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بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيْم

اَلْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِيْن،وَالصَّلاۃ وَالسَّلامُ عَلَی النَّبِیِّ الْکَرِيم وَعَلیٰ آله وَاَصْحَابه اَجْمَعِيْن۔

Ruling about reciting Surat al-Fatihah behind the Imam

Difference of opinions between the Islamic scholars regarding certain religious issues has been a common phenomenon since beginning. Different scholars tended to different opinions in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah to the best of their understanding.  As for the reason and wisdom behind it, Allah knows better and the best. A possible reason might be that Allah the Exalted wanted to keep the door open for the Ummah to contemplate over the religious sciences in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah so that they may remain in touch with the basic sources by making recourse on them times and again.  For instance, Allah the Almighty did not specify the Night of Power (laylat al-Qadr) so that the Ummah keeps on searching for it in different nights throughout the year in the light of the Book of Allah and Sunnah of His Messenger (PBUH). On the other hand, such difference of opinions has never been condemned anywhere in the Shari’ah. Moreover, according to some hadiths, this kind of differences between the scholars has been regarded as mercy for the Ummah. Making a dispute or undue argument, however, is highly condemnable.

The scholars differ on issues ranging from the opening Takbeer of Salah to the ending Salam. But most differences are of little importance as they differ as to what is preferable and what is not (Rajih and Marjuh). Reciting Surat a;-Fatihah behind the Imam, however, has been a much debated one. In short, the scholars are divided into three groups regarding the issue; each having evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah in support of their respective claims. Takings all the evidences presented by the proponents of all the three opinions into consideration , it won’t be far from the truth to proclaim that there is not a single undisputed hadith that prohibits recitation of al-Fatihah behind the Imam nor it can be proved that Salah becomes invalidated if al-Fatihah is not recited while praying behind an Imam. No hadiths including the weak ones in the entire collection has any mention of the timing of reciting al-Fatihah for a follower worshipper (Muqtadi). However, the three scholarly opinions regarding the issue are as follows:

  1. Prohibition of reciting Surat al-Fatihah for a Muqtadi in all the prayers. It does not matter if the prayer being offered is of loud recitation or silent one and whether the Muqtadi is able to hear the recitation or not.
  2. Prohibition of reciting al-Fatihah for a Muqtadi in the prayers that have loud recitation (Maghrib, ‘Isha’ and Fajr). The Muqtadi, however, will recite al-Fatihah in Zuhr and ‘Asr which are offered with silent recitation.
  3. Obligation of reciting al-Fatihah for the Muqtadi in all the prayers whether they are offered with loud recitation or have silent recital.

The scholars we rely one chose the first opinion in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. According to them, it is prohibited for a Muqtadi to recite al-Fatihah whether the Salah being offered is of loud recitation or silent recital and whether he is able to hear the recitation of the Imam he is following or not. The same is the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him). This view is supported by umpteen evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah of which some are given below in brief:

A great number of the Sahabah, the Successors and scholars of Tafsir and Hadith such as Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abu Hurairah, Imam Zuhri, Ubaid ibn Umair, Ata ibn Rabah, Mujahid, Sa’id ibn al-Mussayyab, Sa’id ibn Jubair, Dhahhak, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, Qatadah, Amir al-Sha’bi and many others, all unanimously say that this verse is about a worshipper who is following an Imam in prayer. (Tafsir al-Qurtubi)

This authentic narration is clear in that the Imam is responsible to recite the Qur’an in Salah while the duty of the people following him is to keep quiet listening to the recitation. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH( would have clarified it if recitation of al-Fatihah was necessary for a follower worshipper. The hadith is unconditional in terms of the Salah being of loud recital or silent recitation and, therefore, it should apply to all the prayers.

This hadith has been reported with different chains of transmission in various collections of hadith.

This hadith is highly authentic and is classified as Hasan Sahih by Imam Tirmidhi

Please bear in mind that we don’t reject or doubt the authenticity of the hadith ‘There is no prayer for the one who does not recite the Opening of the Book’.But the question is whether it is only sunnah or necessary to recite al-Fatihah during Salah. The hadith is unconditional and absolute in meaning and hence reciting it should be obligatory in Salah. A Muqtadi (follower worshipper), however, should not recite al-Fatihah as per the hadith reported by Imam Tirmidhi. Moreover, all the scholars unanimously agree in the light of other hadiths that if a person caught the Imam when he was performing Ruku’, this rak’ah of the person will be valid although he did not recite al-Fatihah in it. This is a clear evidence that the hadith is open to interpretation and not to be taken in its general and literal meaning. 

Mohammad Najeeb Qasmi (www.najeebqasmi.com)