In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon whom Allah sent as a mercy to the Worlds, Prophet Muhammad, upon his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters! The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said in an authentic Hadith:

“The one most versed in the Book of Allah should lead. If equal, then the one most knowledgeable of the Sunnah should lead.” [Sahih Muslim]

The Islamic scholars explain that the ones “most versed” in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) were the most knowledgeable of them. Thus in our times, we give preference to knowledge.

Bearing in mind that: (a) this person has the right (haqq) to lead, not that the prayer is invalid or the congregation is sinful if somebody else leads, and (b) the Imam of the Mosque has a greater right to lead the prayer than the most knowledgeable or the best reciter from amongst them.

* The selection of an Imam

The Imam has to be selected with due care and attention because, in fact, he represents the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in the Mosque and his duties and responsibilities are of unique importance and significance in the religious system of Islam. Only such a person, therefore, should be appointed for this job, who is on the whole the best man available among the worshippers not only in matters of knowledge, righteousness, spirit of sacrifice and insight into religion (which are the necessary qualities of an Imam of the Muslims), but he should also possess leadership qualities to guide them in the practical affairs of life.

During his last illness, when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) found himself unable to attend the Mosque, he appointed Abu Bakr as his representative, who was on the whole the best man among the Muslims. Though the ladies made repeated requests to the Prophet to appoint someone else because they thought Abu Bakr was a tender hearted man, the Prophet turned down their request every time and said:

“Let Abu Bakr lead the people in Prayer.”

And Abu Bakr then led the Prayer accordingly. Prayer being the most important duty in Islam, it can be held only by such a person who has the necessary calibre and qualities to represent Muslims before Allah and who is religiously the best person on the whole among the people.

Abu Mas’ud has reported the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as saying:

“The Imam of the Muslims should be such a one who possesses the deepest knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an. If all are equal in this, the Imam should be the one who has the deepest knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari’ah. If all are equal in this, he should be the one who migrated first. And if all are equal in this too, then the one who is most senior in age.” [Sahih Muslim]

“The deepest knowledge of the Qur’an” implies that he should have a special inclination and taste for the Qur’an. He should have committed a large portion of it to memory, and should be able to recite it well, and have deep insight into its meaning and contents and has understood and absorbed its message well. If all are equal in this quality, then the Imam should be a person who has profound knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari’ah regulations. If all are equal in this quality then it should be the one who has offered maximum sacrifices for the sake of Islam and upheld its cause through all the vicissitudes of life. If all are equal in this quality too, then the one most senior in age may be given in honour of leading the Prayer.

Respected brothers and sisters! Many Sahih Hadiths have been narrated which explain to the Muslims Ummah who is most qualified and has the most right to lead the prayers. One of these Hadiths is that which was narrated from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:

“If there are three people, let one of them lead the others in prayer, and the one who has the most right to lead them is the one who knows more Qur’an.” [Sahih Muslim]

The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“The people should be led in prayer by the one who has most knowledge of the Qur’an and has been reciting it for longer. If they are equal in their knowledge and reading of the Qur’an, then they should be led by the one who made hijrah first. If they are equal with regard to hijrah, then they should be led by the one who is older.” [Sahih Muslim]

To sum it up what is indicated by these Hadiths, the one who has the most right to lead the others in prayer is: the one who has most knowledge of the Book of Allah and of the fiqh of Salah (Prayer).

Those who knew more of the Book of Allah were appointed to lead the prayers at the time of the Sahabah, because they had learned the correct way of reciting the verses of the Qur’an and they had learned the knowledge contained therein and the deeds prescribed by the Qur’an. So they combined knowledge and action [they acted upon what they had learned], and did not stop at merely memorising as is the case nowadays. How many people learn all or part of the Qur’an, take care to recite it properly and with a beautiful voice, but they do not know anything about the fiqh of Salah (Prayer).

