Prostrations of Sahw, Tilawah and Shukr (Shafii)

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What is prostrations of sahw? What is tilawah? What is shukr?

I. Prostration of Sahw (Forgetfulness)

The word “sahw” means to forget, to make a mistake, to fall into heedlessness. Therefore, “sawdat al-sahw” means “prostration of forgetfulness or mistake”. One should perform prostration of forgetfulness at the end of a prayer in order to complete the prayer for the mistakes he makes intentionally or unintentionally throughout the prayer.

The prostration of forgetfulness involves “the worshiper’s performing two prostrations before the final greeting of peace and after the testimony and prayers for blessing upon the Prophet and his family, with an inward intention.”

The Shafiis do not stipulate that the prostration of forgetfulness must be performed only when one has unintentionally omitted some part of prayer; rather, it is to be performed (in the manner to be described below in the section on reasons for performing the prostration of forgetfulness) whether the omission was unintentional or deliberate. The reason for it being referred to as a prostration of forgetfulness is that a person is not likely to neglect some part of the ritual prayer on purpose.

As for the imam or someone praying alone, it is an emulation of the Sunnah for him to perform the prostration of forgetfulness for any of the reasons mentioned below, unless the imam’s doing so would cause confusion for those in the congregation. Hence, if it is a large gathering, it is an emulation of the Sunnah for the imam to forgo the prostration of forgetfulness. If either the imam or someone praying alone omits a Sunnah-based prostration of forgetfulness, there is nothing wrong with this, and it does not invalidate his prayer. (According to the Hanafi School, it is obligatory and the prayer becomes invalid if it is purposefully omitted).

According to the Shafii School, the prostration of forgetfulness becomes obligatory only in one situation. The prostration of forgetfulness is obligatory for a worshiper who follows an imam in prayer when the imam himself performs such a prostration. If the worshiper deliberately fails to do so, his prayer will be invalidated and he must repeat it unless he had consciously intended to part with the imam before the latter prostrated. If the imam himself fails to perform the prostration of forgetfulness, the worshiper praying behind him is under no obligation to perform it; rather, it is merely recommended that he do so.

If the imam does not perform the prostration of forgetfulness even if he makes an error during the prayer, it is recommended (not obligatory) for those who are being led by him to perform the prostration of forgetfulness.

The Situations that Call for Performing Prostration of Forgetfulness:

There are six reasons to perform the prostration of forgetfulness.

  1. The imam or someone who is praying alone omits one of the emphatically enjoined Sunnah-based practices (referred to by the Shafiis as ‘parts (ab’ād)’ of prayer), such as the first testimony or the regular prayer of obedience (as opposed to the prayer of obedience which is uttered at times of distress or tribulation). If he omits one of the non-emphatically enjoined Sunnah-based practices (referred to by the Shafiis as “outward forms (hay’āt)”), such as recitation of a Qur’anic passage after the Fatihah, he should not perform a prostration of forgetfulness on this account regardless of whether the omission was deliberate or not.

If someone omits an emphatically enjoined Sunnah-based practice such as the first testimony, then rises to a position which is closer to standing than it is to sitting, he should not sit down again, and if he does sit back down deliberately and knowingly, his prayer will be invalidated. If he sits back down out of inattention or ignorance, his prayer will not be invalidated, but it is an emulation of the Sunnah for him to perform the prostration of forgetfulness. If someone omits the regular supplication of qunut (i.e., other than the one which is uttered at times of affliction), then moves to sit down, he should not stand back up again if he has reached a bowing position, and if he does stand up again knowingly and deliberately, his prayer will be invalidated; otherwise, the ruling on this situation is the same as it was for the testimony.

The aforementioned rulings apply to someone who is either an imam or praying alone; as for someone who is being led in prayer, if he deliberately omits the testimony and the supplication of qunut, he may choose between going back to following his imam or waiting until the imam catches up with him, at which point he is to continue with the imam. If someone omits the testimony and the prayer of obedience out of inattention, he must go back to following his imam; otherwise, his prayer will be invalidated unless he makes it his intention to part with his imam, in which case he will be praying alone.

