The Congregational Prayer
Allah ﷻ commands Muslim men to perform the five obligatory prayers in congregation and promises them a great reward for doing so. Mentioning the reward of the congregational prayer, the prophet ﷺ once said, “The reward for a prayer offered in congregation is twenty-seven times greater than that offered by a person alone.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 619; Saheeh Muslim: 650)
The congregational prayer can be established by at least two people, one of them acts as the prayer leader (imaam). However, the larger the congregation, the dearer it is to Allah.
Following the Imam in Prayer
This means that those praying behind the imaam must do the same as he does during the prayer by observing all the prayer movements and taking all the prayer postures, such as bowing and prostrating, immediately after him. They must not engage in any movement or posture before him or differ with him in this respect in anything whatsoever.
The prophet ﷺ said, “The imaam is to be followed. Say Allaahu akbar when he says it, and do not say it until he says it first. Bow when he bows, and do not bow until he has done so first. When he says, sami‛-Allaahu liman hamidah (Allah listens to him who praises Him),’ say, “Rabbanaa wa lak-al-hamd (Our Lord, to You is due all praise).’ Prostrate when he prostrates, and do not prostrate until he has done so first” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 710, Saheeh Muslim: 414 and Sunan Abu Daawood: 603)
Who Should Lead the Prayer?
Generally speaking, the person who knows the Qur’an the best should be given preference in leading the prayer. If those present are equal in that respect, then the one who is best informed in the rules of religion , as the prophet ﷺ said, “ Let him act as imaam to a congregation who knows the Qur’an by heart the best; and if all present should be equal in that respect, then let him perform who has the deepest knowledge of the Sunnah…”(Saheeh Muslim: 673)
Where Does the Imaam and Those He Leads Standin Prayer?
The imaam stands in front of those he leads in prayer (ma’moomoon; singular: ma’moom /follower). The followers, standing shoulder to shoulder, form straight lines behind him, and the front rows should be filled and completed first. If there is only one follower (ma’moom), he positions himself to the right of the imaam.
How to Make up for Missed Prayer Units
If the prayer has already started, the latecomer should join in the congregation in the very position in which he finds the imaam. For example, if he finds the imaam in the prostrate position, he must recite the takbeer and then prostrate himself. When the imaam concludes the congregational prayer by reciting the tasleem, the latecomer rises, reciting the takbeer, to assume a standing position and complete the rest of the prayer individually, by making up for the units he has missed.
The unit (rak‛ah) that he catches up with the imaam when he first joins the congregation counts as the beginning of his own prayer, and whatever he makes up for after the imaam concludes the congregational prayer counts as the rest of his prayer.
How to Determine that a Complete Rak‛ah Is Offered
The prayer is determined by the number of units offered in it; if a latecomer joins the congregation while the imaam is in the bowing position, he is considered to have offered a complete unit (rak‛ah) even though he has not recited Soorat Al- Faatihah in that particular rak‛ah in the standing position. If, however, he misses the bowing position, then he mus trecite the takbeer and join the congregation. In this case, he is considered to have missed this particular rak‛ah and whatever movements and postures in it do not count.
Examples Illustrating Ways of Making up for Missed Prayer Units
If someone joins the congregation during the Fajr prayer while the imaam is in the second rak‛ah, he must, after the imaam concludes the prayer with the tasleem, rise, reciting the takbeer, to assume a standing position and make up for the other rak‛ah which he has missed. He must not recite the tasleem until he completes the prayer, for the Fajr prayer consists of two units and he has only offered one unit with the imaam.
If he joins the congregation during the Maghrib prayer while the imaam is in the sitting position reciting the final tashahhud, he must, after the imaam concludes the prayer with the tasleem, rise, reciting the takbeer, to assume a standing position and offer three complete units of prayer. The reason for this is that he has joined the congregation only at its end while the imaam is reciting the final tashahhud. A unit (rak‛ah) only counts as complete if one joins the congregation while the imaam is in the bowing posture.
If he joins the congregation during the Dhuhr prayer while the imaam is in the bowing position of the third rak‛ah, then this means that he has offered two complete units of prayer, which count for him as his two first units. As soon as the imaam concludes the prayer with the tasleem, he must then rise, reciting the takbeer, to assume a standing position and offer two more units, namely the third and fourth units, considering that the Dhuhr prayer consists of four units of prayer.