How do you follow an imam in prayer? Who should be the imam in prayers?
If a person joins the imam in even a part of the ritual prayer – for example, if he arrives only in time for the end of the final sitting before the concluding greetings of peace, or utters the opening takbīr immediately before the imam concludes his prayer and without sitting down with him – his prayer will count for him as a congregational prayer. This ruling is agreed upon by the Ḥanafis, the Hanbalis, and the Shafiʿis, however, the Shafiʿis make an exception for the Friday congregational prayer, since they hold that in order for this prayer to count as communal prayer, a worshiper must perform an entire cycle with the imam. As for the Malikis, a worshiper only gains the merit associated with praying communally by performing an entire cycle with the imam. However, there are different types of states of those who attend a congregation, and these details will now be explained below.
A) Following an Imam From The Beginning of a Prayer: (Mudrik)
The word mudrik means “understood, brought up, reached”. A person who performs the entire prayer together with an imam is called a mudrik. The person who catches up with the imam in the rukūʿ of the first cycle at the latest is deemed to have caught up to that cycle and appropriates the name mudrik. If this person recites the takbīr of iftitāḥ in a standing position and does the rukūʿ while the imam is still in the position of rukūʿ, the cycle is considered performed.
Since the reward of performing the prayer in the congregation is twenty-seven degrees higher than performing it alone, so in the following case, the ritual prayer being performed alone is abandoned to follow the imam.
So, if a person commences an obligatory prayer alone, and then the congregation begins to perform the same prayer in the same place, and if he has not done the first prostration yet, he stops the prayer immediately and attends the ritual prayer with the congregation. This is considered mustaḥab. Someone who encounters such a situation does not need to offer salutes to end the individual prayer, but there are those who say that it would be appropriate to offer salutations to the right side. On the other hand, if the worshipper has reached the prostration of the first cycle in the ritual prayer that he was performing alone, the situation is varied. If the ritual prayer he offers is the dawn or evening prayers, he will still abandon the individual prayer and attend with the congregation. However, if he has already gone down for the prostration of the second cycle of these ritual prayers, he does not stop and completes the ritual prayer by himself, and after offering salutations, he can no longer follow the imam, even if the congregation has not finished the ritual prayer. This is because the prayer to be performed with the imam will be considered a supererogatory one, and no supererogatory prayer can be performed after the farḍ cycles of the dawn prayer, and there is no such thing as a three-cycle supererogatory prayer.
If the ritual prayer that he has commenced and where the prostration of the first cycle is a four-cycle obligatory prayer, such as noon, late afternoon, and night prayers have been made, then he adds one more cycle to one cycle, performs the tashahhud, salutes, and then follows the imam. For the two cycles, that he has performed, will be considered supererogatory.
If the worshipper performs the third cycle of such a ritual prayer and has not yet reached its prostration, he immediately leaves the prayer standing or sitting, follows the imam, and the two cycles already performed alone will be considered supererogatory. However, if he has performed the prostration of the third cycle of this prayer, he completes it and fulfills the farḍ. However, if this prayer is the noon or night prayer, he can still follow the imam after completing this farḍ prayer individually. The prayer performed with the imam will be considered supererogatory. However, if the ritual prayer performed was a late afternoon prayer, he cannot follow the imam because it is makrūḥ to perform a supererogatory prayer after the fard cycles of the late afternoon prayer.
If a person starts a supererogatory prayer and the congregation starts to perform a prayer, he performs the supererogatory as two cycles, then offer the salutes and attends with the congregation. If he gets up for the third cycle of the supererogatory prayer, he does not stop it until he completes it with the fourth cycle. However, if a person who starts the nafilah prayer is afraid of missing a funeral prayer that has been started, he should stop the nafilah prayer immediately, follow the imam for the funeral prayer, and then make up the nafilah prayer later because there is no making up for the funeral prayer.
If a person sees that the dawn prayer is being performed in the congregation, and if he thinks that he will be able to reach the congregation, he quickly performs the sunnah cycles of the morning prayer and, if necessary, leaves the supplication of subḥānaka and aūdhu and the additional verses from the Qur’an, and can be content with only Fatiḥa, one tasbih in rukūʿ and one tasbih in each prostration. After that, he attends the congregation. However, if he thinks that he will not be able to catch up with the imam, he does not start the sunnah cycles and follows the imam immediately, and he does not make up the sunnah cycles. However, if he has commenced the sunnah cycles, he completes them.