If the imam or someone praying alone omits an obligatory part of prayer, such as a prostration or a bow, and if he realizes his error before performing the next such movement in the prayer, he should make it up immediately; if he does not realize his error until after performing another instance of the same action, the second instance will be considered as if it were the first, while anything which was done between the two will be cancelled. For example, if he omits the first bow, then remembers it before performing the second bow, he should make up the bow, which he omitted, canceling what he did first, then continue with his prayer to completion and perform a prostration of forgetfulness before uttering the final greeting of peace. If he remembers omitting the first bow after performing the second, the second bow will be considered as if it were the first; hence, what is done later is considered to replace what was done earlier, while whatever came between them is cancelled, provided that the error is realized before the utterance of the final greeting of peace. However, if the worshiper does not realize his error until after uttering the final greeting of peace and if, (1) little time has passed since the conclusion of the prayer by commonly accepted standards, (2) he has not come in contact with ritual impurity of the sort which cannot be overlooked, (3) he has not spoken more than six words, and ( 4) he has not engaged in excessive movement, which would invalidate prayer, then he is obligated to make up what he forgot. For example, if what the worshiper omitted was a bow, and if he realizes this after performing the final greeting of peace given the aforementioned conditions, he must rise and bow, then perform whatever is needed to complete the prayer, utter the testimony and perform a prostration of forgetfulness before uttering the final greeting of peace [again].

  1. The worshiper has unintentionally done something that does not invalidate prayer unless it is done deliberately. Examples of such actions include the prolonging of a short pillar, such as remaining in a standing position, remaining seated shortly between two prostrations, or speaking briefly out of inattention. In such a case, the worshiper should only perform a prostration of forgetfulness if he is certain to have done such a thing, whereas if he merely suspects it, he should not. As for actions that do not invalidate prayer whether they are performed deliberately or not, such as turning the neck and walking two steps, they do not call for a prostration of forgetfulness. Lastly, actions which invalidate prayer whether they are performed intentionally or not, such as speaking at length or eating, cannot be rectified by a prostration of forgetfulness due to the invalidity of the prayer which results from them.
  2. Performing a verbal pillar out of place. This includes, for example, repeating the recitation of the Fatihah, in whole or in part, while sitting down, or performing a verbal Sunnah-based practice, such as the recitation out of place of a passage from the Qur’an after the Fatihah (during the bow, for example, rather than before it). In such a case, the worshiper should perform a prostration of forgetfulness. However, if the additional Qur’anic passage is recited before the Fatihah, no prostration of forgetfulness needs to be performed.
  3. The worshiper suspects that he may have added something to the prayer. If he has doubts about the number of rak ‘ahs he has performed, he should build on the number he is certain to have completed, finish the prayer, then perform a prostration of forgetfulness due to the possibility that he prayed more than the required number of rak’ahs. In such a situation, the worshiper should not rely simply on what he thinks to be probable, nor on someone else’s report, unless the number of people reporting is great enough to preclude all doubt concerning what they are saying.
  4. The worshiper suspects that he left out a particular ‘part (ab’ād)’ of prayer [that is, an emphatically enjoined Sunnah-based practice]. For example, he might suspect that he omitted the supplication of qunut for a situation other than a major affliction, or he may be uncertain as to whether he left out part of the supplication of qunut, such as the prayer of blessings upon the Prophet. However, if he simply wonders [in general], whether or not, he completed all the ‘parts’, no prostration of forgetfulness is called for.
  5. The worshiper has prayed behind someone whose prayer has a flaw in it according to the worshipper’s madhhab, even if the flaw is only suspected by the person being led in prayer. This includes, for example, following someone who omitted the supplication of qunut in the Dawn prayer, or someone who utters the supplication of qunut before bowing; in such cases, the worshiper should perform a prostration of forgetfulness after the imam’s final greeting of peace and before his own. The same ruling applies if the worshiper follows someone who omits the prayer for the Prophet in the first testimony.

Prostration of forgetfulness is performed as two prostrations before the final greeting of peace and after the testimony and prayers of blessing upon the Prophet and his family, with an inward intention. Prostration of forgetfulness is performed like the regular prostrations in the prayer, including the prostration’s integrals, such as, placing the limbs of prostration on the ground, remaining motionless for a moment, etc. As well, it may include the recommended acts, such as, sitting in iftirash between the prostrations, tawarruk after the second, the recommended dhikr, etc. The worshipper goes down to prostration and says “Subhana Rabbiya’l-a’lā ve bi hamdihi” thrice as in reguşar prostrations. After that, it is recommended to say during the prostrations the supplication,

“Subhanalladhi la yanamu wa la yashaw”

(Glory be to Allah who neither sleeps nor makes a mistake). Then, the worshipper sits and recites the supplication recited between two prostrations in regular prostration “Allahumma ghfirli wa-rhamni wa-’afini wa-jburni wa-hdini wa-rzukni (O Allah, forgive me, have mercy on me, pardon me, set me right, guide me, and sustain me.)” After the prostrations, the worshipper sits for the testification of faith (tashahhud) and says the final greetings of peace.

