Permissibility of praying behind an Innovator or a Sinner


Shaykh Ibn Baz Rahimahullah was asked on

“Ruling on offering Salah behind those who persist in practicing Bid`ah”.


It is obligatory to establish Jumu`ah prayer in congregation behind any Imam, be he pious or not. If the Bid`ah of the Imam leading Jumu`ah prayer does not render him a non-Muslim, then Muslims are to pray behind him.

Statement of Imam At Tahawy and few Ahadeeth on permissibility of praying behind a Sinner :

It is stated by Imam Abu Ja`far Al-Tahawy (may Allah be merciful to him) in his famous book of `Aqidah: “We opine offering prayer behind every pious and disobedient Muslim as well as offering it over those who die among them.”.

Explaining this statement, the commentator on this `Aqidah [Book], who is a trustworthy scholar, cited the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) statement, “Perform Salah behind the Imam, be he pious or disobedient”. Narrated by Mak-hul on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him). It was also narrated by Al-Daraqutny who commented: Mak-hul did not meet with Abu Hurayrah; in addition, among its chain of narrators there is Mu`awiyah ibn Salih whose authenticity is questioned. Yet, Muslim narrated this Hadith in his Sahih.

Also, it is narrated by Al-Daraqutny and Abu Dawud from Mak-hul on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) stated, “The Salah is obligatory on you behind every Muslim, pious or impious, even if he commits grave sins; Jihad (fighting/striving in the Cause of Allah) is incumbent on you along with every ruler, whether he is pious or impious, even if he commits grave sins”. [Abu Dawud – 2533]

Narrations from Sahaba that they use to pray behind Sinners :

It is stated in Sahih Al-Bukhari that `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) offered Salah behind Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf Al-Thaqafy. Also this was the approach of Anas ibn Malik; [knowing that] Al-Hajjaj was corrupt and tyrannical.

It is also mentioned in Sahih Al-Bukhari that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, They will lead you in Salah; if they offer it properly, it is for you both and if they offer it inappropriately, it is for you but against them. [Al Bukhari – 694]

It is narrated on the authority of `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Perform Salah behind whoever testifies, “There is no God but Allah,” and pray over whomever dies while professing that “There is no God but Allah.””. It is narrated by Al-Daraqutny through ways of narration that he deemed to be weak.

Ijma (Agreement of All scholars) on permissibility of praying behind a person whose condition is not known :

Know – may Allah have mercy on you and us – that the scholars unanimously agreed that it is permissible for one to offer Salah led by another who is not known to have committed any Bid`ah or any act of disobedience. It is not a condition for the Ma’mum (a person being led by an Imam in Prayer) to know the beliefs of his Imam or to test him in order to know his `Aqidah (creed). Rather, the Ma’mum is to pray behind the Imam without knowing the particulars of his beliefs.

Opinion of Majority of the Scholars on permissibility of praying behind a Sinner and a Innovator :

If the regular Imam, such as the Imam leading Jumu`ah prayer, the prayers of the two `Eids, or the Imam leading prayer in Hajj on the Day of `Arafah, happens to be Mubtadi` (one who introduces innovations in the religion) who calls people to adhere to his Bid`ah (innovation in Islam) or a manifest Fasiq (someone flagrantly violating Islamic law) and the Ma’mum cannot find another Imam to offer congregational Salah behind him; in such cases the Ma’mum is required to offer prayer behind these Imams according to the opinion of the majority of the Salaf (righteous predecessors) and other Muslim generations of scholars who came after them.

Compulsion of praying behind an Imam who is Sinner or Innovator if one couldn’t find any Imam other than him :

Accordingly, the one who neglects offering Jumu`ah and congregational Salah behind a corrupt Imam is a Mubtadi` (one who introduces innovations in Islam) according to the opinion of the majority of Muslim scholars. The sound opinion is that one is to offer Salah behind such Imam and not to repeat offering the same Salah afterwards.

The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) used to offer Jumu`ah and congregational Salah behind wicked Imams without repeating them. Also, `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) used to pray behind Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf as well as Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) as mentioned before.

`Abdullah ibn Mas`ud (may Allah be pleased with him) and other Companions used to pray behind Al-Walid ibn `Uqbah ibn Abu Mu`ayt who used to drink alcohol and as a result offered four Rak`ahs of Fajr prayer instead of two. He then suggested to offer more Rak`ahs. It was said to him by Ibn Mas`ud, “You have already prayed more than is due.”

In Sahih Al-Bukhari, it is narrated that when `Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) was placed under house arrest, a person led people in Salah. Someone said to `Uthman, “You are the Imam of all the Muslims but the person who led people in Salah is an Imam that will cause affliction.” He replied, “O nephew, verily, Salah is the best thing that people can do. Thus, if they do it properly, then do it along with them. But if they do it improperly, then avoid their wrong.”.

The Salah of both the Fasiq (someone flagrantly violating Islamic law) and the Mubtadi` (one who introduces innovations in Islam) is in itself valid. If the Ma’mum offers Salah behind such Imams, his Salah will be valid. The scholars who disapproved of performing Salah behind such Imams based their disapproval on the obligation of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil.

Boycotting the Imam who is a Sinner and praying another Masjid where a righteous Imam leads the prayers :

In addition, the one who publicly practices Bid`ah (innovation in Islam) and corruption is not to be appointed as a leader of Muslims because he deserves blame so that he may repent. If we can abandon him until he repents, this will be good. Some people may avoid being led by such Imam in Salah and offer it behind another Imam in hope that this will lead to resisting evil and will prompt him to repent
or else be replaced, or so people may cease to imitate his evil practices. If this is the case, abandoning him will lead to a Shar`y benefit, especially that the Ma’mum will miss neither the Jumu`ah nor the congregational Salah, as they will offer them in some other Masjid (mosque) behind another Imam.

Not boycotting the Imam who is a sinner if there is no other Masjid :

However, if the Ma’mum, by doing so, will miss the Jumu`ah and the congregational Salah, his act will be that of a Mubtadi` and thus contradicting the conduct of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them). Also if the Imam is appointed by those in authority and there is no Shar`y benefit in not performing Salah behind him, it will not be permissible to leave Salah behind him. Rather, offering Salah behind him will even be preferable.

Thus, if one can remove an aspect of evil concerning leading Salah, it is incumbent to do so. Yet, if such Imam is appointed by those in authority and one cannot stop him from leading people in Salah, or that one can stop him doing so but with greater harm, it will not be permissible to get rid of little harm by incurring a greater degree of it. Also, it is not permissible to get rid of the lesser of two evils by doing the greater of the two.

The divine laws are meant to achieve and protect interests, and to eliminate evils or reduce them as much as possible. Not performing Jumu`ah and congregational Salah has greater harm than offering Salah behind a corrupt Imam, especially when missing them does not lead to the removal of corruption. In such case, the Shar`y benefit will be thwarted without removing the evil.

If one can perform Jumu`ah Prayer and the congregational prayers behind a pious Imam, then this is better than offering them behind a corrupt one. As for one who prays behind a corrupt Imam without an excuse, his case is disputed by scholars; some said he has to repeat his Salah while others said he does not have to. This issue is explained in the books of Fiqh that deal with secondary questions. [Here ends the words of the commentators]. What is most accurate regarding the question mentioned above is not to repeat the Salah, due to the evidence mentioned above. In origin, repeating Salah is not required. They need not be repeated except with a special proof requiring that and we know not for sure that such proof exists.

Success is only from Allah.

Fatwa of : Shaykh Ibn Baz Rahimahullah

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