What is the wisdom behind reading al-Fatiha in every rak'ah of five daily prayers?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Reading some Quran is fard in all rak’ahs of nafilah prayers and witr prayer, and in any two rak’ahs of fard prayers for the imam or a person who prays individually. However, in four-rak’ah fard prayers or three-rak’ah fard prayers, qiraah is regarded wajib in the first two rak’ahs.

According to Abu Hanifa, the amount that is fard in prayer is at least one verse even if it is short. When this amount is read, this fard is fulfilled. However, according to Abu Yusuf, Imam Muhammad and another narration from Abu Hanifa, this amount is three short verses or a long verse that is equal to three short verses. This last view is the most appropriate one in terms of caution.

According to the sound view, it is not accepted as sufficient to read verses that consist of only one letter or one word like "Nun" and "Mudhammatan". For, this amount is not regarded as qira'ah.

That qira’ah is fard is based on the following evidences. Allah states the following:

"…Read ye, therefore, of the Qur´an as much as may be easy for you..."
(al-Muzzammil, 73/20)

The order here indicates wujub (obligation). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) states the following:

"There is no prayer without qira'ah." (Muslim, Salah, 42; Abu Dawud, Salah, 132, 167)

The verse above definitely orders us to read the Quran in prayer. Therefore, qira’ah takes place with the least amount from the Quran. However, it is not fard to read the Quran outside prayer because that is understood from the verse.

It is wajib to read al-Fatiha in the Quran. If al-Fatiha is abandoned, the prayer is regarded sound though it is makruh. "The prayer of a person who does not read al-Fatiha is not accepted." (Muslim, Salah, 42; Abu Dawud, Salah, 132) The hadith of the Prophet above is interpreted as follows by Hanafi mujtahids: "There is no virtue of a prayer without al-Fatiha." For, this hadith resembles the following hadith: "The prayer of a person whose house is next to the mosque is not accepted unless he performs it in the mosque." (see Suyuti, al-Jamius-Saghir, letter "Lamalif"). In fact, Islamic scholars did not say that the prayer of a person whose house is next to the mosque would not be accepted when they performed a prayer individually. They said he would be deprived of the thawab of the congregation and the virtue of his prayer would decrease.

A person who follows the imam does not have to read the Quran. For, Allah states the following:

"When the Qur´an is read, listen to it with attention, and hold your peace: that ye may receive Mercy." (al-A'raf, 7/204)

Ahmed b. Hanbal states the following related to the verse above:

"Scholars unanimously agree that this verse is related to the prayer. The verse orders people to listen and to be quiet in prayer. Listening is related to the prayers in which qiraah is performed aloud. Keeping quiet is related to all of the prayers whether the qiraah is performed aloud or silently. Accordingly, it is wajib for the followers of the imam to listen when the qiraah is performed aloud and to be quiet when the qiraah is performed silently."

The Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

"The qiraah of a person who follows the imam is the qiraah of the imam." (Ibn Majah, Iqama, 13)

This hadith includes all of the prayers whether the reading is done silently or aloud. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also states the following:

"The imam stands at the front so that he will be followed. When he makes takbir, you make takbir too. When he reads, be quiet." (Bukhari, Salah, 18, Adhan, 51, 74, 82, 128, Taqsirus-Salah, 17; Muslim, Salah, 77, 82)

The following is stated in another hadith:

"The Prophet was leading the noon prayer. A man who was praying behind read the chapter beginning with, "Sabbihisma Rabbikal-a'la". When the Prophet ended the prayer, he said, "Who among you was reading? Somebody said, “I was.” Thereupon, the Prophet said, "I thought the qira’ah of one of you mixed with mine." (Muslim, Salah, 48)

This hadith shows that it is not permissible for the followers of the imam to read in the prayers in which the imam reads silently. Since this is the case in the prayers in which the imam reads silently, it must definitely be so in the prayers in which the imam reads aloud.

According to the majority of the scholars other than Hanafis, what is meant by qira’ah in prayer is the chapter of al-Fatiha.

The following hadiths are the evidences for it.

"The prayer of a person who does not read al-Fatiha is not valid." (Muslim, Salah, 42; Abu Dawud, Salah, 132),

"A prayer in which al-Fatiha is not read is not sufficient." (Tirmidhi, Mawaqit, 29, 116), "Perform the prayer as I do." (Bukhari, Adhan, 18, Adab, 27, Ahad, 1)

According to Abu Hanifa, a person who cannot read more than one verse reads it only once. According to Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad, he repeats it three times in a rak'ah. However, a person who can read three verses cannot repeat the same verse three times.

It is enough for a person to read some part of a long verse like "ayatul-kursiyy" in a rak'ah and the remaining part in the next rak'ah. For, they are equal to three short rak'ahs.

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