A person who sees that the noon, late afternoon, and night ritual prayers are started to be performed in the congregation follows the imam without performing their sunnah cycles, then he makes up the four-cycle sunnah of the noon, and does not make up the sunnah cycles of the late afternoon because of the reprehensibility of the time. If he wishes, he can make up the four-cycle sunnah of the night prayer because it is a non-mu’akkad sunnah, or he does not.
B) The Person whose Wudu is Invalidated in Prayer in Congregation and who Completes The Prayer after Re-Performing Wudu (Lahiq)
A person who cannot perform all or part of the prayer together with the imam, despite starting the ritual prayer with the imam, is called a “lāḥiq”. For example, a person who starts to perform a ritual prayer together with an imam but then misses performing all or some of the cycles of the prayer with the imam due to an excuse such as inattention, sleep, discomfort, the nullification of the wuḍū’ or without an excuse such as bowing and prostrating before the imam has to make up the cycles that he missed performing behind the imam.
According to the Ḥanafis, a person who has to interrupt his prayer in congregation due to an excuse, when this excuse disappears, if he does not talk and does not deal with worldly affairs, and if his state of wuḍūʾ is nullified, he performs wuḍūʾ again as soon as possible and continues his prayer from where he left off.
The ruling about lāḥiq with regard to the parts of prayer that he misses is the same as that which applies to anyone else being led in prayer from beginning to the end. Hence, he must not recite when making up the cycles he has missed, since, according to the Ḥanafis, someone being led in prayer is forbidden to recite behind his imam, nor should he perform a prostration of forgetfulness for anything he neglects while making up these cycles since a worshiper being led in prayer is not required to perform a prostration of forgetfulness for anything he neglects while praying behind his imam, nor does the number of cycles required of him increase from two to four by his intending to stay in one place if he has been on a journey.
When the excuse is removed, the lāḥiq first makes up the missed cycles or essential pillars, if possible, and then follows the imam and offers his greetings at the end. For example, if a person who follows the imam sleeps during the standing of the first cycle and wakes up while the imam is in prostration, he immediately does the rukūʿ, then reaches the prostration and catches up with the imam. If the lāḥiq realizes that he cannot catch up with the imam, he immediately follows the imam and makes up the cycles or essential pillars that he missed after the imam ends the prayer.
For example, if a person who follows the imam bleeds in the fourth cycle, he leaves the row, immediately goes and performs ablution without dealing with anything that may invalidate the prayer, and comes back and starts to follow the imam as soon as possible. If the imam has already offered the salutations, he completes this fourth cycle as if he were praying behind the imam without reciting anything on his own. This is because the lāḥiq is considered to have performed his ritual prayer behind the imam.
If the ablution of the one who follows the imam is nullified in the third cycle, and if he catches up with the imam in the fourth cycle after reperforming the wuḍū, he first performs the third cycle without a recitation. After that, he starts following the imam and salutes by performing the fourth cycle with him. However, if he realizes that he will not be able to catch the imam in this way, he immediately follows the imam, and when the imam salutes, he gets up, performs the third cycle without recitation, and ends the prayer with salutation.
If the imam has a prostration of forgetfulness to perform, the lāḥiq should not perform it with the imam, he first makes up everything he missed and then performs the prostration of forgetfulness by himself.
On the other hand, a person who cannot catch up with the imam in the first cycle becomes a masbūq for the cycles that he cannot reach but he may also become a lāḥiq due to an excuse that will happen in one of the cycles he has caught up. In this case, the ruling of masbūq and lāḥiq is united in the same person. He completes the missing cycles or essential pillars by observing the provisions of the masbūq and lāḥiq.
Even though in order not to be deprived of the spiritual rewards of the congregation, it is beneficial to follow the rules of a lāḥiq, but because there are some difficulties in paying attention to the details of the rulings, it is considered more appropriate for a person in this situation to start his ritual prayer again.
According to the Malikis, if a person misses part of the prayer after he begins praying with the imam due to some valid excuse, such as crowding or drowsiness which would not invalidate the ritual ablutions, he will be in one of three situations:
(1) He will have missed a bow or the rising from a bow. This will happen either in the first cycle or in some other cycle of the prayer concerned. If it takes place in the first cycle, he should follow his imam in whatever part of the prayer he is presently performing and cancel the first cycle due to (a) him not being considered as following the imam in prayer any longer if he misses bowing with him and (b) the cycles have not been ‘confirmed’ to have been done with the imam if a worshiper misses rising from the bow with him. The worshiper concerned must then make up the cycle that was canceled after the imam utters his final greeting of peace. If, on the other hand, the bow or the rise from the bow is missed in some other cycle of the prayer and if the worshiper has reason to believe that if he bowed or rose from the bow, he would be able to perform as much as a single prostration with the imam, he should perform whatever actions he has missed in order to catch up with the imam. If the worshiper’s expectation is not confirmed if, for example, it happens that as soon as he bows, the imam raises his head from the second prostration-he should cancel what he has done and follow the imam in whatever he is doing at the present, then make up a cycle after the imam’s final greeting of peace. If, however, the worshiper does not expect to be able to perform any prostration with the imam, he should cancel this cycle, Subsequently, he should make it up after the imam’s final greeting of peace. Lastly, if the worshiper goes against what he has been instructed and makes up for what he missed, and if he manages to perform some of the prostrations with the imam, his prayer will be considered valid and the cycle will count. Otherwise, his prayer will be invalidated due to him having violated what he was instructed to do, i.e. having not followed the imam and, instead, making up what he missed.