The intention for the prostration of forgetfulness is made by heart not by tongue. This is because expressing the intention by tongue invalidates the prayer. Intention is a requirement for the imam and the one who performs prayer alone. However, it is not a condition for those who perform their prayer in congregation by following an imam (muqtadi).

II. Prostration of Tilawah

Tilawah means recitation. Therefore, sajdat al-tilawah means “prostration of recitation.” It is a Sunnah muakkadah for both the reciter and those who heard the recitation to perform the prostration of recitation whenever one of the fourteen verses of prostration from the Qur’an are recited. The list of the verses, which call for prostration, is as follows:

  • Chapter al-Hajj, (22: 18)
  • Chapter al-Hajj, (22: 77)
  • Chapter al-A’raf (7: 206)
  • Chapter al-Ra’d (13: 15)
  • Chapter al-Nahl (16: 49)
  • Chapter al-Isra (17: 107)
  • Chapter Maryam (19: 58)
  • Chapter al-Furqan (25: 60)
  • Chapter al-Naml (27: 25)
  • Chapter al-Sajda (32: 15)
  • Chapter Fussilat (41: 37)
  • Chapter al-Najm (53: 62)
  • Chapter al-Inshiqaq (84: 21)
  • Chapter al-’Alaq (96: 19)

The verse 24 from chapter Sad (38), which is accepted as a verse of prostration by some schools of Islamic Law, is not a verse of prostration according to the Shafii School but a prostration of shukr (thanksgiving). When this verse is recited, one should prostrate with the intention to show gratitude.

The following report coming from ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar (r.a.) is among the proofs of prostration of recitation:

“When the Prophet (pbuh) recited a prostration verse and we were with him, he would prostrate and we also would prostrate with him and some of us (because of the heavy rush) would not find a place (for our foreheads) to prostrate on.”

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) also said, “When a son of Adam recites a verse of prostration and prostrates, Satan withdraws weeping, saying: ‘Woe to me! The son of Adam was commanded to prostrate and he prostrated, and Paradise will be his; I was commanded to prostrate and I refused, so I am doomed to Hell.’”[1]

How to Perform the Prostration of Recitation:

One should perform the prostration of recitation when the whole or part of the verse of prostration is recited with the intention of reciting the Qur’an. The person who needs to perform this prostration can be performing the prayer or be unconnected to the prayer.

For those who are outside the prayer, there are five essential parts (arkan) of the prostration of recitation:

1- To express intention by tongue in addition to make intention with the heart to perform the prostration of recitation,

2- To utter the beginning takbir,

3- To perform one prostration and say its prayers,

4- To sit down afterwards,

5- To say the greetings of peace immediately after sitting.

If one who is performing prayer recites one of the verses of prostration, he performs one prostration during the prayer, stands up after the prostration, and continues his recitation. (According to Hanafi School, if the verse of prostration is one of the last three verses of recitation while standing, one does not need to perform a separate prostration for the recitation of the verse of prostration. The ruku’ and the prostrations of that rak’ah is accepted as sufficient in place of the prostration of recitation.)

It becomes obligatory to perform a prostration of recitation for the person who performs a prayer in congregation when the imam performs a prostration of recitation.

When performing the prostration of recitation during the prayer, one needs to make an intention with the heart. Expressing the intention by tongue invalidates the prayer. For those who follow an imam in congregation, it is not a condition to make intention for the prostration and imam’s intention will be enough for them.

It is a Sunnah for the person who performs the prostration of recitation during the prayer to utter the takbir when going down to prostration and when standing back up as well as to say the supplications during the prostration. Raising hands when uttering takbir for prostration of recitation is not a Sunnah.

During the prostration of recitation, one may say thrice “Subhana rabbiya’l-a’la” or say the following supplication,

Sajada wajhi lilladhi khalaqahu, wa sawwarahu, wa shaqqa sam’ahu wa basarahu bi hawlihi wa quwwatih, Allahumma uktub li biha ‘ındaka ajran wa da’ ‘anni biha wizran waj’alha li ‘indaka dhahran wa taqabbalha minni kama taqabbalaha min ‘abdika Dawud

“I have prostrated my face to the One Who created it, who formed it and gave it hearing and sight by His might and His power. O Allah, write it as a reward for me in Your presence, and release me from a burden for it, and make it a treasure for me in Paradise. Accept it from me as You accepted it from your servant Dawud.”[2]

Three further essential parts to the prostration of recitation are added for those who hear the recitation of a verse of prostration while not praying. These are the beginning takbir, sitting after the prostration and saying the greetings of peace. It is Sunnah for the person who performs the prostration of recitation while not praying to express the intention by tongue and raise his hands when saying the beginning takbir.

