Performing the prayers in congregation is a sunnah mu'akkadah. Many ahadith discuss the superiority and excellence of prayers in congregation. Such ahadith include the following:
Ibn 'Umar reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Prayer in congregation is superior to a prayer performed individually by twenty-seven degrees." This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "The prayer of a man in congregation is twenty-five times more superior (in reward) to his prayer in his house or market - and this is because he makes the wudu' and perfects it and goes to the mosque with the sole purpose of performing the salah. He does not take a step without being raised a degree and having one of his sins erased. When he prays, as long as he does not lose his wudu, the angels keep on praying [for him] 'O Allah, bless him. O Allah, have mercy on him.' And he is considered in salah as long as he is waiting for the salah." This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim, and it is presented in al-Bukhari's wording. Abu Hurairah also reports that a blind man said to the Prophet: "O Messenger of Allah, I have no guide to guide me to the mosque." He asked the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam for permission to pray in his house and the Prophet gave it to him. Then, when he turned to go, the Prophet called him and said: "Do you hear the call to prayer?" The blind man said "yes." The Prophet then said: "Then respond to it!" [by coming to the mosque.] This is related by Muslim.
Abu Hurairah also reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "By Him in whose hand is my soul! I have considered ordering a fire to be kindled and then ask someone to lead the people in salah. And then go to the men [who did not attend the prayer] and burn their houses over them." This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud says: "If anyone would like to meet Allah tomorrow as a Muslim, he should persevere in abserving these five prayers whenever the call for them is made, for Allah has chosen for your Prophet the way of right guidance. And the [five prayers in congregation] are part of this right guidance. If you were to pray them in your houses, as this man who stays behind in his house, you would be leaving a sunnah of your Prophet. If you leave the sunnah of your Prophet, you would go astray. Verily, I have seen a time when no one stayed away from them [the congregational prayers] except for the hypocrites who were well known for their hypocrisy. A man would be brought, supported by two people [due to his weakness] until he was placed in a row." This is related by Muslim.
Abu ad-Darda' reports that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "If there are three men in a village or desert and salah is not established among them, then the Satan takes mastery over them. So be with the congregation since the wolf devours the remote (stray) sheep." This is related by Abu Dawud with a hasan chain.
Women and congregational prayers:
It is better for women to pray in their houses than to attend congregational prayers. However, they may go to the mosque and attend the congregational prayer if they avoid wearing or using any attractive or tempting adornment or perfume.
Ibn 'Umar reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Do not prevent the women from going to the mosques, although their houses are better for them." Abu Hurairah relates that the Prophet said: "Do not keep the slave girls of Allah from the mosques of Allah. And they are to go out unperfumed." These two ahadith were related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud. Abu Hurairah also reports that the Prophet said: "Any woman who uses some scent should not be present with us during the night prayer." This is related by Muslim, Abu Dawud, and an-Nasa'i with a hasan chain.
As stated earlier, it is better for women to pray in their houses. Ahmad and at-Tabarani record that Umm Humaid as-Sa'diyah came to the Messenger of Allah and said: "O Messenger of Allah, I love to pray with you." The Prophet said: "I am aware of that, but your salah in your residence is better for you than your salah in your people's mosque. And your salah in your people's mosque is better than your salah in the [larger] congregational Mosque."
Praying at a larger and more distant mosque:
It is preferable to pray in a mosque that is farther away and that has a larger congregation. Muslim records from Abu Musa that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "The one who gets the greatest reward for a prayer is the one who walks the farthest distance." Muslim also records that Jabir said: "The area around the mosque became vacant and the tribe of Salamah wanted to move there. When this news reached the Messenger of Allah, he said: 'It has reached me that you want to move closer to the mosque?' They said: 'Yes, O Messenger of Allah, we desire that.' The Prophet said: 'O tribe of Salamah, your dwellings will record your steps.'" Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others have recorded this on the authority of Abu Hurairah.
Ubayy ibn Ka'b reported that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "The salah of a man with another man is purer than the salah of a man by himself. [In the same way,] his salah with two men is purer than his salah with only one man, and what is more, it is most dear to Allah." This is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, an-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah and Ibn Hibban. Ibn as-Sakin, al-'Uqaily and al-Hakim classify it as sahih.