If they are equal with regard to knowledge of the Qur’an, then the one who knows more about the Sunnah should lead the prayer. If they are equal with regard to knowledge of the Sunnah, then the one who made hijrah first should lead the prayer. If they are equal with regard to hijrah, or if this does not apply, then the one who is older should lead the prayer, as is indicated in the Hadith of Malik Ibn al-Huwairith, who said:

“We came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and we were young people, close in age. We stayed with him for twenty days, and the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) was kind to us. When he thought that we were missing our families, he asked us about those whom we had left behind, and we told him. He said, Go back to your families and stay with them. Teach them and instruct them and he said some things I remembered and some that I forgot. And pray as you have seen me praying. When the time for prayer comes, let one of you call the Adhan and let the oldest among you lead the prayer.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

If they are equal with regard to recitation of the Qur’an, knowledge and hijrah, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) commanded that the eldest of them should be appointed to lead the prayer. If they are equal in age, then the one who is most righteous (has most taqwa) should be appointed, because Allah the Almighty says:

“Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has al-Taqwa (is one of the pious).” [Qur’an, 49:13]

If they are equal in all regards, then they should draw lots (Qur’ah), if there is a dispute.

Having a PhD or having lived the longest in the land of the kuffar does not qualify a person to lead the prayers. The one who has memorised more Qur’an and has more knowledge of the fiqh of Salah (Prayer) is the one who should be appointed. It is not right for Muslims Ummah to dispute over the leadership of the prayers on the basis of their personal whims and desires. They should appoint the person who is described by Shari’ah as being qualified to lead the prayers.

It was narrated that Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari said: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“The people should be led in prayer by the one who has most knowledge of the Book of Allah; if they are equal in knowledge of the Qur’an, then by the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah.” [Sahih Muslim]

What is meant by “the one who has most knowledge of the Qur’an” is not the one who can recite it most beautifully, but rather the one who has memorised more of the Book of Allah. This is indicated by the Hadith of Amr Ibn Salamah who said:

“I used to memorise those words – meaning the Qur’an – and it was as if it took root in my heart. When Makkah was conquered, then every tribe hastened to embrace Islam, and my father urged our tribe to hasten to embrace Islam. When my father returned (from the Prophet) to his tribe, he said, ‘By Allah, I have come to you from the true Prophet (Peace be upon him)!’ The Prophet (Peace be upon him) afterwards said to them, ‘Offer such-and-such a prayer at such-and-such a time, and when the time for the prayer becomes due, then one of you should pronounce the Adhan (for the prayer), and let the one amongst you who knows most Qur’an lead the prayer.’ So they looked for such a person and found none who knew more Qur’an than I, because of what I used to learn from the people. So they made me their Imam (to lead the prayer) and at that time I was a boy of six or seven years.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

I say that it is essential for the Imam to know the rulings on prayer, because he may do something, such as not breaking his wudu (ablution)’, or missing out a raka’ah, and not know what to do about it, in which case he would make a mistake and cause the prayer of others to be imperfect or invalid altogether.

Based on the Hadith quoted above, some of the scholars said that the one who has more knowledge of fiqh should lead the prayers.

Imam Al-Nawawi said:

“Imams Malik, Shafi’i and their companions said that the one who has more knowledge of fiqh should take precedence over the one who knows more Qur’an, because what he needs of recitation is known but what he needs of fiqh may not be clear. There may arise during the prayer some matter where only a person who has complete knowledge of fiqh will be able to know the right thing to do. They said that this is the reason why the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) told Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) to lead the prayer rather than anyone else, even though he (Peace be upon him) had stated that others had more knowledge of Qur’an than him. But some refuted this point by quoting the Hadith that said that the Sahabah who had most knowledge of Qur’an were also those who had most knowledge of fiqh. But there is another Hadith according to which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “If they are equal in knowledge of Qur’an, then the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah,” which indicates that those who have most knowledge of Qur’an should be given precedence in all cases.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim, vol. 5 page 177]

Even though Imam al-Nawawi differed with his Imam Shafi’i with regard to the interpretation of the Hadith, their words illustrate the basic principle that there was no one among the Sahabah who had a good knowledge of the Qur’an but was ignorant of the rulings of Shari’ah, as is the case among many people nowadays.

Imam Ibn Qudamah said:

“If one of them has more knowledge of the rulings on prayer, and the other has more knowledge of matters other than prayer, then the one who has more knowledge about prayer should be given precedence.” [Al-Mughni, vol. 2 page 19]

The Standing Committee of Fatwa in Saudi said:

“If this is understood, then it is not permissible for one who is ignorant to lead the prayer unless he is leading others like him (ignorant people), if there is no one who is better qualified to lead the prayer.” [Fatawa Islamiyyah, vol. 1 page 264]

I ask Allah to reform and unite the Muslims Ummah, ameen.

