Rafed English

Recitation [of the fatiha] in the Prayer

The jurists have differed on [the question of] the recitation [of the fatiha] in the prayer. Abu Bakr al-Asam, Isma'il b. 'Aliyya, Sufyan b. 'Uyayna and al-Hasan b. Salih have claimed that it is not obligatory in any prayer, it is merely recommended.

This is a rare verdict, it is contrary to the proofs and goes against the consensus of the community. They have argued based on what Abu Salama and Muhammad b. 'Ali have reported from 'Umar b. al-Khattab when he prayed the maghrib prayer without reciting [the fatiha] in it. He was asked about that and he said: "How was the bowing (ruku') and the prostration?" They said: "It was fine." He said: "Then there is no problem."

The answer: If he ('Umar) did not attribute it [to the Prophet] then it was his opinion. Perhaps he was amongst those who believed that omitting the recitation unintentionally does not invalidate the prayer, and God knows best.

Al-Hasan al-Basri and others have stated that the recitation is obligatory in one cycle [of prayer]. Like the previous case, this is a rare verdict and goes against the consensus reached by the umma. They have argued based on his (P) saying: "There is no prayer except with the fatiha of the book" adhering [to the view] that an exception to a negative [statement] is a positive one, so they say that even if one fatiha is recited in the prayer it is essential to maintain that this is correct due to the rule based on [the concept of] 'exception'.

The answer: According to the custom ('urf), this hadith is not applicable to the case of the prayer when it is offered with the [complete] fatiha neither is the hadith a specific rule which nullifies a general rule. It is by no means applicable in this case. The tradition is applicable for the prayer which is devoid of the fatiha and in that case it (the prayer) is not a [valid] prayer. It is like his (P) saying: "There is no prayer except by purification." [This shows] his stressing the fatiha for it is a part of the prayer and [stressing] the purification for it is a condition for it (the prayer). There are many [examples] of this [kind of] speech. Don't you see, if it was said "there is no oxymel except with vinegar," for example, no one would understand that what is called vinegar, even if it be a drop or less than that, is sufficient or not sufficient [to make oxymel]. They merely understand that oxymel is composed [of things] and that vinegar is one of the most important parts of it. If the vinegar is removed then the oxymel is nonexistent.

If, as they claim, the proof they derive from this hadith is proper, then the proof could lead [to the view] that no act or speech in the prayer is obligatory as long as the fatiha is recited, as is clear to one who examines it.

Imam Abu Hanifa and his companions said: "It is not obligatory to recite the fatiha itself in any prayer, what is essential in the prayers is any [form] of recitation. Abu Hanifa saw it sufficient to recite any Qur'anic verse even if it be just one word like "Madhamatani" (two green gardens). But his two companions Abu Yusuf and Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Shaybani deemed it sufficient [to recite] three short verses like "thumma nazara" then "'abasa wa basara" then "adbara wa istakbara" or [it was sufficient to recite] one verse which was equivalent to three short verses or more than them. The Hanafis have acted according to this.

Abu Hanifa also allowed the translation of what is recited in the prayer from the Qur'an in any foreign language even if one knows Arabic well. He deemed it sufficient to recite "do balk sabz" the translation of madhamatani (two green gardens) in Persian instead of the fatiha and the sura, but his two companions allowed the translation only for those unable [to recite] it in Arabic, not for those able to recite it in Arabic; the Hanafis have acted according to this.

The recitation [of al-fatiha] is obligatory for them in the first two cycles in every prayer of two cycles like the Friday and morning prayers or the zuhr and 'asr and 'isha' for a traveller. As for the prayer of more than two cycles, like the maghrib and 'isha' for one praying at home and the zuhr and 'asr, the recitation is obligatory for them in [any] unspecified two cycles. Thus one praying can choose to recite it in the first two cycles or the last two or the first and the third cycles or the first and the fourth or the second and the third cycles or the second and the fourth. If he recites [al-fatiha] it in the first two cycles, for example, he can choose in the last two; if he wishes, he can recite [the fatiha] or he can glorify God or, if he wishes, he can remain silent spanning the time of the glorification, this is their school of thought which is common to their jurisprudence.

They have argued that any form of recitation is sufficient based on the hadith of Abu Hurayra which is present in the two Sahihs. He said: "The Prophet of God (P) entered the mosque, then a man entered and prayed. Then he came to greet the Prophet of God (P). After the Prophet of God (P) returned his greetings, he said to him: 'Go back and pray, for you have not prayed.' The man went back and prayed the way he would [normally] pray then he came to the Prophet (P), he greeted him and the Prophet of God said: 'And peace be unto you, go back and pray for you have not prayed' and he did this three times. The man said: 'I swear by the one who has sent you with the truth, this has not pleased me, so teach me.' He (P) said: 'When you stand up to pray, first glorify God then recite what is easy for you from the Qur'an then bow down until you are at ease whilst bowing, then stand straight and then prostrate until you are at ease in prostration, then sit up until you are at ease whilst sitting, then do all that in your whole prayer.'"