Going to the mosque with calm and dignity:
It is preferred for one to walk to the mosque with calm and dignity and not in a hurry or rushing. This is because the person is considered to be in prayer when he is going to the salah (and also while he is waiting for it). Abu Qatadah says: "We were praying with the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam when we heard the clamoring of some men. When they had prayed, the Prophet inquired: 'What was the matter with you?' They answered: 'We were hurrying for the salah.' He said: 'Do not do that...when you come to the salah come in peace and calm, and pray what you can with congregation and complete what you have missed.'" This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
Abu Hurairah narrates that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "When you hear the iqamah, proceed to the prayer with calm and dignity and do not rush. Pray what you can (with congregation) and complete what you miss." This is related by the group except for at-Tirmidhi.
The imam should be "easy" on his followers:
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet said: "If one of you leads the people in prayer, he should be "easy," on them for among the people are the weak, sick, and aged. If one prays by himself, one may make it as long as one wishes." This is related by the group. It is narrated from Anas that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wassalam said: "Sometimes I enter prayer and I intend to prolong it, but then I hear a child crying, and I shorten my prayer thinking of the distress of the child's mother."
Al-Bukhari and Muslim record that Anas said: "I have not prayed behind anyone who prayed a lighter salah or a more complete prayer than that of the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam." Abu 'Umar ibn Abdul Barr said: The scholars agree that it is preferable for an imam to make the prayer light while preserving the minimum without which salah is incomplete and without leaving off any part of the salah or shortening part of it [not performing it properly]. The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam prohibited the pecking like a crow. Once he saw a man who did not complete his ruku' and he told him: 'Go back and pray for you have not prayed.' And he said: 'Allah does not look to one who does not straighten his back during ruku' and sujjud.' I do not know of any difference of opinion among the scholars concerning the fact that it is preferred for an imam to be 'easy' on his followers while making the prayer properly. It is related that 'Umar said: 'Do not make people dislike Allah, by making the salah so long that it should become hard on those praying behind you."'
The imam may prolong the first rak'ah to allow others to join:
It is permitted for the imam to prolong the first rak'ah while waiting for others to join the congregation. In the same way, it is preferred for him to wait for people who are coming during the bowings and during the final sitting.
Abu Qatadah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam would prolong the first rak'ah and the people suspected that he did it to allow the late-comers to join the first rak'ah. Abu Sa'id says: "If the (congregational) salah was begun, one could go to al-Baqi', relieve himself, make wudu', and return and find the Prophet still in the first rak'ah for he would prolong it (first rak'ah)." This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, Ibn Majah, and an-Nasa'i.
It is obligatory to follow the imam and forbidden to precede him:
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "The imam is selected to be followed; therefore, do not differ with him. When he makes the takbir, make the takbir, when he goes into ruku', make ruku'. When he says 'Allah hears him who praises Him,' say 'O Allah, our Lord, to You belongs the Praise.' When he goes into sajdah, make sajdah. If he prays sitting, then all should be sitting." This is related by the group. In the version by Ahmad and Abu Dawud, the wording is "the imam is to be followed. If he makes the takbir, make the takbir, and do not make the takbir until he does so. When he goes into ruku', make ruku', and do not perform ruku' until he does so. When he goes into sajdah, make sajdah, and do not make sajdah until he does so."
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Do you not fear that if you raise your head before the imam Allah may change your head into that of a donkey!" This is related by the group.
Anas reports that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "O people, I am your imam, so do not precede me in ruku' or in sujjud or in qiyam or in sitting or in finishing." This is related by Ahmad and Muslim .
Al-Bara' ibn 'Azib says: "We prayed with the Messenger of Allah and when he said 'Allah hears him who praises Him,' none of us would bend his back until the Messenger of Allah had put his forehead upon the ground." This is related by the group.
Consitution of a congregation:
One person with the imam would constitute a congregation even if the other person is a child or a woman.
Ibn 'Abbas says: "I stayed with my Aunt Maimunah and the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam got up to pray during the night. I got up to pray with him and stood on his left and the Prophet took me by my hand and put me on his right side."
Sa'id and Abu Hurairah both report that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Whoever gets up during the night and wakes up his spouse and they pray two rak'at together, they both will be recorded among those (men and women) who remember Allah much." This is related by Abu Dawud . Abu Sa' id narrates that a man entered the Mosque, and the Prophet and his companions had already prayed. The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Who will give charity to him by praying with him?" So, a man from the people stood and prayed with him. This is related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and at-Tirmidhi who calls it hasan. Ibn Abi Shaibah relates that it was Abu Bakr who stood and prayed with the man. At-Tirmidhi uses this hadith as proof that a group can pray in congregation in a mosque in which the congregational prayer had already been made. He says that this is the opinion of Ahmad and Ishaq. Other scholars say that they should each pray individually and this is the opinion of Sufyan, Malik, Ibn al-Mubarak and ash-Shaf'i.