* Regulations Concerning the Functions of the Imam

1. A woman is not allowed to lead males in Prayer. Jabir has reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:

“No woman is permitted to lead a male in Prayer.” [Ibn Majah]

2. The female Imam should stand in the row and not alone in front, whether she has one female follower with her or more.

3. The Imam should have regard for his followers and should not recite long passages or prolong the Ruku’ or Sajdah unduly, for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said:

“When anyone of you happens to lead the Prayer, he should make it short and light, because among the followers there may be the sick, the weak or aged people. However, when you are offering the Prayer alone, you may prolong it as much as you like.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Mu’az Bin Jabal used to recite long Surahs in the Isha’ Prayer. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) came to know of it, he was annoyed, and said:

“O Mu’az, do not put the people to trial!” – and then instructed him to recite short Surahs like Al-A’ala (87), Ash-Shams (92), Al-Lail (92) and Wad-Duha (93).” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Concerning his own practice, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) once remarked:

“When I stand up for Prayer, I sometimes intend to prolong it, but then I hear some child crying and I shorten the Prayer, because I know that the child’s crying would upset the mother (who might be offering her Prayer behind me.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

4. It is highly undesirable to appoint a sinner, or one performing the act of bid’ah, or a wicked person, as Imam. If however a better person is not available, then such a person may be allowed to act as Imam.

5. It is undesirable to appoint a person as an Imam who suffers from a repulsive or serious disease like leprosy etc.

6. To appoint a handsome young man whose beard has not yet grown, or who is shaving his beard as Imam, is undesirable.

7. In Islam, a man who is disliked or hated by the people should not act as the Imam. The follower’s willingness and approval in this regard is necessary.

8. If a Prayer is to be offered in the house of a person, the person himself deserves to be the Imam. However, if he allows another person to act as Imam, there is no harm. Similarly the appointed Imam of the Mosque has a greater right to act as Imam in the Mosque unless he himself allows another person to lead the Prayer on that particular occasion.

9. If the Prayer of the Imam becomes void for some reason, the Prayer of the whole congregation will automatically become void, whether it happens during the progress of the Prayer, or comes to light after the Prayer is over. In any case the Imam is duty bound to inform the followers to repeat their Prayer.

10. It is the responsibility of the Imam to see that the rows are made straight and balanced and the followers are standing close to one another without any gaps between them.

11. A male Imam may lead women in Prayer provided there is at least one other male present in the congregation, or a mahram female, like mother, wife, sister etc.

Wallahu ‘Alam

Wassalamu Alaikum

The perfect knowledge belongs to Allah the Almighty. And my last prayer is all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon our Prophet, his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.

Written by your brother, Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. The Imam can be reached via: gusaumurtada@gmail.com or +2348038289761.The Imamship in Islam (Leader in Prayer)

By

Imam Murtadha Gusau

Monday, April 22, 2019

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon whom Allah sent as a mercy to the Worlds, Prophet Muhammad, upon his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters! The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said in an authentic Hadith:

“The one most versed in the Book of Allah should lead. If equal, then the one most knowledgeable of the Sunnah should lead.” [Sahih Muslim]

The Islamic scholars explain that the ones “most versed” in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) were the most knowledgeable of them. Thus in our times, we give preference to knowledge.

Bearing in mind that: (a) this person has the right (haqq) to lead, not that the prayer is invalid or the congregation is sinful if somebody else leads, and (b) the Imam of the Mosque has a greater right to lead the prayer than the most knowledgeable or the best reciter from amongst them.

* The selection of an Imam

The Imam has to be selected with due care and attention because, in fact, he represents the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in the Mosque and his duties and responsibilities are of unique importance and significance in the religious system of Islam. Only such a person, therefore, should be appointed for this job, who is on the whole the best man available among the worshippers not only in matters of knowledge, righteousness, spirit of sacrifice and insight into religion (which are the necessary qualities of an Imam of the Muslims), but he should also possess leadership qualities to guide them in the practical affairs of life.

During his last illness, when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) found himself unable to attend the Mosque, he appointed Abu Bakr as his representative, who was on the whole the best man among the Muslims. Though the ladies made repeated requests to the Prophet to appoint someone else because they thought Abu Bakr was a tender hearted man, the Prophet turned down their request every time and said:

“Let Abu Bakr lead the people in Prayer.”