The point from which they derive their proof is his saying: "Then recite what is easy for you from the Qur'an" as it apparently [supports] their claim.

The answer: Abu Hurayra is amongst those whose traditions we do not value as we have explained at length [elsewhere]. We have presented rational and scriptural indubitable proofs in a published book which we have devoted to him, so any one who is fond of researching the clear truths should refer to it.

It is not possible for the Prophet of God (P) to have acted according to this tradition as it occurs in a situation in which it was essential [for him] to explicate the issue. We examined [the tradition] and we did not find a trace of explanation which is worthy of the Prophets, upon whom be peace, since it lacks much of what the umma have concurred of what is essential in prayer like the intention, and sitting when bearing the last testimony, and the essential parts of prayer following each other in proper sequence; similarly the last testimony and sending greetings to the Prophet and the greetings etc. Moreover, leaving him to offer an incorrect prayer three times is [something which] does not concur with the character of the Prophet (P), this [act] is not permissible for him (S.A.W.).

Abu Dawud has reported this anecdote in his Sunan in the chapter on the prayers of one whose backbone cannot be straight in the bowing and prostration - with a chain of transmission to Rifa'a b. Rafi' al-Ansari - he was amongst those present at Badr - that the Prophet (P) said to the man whose prayer was not proper "When you stand up and face the qibla and glorify God then recite the mother of the Qur'an and recite what Allah wishes you to recite."

This anecdote is also reported by Ahmad b. Hanbal and Ibn Hibban with a chain of transmission ending with Rifa'a b. Rafi'i. It states that the Prophet (P) said to that man whose prayer was improper: "Then recite the mother of the book and then recite what you wish."

It is well known that Abu Hurayra cannot be compared with Rifa'a, neither is he equal to Rifa'a in his speech or action. Without doubt, when the two are in conflict, Rifa'a's traditions are to be given preference over the traditions of Abu Hurayra. Therefore you see that in Fath al-Bari, al-Qastalani interprets what is reported in the hadith of Abu Hurayra to accord with what is reported in the hadith of Rifa'a. One who studies the views of the past and later [scholars] on the hadith of Abu Hurayra and his saying: "Recite what is easy for you from the Qur'an" will find all of them (apart from the Hanafis) either refuting or interpreting it. If you wish, refer to their views on this hadith of Abu Hurayra in all the commentaries on the two Sahihs.

Moreover, Abu Hurayra himself contradicted this hadith of his by what has been correctly reported from him when he said: "I heard the Prophet (P) say: 'The prayer in which the opening [chapter] of the book is not recited is not complete.'" And he [also] said: "Indeed, the Prophet of God (P) commanded me to go out and announce in Medina that there can be no prayer without the recitation of the Qur'an, even if it be with the opening [chapter] of the book or more [than that]." And he said: "I heard the Prophet of God (P) say: 'One who prays without reciting the fatiha of the book then it (the prayer) is incomplete, it is incomplete, it is incomplete'"

There is another outstanding issue which they ask about, I mean the reason why the Hanafi jurists accepted the apparent [meaning] in the hadith of Abu Hurayra: "Recite what is easy for you from the Qur'an." [They did this] without [quoting] the clear text, that is, it is essential to be calm when standing, sitting, whilst bowing and in prostration. Moreover, what they accept is against the clear sahih traditions and opposed to [the views of] most of the Muslims. What they did not accept is supported by the Sihah and by the masses.

Perhaps the Hanafis can cite as proof for their view on this issue by [citing] the saying of Almighty Allah: "Recite what is easy for you in the Qur'an."

The answer: This verse is certainly not connected with what is being discussed concerning the recitation in the prayer. This is clear from the context in sura al-Muzammil (chapter 73), whosoever so wishes let him refer to it and examine what the commentators have said about it so that the truth may become clear for him.

Furthermore, the Hanafis have argued for the permissibility of translating into foreign languages what is recited in the prayer from the Qur'an by several arguments:

1) That Ibn Mas'ud made some foreigners recite: "The tree of Zaqqum is a food for the sinners (ta'am al-athim)." A foreigner recited it as the food for the orphans (ta'am al-yatim). He (Ibn Mas'ud) said to him: "Say the food of the corrupt one (ta'am al-fajir)." Then he (Ibn Mas'ud) said to him: "It is not a mistake to recite in the Qur'an al-hakim instead of al-alim, to insert a verse of mercy in the place of a verse of chastisement."

