Surah Al-Fatiha is the opening/first chapter of the Holy Qur’an. It is also called as ‘Umm Al-Kitab’, according to majority of scholars. It is called ‘Umm Al-Kitab’ because the Qur’an starts with it and because the prayer starts with it.
The virtues of this great Surah can be talked about in detail. But doing so shall be out of scope of this discussion. Here we shall throw light over the necessity of reciting ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in Salat. In particular try to clarify the difference of opinions among various schools of thoughts in relation to this topic.
It is agreed upon by all that it is compulsory to recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in Salat, failing which, the Salat will not be complete/valid. This is derived from the following narration:
Narrated Ubada bin As-Samit (RA): Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Whoever does not recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in his (her) Salat, his Salat is invalid.”
(Hadith No. 756, Book of Adhan, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 1).
Reciting Surah Al-Fatiha in Salat
However, the main question which we shall be addressing in our discussion here is: Whether the one praying in congregation should recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ behind the Imam or not?
It is this question that creates different opinions from different schools of thoughts. And the disagreement over this at times gets unreasonably wide and stubborn. Therefore, it is our duty to understand the facts associated with this particular question and try to bridge the gap between the different views. In order to do so we shall be requiring to study what are the different views and what are the references upon which these views are based upon.
1. The Shafi’ view
As per this view, we should recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in each and every raka’at of Salat. Whether we pray on our own, or we pray behind an Imam in congregation, irrespective of the fact whether the Imam recites loudly (like in Fajr, first two raka’at of Maghrib and first two raka’at of Isha) or he recites it silently (like in Dhuhr, Asr, last raka’at of Maghrib and last two raka’at of Isha).
This view is primarily based on the hadith of Ubada bin As-Samit (RA) mentioned above. But that is not the only hadith in support of their view; there are many more. Some of the other narrations that lend support to this view are:
It was reported from Abu As-Saib, the freed slave of Hisham bin Zuhrah, who said: I heard Abu Hurairah (RA) saying: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Whoever prays any prayer in which ‘Mother of the Book’ (i.e. ‘Umm Al-Kitab’) is not recited, then (the prayer) will be incomplete, it will be incomplete, it will be incomplete, not complete.” He said: I said, “O Abu Hurairah! Sometimes we are behind the Imam!” So he poked my forearm, and said, “O Persian, recite it to yourself….”
(Hadith No. 821, Book of Salat, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1).
Others reported it from Makhul, from Ubadah, similar to narration of Ar-Rabi bin Sulaiman. They all said, “So Makhul would recite the ‘Fatiha’ in every raka’at of Maghrib, Isha & Subh silently. Makhul would say: After Imam recites (‘Fatiha’) out loud and remains quiet, recite it silently. But if he does not remain quiet, then recite before him or with him or after him. Do not leave it under any circumstances.”
(Hadith No. 825, Book of Salat, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1).
So, according to this view, we should recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ behind Imam also. For raka’ats in which Imam recites loudly, followers of this view advocate that we should adopt either of the following approaches:
a) Keep reciting ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in your heart along with Imam when he is reciting it aloud, or
b) There should be a brief pause for Imam (of few seconds) after he finishes reciting ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ and before he starts recitation of another Surah (or verses from another Surah). The people praying behind the Imam should take this brief pause as an opportunity to recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ for themselves, or
c) Recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ before the Imam starts reciting it.
2. The Hanafi view
The Hanafi view is explained in following sub-sections:
2.1. Recitation of ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ is compulsory for the one who prays by himself.
This understanding is derived from the following narration:
It was reported from Sufyan, from Az-Zuhri, from Mahmud bin Ar-Rabi, from Ubadah bin As-Samit, conveying it from the Prophet (PBUH); he said, “There is no prayer for one who does not recite ‘Fatihatil-Kitab’ or more than that.” Sufyan said, “For he who prays by himself.”