And Abu Bakr then led the Prayer accordingly. Prayer being the most important duty in Islam, it can be held only by such a person who has the necessary calibre and qualities to represent Muslims before Allah and who is religiously the best person on the whole among the people.

Abu Mas’ud has reported the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as saying:

“The Imam of the Muslims should be such a one who possesses the deepest knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an. If all are equal in this, the Imam should be the one who has the deepest knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari’ah. If all are equal in this, he should be the one who migrated first. And if all are equal in this too, then the one who is most senior in age.” [Sahih Muslim]

“The deepest knowledge of the Qur’an” implies that he should have a special inclination and taste for the Qur’an. He should have committed a large portion of it to memory, and should be able to recite it well, and have deep insight into its meaning and contents and has understood and absorbed its message well. If all are equal in this quality, then the Imam should be a person who has profound knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari’ah regulations. If all are equal in this quality then it should be the one who has offered maximum sacrifices for the sake of Islam and upheld its cause through all the vicissitudes of life. If all are equal in this quality too, then the one most senior in age may be given in honour of leading the Prayer.

Respected brothers and sisters! Many Sahih Hadiths have been narrated which explain to the Muslims Ummah who is most qualified and has the most right to lead the prayers. One of these Hadiths is that which was narrated from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:

“If there are three people, let one of them lead the others in prayer, and the one who has the most right to lead them is the one who knows more Qur’an.” [Sahih Muslim]

The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“The people should be led in prayer by the one who has most knowledge of the Qur’an and has been reciting it for longer. If they are equal in their knowledge and reading of the Qur’an, then they should be led by the one who made hijrah first. If they are equal with regard to hijrah, then they should be led by the one who is older.” [Sahih Muslim]

To sum it up what is indicated by these Hadiths, the one who has the most right to lead the others in prayer is: the one who has most knowledge of the Book of Allah and of the fiqh of Salah (Prayer).

Those who knew more of the Book of Allah were appointed to lead the prayers at the time of the Sahabah, because they had learned the correct way of reciting the verses of the Qur’an and they had learned the knowledge contained therein and the deeds prescribed by the Qur’an. So they combined knowledge and action [they acted upon what they had learned], and did not stop at merely memorising as is the case nowadays. How many people learn all or part of the Qur’an, take care to recite it properly and with a beautiful voice, but they do not know anything about the fiqh of Salah (Prayer).

If they are equal with regard to knowledge of the Qur’an, then the one who knows more about the Sunnah should lead the prayer. If they are equal with regard to knowledge of the Sunnah, then the one who made hijrah first should lead the prayer. If they are equal with regard to hijrah, or if this does not apply, then the one who is older should lead the prayer, as is indicated in the Hadith of Malik Ibn al-Huwairith, who said:

“We came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and we were young people, close in age. We stayed with him for twenty days, and the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) was kind to us. When he thought that we were missing our families, he asked us about those whom we had left behind, and we told him. He said, Go back to your families and stay with them. Teach them and instruct them and he said some things I remembered and some that I forgot. And pray as you have seen me praying. When the time for prayer comes, let one of you call the Adhan and let the oldest among you lead the prayer.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

If they are equal with regard to recitation of the Qur’an, knowledge and hijrah, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) commanded that the eldest of them should be appointed to lead the prayer. If they are equal in age, then the one who is most righteous (has most taqwa) should be appointed, because Allah the Almighty says:

“Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has al-Taqwa (is one of the pious).” [Qur’an, 49:13]

If they are equal in all regards, then they should draw lots (Qur’ah), if there is a dispute.

Having a PhD or having lived the longest in the land of the kuffar does not qualify a person to lead the prayers. The one who has memorised more Qur’an and has more knowledge of the fiqh of Salah (Prayer) is the one who should be appointed. It is not right for Muslims Ummah to dispute over the leadership of the prayers on the basis of their personal whims and desires. They should appoint the person who is described by Shari’ah as being qualified to lead the prayers.

