Praise be to Allaah.
In a congregational prayer, the imam is in front of the
people before Allah and is leading them in the most important ritual of
Islam, namely the prayer. Hence his prayer is very important and the prayer
of those who are praying behind him is connected to it in many rulings, the
aims of which are summed up in the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be
pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of
Allah be upon him) said: “The imam is liable and the muezzin is entrusted. O
Allah, guide the imams and forgive the muezzins.”
Narrated by Abu Dawood, 517; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani
in Saheeh Abi Dawood.
The words of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be
upon him), “The imam is liable” include many of the meanings of liability or
responsibility on which the scholars are unanimously agreed with regard to
prayer in congregation.
“The imam is liable” means that it is obligatory for him to
protect the prayer of those who are praying behind him from becoming invalid
and to remember the number of rak‘ahs; he should not peck in the prayer
(i.e., move too quickly), which undermines the pillars of the prayer, and he
should not fall short in fulfilling the conditions of the prayer; he should
make sure that he does the Sunnahs and postures of prayer properly, and so
“The imam is liable” means that he takes on behalf of those
who are praying behind him the responsibility of reciting out loud in the
prayers where recitation is to be done out loud, and the responsibility of
reciting the short soorahs (after al-Faatihah) too. He also covers the
mistake of the one who prays behind him if he omits some of the Sunnahs and
even if he omits reciting al-Faatihah if he comes late to the prayer. All of
that is covered in the idea of liability or responsibility, on which there
is scholarly consensus.
“The imam is liable” also means that he is responsible for
offering supplication for all those who pray behind him if he says Qunoot or
offers supplication for them. He is responsible for teaching those who
prayed behind him the rulings on prayer so that it will not be spoiled and
they will not be deprived of the full reward.
Al-Shawkaani (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“The imam is liable” -- liability or responsibility includes
the meanings of sponsorship, protection and care.
What is meant is that they – i.e., imams – are liable or
responsible when they recite Qur’aan and adhkaar quietly. That was narrated
from al-Shaafa‘i in al-Umm.
And it was said that what is meant is the responsibility to
make sure that his supplication includes all people, not only himself.
And it was said that it is because he takes care of standing
and reciting for the one who joins the prayer late. End quote.
Nayl al-Awtaar, 2/42.
Nevertheless the scholars did not understand from this
hadeeth what some people understand, which is that if the imam’s prayer is
valid the prayer of those who are praying behind him is also valid no matter
what mistakes they make, and that if the imam’s prayer becomes invalid, then
the prayer of the those who are praying behind him also becomes invalid even
if they did all the essential parts and fulfilled all the conditions.
Rather the scholars say that mistakes that may be made by the
one who is praying behind the imam in his prayer are either of two types:
Either it is the kind of
mistake which invalidates the prayer, such as loosing one’s wudoo’, eating,
drinking, laughing and other things that invalidate the prayer. That also
includes omitting any essential part of the prayer. Such mistakes render the
prayer of the one who is praying behind the imam invalid and the imam cannot
cover any of that, according to scholarly consensus.
Or it is the kind of mistake
that does not invalidate the prayer, such as omitting some Sunnahs or
aspects of postures, or making some mistakes such as turning the head,
smiling and the like, which does not make the prayer invalid. Or it may
include forgetting some obligatory parts of the prayer, such as forgetting
to recite the first tashahhud or the tasbeeh when bowing and prostrating,
and the like. These are the mistakes that may be covered by the imam’s
prayer, and the reward for praying in congregation may cover shortcomings
and mistakes that a person may make.
There are some fiqhi issues concerning which the fuqaha’ of
the four madhhabs differed, according to their differences about the meaning
of the words of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), “The
imam is liable”. These may be seen in the books that discuss differences of
And Allah knows best.