(2) He will have missed one or both prostrations. The ruling here is that if the worshiper has reason to believe that he can catch up with the imam before he raises his head from the bow of the following cycle, he should perform what he has missed, then catch up with the imam, in which case the cycle will be counted as for him. Otherwise, he should cancel the cycle, follow the imam in what he is presently doing, then perform a cycle after the imam has uttered his final greeting of peace. In this situation, the worshiper is not required to perform a prostration of forgetfulness after the final greeting of peace on account of the addition of the cycle which he canceled, since the imam takes responsibility for such actions on his behalf.
(3) He will have missed one or more cycles. The ruling on it is that he should make up what he missed after the imam has uttered his final greeting of peace in the same form in which it was missed with respect to recitation and the prayer of obedience, whereas with respect to actions, he should build on what he did before. A worshiper might miss part of the prayer before commencing the prayer with the imam, after which he misses another cycle after joining the imam due to crowding or other causes. For example, a worshiper might begin praying with the imam in the second cycle of a four-cycle prayer, after which he completes the second and third cycles with him, then misses the final cycle as well. He has now missed two cycles of the four-cycle prayer i.e. one before he began praying with the imam, and one afterward. The ruling on such a situation is that after the imam has uttered his final greeting of peace, the worshiper should first make up the second cycle that he missed, which was the imam’s fourth cycle. In making up this cycle, the worshiper should recite the Fatiḥa silently without any other passage from the Qur’an even if it is a ritual prayer, which is performed with audible recitation, then sit down in the sitting position following it because it is the imam’s final cycle. He should then stand up again to make up the first cycle that he missed; in so doing, he should recite both the Fatiḥa and another passage from the Qur’an since it is the first cycle of the prayer, and he should recite it aloud if it is a prayer that requires audible recitation. Finally, he should sit down in the sitting position afterward since it is his own final cycle, and then utter the final greetings of peace.
C) Catching Up To The Congregation After The First Cycle: (Masbuq)
A person who follows the imam not at the beginning of the prayer, but after the rukūʿ of the first cycle, in the second, third, or fourth cycles, is called “masbūq”. Whoever follows the imam after the rukūʿ of the last cycle misses all the cycles.
According to the Hanbalis, if a person has missed part of the prayer with the imam, regardless of whether he joined the imam at the very beginning of the prayer or after one or two cycles, he is accepted as masbūq. If someone joins the imam from the beginning of the prayer, then falls behind him by an entire pillar due to some excuse, such as inattention or falling asleep (though not to the degree that would invalidate ritual ablutions), he must perform what he missed whenever the extenuating circumstance passes if he can do so without having reason to fear missing the following cycle by virtue of his not performing its bow with the imam and in this case, the cycle will be counted as performed. However, if the worshiper fears missing the following cycle with the imam, he must follow the imam in whatever action he is presently performing and cancel the cycle, then make up the canceled cycle after the imam has uttered his final greeting of peace.
If a person falls behind the imam by one or more cycles due to any of the aforementioned extenuating circumstances or conditions, he should follow his imam in whatever he is doing presently, then makeup whatever parts of the prayer he missed by falling behind after he has completed the prayer with the imam. The parts of the ritual prayer that were missed must be made up in their original form. This means that if, for example, what the worshiper missed was the first cycle of the prayer, he should make it up by reciting those things which are required in the first cycle, such as the prayer of commencement, the prayer for divine protection, the Fatiḥa and some other passage of the Qur’an. If what the worshiper missed was the second cycle, he should make it up by reciting another passage of the Qur’an after the Fatiḥa, whereas if it was the third or fourth cycle, he should recite only the Fatiḥa.
