How should a muallaf pray when he hasn’t memorized the Fatihah?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Prayer is an obligatory worship for every Muslim who has recited the syahadah. Allah SWT state:
وَأَقِيمُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتُواْ ٱلزَّكوٰةَۚ
“And establish prayer and give zakah,”
Surah al-Baqarah (43)
The Prophet PBUH said:
بُنِيَ الْإِسْلَامُ عَلَى خَمْسٍ ، شَهَادَةِ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ، وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ ، وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ ، وَالْحَجِّ ، وَصَوْمِ رَمَضَانَ
“Islam is based on (the following) five (principles): To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah's Messenger (ﷺ). To offer the (compulsory congregational) prayers dutifully and perfectly. To pay Zakat (i.e. obligatory charity). To perform Hajj. (i.e. Pilgrimage to Mecca). To observe fast during the month of Ramadan.”
Sahih al-Bukhari (7)
Hence, when a muallaf who is now considered as a Muslim, it is obligatory for him to learn the requisites of prayer and establish prayer according to his capability who is new to Islam.
Originally, the two obligatory recitations in prayer is the Fatihah, tasyahhud and praise and salutation for the Prophet PBUH, while other recitations are sunnah. For a muallaf, there are several considerations when he hasn’t memorized the Fatihah:
- If he is able to read the Fatihah but hasn’t memorized it, then it is permissible for him to hold the text of Fatihah on paper, smartphone, tab or others which are easy to be held during prayer.
- If he can read the Fatihah but hasn’t completely memorized the Fatihah, then it is obligatory for him to recite what he has memorized according to his ability repeatedly.
- If he hasn’t memorized it nor can he read it but he is able to follow the recitation, then a facilitator who are able to recite the Fatihah properly should help him. 
- If he is unable to read, memorize or follow the Fatihah recitation with or without the help of a facilitator, then it is permissible for him to recite any 7 verse from the Quran or repeatedly recite the same verse. It is also permissible to combine some verses from the Fatihah and some verses from another surah that he memorized.
- If he is unable to recite or memorize it, then he can recite zikir with whatever zikir that he memorized. For example, سبحان الله والحمد لله ، ولا إله إلا الله ، والله أكبر ، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله.
- If he is unable to read, memorize or recite any zikir, then he should just follow the motions of the imam without reciting anything. However, it is obligatory for him to learn until he is able to recite and memorize it properly.
See further discussion in al-Taqrirat al-Sadidah, pg. 217; al-Mu’tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafie, 1/255-256; Nihayat al-Muhtaj, 1/484-485; Mughni al-Muhtaj, 1/357-358; Al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 3/374.
Islam is a comprehensive religion and suitable for its followers. Allah SWT state:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.”
Surah al-Baqarah (286)
Allah SWT state:
فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ
“So, fear Allah as much as you are able,”
Surah al-Taghabun (16)
May Allah SWT give us strength to continue learning in our religion as well as spreading the understanding and beauty of Islam to our society.
End notes: For example, the facilitator is able to perform prayer and be the imam/ pray beside him/ stay near him and raised his voice so that the muallaf could follow the recitation. Furthermore, the muallaf could also use available technology such as voice recorder or smartphones with earphones to listen and follow the recitation without disturbing others in the congregation.