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AL-KAFI #1248: DOES HYPERSTARTLE SYNDROME / LATAH INVALIDATE PRAYER?

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Question:

I want to ask SS Mufti. I have a problem where I experience the problem of latah when I am startled, such as from the sudden sound of thunder and others. The words that usually comes out from my mouth is “Oh man!”. Will this invalidate my prayer even if it is an involuntary action?

Answer:

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.

In answering the above question, two things should first be understood, which are; the definition of the word latah and scholars’ discussion regarding the matters that invalidate prayer.

Hyperstartle syndrome or commonly known as latah (neurotic or delirious behaviour usually induced by a startle) is defined as any involuntary actions or words uttered when one is startled. (See: 2nd Edition of Kamus Dewan)

From a medical perspective, it is considered as a neurological disorder that results in a person (usually woman) to become unconscious of his actions; imitating an action, obeying an instruction or uttering certain words involuntarily when he is startled or others. There are four terms used to describe the symptoms of this involuntary action (latah) (See: Malaysia’s Ministry of Health Official website [1])

  • Echolalia: repetition of another person’s spoken words.
  • Echopraxia: involuntary repetition or imitation of another person’s actions.
  • Coprolalia: Involuntary utterance or repetition of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks.
  • Automatic obedience: spontaneous action of compliance towards an instruction without question or concern.

Furthermore, a psychiatry consultant Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman said [2]:

In English, it is also known as dissociative disorder. It means then when one is under extreme pressure, he will dissociate from his surroundings. A person experiencing hyperstartle syndrome is unconscious of his actions. The treatment for this syndrome is to control the amount of pressure he is experiencing. First, is through breathing techniques through the abdomen. We also recommend structured meditation. We also suggest exercise to decrease one’s stress levels which will directly affect this syndrome. Furthermore, when one is pressured, he would have negative thoughts. We should teach them to be optimistic. All of these will decrease the symptoms of this syndrome. Usually, hyperstartle syndrome is from genetic factors, where it is not specific for hyperstartle syndrome but other neurological problems.

While Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, Psychiatrist Consultant Specialist and senior lecturer said, a person experiencing hyperstartle syndrome is incapable of controlling their syndrome; whether their actions or words. They are aware of their actions but are unable to control it. Hyperstartle syndrome is harmful especially for people who have heart problems. Thus, if they consult a specialist for their problem, the specialist would first try to identify what actually induce the person to have their hyperstartle episode.

Second, when analysing the ruling for the question asked, we must understand the rulings related to prayer. Prayer is a worship obligated by Allah SWT to His every slave. Prayer includes the requisites and sunnah of prayer as well as the matters that invalidate prayer.

Basically, we know that talking or utterance of words other than the recitations for prayer will invalidate prayer. Syeikh Salim al-Hadrami list out 14 matters that invalidate prayer; one of it is the utterance of words of more than two alphabets. See al-Mujtaba fi Syarh Safinah al-Naja (151).

The restriction against uttering words other than the recitations in prayer is in accordance with Allah SWT’s statement:

‏‏حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلاَةِ الْوُسْطَى وَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ قَانِتِينَ‏

“Maintain with care the [obligatory] prayers and [in particular] the middle prayer and stand before Allah, devoutly obedient.”

Surah al-Baqarah (238)

Imam al-Tabari explained that the above verse is revealed after the incident where a companion of the Prophet PBUH talks with another companion in prayer, this incident is recorded in a narration from Zaid ibn Arqam RA, where he said:

كُنَّا نَتَكَلَّمُ فِي الصَّلاَةِ يُكَلِّمُ أَحَدُنَا أَخَاهُ فِي حَاجَتِهِ حَتَّى نَزَلَتْ هَذِهِ الآيَةُ ‏{‏حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلاَةِ الْوُسْطَى وَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ قَانِتِينَ‏}‏ فَأُمِرْنَا بِالسُّكُوتِ‏

“We used to speak while in prayer. One of us used to speak to his brother (while in prayer) about his need, till the Verse was revealed. Then we were ordered not to speak in the prayers.”

Sahih al-Bukhari (4534) and Sahih Muslim (539)

According to the above evidences, the jurists (fuqaha’) have agreed that uttering words other than the recitations in prayer invalidate prayer. The same is stated by jurists (fuqaha’) from madhab al-Syafie, al-Hanafi and and al-Hanbali, where uttering a word of more than two alphabets invalidate prayer. However, in madhab al-Syafie, uttering words in prayer when one forgets, or do not know of its restriction especially for those who just embraced Islam, lives far away from scholars or accidental utterance of words where if the custom of the place the words is considered light, then it is forgiven. See Mausua’h al-Fiqhiyah (27/117-118).

In this regard, madhab al-Syafie refer to the hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah RA to come up with the ruling:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم انْصَرَفَ مِنِ اثْنَتَيْنِ فَقَالَ لَهُ ذُو الْيَدَيْنِ أَقُصِرَتِ الصَّلاَةُ أَمْ نَسِيتَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ "‏ أَصَدَقَ ذُو الْيَدَيْنِ ‏"‏‏.‏ فَقَالَ النَّاسُ نَعَمْ‏.‏ فَقَامَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَصَلَّى اثْنَتَيْنِ ‏

Once Allah's Messenger () offered two rak`at and finished his prayer. So Dhul-Yadain asked him, "Has the prayer been reduced or have you forgotten?" Allah's Messenger () said, "Has Dhul-Yadain spoken the truth?" The people replied in the affirmative. Then Allah's Messenger () stood up and offered the remaining two rak`at and performed Taslim, and then said Takbir and performed two prostrations like his usual prostrations, or a bit longer, and then got up.

Sahih al-Bukhari (1228)

Conclusion

According to the above evidences and discussions, we would like to state that hyperstartle syndrome is a disease where it results in involuntary actions. Mild hyperstartle syndrome according to the custom where it is non repetitive does not invalidate prayer and this includes sabqu al-lisan, accidental utterance of words.

However, as stated in madhab al-Syafie, the words uttered must be minimal. If the number of words is great, then the prayer is invalid.

We also advised those who experience hyperstartle syndrome to seek professional help in an effort to treat it. This is important to attain the perfection of worship and avoid the greater medical harm for them.

May all of us attain the blessings and guidance of Allah SWT in practising His commandments. Ameen.

End notes:

[1] http://www.myhealth.gov.my/latah/

[2] http://www.inomedik.com/2018/01/19/latah/


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