An imam may change his place and become a follower:
If the regular imam or appointed imam is not present, it is permissible to appoint someone else to perform the duty of imam. If the regular imam appears during the prayers, the substitute imam may move back to the rows and allow the regular imam to take over. Al-Bukhari and Muslim record that Sahl ibn Sa'd said: "The Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam went off to take care of the affairs of the tribe of 'Amr ibn 'Auf. The time for salah came and the mu'adhdhin went to Abu Bakr and said: 'Will you lead the people in salah and I shall make the iqamah?' Abu Bakr agreed. [While he was] leading the prayer, the Messenger of Allah appeared and joined the rows. The people clapped [their thighs with their hands] but Abu Bakr would not turn around during the prayer. When most of the people began clapping, he turned and saw the Prophet...[who] pointed to Abu Bakr to stay in his place. Abu Bakr raised his hands and praised Allah because of what the Prophet had told him. Then, Abu Bakr moved back until he joined the rows and the Prophet stepped forward [to lead]. After he had prayed, he went to Abu Bakr and said: O Abu Bakr, what prevented you from staying there when I told you to do so?' Abu Bakr said: 'It is not fit for the son of Abu Quhafah to lead the Prophet in prayer.' Then the Messenger of Allah said: 'Why did I see most of you clapping? If you find something in the prayer you should say subhanallah, for when you say it, it will attract his (i.e. imam's) attention and clapping [thighs with hands] is for the women.'"
Catching up with imam or the congregation:
Whoever joins a congregation, he should perform the opening takbir while standing and then move directly to the act that the congregation may be performing, for instance, if the congregation is prostrating one should perform the opening takbir and then join it in the prostration. However, such a person is not considered as having performed the rak'ah unless he performs the ruku' (bowing), even if he just bows and puts his hands on his knees, when the imam is finishing his ruku'.
Abu Hurairah reports that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "If you come to the salah and we are in sajdah, then make sajdah with us but do not count it [as a rak'ah]. And whoever 'catches' the ruku', he catches the salah." This is related by Abu Dawud, Ibn Khuzaimah in his Sahih, and by al-Hakim, who considers it sahih, in his Al-Mustadrak.
When it is permissible to not attend Congregation:
Ibn 'Umar narrated that the Prophet ordered the mu'adhdhin to say: "Pray in your places," on a cold, stormy night during a journey. This is related by alBukhari and Muslim.
Jabir said: "We went on a journey with the Prophet and it rained upon us, so he said: 'Whoever wishes may pray in his stopping place.'" This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and at-Tirmidhi.
Ibn 'Abbas said to the mu'adhdhin, on a rainy day: "When you say 'I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,' do not say 'Come to the prayer,' but instead say 'Pray in your houses."' The people didn't seem to like it, so he asked: "Are you surprised by that? One better than me did it [the Prophet]. The congregational prayer is a strict order but I hated that you should go out and walk in the mud and on slippery ground." This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim. According to Muslim's version, this occurred on a Friday.
What applies in case of cold would also apply in cases of extreme heat, darkness, and fear of an oppressor. Ibn Batal writes: "The scholars are agreed on the permissibility of not attending the congregation due to heavy rain, darkness, wind, and so on."
Ibn 'Umar reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "If the food is presented to one of you, do not rush but fulfill your need of it even if the salah has begun." This is related by al-Bukhari. 'Aishah narrates that she heard the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam say: "There is no prayer when the meal is presented nor when one needs to answer the call of nature." This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, and Abu Dawud.
Abu ad-Darda' says: "It is a sign of the understanding of a person that he fulfills his needs first in order to make his prayer with a clear mind." This is related by al-Bukhari.
The one who should be imam is the one who is the most versed in the Qur'an:
If two or more are equal in this, then it is the one who has the most knowledge of the sunnah. If they are equal in that, then it is the one who performed the migration first. If they are equal in that, then it should be the eldest.