It was narrated that Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari said: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“The people should be led in prayer by the one who has most knowledge of the Book of Allah; if they are equal in knowledge of the Qur’an, then by the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah.” [Sahih Muslim]

What is meant by “the one who has most knowledge of the Qur’an” is not the one who can recite it most beautifully, but rather the one who has memorised more of the Book of Allah. This is indicated by the Hadith of Amr Ibn Salamah who said:

“I used to memorise those words – meaning the Qur’an – and it was as if it took root in my heart. When Makkah was conquered, then every tribe hastened to embrace Islam, and my father urged our tribe to hasten to embrace Islam. When my father returned (from the Prophet) to his tribe, he said, ‘By Allah, I have come to you from the true Prophet (Peace be upon him)!’ The Prophet (Peace be upon him) afterwards said to them, ‘Offer such-and-such a prayer at such-and-such a time, and when the time for the prayer becomes due, then one of you should pronounce the Adhan (for the prayer), and let the one amongst you who knows most Qur’an lead the prayer.’ So they looked for such a person and found none who knew more Qur’an than I, because of what I used to learn from the people. So they made me their Imam (to lead the prayer) and at that time I was a boy of six or seven years.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

I say that it is essential for the Imam to know the rulings on prayer, because he may do something, such as not breaking his wudu (ablution)’, or missing out a raka’ah, and not know what to do about it, in which case he would make a mistake and cause the prayer of others to be imperfect or invalid altogether.

Based on the Hadith quoted above, some of the scholars said that the one who has more knowledge of fiqh should lead the prayers.

Imam Al-Nawawi said:

“Imams Malik, Shafi’i and their companions said that the one who has more knowledge of fiqh should take precedence over the one who knows more Qur’an, because what he needs of recitation is known but what he needs of fiqh may not be clear. There may arise during the prayer some matter where only a person who has complete knowledge of fiqh will be able to know the right thing to do. They said that this is the reason why the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) told Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) to lead the prayer rather than anyone else, even though he (Peace be upon him) had stated that others had more knowledge of Qur’an than him. But some refuted this point by quoting the Hadith that said that the Sahabah who had most knowledge of Qur’an were also those who had most knowledge of fiqh. But there is another Hadith according to which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “If they are equal in knowledge of Qur’an, then the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah,” which indicates that those who have most knowledge of Qur’an should be given precedence in all cases.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim, vol. 5 page 177]

Even though Imam al-Nawawi differed with his Imam Shafi’i with regard to the interpretation of the Hadith, their words illustrate the basic principle that there was no one among the Sahabah who had a good knowledge of the Qur’an but was ignorant of the rulings of Shari’ah, as is the case among many people nowadays.

Imam Ibn Qudamah said:

“If one of them has more knowledge of the rulings on prayer, and the other has more knowledge of matters other than prayer, then the one who has more knowledge about prayer should be given precedence.” [Al-Mughni, vol. 2 page 19]

The Standing Committee of Fatwa in Saudi said:

“If this is understood, then it is not permissible for one who is ignorant to lead the prayer unless he is leading others like him (ignorant people), if there is no one who is better qualified to lead the prayer.” [Fatawa Islamiyyah, vol. 1 page 264]

I ask Allah to reform and unite the Muslims Ummah, ameen.

* Regulations Concerning the Functions of the Imam

1. A woman is not allowed to lead males in Prayer. Jabir has reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:

“No woman is permitted to lead a male in Prayer.” [Ibn Majah]

2. The female Imam should stand in the row and not alone in front, whether she has one female follower with her or more.

3. The Imam should have regard for his followers and should not recite long passages or prolong the Ruku’ or Sajdah unduly, for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said:

“When anyone of you happens to lead the Prayer, he should make it short and light, because among the followers there may be the sick, the weak or aged people. However, when you are offering the Prayer alone, you may prolong it as much as you like.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Mu’az Bin Jabal used to recite long Surahs in the Isha’ Prayer. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) came to know of it, he was annoyed, and said:

“O Mu’az, do not put the people to trial!” – and then instructed him to recite short Surahs like Al-A’ala (87), Ash-Shams (92), Al-Lail (92) and Wad-Duha (93).” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Concerning his own practice, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) once remarked:

“When I stand up for Prayer, I sometimes intend to prolong it, but then I hear some child crying and I shorten the Prayer, because I know that the child’s crying would upset the mother (who might be offering her Prayer behind me.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

4. It is highly undesirable to appoint a sinner, or one performing the act of bid’ah, or a wicked person, as Imam. If however a better person is not available, then such a person may be allowed to act as Imam.

