Reading Fatiha Behind the Imam
Those of us who adhere to the madhab of Imam Abu Hanifah believe that when an individual performs salaah alone then, it is wajib to recite al-Fatiha, but when one is praying behind the Imam then, al-Fatiha should not be recited, whether the Imam is reciting loudly or quietly. The evidence available from the Qur’an and Sunnah are as follows:
Allah says in the Qur’an:
“When the Qur’an is recited, listen to it.”
Hafidh Ibn Kathir writes [that]:
The Prophet SallalahoAleheWasalam said: The Imam’s recitation is enough for the followers.
[Tafsir Ibn Kathir under Surah Al Fatiha]
The position taken by those who adhere to this madhab, is that it is impermissable to recite behind the Imam in any salaah.
There are people who believe that we should recite behind the Imam even when the Imam recites loudly or quietly. Their evidence is from the Hadith, in which the Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] said:
The Salaah of the person who does not recite Al-Fatiha, is not accepted
[Bukhari Muslim Kitabul Saklah Chapter Wujub-ul-Qiraat]
Rather than reciting this in isolation, when we read other sources of Islamic Law, we can establish that the meaning of this Hadith is that it is essential to recite Al-Fatiha when praying Salaah alone. Some people have also established from the above Hadith that it implies that the recitation of al-Fatiha in every rakaah is fard compulsary.
It is also worth mentioning that this Hadith is established from a single narration, so an action cannot be proved to be fard from such type of narration. There is proof from Qur’an and Sunnah which supports the view that if someone reads any part of the Qur’an in the Salaah, the Salaah will be accepted.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
Recite the Qur’an (in Salaah) that which is easy for you
If surat-al-Fatiha was fard then, the verse would have stated this explicitly. There is also another Hadith which states that the Prophet taught a man how to perform salaah, yet he [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] did not mention Al-Fatiha.
Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim write [that]:
The Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] was sitting in the masjid and a man came and performed salaah. The Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] ordered him to perform salaah again. When he finished, the Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] told him again to perform Salaah. The man said “This is the best way that I can perform salaah. Teach me a better way.” The Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] said “When you stand, say takbir then recite from the Qur’an whatever is easy for you.”
[Bukhari & Muslim, baabu wujoob-il-Qiraah]
Imam Darral Qutini writes [that]:
The Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] said that whoever joins the salaah with the Imam in ruku (before the Imam stands straight), that ruku will not have to be repeated.
[Daar Qutini chap Adrak Imam Qabl al Rakooh]
If the recitation of Surat al Fatiha was fard, the Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] would have told the man to recite al-Fatiha first and then to recite any other part of the Qur’an which was easy for him. Also the Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant Him peace] would not have said that the ruku of the person, who joins the Imam while the Imam is in rukoo, does not have to be repeated. In such a case Al-Fatiha is missed. If Al-Fatiha was fard, the person joining the Salaah at rukoo would have had to repeat his Salaah– simply because a fard was missing.
Alama Sa’eedi writes:
The meaning of the above debated Hadith is similar to the following ahadeeth:
The Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant him peace] said that
“whoever lives close to the masjid and does not pray in the masjid his salaah is not accepted.”
There is another Hadith, which states that if a person makes wudu and does not recite Bismillah, the wudu is invalid. There is also another Hadith stating that a person is not Muslim if his neighbour sleeps in a hungry state. Another Hadith states that if a person does not fulfil their promise then, he is not a Muslim. Of course, the person who doesn’t fulfil their promise is still a Muslim, and in the same way, if someone doesn’t recite Al-Fatiha in salaah, his salaah is still accepted but without full Excellency. If this wasn’t the case, the Prophet should have said: “The salaah of the one who does not recite al-Fatiha is false.”
[Sharh Muslim Baab Wujoobe Qiraat] By Allama Sa’eedi
There is a further explanation of this Hadith, which we shall touch upon later, InSha’Allah. We accept that there are scholars who hold the view that people should recite al-Fatiha behind the Imam. The scholars have also written books on this subject.
Hafidhh Ibn Taymiyyah writes:
Some scholars say that Al-Fatiha should be recited behind the Imam. The scholars of Hadith say this opinion is weak. Qur’an and authentic Hadith and the opinion of the early Muslims (salaf) is with those scholars who say that Al-Fatiha should not be recited behind the Imam.