Abu Sa'id narrates that the Prophet said: "If you are three in number, then one of you should be the imam. And the one who has the most right to it is the one who is the most versed in the Qur'an." This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, and an-Nasa'i. The meaning of "most versed in the Qur'an" is the one who has more of the Qur'an memorized. This interpretation is based on the hadith from Amr ibn Salamah which says: "Your imam should be the one who is most versed in the Qur'an."
Ibn Mas'ud reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "The imam of a people should be the one who is the most versed in the Book of Allah. If they are equal in their recital, then the one who is most knowledgeable of the sunnah. If they are equal in the sunnah, then [it is] the one who migrated first. If they are equal in that, then [it is] the eldest. And no man should be an imam for another man if the other holds authority [i.e., a leader in any capacity or ruler of the Muslim people]. And one should not occupy his place of honor in his house without his permission." In another narration it is stated: "No man should be the imam for another while with the other's family or where the other is in authority." This is related by Ahmad and Muslim.
Sa'id ibn Mansur says: "A person should not be an imam for another where the other is in authority except with his permission." The meaning of this is that the one in authority, owner of a house, leader of a meeting, and so on, has more right than others to be the imam if he has not granted the permission to any of the others. Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "It is not allowed for a man who believes in Allah and the last day to be an imam for a people, except with their permission, nor may he specifically make supplications for himself without including them. If he does so, he is disloyal to them." This is related by Abu Dawud.
Whose imamate is acceptable:
The imamate of all the following is acceptable: a discerning boy, a blind person, a standing person for those who are sitting, a sitting person for those who are standing, a person praying fard for people who are praying nafl, a person praying nafl for people who are praying fard. Likewise, a person who has performed ablution can be imam for people who have performed tayammum, as can be a person who has performed tayammum for people who have performed ablution, a traveler for the resident, a resident for the travelers, and a less qualified person for people who are more qualified.
'Amr ibn Salamah led his people in salah while he was six or seven years old. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam twice appointed Ibn Umm Maktum, a blind man, to lead the people of Medinah in prayer. The Messenger of Allah, during his last illness, prayed behind Abu Bakr in a sitting position. And he prayed in his house in a sitting position while those behind him were standing. He pointed to them to sit and when he had finished the prayer he said: "The imam has been appointed to be followed. If he goes into ruku', then make ruku'. When he raises his head, raise your head. If he prays sitting, then pray sitting behind him."
Mu'adh would pray 'isha with the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam and then return to his people and lead them in the same prayer, it being nafl for him and fard for the others. Muhjan ibn al-Adra' reports: "I came to the Messenger of Allah in the mosque and they prayed and I did not. He said to me: 'Why didn't you pray?' I said: 'O Messenger of Allah, I prayed in my place and then came here.' He then said: 'When you come [to the mosque], pray with them and make it supererogatory."'
The Messenger of Allah saw a man praying by himself and said: "Who will give charity to this person by praying with him?" 'Amr ibn al-'Aas led others in prayer when he had made tayammum only and the Prophet approved of it.
The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam, after the conquest of Makkah, led the people in prayer by praying two rak'at (except for maghrib) and said: "O people of Makkah, stand and pray the last two rak'at as we are travelers."
If a traveler prays behind a resident, he must complete the whole four rak'at even if he only prayed part of a rak'ah behind the resident imam. Ibn 'Abbas was asked: "Why is the traveler to pray two rak'at if he prays by himself and four rak'at if he prays behind a resident?" He answered: "That is the sunnah." In another version, Musa ibn Salamah said to him: "If we pray with you, we pray four rak'at otherwise we pray two?" He told him: "That is the sunnah of Abu al-Qasim [the Prophet]." This is related by Ahmad.
Whose imamate is not acceptable:
It is not allowed for one who has a health problem which does not allow him to remain in a state of purity to be an imam for others who do not have such a problem. This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars. According to the Maliki school, such a person's imamate will be valid, but it is disliked to make such a person the imam.
It is preferred to have a woman imam for women:
'Aishah used to lead the women in salah and stand with the women in the middle of the first row. Umm Salamah would also do so. The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam appointed Waraqah to go and make the adhan for her while he instructed her to lead the women of her household in the obligatory prayers.
It is preferred to have a woman imam for women:
'Aishah used to lead the women in salah and stand with the women in the middle of the first row. Umm Salamah would also do so. The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam appointed Waraqah to go and make the adhan for her while he instructed her to lead the women of her household in the obligatory prayers.