5. It is undesirable to appoint a person as an Imam who suffers from a repulsive or serious disease like leprosy etc.

6. To appoint a handsome young man whose beard has not yet grown, or who is shaving his beard as Imam, is undesirable.

7. In Islam, a man who is disliked or hated by the people should not act as the Imam. The follower’s willingness and approval in this regard is necessary.

8. If a Prayer is to be offered in the house of a person, the person himself deserves to be the Imam. However, if he allows another person to act as Imam, there is no harm. Similarly the appointed Imam of the Mosque has a greater right to act as Imam in the Mosque unless he himself allows another person to lead the Prayer on that particular occasion.

9. If the Prayer of the Imam becomes void for some reason, the Prayer of the whole congregation will automatically become void, whether it happens during the progress of the Prayer, or comes to light after the Prayer is over. In any case the Imam is duty bound to inform the followers to repeat their Prayer.

10. It is the responsibility of the Imam to see that the rows are made straight and balanced and the followers are standing close to one another without any gaps between them.

11. A male Imam may lead women in Prayer provided there is at least one other male present in the congregation, or a mahram female, like mother, wife, sister etc.

Wallahu ‘Alam

Wassalamu Alaikum

The perfect knowledge belongs to Allah the Almighty. And my last prayer is all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon our Prophet, his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.

Written by your brother, Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. The Imam can be reached via: gusaumurtada@gmail.com or +2348038289761.The Imamship in Islam (Leader in Prayer)

By

Imam Murtadha Gusau

Monday, April 22, 2019

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon whom Allah sent as a mercy to the Worlds, Prophet Muhammad, upon his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters! The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said in an authentic Hadith:

“The one most versed in the Book of Allah should lead. If equal, then the one most knowledgeable of the Sunnah should lead.” [Sahih Muslim]

The Islamic scholars explain that the ones “most versed” in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) were the most knowledgeable of them. Thus in our times, we give preference to knowledge.

Bearing in mind that: (a) this person has the right (haqq) to lead, not that the prayer is invalid or the congregation is sinful if somebody else leads, and (b) the Imam of the Mosque has a greater right to lead the prayer than the most knowledgeable or the best reciter from amongst them.

* The selection of an Imam

The Imam has to be selected with due care and attention because, in fact, he represents the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) in the Mosque and his duties and responsibilities are of unique importance and significance in the religious system of Islam. Only such a person, therefore, should be appointed for this job, who is on the whole the best man available among the worshippers not only in matters of knowledge, righteousness, spirit of sacrifice and insight into religion (which are the necessary qualities of an Imam of the Muslims), but he should also possess leadership qualities to guide them in the practical affairs of life.

During his last illness, when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) found himself unable to attend the Mosque, he appointed Abu Bakr as his representative, who was on the whole the best man among the Muslims. Though the ladies made repeated requests to the Prophet to appoint someone else because they thought Abu Bakr was a tender hearted man, the Prophet turned down their request every time and said:

“Let Abu Bakr lead the people in Prayer.”

And Abu Bakr then led the Prayer accordingly. Prayer being the most important duty in Islam, it can be held only by such a person who has the necessary calibre and qualities to represent Muslims before Allah and who is religiously the best person on the whole among the people.

Abu Mas’ud has reported the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as saying:

“The Imam of the Muslims should be such a one who possesses the deepest knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an. If all are equal in this, the Imam should be the one who has the deepest knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari’ah. If all are equal in this, he should be the one who migrated first. And if all are equal in this too, then the one who is most senior in age.” [Sahih Muslim]

“The deepest knowledge of the Qur’an” implies that he should have a special inclination and taste for the Qur’an. He should have committed a large portion of it to memory, and should be able to recite it well, and have deep insight into its meaning and contents and has understood and absorbed its message well. If all are equal in this quality, then the Imam should be a person who has profound knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari’ah regulations. If all are equal in this quality then it should be the one who has offered maximum sacrifices for the sake of Islam and upheld its cause through all the vicissitudes of life. If all are equal in this quality too, then the one most senior in age may be given in honour of leading the Prayer.

Respected brothers and sisters! Many Sahih Hadiths have been narrated which explain to the Muslims Ummah who is most qualified and has the most right to lead the prayers. One of these Hadiths is that which was narrated from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:

“If there are three people, let one of them lead the others in prayer, and the one who has the most right to lead them is the one who knows more Qur’an.” [Sahih Muslim]

The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“The people should be led in prayer by the one who has most knowledge of the Qur’an and has been reciting it for longer. If they are equal in their knowledge and reading of the Qur’an, then they should be led by the one who made hijrah first. If they are equal with regard to hijrah, then they should be led by the one who is older.” [Sahih Muslim]

To sum it up what is indicated by these Hadiths, the one who has the most right to lead the others in prayer is: the one who has most knowledge of the Book of Allah and of the fiqh of Salah (Prayer).