(Hadith No. 822, Book of Salat, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1).
2.2. We should not recite surah Al-Fatiha behind the Imam in congregational prayers when the Imam recites out aloud.
This understanding is based on the following verse of Qur’an:
“So, when the Qur’an is recited, listen to it, and be silent that you may receive mercy.”
(Aayah 204, Surah Al-A’raf).
2.3. We should not recite surah Al-Fatiha behind the Imam in congregational prayers. Even when the Imam recites silently – The hadith about joining the prayer in Ruku.
It was reported from Al-Hasan that Abu Bakrah once came (to the masjid) and Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was in Ruku, so he bowed outside of the row and then walked up to the row. After the Prophet (PBUH) finished the prayer, he said, “Who among you was the one who bowed outside of the row, and then walked up to the row?” Abu Bakrah (RA) said, “I did.” So the Prophet (PBUH) said, “May Allah increase your eagerness, and do not repeat it.”
(Hadith No. 684, Book of Salat, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1).
As per this hadith it has been argued that a late-comer is considered to have performed a raka’at if he manages to catch the bowing posture (i.e. Ruku) of the Imam. Abu Bakrah feared that if he missed the Ruku, he would not be able to catch the raka’at, and that’s why he adopted such a course of action. The Prophet (PBUH) advised him not to repeat it because he had done it in haste and bowed out of the row, thereby, creating a minor disturbance in the decorum of the congregation. The fact that the Prophet (PBUH) did not instruct him to repeat his raka’at/prayer tells us that such a raka’at is valid.
Based on this, one can argue that if a person joins in Ruku, then he obviously is not able to recite ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in that raka’at but since such a raka’at is considered as valid, the requirement of recitation of ‘Surah Al-Fatiha’ in a congregational prayer does not seem to be applicable, and Imam’s recitation is considered enough for the followers.
3. The Maliki view
Maliki view is based on the verse of Qur’an (Verse No. 204 of Surah Al-A’raf, Chapter No. 7, Holy Qur’an) quoted in Section 2.2 above and the following hadith:
It was reported from Malik, from Ibn Shihab, from Ibn Ukaimah Al-Laithi, from Abu Hurairah (RA) that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) once turned around (after completing) a prayer in which he had recited loud, and said, “Did one of you just recite with me now?” (One man) said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger (PBUH).” He replied, “I was saying (to myself) why is it that I am struggling in my (recitation of) Qur’an.” So when the people heard this, they stopped reciting in those prayers in which Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) recited out loud.
(Hadith No. 826, Book of Salat, Sunan Abu Dawud, Vol. 1).
The hadith reported from Malik (quoted above) tells us that the companions of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) stopped reciting (‘Surah Al-Fatiha’) during the raka’ats in which the Prophet (PBUH), as an Imam of a congregation, recited out loudly. Therefore, we should not recite behind Imam in congregational prayers during Fajr, first two raka’ats of Maghrib and first two raka’ats of Isha (i.e. all such prayers and raka’ats during which the Imam recites loudly).
However, the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) continued reciting (‘Surah Al-Fatiha’) in prayers (and raka’ats) in which the Prophet (PBUH) recited silently. This is applicable to congregational Dhuhr prayer, Asr prayer, last raka’at of Maghrib and last two raka’ats of Isha. This is also applicable for all raka’ats of prayers which we pray by ourselves.
It is not prudent on our part to enter into disagreements over such issues. Once we know that all views are based on authentic references from Qur’an and Sunnah, it is obligatory that we should respect all the views. Which view is to be followed is totally an individual’s choice. As far as my personal choice is concerned, I consider the Maliki view as the most balanced one. It tends to bridge the gap between the Shafi’ and the Hanafi view. And therefore, I favour it the most. However, it does not mean that I am against other views. As long as other views are based on strong references of Qur’an and Sunnah, I do respect them, and so should we all. This is essential to preserve the unity and harmony of the Ummah.
And Allah knows best.