The Rulings Related to Prostration of Recitation:

  • The conditions required for the ritual prayer such as ritual purity, and turning towards the qibla are also required for the prostration of recitation. Things that invalidate the ritual prayer also invalidate the prostration of recitation.
  • If a sane person (even if this is a child with discernment) reads/recites a verse of prostration, it is a Sunnah for those who hear it to stand up and perform the prostration of recitation. If one is not in ritual purity, then he should first perform the minor ablution and then perform the prostration of recitation.
  • If someone who is in a major ritual impurity or is a drunk person recites/reads a verse of prostration, those who hear it are not required to perform the prostration of recitation. This is because a recitation of the Qur’an is not permissible for such people.
  • If a woman who is in menses or in the postpartum bleeding period hears the recitation of a verse of prostration, she does not need to perform the prostration of recitation later.
  • One is not responsible for not performing the prostration of recitation if he does not know, understand, or is not warned that a verse of prostration is being recited. This is because the person who reads/recites a verse of prostration or those who know it should warn the people who listen to it.
  • One who performs the ritual prayer must personally recite the verse of prostration himself/herself. If he/she hears the recitation of such a verse by someone disconnected to the prayer, he/she does not need to perform the prostration of recitation.
  • It is not permissible to choose a verse of recitation specifically in order to perform the prostration of recitation. The obligatory cycles of Friday Prayer is excluded from this rule. It is a Sunnah to recite a verse of prostration in the obligatory cycles of Friday Prayer.
  • If the person who delivers the Friday sermon recites a verse of prostration, he should perform the prostration of recitation. It is prohibited for those who listens to the sermon to perform the prostration of recitation.
  • It is not permissible to recite the verses of prostration intentionally during the three reprehensible times of the day. If a verse of prostration is recited during such times, it is not necessary to perform the prostration of recitation because they are reprehensible times.
  • The time between the recitation of the verse of prostration and performing the prostration should not be too long. If the time given between them is sufficient or more than adequate to perform a two-cycle prayer, then it is established to be excessively long. If someone who cannot perform the prostration of recitation for valid reasons such as, a person in the state of ritual impurity or a person is in an impure place where he is unable to prostrate, then instead of prostration, one should say the following supplication four times,

“Subhanallahi wa’l-hamdu lillahi wala ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar wala haw­la wala quwwata illa billahi’l-aliyyi’l-azim.”

(Glory be to Allah and Praise be to Allah, and there is no God But Allah, and Allah is the Greatest. And there is no Might or Power except with Allah.)

III. Prostration of Shukr (Thanksgiving)

According to the Shafiis, the prostration of thanksgiving is a desirable practice, which consists of a single prostration similar to the prostration of recitation; this prostration is to be performed when some blessing has been renewed or received, or when a danger has been averted. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) performed the prostration of shukr in the events related to receiving a blessing.

When performing a prostration of shukr, especially two places are preferred:

  1. a) It is performed in a place where someone who is afflicted with physical or financial hardships cannot see it. In this way, one can prevent increasing the sadness of such people by showing them the thankfulness and happiness of another person.
  2. b) It can be performed in a place where a sinner can see it so that he may understand his mistakes, take heed and stop committing sins.

The prostration of shukr is performed just like the prostration of recitation. The difference between them is that the prostration of thanksgiving is to be performed separately from ritual prayer. If someone performs it as part of a ritual prayer, his prayer is invalidated, and if he intends it to be part of a regular bow or prostration of prayer, it will have no effect.

If someone cannot perform the prostration of shukr because of being in the state of ritual impurity, then instead of a prostration, one may say the following supplication four times,

“Subhanallahi wa’l-hamdu lillahi wala ilaha illallahu wallahu akbar wala haw­la wala quwwata illa billahi’l-aliyyi’l-azim.”

(Glory be to Allah and Praise be to Allah, and there is no God But Allah, and Allah is the Greatest. And there is no Might or Power except with Allah.)

[1] Muslim, Iman, 133; Ibn Maja, Iqama, 70

[2] Al-Shirbini, Mughn al-Muhtaj, 1/446

Source: Fiqh1 (According To The Shafi’i School Of Islamic Law), Erkam Publications

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