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Validity of prayer in front of imam

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I notice that in Mecca, many people pray in front of the imam with no apparent objection. Isn’t this an innovation? Aren’t their prayers invalid?

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The issue of standing in front of the imam in prayer is a subject of scholarly disagreement. Whoever prays in that way cannot be described as an innovator.

There are three opinions about this issue:

  1. Praying in front of the imam is categorically invalid, regardless of the justification. This is the ruling according to the Hanafî, Shâfiî, and Hanbalî schools of thought (with regard to the Shâfiî school, according to al-Shâfi`î’s later opinion). Refer to: al-Bahr al-Râ’iq (1/374), Mughnî al-Muhtâj (1/245), and al-Insâf ma’ al-Sharh al-Kabîr (4/418).

  2. Praying in front of the imam is permissible, even without a valid reason, but it is something disliked. This is the famous opinion in the Mâlikî school of thought. Refer to al-Kâfî by Ibn Abd al-Barr (1/211-212). This is also another opinion that was at one time expressed by al-Shâfiî. Refer to Mughnî al-Muhtâj (1/245).

  3. Praying in front of the imam is invalid unless there is a valid reason, such as there being no space or the mosque being overcrowded. Prayer in front of the imam will be permissible in this case out of necessity. This is one of the opinions expressed by Imam Mâlik. Refer again to al-Kâfî by Ibn Abd al-Barr (1/211-212). It is also the opinion of Ibn Taymiyah. Refer to <em>Majmû al-Fatâwâ (23/404-405).

This third ruling is derived by comparing this case to other obligatory aspects of prayer that are pardoned when they become too difficult to fulfill. A worshipper, for example, may be exempted from bowing, prostrating, wearing sufficient clothing, purification and the like should he be unable to do so.

Allah says: “On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]

Allah also says: “So fear Allah as much as you can.” [Sûrah al-Taghâbun: 16]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Pray while standing but if you cannot, then pray while seated.”

What takes place in Mecca is an application of this saying because of the crowds of people.

And Allah knows best.

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