Evildoer or innovator forbidden to lead prayer:
Al-Bukhari records that Ibn 'Umar prayed behind al-Hajjaj. Muslim records that Abu Sa'id al-Khudri prayed salatul 'id behind Marwan.
Ibn Mas'ud once prayed four rak'at of fajr, behind al-Walid ibn 'Uqbah ibn Abu Ma'it who used to drink wine, and 'Uthman ibn 'Affan had him flogged. The companions and their successors prayed behind Ibn 'Ubaid who was accused of propagating heresies. According to the scholars, anyone whose prayer is valid on an individual basis, his imamate is also valid for others. However, they dislike to pray behind an evildoer or innovator.
As-Sa'ib ibn Khilad relates that a man was leading the people in salah and he spat in the direction of the qiblah. The Messenger of Allah saw this and said: "Do not let him lead you in salah." After this, the man wanted to lead the people in salah but they prevented him and told him what the Prophet had said. The man went to the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam, to ask him about that, and the Prophet said: "Yes, [it is true] for you have offended Allah and His Messenger." This is related by Abu Dawud and Ibn Hibban. Abu Dawud and al-Mundhiri are silent about it.
Permission to leave the congregational prayer:
If the imam makes the salah too long, it is permissible, under certain circumstances, to leave the salah with the intention of performing it individually. The following are examples of when this may be done: becoming ill, fearing that one's wealth may be lost or destroyed, missing one's companions or traveling group, being overcome by sleep, and so on. This is based on the following hadith related by Jabir: "Mu'adh would pray 'isha with the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam, and then go and lead his people in salah. One night, the Prophet delayed salatul 'isha and Mu'adh prayed with him and then went to his people and led them in the night prayer by reciting alBaqarah. One man left the salah and prayed by himself. The people said to him: 'O so and so, you have become a hypocrite.' He said: 'I have not become a hypocrite but I shall surely go to the Prophet and inform him of what has happened.' He told the Prophet what had happened and the Prophet said to Mu'adh: 'You put people to trials, Mu'adh! You put people to trials, Mu'adh. Recite such and such surah.'" This is related by the group.
Repeating a salah with a congregation:
Yazid al-Aswad says: "We prayed dawn prayer (fajr) with the Messenger of Allah at Mina and two men came and stopped at their resting places. The prophet ordered for them to be brought and they came shaking with fear. The Prophet said to them: 'What prevented you from praying with the people? ...Are you two not Muslims?' They answered: 'Certainly we are, O Messenger of Allah, but we had prayed in our resting place.' The Prophet told them: 'If you pray in your resting places and then come upon an imam, pray with him, and it will be nafl for you.'" This is related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud. An-Nasa'i and at-Tirmidhi record it in these words: "lf you pray in your resting places and then you come to a mosque with a congregation, pray with them, and it will be nafl for you." At-Tirmidhi calls it hasan sahih and Ibn as-Sakin says it is sahih.
This hadith shows that it is correct for one to repeat a salah as a nafl with a congregation even if he has already performed it, individually or with a congregation.
It is related that Hudhaifah repeated the zuhr, 'asr, and maghrih prayers although he had prayed them in congregation. It is also related that Anas prayed fajr behind Abu Musa at the place where fruits are dried and then he went to the congregational mosque and repeated the salah behind alMughirah ibn Shu'bah. Nevertheless, this action contradicts authentic hadith of the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam in which he reportedly said: "Do not pray the same salah twice in one day." The apparent conflict has been resolved by Ibn 'Abdul-Barr who writes, "Ahmad and Ishaq agree that this refers to praying an obligatory salah and then, after a while, repeating it as the obligatory prayer. Now, as for the one who repeats the salah with a congregation with the intention that the second prayer is not a repeat of the obligatory salah but that it is simply a voluntary prayer, he obeys the Prophet's order of not making the same salah twice, as the first salah was obligatory and the second was nafl; hence, there is no repetition . "
Imam's leaving the place after the salah:
It is preferred for the imam to tum to the right or to the left after the salah and then to leave the place of prayer.
Qabaidah ibn Halb relates that his father said: "The Prophet would lead us in salah and then tum to both of his sides, to his right and to his left." This is related by Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, and at-Tirmidhi. The latter calls it hasan. People who are infommed on this subject act accordingly by turning to any side they wish. Both acts have been authenticated from the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam. 'Aishah says: "After the Prophet made the taslim, he would not sit except for the amount of time it takes to say: 'O Allah, You are the Peace, and from You comes the Peace. Blessed are You, Possessor of Majesty and Honor."' This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, at-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah.
