What should a person who forgets the number of rak’ahs he has performed or who makes a mistake about rak’ahs do?

Details of the Question

- What should I do when I remember after sitting for tahiyyat that I have not performed the fourth rak’ah?
- Or, if I stand up for the fifth rak’ah without sitting in the fourth rak’ah, should I perform sajdah as-sahw or should I stand up and complete the prayer?
- Some say sajdah as-sahw is not enough and that it is necessary to perform that missing rak’ah again.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

In a four-rak’ah prayer, if a person sits for tashahhud in the third rak’ah and then remembers, he stands up, completes the rak’ahs and performs sajdah as-sahw at the end of the prayer. For, qiyam, which is one of the fards of prayer, has been delayed. 

Sajdah as-sahw becomes necessary when a fard is delayed, and when a wajib is abandoned by mistake or delayed or is done before its determined time.

According to Hanafi madhhab, if a person who salutes at the end of the prayer does not turn his direction from the qiblah and does not do anything that invalidates prayer, he continues his prayer. Accordingly, if a person who salutes at the end of the third rak’ah of a four-rak’ah prayer has not turned his direction from the qiblah and has not done anything that invalidates prayer, he stands up, performs one more rak’ah and performs sajdah as-sahw; thus, he completes his prayer.   

Similarly, if a person sits in the third rak’ah of a four-rak’ah prayer and remembers it before saluting, he stands up, performs one more rak’ah and performs sajdah as-sahw.

If a person does not sit in the last rak’ah of a three-rak’ah fard prayer (evening prayer) and stands up for the last rak’ah, he sits down again if he has not prostrated for that rak’ah. He performs sajdah as-sahw after tahiyyat and salutation. For, he has delayed the last sitting, which is fard. However, if he has prostrated for the fourth rak’ah, that prayer becomes a nafilah prayer. Therefore, sajdah as-sahw does not become necessary but he has to perform the fard prayer again.   

If a person does not sit for the first tashahhud and if he remembers it, he sits again if he is closer to the state of sitting. If he is closer to the state of standing, he does not sit; he continues the prayer and performs sajdah as-sahw at the end of the prayer.

If a person stands up for the fifth rak’ah by abandoning the last sitting by mistake, he returns and sits down if he has not performed the prostration of the fifth rak’ah; he performs sajdah as-sahw at the end of the prayer. If he has performed the prostration of the fifth rak’ah, his fard prayer is invalidated and becomes a nafilah prayer. It is mandub for such a person to complete his prayer as six rak’ahs. This decree is according to Abu Hanifa and Imam Muhammad. In that case, he does not perform sajdah as-sahw but he has to perform the fard prayer again.

If a person stands up after sitting long enough in the last sitting by mistake by thinking that it is the first sitting, he sits down if he has not performed the prostration of the fifth rak’ah. If he has performed the prostration of the fifth rak’ah, he adds one more rak’ah to this prayer as mustahab. His fard prayer is valid. For, the last sitting has been performed in its proper time and place. The extra two rak’ahs that have been performed becomes nafilah for him. His fard prayer is complete; he has to perform sajdah as-sahw.   

If a person doubts and does not remember whether he has performed three or four rak’ahs, and if this confusion takes place for the first time, that is, if this has not become a habit, he needs to perform that prayer again. That prayer is invalid. It is better for him to sit and salute before he performs it again. For, the following hadith exists regarding the issue:

"If any of you doubts how many rak’ahs he has performed, he should perform that prayer again." (1)

Ibn Abu Shayba reports the following hadith from Ibn Umar: 

"A person who does not remember whether he has performed three or four rak’ahs should perform that prayer again unless he remembers it."

Thus, a person who performs it again will know definitely how many rak’ahs he has performed.

However, if he continues the prayer he has started, he will not know it for sure. If a doubt occurs after saluting, this prayer does not have to be performed again. As a matter of fact, if a doubt occurs before saluting but after sitting long enough for tashahhud, this prayer does not have to be performed again, either.  

If a person has doubts like that often, he continues his prayer based on his thought that seems stronger. He prefers the third or fourth rak’ah based on his stronger idea. For, a person who often has doubts about his prayers will have difficulty in performing them again. Besides, the Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

"If a person doubts about his prayer, he should search what is true." (2)

If a person doubts about how many rak’ahs he has performed and cannot decide, he continues the prayer based on the fewer rak’ah he thinks. For, the knowledge about the fewer one is certain. Such a person should sit after each rak’ah he thinks he should. Thus, he will not abandon fard or wajib sittings and will fulfill them. 

If a person who is performing a four-rak’ah prayer doubts whether he is performing the first or second rak’ah, he acts based on his search. If he cannot decide based on his search, he continues his prayer based on the fewer rak’ah he thinks. That is, he regards the rak’ah that he is performing as the first rak’ah and sits after it since it can also be the second rak’ah. For, it is wajib to sit in the second rak’ah. Then, he stands up and performs one more rak’ah, and sits again. 

The evidence for acting upon the fewer rak’ah is the hadith reported by Abu Said al-Khudri. The Prophet (pbuh) stated the following:

"If any of you doubts whether he has performed three or four rak’ahs, he should avoid doubt and continue performing the prayer based on the fewer rak’ah." (3)

The exact words of the hadiths are as follows:

"When one of you has a doubt, he should search and complete the prayer." (4)

Footnotes:

1. Zaylai said gharib for this hadith. Nasbur-Raya, II/173.
2. Bukhari and Muslim reported this hadith from Ibn Mas’ud as marfu. See Nasbur-Raya, II/173.

3. Nasbur-Raya, II/174.
4. Nasbur-Raya, II/174.

(Prof. Dr. Wahba ZUHAYLI, İslam Fıkhı Ansiklopedisi, p. 221)

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