The Shafiʿis divide those who are being led in prayer into two categories: (1) masbūq, that is, those who have not prayed with the imam long enough to recite the Fatiḥa at a moderate pace, even if they managed to complete the first cycle. The notion of the masbūq category appears in one of three situations: (1) He will have joined the imam while the latter was bowing; (2) He will have joined the imam while the imam was standing but, as soon as he uttered the opening takbīr, he bowed with the imam; or (3) He will have joined the imam while the latter was standing up but close enough to bowing that the person being led in prayer was only able to recite part of the Fatiḥa. In the first two situations described here, the ruling on the worshiper being led in prayer is that he must bow with the imam, but he is exempted from the requirement to recite the Fatiḥa. The cycle will count for him if he pauses with the imam in the bow; otherwise, however, the cycle will not count and instead, he must perform another cycle after the imam’s final greeting of peace. In the third situation, the worshiper must recite as much as he can of the Fatiḥa before the imam’s bow, after which he is exempted from reciting any more of it. It is recommended that such a worshiper omit the prayer of commencement and the prayer for divine protection since if he occupies himself with either of these, he must remain standing until he has recited a portion of the Fatiḥa which takes as much time as it took him to recite either the prayer of commencement or the prayer for divine protection. Moreover, if he paused with the imam in the bow, the cycle will count for him; otherwise, it will not. However, his prayer will be valid and he will not be required to intend to part way with the imam unless he continues to be occupied with the recitation required of him until the imam has gone down to prostration, in which case he must intend to part way with the imam; if he does not make this his intention, his prayer will be invalidated due to his having lagged behind his imam, without a valid excuse, by two action-based pillars.
(2) Muwāfiq, that is, those who, after their utterance of opening takbīr and before the imam’s bow, pray with the imam long enough to recite the Fatiḥa, even if this was during the final cycle of the prayer. Both masbūq and muwāfiq in the senses described above may be considered to be in the category of masbūq, that is to say, they may both have missed some cycles of the prayer with the imam. The ruling on this is that the beginning of the prayer performed by the worshiper, in this case, is what he performed with the imam; hence, if he performs only the second cycle with the imam, then rises to make up what he missed, the cycle which he performed with the imam will be counted for him as his first even though it was the imam’s second cycle. Hence, it is an emulation of the Sunnah for him to utter the prayer of obedience in the cycle that he makes up since it is his second, even if he already uttered the prayer of obedience in the cycle that he performed with the imam.
Lastly, the masbūq whose imam did not recite the Fatiḥa on his behalf must make certain that his prayer includes a passage of the Qur’an after the Fatiḥa; thus, for example, if the person joins the imam in the third cycle of the noon prayer and if he then makes up what he missed after the imam has finished praying, it is an emulation of the Sunnah for him to recite a verse or surah of the Qur’an after the Fatiḥa as he makes up what he missed.
According to the Ḥanafis, the ruling of masbūq is like a person who performs the ritual prayer alone after he starts to make up the missed cycles. He recites the supplication of subḥānaka, the aūdhu – basmala, and then Fatiḥa and some additional verses from the Qur’an. This is because in terms of recitation, this person makes up the beginning of the ritual prayer and, if he abandons the recitation, his prayer will be considered invalid.
The moment to recite the supplication of subḥānaka varies according to different situations; if the prayer is a silent prayer like the noon and late afternoon prayers, the supplication of subḥānaka is recited after the opening takbīr. If it is an audibly recited ritual prayer and the imam is caught up while he was in the middle of recitation, according to the sound opinion, the person who catches the congregation does not recite the supplication of subḥānaka and listens to the imam’s recitation, recites subḥānaka when he stands up for the cycle or cycles that he will make up by himself, and recites aūdhu – basmala before the recitation, in line with those who pray the ritual prayer alone.
Examples of Applications related to masbuq based on the Ḥanafi School:
1) Masbūq who follows the imam in the second cycle of the dawn prayer utters takbīr and stays silent, recites only the supplication of taḥiyyāt with the imam in the last sitting, and when the imam salutes, he stands up and starts to perform the first cycle that he missed. After subḥānaka, isti’ādha, and basmala, he recites parts from the Qur’an along with chapter Fatiḥa. After rukūʿ and prostrations, he sits down and recites the supplications of taḥiyyāt, ṣalli – bārik, and Rabbanā ātinā.
2) A person who follows the imam in the second cycle of the evening prayer also acts in this way for the first cycle.
