Can a person turn off his mobile phone if it starts to ring while performing a prayer? Is his prayer invalidated if he does so?

The Details of the Question
What should a person who has forgotten to turn off his mobile phone do when it rings? I broke my prayer a few times and turned it off.
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

As it is known, there were no small talking devices that could fit into pockets during the times when fiqh books were written; therefore, there is no special decree about mobile phones in those books. However, when we look at the general decrees, it is possible to find criteria about turning off a mobile phone that rings while performing a prayer:

Amal kathir (a major deed) done while performing a prayer invalidates that prayer; amal qalil (a minor deed) done while performing a prayer does not invalidate that prayer.

This criterion is a general rule in fiqh books:

A deed done with one hand in prayer does not invalidate prayer. For instance, if the cap of a person falls down while performing a prayer in prostration and if he places it on his head using only one of his hands, his prayer is not invalidated; however, if he places it using both of his hands, his prayer is invalidated. For, using both hands in prayer by doing something outside prayer is regarded as amal kathir, which invalidates prayer. 

- Besides, if a person passes in front of another person who is performing a prayer, the person who is performing a prayer can move (his hand) to prevent him.  

- If a dangerous animal like a snake or scorpion approaches a person who is performing a prayer, he can kill it; his prayer is not invalidated.  

- If the wudu of a person who is performing a prayer in congregation is invalidated, he leaves the prayer, makes wudu again and continues performing the prayer in congregation; his prayer is not invalidated. 

In that case, not all deeds that are outside prayer invalidate a prayer. If there is no necessity and if the deed that is outside the prayer is amal qathir and if an onlooker that sees this deed thinks that this person is not in prayer, that prayer becomes invalidated.

Acting upon the examples above, we can say that a person whose mobile phone starts to ring while performing a prayer in congregation needs to stop his phone by doing a deed that is as small as possible; this deed does not invalidate his prayer. If he does not do so, both his mind and the other people's minds in congregation will be kept busy with that sound as it rings and everybody will feel disturbed.     

Those who say that an imam turned off his mobile phone that rang while performing a prayer and continued the prayer should know this rule. However, it is not appropriate for an imam to be so careless and absent-minded. These small deeds of the hand do not invalidate prayer if they are fewer than three but it is makruh.    

We can explain the issue of mobile phones as follows to make it clear: 

1. A person who goes to mosque to perform a prayer needs to be careful and turn off his mobile phone before entering the mosque.

2. If he forgets to turn it off and if it rings while performing a prayer, he needs to know that turning it off with one hand does not invalidate prayer. He needs to turn it off by using one hand and by pressing with a fingertip; thus, he will stop disturbing the congregation as soon as possible.

3. Some ringtones do harass the people who worship in the mosque due to their melodies and disturb the peace of the prayer. Thus, it becomes doubtful whether a person who comes to the mosque with a mobile phone that rings those melodies gains rewards or sins. Therefore, it is necessary to use soft natural sounds like bird ringtones to decrease the trouble given to the congregation.  

4. It is necessary to avoid answering the mobile phone at the entrance of the mosque by speaking loudly and disturbing the congregation.

5. Prayer, which is named as"solace (delight) of my eyes" (Nasai, Ishtatu’n-Nisa, 1) by the Prophet (pbuh), is delicate and valuable as one's pupil of the eye; therefore, it must be protected. This warning should not be forgotten; it is necessary to avoid causing to break the otherworldly peace by worldly things like mobile phones.

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