Following [the footsteps of] the Imams of the purified family, the Imamiyya agree that the takbirat al-ihram is a pillar in ever obligatory or recommended [prayer]. Without it, no prayer can be offered. It's form - Allah is the greatest- is special to it. So if one begins his prayer by glorifying God (tasbih) or by uttering there is no god but God or by saying God is great (Allahu kabir) or only God is the greatest (Allahu al-Akbar) or God is most powerful etc., then the prayer is not valid. [Neither is] gibberish in any one of the foreign languages [allowed]. The proof that it is obligatory is adequately provided [by the fact] that the Prophet of God (S.A.W.) never started any of his prayers except by this form. You have read recently that the original [form] which he used to perform his (S.A.W.) prayer is the obligatory [way] as he said: "Pray the way you see me pray."
Moreover, its incumbency is established in the book and the sunna and the consensus of the community. The Almighty Allah has said: "And Your Lord, so glorify Him." A consensus (ijma') has been reached that this refers to the takbirat al-ihram since the command [of God] indicates incumbency. The ijma' also states that other than that is not compulsory. The Prophet (P) has said: "The opening of the prayer [lies in] purification, its sacredness (tahrim) in the takbirat and its dissolution in the sending of greetings." Abu Dawud has narrated this in his Sunan. The Hanafis have said that the tahrim is not a pillar of the prayer, rather, it is connected to the act of standing which, in fact, is the pillar. It is obligatory to face the qibla and to hide the private parts and to be in the state of purity not due to it (the takbirat al-ihram) but because of it's connection with the pillar. They have [also] said that Arabic language is not a stipulation in it. They have deemed that a translation in any language which the one who offers the prayer wishes would suffice, whether he is able to recite it in Arabic or not. For them, the prayer can [also] be offered by saying, for example: Khuda buzurg (God is greatest in Persian) instead of Allahu Akbar. They have [also] said that the ihram can be done by [reciting] the tasbih or tahlil (the utterance that there is no god but God) and by any name of the Almighty even without anything else being added to it like starting [the prayer] by "Allah" or "al-Rahman" or [reciting] other such of His beautiful names by themselves, although this act is detested. This is their ruling, they do not disagree on this. Their proof is based on istihsan (doing that which is best) as you have read. The answer is the answer, and Allah is the guide to that which is correct.
Adapted from: "Questions on Jurisprudence" by: "Abdul Hussein Shareefaldin Al-Musawi"
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