Answer: This is not connected to what we are discussing, it doesn't prove anything to what the claimant is claiming. Even if it is correct, the view of Ibn Mas'ud is restricted to him, it does not prove anything.

Two: The saying of the Almighty: "It is in the previous books," similarly: "This is in the previous scriptures, the scriptures of Apaham and Moses."

The reason for deriving proofs by these verses is that the community is agreed that the recitation was not in Arabic letters in previous books, nor were the scriptures of Apaham and Moses in Arabic, rather, they were in Hepew or Aramaic.

Answer: This, like the previous case, does not constitute proof for the claimant, rather, it is more and more remote [from the truth].

Third: The Almighty said: "And He revealed this Qur'an to me so that I may warn you thereby." The non-Arabs do not understand the Arabic letters unless the meaning is mentioned to them in their language so that they may be warned by it.

Answer: This would only be proper proof for allowing the commentary of the Qur'an in their language so that they may benefit from its wisdom, etiquettes, commands and prohibitions. This is one thing; [to talk] gibberish in the prayer in which one is commanded to recite the Qur'an is another. When the fatiha is recited, to what Arab or non-Arab do the letters of the mother of the book, [which are] recorded in the scriptures, not come into his mind? What person of taste would negate the enunciation of the recitation of the fatiha and the recitation of the Qur'an for gibberish in Persian or other foreign eastern or western languages?

Imam al-Razi has refuted these views - for he has transmitted them from the Hanafis - and has other views, so refer to them. I hold Imam Abu Hanifa above this, he failed completely in his derivation of proofs. I feel sorry for him that he fell to this low level. In deriving secondary shar'i rulings, he depended on analogy and seeking that which is good (istihsan). He arrived at the decision based on this. As if he deemed it to be in the interests of non-Arabs to translate for them the recitation in the prayer in their languages; he saw this to be the best [way] for their understanding it's meaning and for their humility in it (the prayer). It is as if he drew an analogy of the recitation [of the fatiha] of a non-Arab in his language with listening to an exhortation and his hearing academic lessons in his language. This is the theory of Ataturk regarding the prayer, he did not take it from Abu Hanifa, it is merely a personal thought. What helped Ataturk in holding the theory is that he did not respect shar'i proofs, he did not know or learn them in the reforms that appeared good for him to undertake. If there was in the shar'i proofs something which would allow him to have recourse to istihsan, there would have been some justification for his views; but how wrong he was!

Al-Shafi'i, Malik, Ahmad b. Hanbal and others have made it compulsory to recite the fatiha in Arabic in all the cycles of the obligatory and supererogatory prayers. Their proof for that is the hadith of Abu Hurayra in the anecdote of an Arab whose prayer was not proper due to the statement of the Prophet of God (S.A.W.) whereby he taught him the prayer and instructed him to recite [the fatiha] and then told him: "Do that in every [cycle of] prayer." You already know our view on this tradition for we have said that we do not accord any value to it.

The Imamiyya, in following the Imams of the purified family, maintain that the recitation of the fatiha in correct Arabic is obligatory in the first two cycles in every obligatory and recommended prayer, whether the prayer [is offered ] alone or with the Imam. As for one following [in congregational prayer], the Imam recites on his behalf. As for the last two cycles, it is obligatory to recite either the fatiha or the tasbih (glorification), one can choose between the two. The Imam cannot recite the fatiha or tasbih on behalf of those following him.

Our proofs for all of this lies in the traditions of our Imams, upon whom be peace, they are the other half of the book. Moreover, the recitation [of the fatiha] by the Prophet (P) in the first two cycles is proven in all the Sihah and Masanid works in the hadith of Abu Qatada al-Hirth b. Rab'i and others.

The rule is, what the Prophet (P) used to do is obligatory due to his saying: "Pray as you see me pray." If it is proven from him that [he would recite] the fatiha in the last two cycles, it has also been proven from him that he would [also] recite the dhikr in them. The form [of the dhikr] "Glory be to Allah, praise be to Allah, there is no god but Allah, Allah is the greatest" has been transmitted from the Imams of his pure family. This is attested to by the hadith of Sa'd b. Abi al-Waqqas available in the Sahih of al-Bukhari and other Sahih and Musnad works. The people of Kufa complained of him to 'Umar to the point that they mentioned that he could not pray correctly. Sa'd said: "By God, I used to lead them in prayer the [way] of the Prophet of God, I did not distort it, I stand still and lengthen the standing by reciting the fatiha and the sura in the first two cycles. Then I would reduce it in the last two cycles." That is, he hastened through them (the last two cycles) by shortening them to either the tasbih or the fatiha alone to [the exclusion of] everything else and the Almighty God knows [best].

Adapted from the book: "Questions on Jurisprudence" by: "Abdul Hussein Shareefaldin Al-Musawi"

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