The person who follows the imam in the last cycle of the evening prayer recites subḥānaka, performs that cycle with the imam, sits down for tashahhud, then gets up. He recites subḥānaka and aūdhu– basmala, reads a little more Qur’an with Fatiḥa, sits down after bowing and prostrations, recites only the supplication of taḥiyyāt, then stands up by saying “Allāhu akbar”, recites basmala and a little more Qur’an with the Fatiḥa. After reciting the Qur’an, he performs the bowing, the prostrations, and the last sitting, finishing the prayer with salutations. In such a case, he will have sat down for three times. However, if the masbūq does not sit down by error at the end of the second cycle, it is not necessary to perform the prostration of forgetfulness. This is because, in a way, this cycle is in the place of the first cycle.
3) A person who follows the imam in the last cycle of a four-cycle prayer gets up after sitting down with the imam, recites subḥānaka, aūdhu–basmala, Fatiḥa, and some more of the Qur’an, sits down after bowing and prostrating, gets up after reciting only taḥiyyāt, and utters the basmala. He recites the Fatiḥa and some more of the Qur’an, followed by bows and prostrations, and without sitting down gets back to the standing position, and makes the last sitting after having performed one more cycle with basmala and the Fatiḥa. He ends with offering greetings after reciting taḥiyyāt, ṣalli – bārik, and Rabbanā ātinā.
4) A person who follows the imam in the third cycle of the four-cycle prayer, carries out his first sitting with the last sitting of the imam, recites only the taḥiyyāt when the imam gives the salutation, gets up, recites subḥānaka, aūdhu – basmala, the Fatiḥa, and a little more from the Qur’an followed by bowing and prostration. Then he again stands up to the standing position, recites the basmala and the Fatiḥa and a little more from the Qur’an, again bows and prostrates, sits down for the final sitting, and completes the prayer with salutation after reciting the supplications of taḥiyyāt, ṣalli – bārik and Rabbanā ātinā.
5) A person who follows the imam in the second cycle of a four-cycle prayer performs the three cycles together with the imam, gets up after the tashahhud, recites subḥānaka, aūdhu – basmala, the Fatiḥa, and an additional surah followed by rukūʿ and prostration.
A person who catches up with the imam in the Rukūʿ of the first cycle becomes a mudrik, not a masbūq, that is, he is considered to have reached the beginning of the prayer. However, a person who catches up with the imam after rukūʿ misses that cycle and becomes a masbūq. Even if he performs prostrations together with the imam after the rukūʿ he missed a cycle and therefore must stand up after the imam salutes and make up this cycle as a whole.
Situations in which masbūq can stand up before the imam salutes:
After sitting for the amount of tashahhud, it is considered makrūḥ for the masbūq to stand up to make up the missed cycles before the imam salutes. However, if the masbūq has a valid excuse such as if the time is tight, the sun will rise or the time for prayer is about to end or if the masbūq needs to go to the restroom, he can get up and complete his prayer without waiting for the imam to salute according to the Ḥanafis.
If a person who follows the imam in the cycles after the first cycle cannot remember how many cycles he missed when he gets up to make up for the missed cycles, it will not harm the validity of his prayer if he observes another masbūq who joined the congregation at the same time in order to see how many cycles need to be performed.
According to Abu Ḥanīfa, the masbūq utters the takbīrs of tashrīq together with the imam on Eid al-Aḍḥā, then stands up and completes the missed cycles. On the other hand, according to Abu Ḥanīfa, a person who prays alone is not responsible for these takbīrs. In this regard, the masbūq is not like a person who prays alone but is like a person who follows the imam.
When the masbūq finishes reciting the taḥiyyāt before the imam salutes, according to one view, he continues to repeat the kalima al-shahādah, and according to another, he remains silent. The appropriate action for him to do in this regard is that the masbūq recites the supplication of taḥiyyāt slowly.
If the imam gets up for the fifth cycle by mistake, and the masbūq stands up by following it, if the imam is sitting in the fourth cycle, the prayer of the masbūq will be invalid with this standing. However, if the imam does not sit in the fourth cycle, the prayer of the masbūq will not be invalidated until he reaches prostration in the fifth cycle.
 Jaziri, ibid, p. 578. Akyüz, ibid, pp. 41-42. See Ibn al-Humām, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, I, 277 ff.; Ibn Abidīn, ibid, I, 555-560; al-Zaylaī, Tabyīn al-Ḥaqāiq, III, 137 ff.; al-Fatawā al-Hindiyya, Bulak, 1310/1892, I, 119 ff.; al-Zuhaylī, ibid, II, 209; ff.; Bilmen ibid, p. 183 ff.
Source: Basic Islamic Principles (ilmiḥal) According to the Four Sunni Schools With Evidence From The Sources of Islamic Law, Prof. Hamdi Döndüren, Erkam Publications