Ahmad and al-Bukhari record that Umm Salamah said: "Whenever the Messenger of Allah finished his prayers with the taslim, the women would get up and he would stay in his place for a while before getting up." She said: "I think, and Allah knows best, that he did that to allow the women to leave before the men [would stand to leave].
The imam or followers being elevated:
It is disliked for the imam to be at a higher place than the followers.
Abu Mas'ud al-Ansari says: "The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam prohibited that the imam should stand on something higher than the people behind him." This is related by ad-Daraqutni, while al-Hafez is silent about it in al-Talkhis.
Hamam ibn al-Harith relates that Hudhaifah led the people in prayer in Mada'in (Iraq) and he stood on a bench. Abu Mas'ud pulled his shirt with a strong grip. When he finished his prayer Abu Mas'ud said: "Do you not know that this has been prohibited?" Hudhaifah said: "Certainly, I know it. I remembered it when you pulled me." This is related by Abu Dawud, ash-Shaf'i, and al-Baihaqi. Al-Hakim, Ibn Khuzaimah, and Ibn Hibban grade it sahih.
On the other hand, if the imam has some reason for being higher than the followers, the act is not disliked. Sahl ibn Sa'd as-Sa'ady says: "I saw the Prophet sitting upon the pulpit on the first day that it was set up. He made the opening takbir while he was upon it and then he performed ruku'. Afterward, he moved behind the pulpit and made sajdah at the foot of the pulpit. Then, he repeated the same. When he had finished, he tumed to the people and said: "O people, I did that for you to follow me and to teach you my salah."' This is related by Ahmad, al-Bukhari, and Muslim.
It is permissible for the followers to be at a higher place than the imam:
Sa id ibn Mansur, ash-Shaf'i, al-Baihaqi, and al-Bukhari, in his comments, relate from Abu Hurairah that he prayed at the top of the mosque while following the imam. Anas used to pray in the room of Abu Naf'i to the right of the mosque and the room was his height's high and its door faced the mosque of Basrah and Anas would pray in it, following the imam. The companions did not say anything about it. This is related by Sa'id ibn Mansur in his Sunan.
Ash-Shaukani observes: "If the follower is extremely high above the imam, for example, three hundred lengths, and he could not know what action the imam is doing then it is prohibited by consensus whether he is in a mosque or somewhere else. If it is less than that, it is permitted on the principle that unless proved otherwise a thing is permissible. This basis is supported by the above mentioned act of Abu Hurairah to which no one objected."
Following the imam with a barrier in between:
It is allowed for a follower to follow the imam, even if there is a barrier between them, as long as he or she can tell the imam's movements either by his sight or hearing.
Al-Bukhari records: "Al-Hassan said: 'There is no problem if you pray and between you and him [the imam] there is a river.' Abu Majliz said: 'Follow the imam, even if between you and him there is a road or a wall, as long as you can hear the opening takbir.'" We have already mentioned the hadith in which the people prayed behind the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam while they were behind the room.
When imam leaves out an essential act of salah:
A person's imamate is valid even if he leaves out one of the obligatory acts or prerequisites provided the followers complete them and the imam is not aware of the fact that he had left out an obligatory act or prerequisite.
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet said: "If the imam leads the prayer correctly, then both you and he will get the reward. If he is mistaken, you will get the reward and he the blame." This is related by Ahmad and al-Bukhari.
Sahl reports that he heard the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam say: "The imam is a warrantor. If he has done well, it is for him and them. If he has done wrong, it is upon him." This is related by Ibn Majah. It has been authentically reported from 'Umar that he led the people in salah while he was sexually defiled and had forgotten that fact. He repeated his salah but those who had prayed behind him did not.
Appointing another to lead the rest of the salah:
If the imam must leave during the salah due to some reason, for instance, he remembers that he is in need of making ablution or he loses his ablution during the salah, then he should appoint another to lead the remainder of the prayer.
'Amr ibn Maimun says: "I was standing and there was no one between me and 'Umar, the morning he was killed, except 'Abullah ibn 'Abbas. He had barely pronounced the takbir when he was stabbed and he said: 'The dog has bitten or killed me.' 'Umar bade 'Abdur Rahman ibn 'Auf to lead the salah and he led them in a short prayer." This is related by al-Bukhari.
