I would like to get a clarification from Dato’ Mufti. This often happens to me in surau (specific places provided to pray) in petrol stations to perform the Subuh or Maghrib prayer where the time for prayer is short and the surau is cramped with people. In this situation, some are forced to queue outside, however, once I saw a man walked straight to the side of the imam and pray there. Is the prayer performed by him valid and does he receive the rewards for congregational prayer?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the many countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Prayer is among the greatest and utmost importance form of worship in Islam. Prayer is not just a ritual or common practise, but the most prioritized act of worship as soon as someone has embraced Islam by reciting the syahadah. This is clear through a narration where the Prophet PBUH instructed Muaz RA to become the governor of Yemen. The hadith is narrated by Ibn Abbas RA:
إِنَّكَ سَتَأْتِي قَوْمًا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ، فَإِذَا جِئْتَهُمْ فَادْعُهُمْ إِلَى أَنْ يَشْهَدُوا أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ، وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ، فَإِنْ هُمْ طَاعُوا لَكَ بِذَلِكَ فَأَخْبِرْهُمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ فَرَضَ عَلَيْهِمْ خَمْسَ صَلَوَاتٍ فِي كُلِّ يَوْمٍ وَلَيْلَةٍ، فَإِنْ هُمْ طَاعُوا لَكَ بِذَلِكَ، فَأَخْبِرْهُمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ فَرَضَ عَلَيْكُمْ صَدَقَةً، تُؤْخَذُ مِنْ أَغْنِيَائِهِمْ، فَتُرَدُّ عَلَى فُقَرَائِهِمْ، فَإِنْ هُمْ طَاعُوا لَكَ بِذَلِكَ، فَإِيَّاكَ وَكَرَائِمَ أَمْوَالِهِمْ، وَاتَّقِ دَعْوَةَ الْمَظْلُومِ فَإِنَّهُ لَيْسَ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ اللَّهِ حِجَابٌ
“You will come to the people of Scripture, and when you reach them, invite them to testify that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad is His Apostle. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on them five prayers to be performed every day and night. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on them Sadaqa (i.e. rak`at) to be taken from the rich amongst them and given to the poor amongst them. And if they obey you in that, then be cautious! Don't take their best properties (as Zakat) and be afraid of the curse of an oppressed person as there is no screen between his invocation and Allah.”
Sahih al-Bukhari (726)
Thus, it is clear the great importance of prayer as stated in the above hadith, where the obligation of establishing prayer is immediately after someone has embraces Islam.
In answering the confusion from this issue, we should first understand the positions of imam and makmum in congregational prayer. This is explained in a hadith from Ibn ‘Abas RA, where he said:
صَلَّيْتُ مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم ذَاتَ لَيْلَةٍ فَقُمْتُ عَنْ يَسَارِهِ، فَأَخَذَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِرَأْسِي مِنْ وَرَائِي، فَجَعَلَنِي عَنْ يَمِينِهِ،
“I prayed with the Prophet (ﷺ) one night and stood on his left side. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) caught hold of my head from behind and drew me to his right,”
Sahih al-Bukhari (726)
Imam al-Nawawi states from the hadith we can conclude that the position of an imam and a makmum when there are just the two of them praying in congregation together, then the makmum position is beside the imam. If there is two or more makmum, then their position is behind the imam, as explained below:
إذَا حَضَرَ إمَامٌ وَمَأْمُومَانِ تَقَدَّمَ الْإِمَامُ واصطفا خلفه
“If there is an imam and two makmum, then the imam should be in front and the two makmum is in the back.”
However, there is also another opinion by scholars who hold the following opinion:
عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بْنَ مَسْعُودٍ وَصَاحِبَيْهِ عَلْقَمَةَ وَالْأَسْوَدَ فَإِنَّهُمْ قَالُوا يَكُونُ الْإِمَامُ وَالْمَأْمُومَانِ كُلُّهُمْ صَفًّا وَاحِدًا
“Abdullah bin Mas’ud and two of his colleagues ‘Alqamah and al-Aswad, indeed, they said an Imam and two makmum, all of them are in one saf.” (See al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 4/297)
However, for a makmum to stand beside the imam, he must make sure that he is always be behind the imam, as stated by Ibn Naqib:
ولوْ تقدَّمَ عَقِبُ المأمومِ على عقبِ الإمامِ لمْ تصحَّ صلاتُهُ
“If the heel of the makmum is a little bit in front of the heel of the imam. Then, his prayer is invalid.” (See ‘Umdah al-Salik, 1/72)
According to above evidences and discussion, in our opinion, it is not a problem for the makmum to stand beside the imam in a cramped surau, since the time for prayer is short. This is in accordance with:
لمن ابتلي بشيء من هذا أن يقلد مَنْ أجاز ذلك مِن العلماء
“According to scholars, whoever has a complication in following the original ruling, then he can follow another opinion which ruled it permissible.” (Refer Fatawa Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyah, number 2287). However, the makmum must make sure that his heel is behind the heel of the imam.
On another hand, we advise those who act as the imam in a small surau to shorten his prayer when there are a lot of people waiting to pray.
May Allah SWT give us understanding in practising His religion.