What is the ruling on praying behind an innovator?
The innovator is of two types: If his bid’ah is kufr then it is not permissible to pray behind him and if his bid’ah is not kufr then the prayer behind him is correct. However, if you find a masjid upon the Sunnah then it is better for you to pray there even if it were far away. So leave off (praying in) the masājid of innovation for what it includes from increasing their numbers and being influenced by their manners and the lack of tranquility in the prayer and you could possibly hear deception and doubts. This is considered a type of ordering with the good and forbidding the evil as Sheikh-Al Islām mentioned -may Allah have mercy on him- in Majmoo’ Al-Fatāwa.
Some of the scholars see that the prayer behind an innovator is incorrect and that it should be repeated however the majority (of the scholars) see that it is correct and this is the correct opinion. So as long as the innovator is still Muslim and his bid’ah doesn’t lead him to kufr then the prayer behind him is correct and if there is another Sunni Masjid then it is better to pray there. Also if it is possible to change this imam after him being advised then this is good as long at there aren’t any problems for problems should be avoided.
The questioner says “And if he prays behind an innovator without continuation while he is able to pray behind a Sunni is he to be rebuked and told this is not appropriate?”
Yes [the Prophet ﷺ said] “The souls are like recruited soldiers, they get mixed up with those similar with them in qualities and oppose and drift away from those who do not share their qualities”. (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Āishah-may Allah be pleased with her)
How are the people in their wordly matters, they don’t say “that is far away”? He wants to buy something and is told it is 10,000 (yemeni riyal) however there is a better quality with so and so, maybe he is a distance away of 1 or 2 kilometers for 20,000, where will he go? He’ll go there. So why isn’t it like that with prayer? The one that is upon sunnah if he goes (to a Sunni masjid) he won’t meet people except upon tawhīd and Sunnah and if he goes he finds beneficial lessons and sermons from the Qur’an and Sunnah. He won’t find those who call to innovation and misguidance and ignorance.
So yes this person should be advised, however if someone went to work and it’s not possible for him to pray (in a Sunni masjid) because of his work so he had to pray in that masjid then there is no problem with that.
As for if this is his habit that he didn’t go to masājid that are upon sunnah and doesn’t attend their lessons then he had deprived himself of good and exposes himself to evil. The Prophet ﷺ said “the man is upon the religion of his friend so look at who you befriend” reported by Abu dawūd and At-Tirmidhi on the authority of Abu Hurairah with a good chain of narrators and it is in Sheikh Muqbil’s book-may Allah have mercy upon him- As-Sahīh Al-Musnad. Also Ibn Masūd said “judge the people by their friends”. And from that which is said between the people is “the your companion drags you” and also “you become like the one you sit with”.
So if the person who Allah has given understanding, hearing and sight becomes affected by animals, what do you think would happen with a person who has eloquent speech?
The Prophet ﷺ mentioned that arrogance is found with the camel herders as they become affected by them because camels need harshness from what they have from haughtiness, so the person becomes affected and gains this characteristic with him raising his camels. So what do you think will happen if you always pray with these people and they maybe smile in your face and give you perfume and presents and maybe one of them said “Mā shā Allah your nice, not like those harsh people. Your friends may Allah guide them, they have harshness however your nice and have good manners”.
Therefore because of this, stay away from them, oh my brother, may Allah bless you. Also you avoid trials, if an trial came to that Masjid you would be safe.
And Allah knows best.
Answered by: Shaikh Abu Abdillah Muhammad Ba Jamaal (May Allah preserve him)
Translated by: Abu Musa Jamaal al-Britani