Abu Razin reports: "'Ali was praying one day when his nose began to bleed. He took a man by the hand and put him in front of the congregation, and he left." This is related by Sa'id ibn Mansur. Ahmad observes: "If the imam appoints another [it is acceptable] as 'Umar and 'Ali appointed another. If the people pray individually, [it is acceptable] as in the case of Mu'awiyyah when he was stabbed and the people prayed individually and completed their prayers."
When the people dislike their imam:
Many hadith have been related which warn against leading a congregation while one is disliked by them. Dislike here relates to one's religious conduct and is based on a valid reason. Ibn 'Abbas relates that the Prophet said: "Three people's prayers will not rise above their head the length of a hand's span. [They are:] a man who leads a people in salah and they do not like him, a woman who has disobeyed her husband and he is dipleased with her, and two brothers who are estranged." This is related by Ibn Majah. Al-'lraqi says its chain is hasan.
'Abdullah ibn 'Amr relates that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Allah does not accept prayers from three [types of] people: a man who leads a people and they dislike him, a man who attends the prayers after their time is finished, and a man who re-enslaves his freed slave." This is related by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah.
Elaborating upon it, at-Tirmidhi says: "It is disliked that a man should lead a people in salah while they dislike him. If the imam is not a wrongdoer, then the sin is upon those who don't like him."
The Positioning Of The Imam And The Followers:
It is preferred for one person to stand to the right of the imam and for a "group of two (or more)" to stand behind the imam.
Jabir reports: "The Prophet stood to pray and I came and stood on his left. He took me by my hand [and led me] around him until I stood on his right. Then, Jabir ibn Sakhr came and stood on the left of the Messenger of Allah sallallahu alehi wasallam. He took both of us by our hands and pushed us back until we stood behind him." This is related by Muslim and Abu Dawud.
If a woman is present with the group, then she is to stand in a row by herself behind the men and she is not to join them in their rows. If she did not stand in a separate row, her salah will still be valid according to the opinion of majority. Anas said: "An orphan and I prayed behind the Messenger of Allah in our house and my mother prayed behind us." In another version it is stated: "He put me and the orphan in a row behind him and the woman behind us." This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
The position of the imam while leading the prayer:
It is preferred for the imam to stand in the center of the rows and the people closest to him should be the people of intellect and understanding.
Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Let the imam stand in the center, and close the gaps in the rows." This is related by Abu Dawud and both he and al-Mundhiri make no further comment on its authenticity.
Ibn Mas'ud reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Let those who are prudent and sedate be near me, then those who are next to them, then those who are next to them, and beware of the tumult of the market place." This is related by Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and at-Tirmidhi. Anas said: "The Prophet loved that the emigrants (muhajarin) and helpers (ansar) stand next to him so that they would learn from him." This is related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud. The wisdom behind having such people close to the imam is that they can correct him if he makes a mistake and it is easy for the imam to appoint one of them in his place if he needs to leave.
The positioning of the young and the women:
The Messenger of Allah placed the men in front of the young boys and the women behind the young boys. This is related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud.
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: "The best rows for the men are the first rows and the worst rows for them are the last rows. The best rows for the women are the last rows and the worst for them are the front rows." The last rows are the best for the women because they are farther away from the men as against the first rows that are nearest to men's rows. This is related by the group except al-Bukhari.
The prayer of an individual behind a row:
If a person makes his opening takbir behind a row and then he enters the row and performs the ruku' with the imam, his salah will be valid.
Abu Bakra reports that he came to the salah while the Prophet was performing ruku' and Abu Bakra performed the ruku before he entered the row. He mentioned this to the Prophet and he said: "May Allah increase your love for goodness, but do not repeat that act." This is related by Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Abu Dawud, and anNasa'i.
According to the majority, If a person prays behind the rows by himself, his salah will be valid but diliked. Ahmad, Ishaq, Ahmad, ibn Abu Laila, Waki', al-Hassan ibn Saleh, an-Nakha'i and Ibn al-Mundhir hold that if a person prays one complete rak'ah behind the rows, his salah will be invalid.
Wabsah relates that the Messenger of Allah saw a man praying behind the rows by himself and the Propeht ordered him to repeat his salah. This is related by the five save an-Nasa'i. In Ahmad's version, the Messenger of Allah was asked about a man who prays by himself behind the rows and he said: "He is to repeat his salah." At-Tirmidhi called this hadith hasan and Ahmad's chain is good.