Those who knew more of the Book of Allah were appointed to lead the prayers at the time of the Sahabah, because they had learned the correct way of reciting the verses of the Qur’an and they had learned the knowledge contained therein and the deeds prescribed by the Qur’an. So they combined knowledge and action [they acted upon what they had learned], and did not stop at merely memorising as is the case nowadays. How many people learn all or part of the Qur’an, take care to recite it properly and with a beautiful voice, but they do not know anything about the fiqh of Salah (Prayer).

If they are equal with regard to knowledge of the Qur’an, then the one who knows more about the Sunnah should lead the prayer. If they are equal with regard to knowledge of the Sunnah, then the one who made hijrah first should lead the prayer. If they are equal with regard to hijrah, or if this does not apply, then the one who is older should lead the prayer, as is indicated in the Hadith of Malik Ibn al-Huwairith, who said:

“We came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and we were young people, close in age. We stayed with him for twenty days, and the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) was kind to us. When he thought that we were missing our families, he asked us about those whom we had left behind, and we told him. He said, Go back to your families and stay with them. Teach them and instruct them and he said some things I remembered and some that I forgot. And pray as you have seen me praying. When the time for prayer comes, let one of you call the Adhan and let the oldest among you lead the prayer.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

If they are equal with regard to recitation of the Qur’an, knowledge and hijrah, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) commanded that the eldest of them should be appointed to lead the prayer. If they are equal in age, then the one who is most righteous (has most taqwa) should be appointed, because Allah the Almighty says:

“Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has al-Taqwa (is one of the pious).” [Qur’an, 49:13]

If they are equal in all regards, then they should draw lots (Qur’ah), if there is a dispute.

Having a PhD or having lived the longest in the land of the kuffar does not qualify a person to lead the prayers. The one who has memorised more Qur’an and has more knowledge of the fiqh of Salah (Prayer) is the one who should be appointed. It is not right for Muslims Ummah to dispute over the leadership of the prayers on the basis of their personal whims and desires. They should appoint the person who is described by Shari’ah as being qualified to lead the prayers.

It was narrated that Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari said: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:

“The people should be led in prayer by the one who has most knowledge of the Book of Allah; if they are equal in knowledge of the Qur’an, then by the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah.” [Sahih Muslim]

What is meant by “the one who has most knowledge of the Qur’an” is not the one who can recite it most beautifully, but rather the one who has memorised more of the Book of Allah. This is indicated by the Hadith of Amr Ibn Salamah who said:

“I used to memorise those words – meaning the Qur’an – and it was as if it took root in my heart. When Makkah was conquered, then every tribe hastened to embrace Islam, and my father urged our tribe to hasten to embrace Islam. When my father returned (from the Prophet) to his tribe, he said, ‘By Allah, I have come to you from the true Prophet (Peace be upon him)!’ The Prophet (Peace be upon him) afterwards said to them, ‘Offer such-and-such a prayer at such-and-such a time, and when the time for the prayer becomes due, then one of you should pronounce the Adhan (for the prayer), and let the one amongst you who knows most Qur’an lead the prayer.’ So they looked for such a person and found none who knew more Qur’an than I, because of what I used to learn from the people. So they made me their Imam (to lead the prayer) and at that time I was a boy of six or seven years.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

I say that it is essential for the Imam to know the rulings on prayer, because he may do something, such as not breaking his wudu (ablution)’, or missing out a raka’ah, and not know what to do about it, in which case he would make a mistake and cause the prayer of others to be imperfect or invalid altogether.

Based on the Hadith quoted above, some of the scholars said that the one who has more knowledge of fiqh should lead the prayers.