[Tanaww Ibaadaat, Page 76 by Hafidhh Ibn Taymiyyah]
Hafidhh Ibn Kathir writes [that]:
Imam Ahmad and Imam Abu Hania say there should be no recitation behind the Imam during any Salaah. This is more accurate because Imam Shafi has one opinion which is similar to this.
[Tafsir Ibn Kathir under Surah Araf verse 204]
Surley, after reading such statementsit should suffice to understand which position is in accordance with the Prophets [May Allah bless him and grant him peace] command of “pray as you see me pray.”
Whoever decides to embark on their own research on this subject, will find it difficult not to arrive at the same conclusion of Hafidhh Ibn Taymiyyah and Hafidhh Ibn Kathir.
Let us now examine the evidence of the people who insist that they should recite behind the Imam.
Essentialiy, they claim that there are three Ahadith which state that the Prophet said that we should recite behind the Imam. In fact, there is not a single Hadith in which the Prophet has commanded us to recite behind the Imam. As we have seen thus-far there is proof from the Qur’an and Sunnah to suggest that we should NOT recite behind the Imam.
Let us examine the three narrations which have been put forward.
The first narration is from Ali bin Abdullah from Sufiyan from Zuhri from Mahmood who reported that:
The Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant him peace] said that the salaah of whoever does not recite Al-Fatiha is not complete.
[Bukhari Muslim Baabu Wujoob-il-Qiraa’h]
Those who recite behind the Imam put forward this Hadith as their evidence to recite Surah al-Fatiha in every salaah behind the Imam. There is no word in this Hadith that proves that Al-Fatiha should be recited behind the Imam. If we take the literal meaning of reciting behind the Imam, then this narration would go against the Qur’an and authentic ahadith. The actual meaning of this narration is that when a person is praying alone and does not recite al-Fatiha then, his salaah is not complete. This is the actual opinion held by narrators of this narration. The following proves this.
Imam Muslim writes [that]:
Ma’mar reported from Zuhri that the Prophet Muhammad said that the salaah of the person who does not recite Surah Al-Fatiha and another part of the Qur’an is not accepted.
[Muslim, Bab al Qira’]
Imam Muslim’s narration confirms that this Hadith is for the person who is praying alone because, when a person prays alone he reads Surah Al-Fatiha and another part of the Qur’an. Even the people who recite Al-Fatiha behind the Imam they, do not say that there should be another part of the Qur’an recited. So it is clear that this Hadith is for those people who are praying alone.
An objection raised
Imam Bukhari narrated a narration from Sufiyan which is about the wujub of only reciting Al-Fatiha and Imam Muslim narrates from Ma’mar a Hadith which says that the person’s prayer is not accepted if they do not recite Surah Al-Fatiha AND another part of the Qur’an. We prefer Sufiyan’s narration over Ma’mar’s because Sufiyan is more reliable.
This objection can be cleared easily by looking at what the books of al-jarhu-wat-ta’deel say about the quality of Hadith narrators.
Imam Dhahabi and Hafidhh Asqalani write [that]:
Imam Yahya bin Mo’een was asked by his students, who had memorised more of Imam Dhahabi’s narrations, as to whom he prefered. He replied: “Imam Ma’mar. “Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said that Sufiyan heard Ahadith from Imam Zuhri at a young age, so this is why, when he reported Ahadith from Zuhri, he made mistakes in 20 of them.
[Tahzeeb ut Tahzeeb, Meezaan ul- ‘itidaal, biography of Sufiyan and Ma’mar]
This reference proves that Ma’mar’s narration is more authentic than Sufiyan’s narration.
Hafidhh Ibn Kathir writes [that]:
Sufiyan sometimes committed Tadlees [which means that when he narrated some of the Hadith, he made out that he heard it directly from Zuhri, but he had actually heard it from someone else who in turn heard it from Zuhri]. One day, Sufiyan was sitting with his students and he told them a Hadith, which he was narrating from Zuhri. One of the students questioned: “Did you hear this directly from Zuhri?” Sufiyan paused and said: “No, I heard it from Abdul Razzaq, who heard it from Ma’mar, who heard it directly from Zuhri.”