'Ali ibn Shaiban relates that the Messenger of Allah saw a man praying behind the row and he waited for him and (when he finished) told him: "Go forward (and join the row) for the salah of a person standing alone behind the rows is not valid." This is related by Ahmad, Ibn Majah, and al-Baihaqi. Ahmad says it is hasan. Ibn Sayyid an-Nass said its narrators are well-known, trustworthy people.
The majority stick to the hadith of Abu Bakra who said that he preformed part of the prayer, behind the row, and the Prophet did not order him to repeat his salah. Repeating the salah signifies overzeal in practicing what is recommended and better.
Al-Kaman ibn al-Hamam said: "Our scholars are of the opinion that the hadith of Wabsah refers to what is preferred while the hadith of 'Ali ibn ash-Shaiban underlines failure to practice what is the best and, as such, they are in harmony with the hadith of Abu Bakra. It is clear, then, that it is not necessary to repeat the salah because such an act was not always ordered.
If someone comes to the row and does not find sufficient space or a gap to stand in the row, then, according to some, he should stand by himself and it is disliked that he should pull anyone back from the row. Others say that he should pull one, who is aware of the ruling, back from the row after they have performed the opening takbir, and it is preferred for the one who is pulled to join him."
Straightening the rows and filling the gaps:
It is preferred for the imam to order the followers to straighten the rows and fill in any gaps before he starts the salah.
Anas relates: "The Prophet would turn his face to us before he began the salah and he would say: 'Be close together and straighten your rows.'" This is related by al-Bukhari and Muslim. He also reported that the Prophet would say: "Make your rows straight for the straightening of the rows is part of the completion of the salah."
An-Nu'man ibn Bashir says: "The Prophet would straighten us in our rows as one straightens an arrow, until he saw that we had learned from him. One day, he saw a person with his chest sticking out and he said: 'You had better straighten your rows or Allah will cause differences among you."' This is related by the five. At-Tirmidhi says it is sahih.
Abu Umamah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Straighten your rows and put your shoulders close to each other and be gentle with each other and fill in the gaps for the Satan passes through what is between you like small sheep [are able to pass through gaps]." This is related by Ahmad and at-Tabarani with a chain that has no fault in it.
Anas reports that the Messenger of Allah said: "Complete the front row, then the ones after it, and if there is any incompletion, it should be in the last row." This is related by Abu Dawud, an-Nasa'i, and al-Baihaqi.
Ibn 'Umar says: "There is no step that carries a greater reward than the step a man takes to an empty gap in a row in order to fill it." This is related by al-Bazar with a hasan chain. Ibn 'Umar also related that the Messenger of Allah said: "Whoever connects a row, Allah will join him. Whoever cuts off a row, Allah will cut him off." This is related by An-Nasa'i, al-Hakim, and Ibn Khuzaimah.
Jabir ibn Samrah says: "The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam came to us and said: 'Why don't you make the rows like the angels make their rows in the presence of their Lord?' We asked: 'O Messenger of Allah, how do the angels make their rows in the presence of their Lord?' He replied: 'They complete the first row and stand closely together, side by side, in the row.'" This is related by the group, save al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi.
Encouragement concerning being in the first row and on the right side:
We have already mentioned the Prophet's words "If the people knew what [great blessings were] in the call to salah and in the first row the people would vie with one another to call the adhan and to be in the first row, and if they found no way to decide [who would be allowed to make the call to salah or to be in the first row] except by drawing lots, then they would draw lots."
Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reports that the Prophet noticed his companions going to the back rows, and he said: "Come close and follow me and let those behind follow you. People will continue going to the back until Allah will put them in the back." This is related by Muslim, an-Nasa'i, Abu Dawud, and Ibn Majah. 'Aishah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam said: "Allah and His angels send down blessings upon those who pray on the right side of the rows." This is related by Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah.
Ahmad and at-Tabarani record, with a sahih chain, from Abu Umamah that the Prophet said: "Allah and the angels send down blessings upon the first row." The people inquired: "O Messenger of Allah, and upon the second row?" The Prophet again said: "Allah and the angels send down blessings upon the first row." The people asked again: "O Messenger of Allah, and upon the second row?" Finally he said: "And upon the second row."
Repeating imam's words for others in the back rows:
If some people cannot hear the imam, it is preferred for one to repeat in a loud voice the imam's words for the others to hear. There is consensus among scholars that repeating aloud after the imams without there being any real need for it is an abhorent innovation.