Imam Al-Nawawi said:

“Imams Malik, Shafi’i and their companions said that the one who has more knowledge of fiqh should take precedence over the one who knows more Qur’an, because what he needs of recitation is known but what he needs of fiqh may not be clear. There may arise during the prayer some matter where only a person who has complete knowledge of fiqh will be able to know the right thing to do. They said that this is the reason why the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) told Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) to lead the prayer rather than anyone else, even though he (Peace be upon him) had stated that others had more knowledge of Qur’an than him. But some refuted this point by quoting the Hadith that said that the Sahabah who had most knowledge of Qur’an were also those who had most knowledge of fiqh. But there is another Hadith according to which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “If they are equal in knowledge of Qur’an, then the one who has most knowledge of the Sunnah,” which indicates that those who have most knowledge of Qur’an should be given precedence in all cases.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim, vol. 5 page 177]

Even though Imam al-Nawawi differed with his Imam Shafi’i with regard to the interpretation of the Hadith, their words illustrate the basic principle that there was no one among the Sahabah who had a good knowledge of the Qur’an but was ignorant of the rulings of Shari’ah, as is the case among many people nowadays.

Imam Ibn Qudamah said:

“If one of them has more knowledge of the rulings on prayer, and the other has more knowledge of matters other than prayer, then the one who has more knowledge about prayer should be given precedence.” [Al-Mughni, vol. 2 page 19]

The Standing Committee of Fatwa in Saudi said:

“If this is understood, then it is not permissible for one who is ignorant to lead the prayer unless he is leading others like him (ignorant people), if there is no one who is better qualified to lead the prayer.” [Fatawa Islamiyyah, vol. 1 page 264]

I ask Allah to reform and unite the Muslims Ummah, ameen.

* Regulations Concerning the Functions of the Imam

1. A woman is not allowed to lead males in Prayer. Jabir has reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:

“No woman is permitted to lead a male in Prayer.” [Ibn Majah]

2. The female Imam should stand in the row and not alone in front, whether she has one female follower with her or more.

3. The Imam should have regard for his followers and should not recite long passages or prolong the Ruku’ or Sajdah unduly, for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said:

“When anyone of you happens to lead the Prayer, he should make it short and light, because among the followers there may be the sick, the weak or aged people. However, when you are offering the Prayer alone, you may prolong it as much as you like.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Mu’az Bin Jabal used to recite long Surahs in the Isha’ Prayer. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) came to know of it, he was annoyed, and said:

“O Mu’az, do not put the people to trial!” – and then instructed him to recite short Surahs like Al-A’ala (87), Ash-Shams (92), Al-Lail (92) and Wad-Duha (93).” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Concerning his own practice, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) once remarked:

“When I stand up for Prayer, I sometimes intend to prolong it, but then I hear some child crying and I shorten the Prayer, because I know that the child’s crying would upset the mother (who might be offering her Prayer behind me.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

4. It is highly undesirable to appoint a sinner, or one performing the act of bid’ah, or a wicked person, as Imam. If however a better person is not available, then such a person may be allowed to act as Imam.

5. It is undesirable to appoint a person as an Imam who suffers from a repulsive or serious disease like leprosy etc.

6. To appoint a handsome young man whose beard has not yet grown, or who is shaving his beard as Imam, is undesirable.

7. In Islam, a man who is disliked or hated by the people should not act as the Imam. The follower’s willingness and approval in this regard is necessary.

8. If a Prayer is to be offered in the house of a person, the person himself deserves to be the Imam. However, if he allows another person to act as Imam, there is no harm. Similarly the appointed Imam of the Mosque has a greater right to act as Imam in the Mosque unless he himself allows another person to lead the Prayer on that particular occasion.

9. If the Prayer of the Imam becomes void for some reason, the Prayer of the whole congregation will automatically become void, whether it happens during the progress of the Prayer, or comes to light after the Prayer is over. In any case the Imam is duty bound to inform the followers to repeat their Prayer.

10. It is the responsibility of the Imam to see that the rows are made straight and balanced and the followers are standing close to one another without any gaps between them.

11. A male Imam may lead women in Prayer provided there is at least one other male present in the congregation, or a mahram female, like mother, wife, sister etc.

Wallahu ‘Alam

Wassalamu Alaikum

The perfect knowledge belongs to Allah the Almighty. And my last prayer is all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. Peace and blessing be upon our Prophet, his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.

Written by your brother, Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. The Imam can be reached via: gusaumurtada@gmail.com or +2348038289761.

Previous article[Friday Sermon] The Prohibition Of A Forced Marriage In Islam
Next article2023 Hajj: NAHCON Gives Pilgrims Board, Agencies 48hours To Conclude Payments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here