[Iftisaaru Uloom il Ahadith, Baab ut Tadlees, by Hafidhh Ibn Kathir]
This reference, proves that Sufiyan at times committed Tadlees, but Ma’mar did not. Someone may say that Sufiyan’s narrations are prefered over Ma’mar’s, even if Ma’mar is more reliable concerning Zuhri’s narrations than Sufiyan. This claim is dealt with below.
Sufiyan’s narrations prove that we should read Al-Fatiha even if we are praying behind an Imam
The answer is No. Let us examine what Imam Zuhri and his other students, Imam Malik and others, (including Sufiyan,) understood from this narration. The main narration comes from Imam Zuhri then his students, Imam Malik, Sufyan, Yunus, Ma’mar, Auzai’ee and others narrate this narration.
Imam Abu Dawud writes [that]
Sufiyan narrates from Imam Zuhri that the Hadith that a prayer of the person who does not recite Al-Fatiha and another part of the Qur’an is not accepted is meant for the person who is praying alone. Imam Zuhri says that when the Prophet used to lead the prayer loudly the people used to recite behind him. This narration is from Imam Zuhri, narrated by Sufiyan, Ma’mar, Abdullah bin Muhammad, Auzai’ee, Abdur Rahman bin Is-haaq, Yunus, Usama and Imam Malik.
[Abu Dawud, Baab Tark ul Qiraa’h Khalf ul Imam]
From this we can prove that the Hadith concerning nullification of the prayer, of the one who does not recite Al-Fatiha in their prayer is meant for that person who is performing salaah alone, and not behind the Imam. This is what Imam Sufiyan, his teacher and colleagues understood by this narration. This Hadith is found in two versions; One version is narrated by Sufiyan, this concerning just reading Al-Fatiha – (this is without any clarification.) The other version is that the persons prayer is not accepted who does not recite Al-Fatiha AND another part of the Qur’an. This narration comes from Sufiyan, Ma’mar and others. The second narration is an explanation of the first one. Imam Sufiyan himself explained that this narration is for that person who is performing salaah alone.
More evidence supporting the recitation behind the Imam
Imam Muslim writes [that]:
Someone asked Abu-Hurairah “What do we do when we are behind the Imam, should we recite Al-Fatiha or not?” He answered “Recite it in your heart.”
[Muslim Baab Wujube Qiraat]
The people who recite behind the Imam take evidence from this narration by saying that reciting Al-Fatiha behind the Imam is fard as Abu-Hurairah said that it should be recited in the heart. These words are neither from Allah nor the Prophet, but are the words of Abu-Hurairah himself. In Bukhari, Muslim, and other books of Ahadith, there is no such narration, which says that when you are behind the Imam you must recite Al-Fatiha in your heart. There are, however, narrations, which say that when the Imam is reciting Al-Fatiha one should listen to it.
Imam Muslim writes in Sahih Muslim:
Abu Hurairah said that the Prophet [May Allah bless him and grant him peace] said that when the Imam recites, listen and stay quiet.
[Muslim Baab ut Tashahhud]
How is it possible that Abu-Hurairah is contradicting his own narrations? The actual meaning of Abu-Hurairah’s words concerning reciting in the heart is to contemplate its meanings. This is the true meaning which does not go against the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Qadhi Shawkani writes (Imam Qurtubi has also written something similar):
The word “Nafsaka(Your self)” means to think about the meaning.
[Fath ul Qadeer, under Surat ul-Araf, Aayah 203]
Imam Nawawi writes [that]:
Some Maliki scholars have explained Abu-Hurairah’s words about “reading in the heart”, as to think about the words of Al-Fatiha, because if you read something in the heart it cannot be called recitation because recitation is actually when one reads from the tongue. So it is only called recitation when the tongue is actually moving. The proof of this is that all the scholars say when a woman is in an impure state she cannot recite with the tongue, but she can think about the meaning in her heart.
[Shara Muslim Baab Wujoobe Qiraat]
From the above we can see that Abu-Hurairah’s words do not mean to recite behind the Imam but rather they mean to think about the meaning in the heart.
The status of the words of the companions