well as the 10 Promised Paradise. Imam al-Bayhaqi رحمه الله cites 50 sahaba to have narrated Raf' al-Yadayn from the action of the Prophet ﷺ.
Imam Hakim says رحمه الله, “We don‟t know of any Sunnah except Raf' al-yadayn, which is agreed upon by all 4 righteous caliphs, the 10 promised Jannah, and many major sahabah even if they migrated to different countries” [Fath al-Bari]
Imam al-Shafi'i رحمه الله says, “Ahadith of Raf' al-yadayn have been narrated from so many sahabah that probably no other hadith has been reported by such number of sahabah.” [ Nayl al-Awtar]
Shah Wali Ullah Dehlwi رحمه الله says, “Someone who does Raf' al-yadayn is more beloved to me than the one who doesn't do it because the ahadith of raf' al-yadayn are aplenty and saheeh.” [Hujjatullahil Baalighah]
Note: The position of the Ahnaf being mentioned here is for raf' al-yadayn in general. The Ahnaf don't reject raf' al-yadayn with takbeerat al-ihram without a shred of a doubt. Extra details have been provided here to clarify the issue of raf' al-yadayn after the opening takbeer.
The Ahnaf claim that this action has been abrogated (mansukh). But we see from the multiple narrations of the sahaba who accepted Islam later on that they report this action from the Prophet ﷺ in large numbers. For example:
- Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه met the Prophet ﷺ in 7AH - Books of Sunan
- Malik Ibn al-Huwayrith رضي الله عنه met the Prophet ﷺ in 9 AH - Sahih of Imam Bukhari
- Wa’il bin Hujr رضي الله عنه met the Prophet ﷺ in 9 AH and 10 AH - Books of Sunan
Renowned Hanafi scholar Sheikh Anwar Shah Kashmiri رحمه الله said “On the basis of both, sanad and practice, ahadith of raf' al-yadayn are mutawatir. There is no scope of doubt in it. Not even a single word is abrogated.” [Naylul Farqadain]
Sheikh Abdul Haiy Lucknowi رحمه الله says “The evidences of raf' al-yadayn from Prophet are numerous and extremely good. Those who say that raf' al-yadayn has been abrogated, have no basis for their claim. They don't have satisfactory proofs.” [Ta’aliqul Mumjad]
Allamah Sindhi al-Hanafi رحمه الله says, “Those who say Raf' al-yadayn has been abrogated are wrong.” [Hashiya of Sunan Nasai]
How are the hands raised? The hands were raised with open fingers without any gaps between them and they are to be facing the Qiblah. It is befitting that the hands are uncovered when doing takbeer and while making dua.
Raising Hands to the Level of the Shoulders - Narrated by Nafi’: Whenever Ibn ‘Umar رضي الله عنه started the prayer with Takbeer, he used to raise his hands: whenever he bowed (rukuh), he used to raise his hands (before bowing) and also used to raise his hands on saying, “Sami allahu Liman hamida”, and he used to do the same on rising from the second rak’a (for the third rak’a). Ibn ‘Umar said: “The Prophet ﷺ used to do the same.”
Narrated on the authority of Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه : When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ uttered the takbeer for prayer (in the beginning), he raised his hands opposite to his shoulders; and when he bowed, he did like that; and when he raised his head to prostrate, he did like that; and when he got up at the end of two rak'ahs, he did like that. [Abu Dawud]
Imam Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi رحمه الله said, “And he raises his hands at the time when saying the takbeer to the level of the chest or the level of the ears, and he places them both below his navel.“ [al-’Umdah al-Fiqh]
Raising the hands to the shoulders is a position held by Umar ibn al-Khattab and his son, and Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنهم. It is also the view of Imam al-Shafi‘i in al-Umm, and of his companions, as well as the view of Imams Malik, Ahmad, Ishaaq, and Ibn al-Mundhir.
Raising Hands to the Level of the Earlobes– Narrated Wa'il ibn Hujr رضي الله عنه : I purposely looked at the prayer of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), how he offered it. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) stood up, faced the direction of the qiblah and uttered the takbeer and then raised his hands in front of his ears, then placed his right hand on his left (catching each other). When he was about to bow, he raised them in the same manner. He then placed his hands on his knees. When he raised his head after bowing, he raised them in the like manner. When he prostrated himself he placed his forehead between his hands. [Abu Dawud]
Raising Hands to the Level up to the top of Ears– It was narrated from Malik bin al-Huwairith رضي الله عنه that: He saw the Prophet (ﷺ) raise his hands when praying when he bowed, when he raised his head from bowing, when he prostrated and when he raised his head from prostrating until they were in level with the top part of his ears’ [Nasai]
The Prophet ﷺ used to raise his hands to the level of his shoulders and sometimes higher to the level of his ears. Taking from either of them is good. Can we prefer one Sunnah like this over the other and say one is better? No. What is good is to do this sometime and the other sometime. As long as the Prophet ﷺ has done it and it is authentically narrated, it is good for us.
The raising of the hand is done when the pronunciation of the takbeer is started and the hands should reach their final point before the takbeer is concluded. It is a fluid motion. The hands are not to be raised after or before the takbeer, but during it. The wording of the takbeer has to be articulated and pronounced by the tongue (softly such that it is audible to the person, if in congregation). It is invalid if a person just read it in their mind as that is not considered speech.
If a person is unable to raise their hands to the prescribed height, then they are allowed to raise it to a position higher or lower than that to the best of their abilities based on their circumstances. Saying the takbeer takes precedence over the raising of the hands as one is a pillar whereas the other is a recommendation.
Some scholars write that the raising of the hands denotes the lifting of the veil between Allah and His creation while in the state of Salah. This signifies that there are no intermediaries in between and the slave has a direct connection or know that he is standing in front of Allah. This was also highlighted by Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen رحمه الله.
The Waiver of Reciting Surah al-Fatiha
The recitation of Surah al-Fatiha is waived for the person praying behind an imam in two cases:
1. If he catches up with the imam when he is bowing.
This is based on the hadith of Abu Bakrah رضي الله عنه who said that he came to the Prophet ﷺ when he was bowing and he bowed before he reached the row. He mentioned that to the Prophet ﷺ and he said: “May Allah make you more keen, but do not do it again.” [Bukhari] If catching up with bowing did not count as catching up with the rak’ah with the imam, the Prophet ﷺ would have told him to make up that rak’ah in which he did not catch up with the recitation, but no such thing has been reported from him. This indicates that the one who catches up with bowing has caught up with the rak’ah.
2. If he catches up with the imam just before he bows, and he cannot complete the recitation of Surah al-Fatiha.
This is based on the hadith where the Prophet ﷺ said: “The imam has been appointed to be followed, so do not differ from him. When he says takbeer then say takbeer; when he bows then bow.” [Agreed Upon]
It is good to note here that, in the Hanbali madhab, the recitation of Surah al-Fatiha Imam suffices for the congregation following him based on the same hadith narrated above.