Q. Is it lawful under the rules of Islamic worship for an Imam to perform the `Id prayer at one masjid and then drive off to another mosque to carry out the same `Id prayer at that second masjid, which has competent people to lead the `Id prayer?

From my limited knowledge, it appears that the Imam's prayer at the first masjid is wajib (if that was his first), while his prayer at the second is nafil; at the same time, the prayer of the muqtadis at the second masjid is wajib. Can (or should) an Imam with nafil (optional) obligation lead a prayer that is wajib for the muqtadis? How does one reconcile this contradictory situation? What are the rules and what is your verdict?

A. Your questions, while relating to the same issue, have different answers if taken in an atomistic fashion. The answer to question one is a flat no. The Eid salaat is to be done once. Secondly, the prayer is generally regarded on the part of the muqtadi as a sunnah (see footnote). This is further narrowed to the prayer time being specific -- quite early, and if one misses it, then so be it, it is missed. As far as the Imam is concerned, it becomes a duty for him to lead, and once it is done, it is finished. He should not go to another community and lead under normal circumstances. Besides, if the community is that near that he can go there within the allowed time limit, then there is no reason why the prayer should not have been one for both communities, as is exhorted by the Islamic norms for Eid. This is why the prayer is not usually done in a masjid, but at some place big enough for the entire community to congregate, or better yet, many communities to congregate. There is also the problem of "dissing" another Imam, and the Imam himself being dissed. In our administrations, there is usually an executive board that decides who is going to lead the Eid prayer. This is against the Islamic protocol regarding the Imam's rights. It is his right to say who leads and who does not. And when one is competent to lead, or is the Imam, no committee has a right to overrule him and call someone else, since the hadith states: "No man shall lead another in his domain, or sit in his place except by his (the latter's permission)."

The second question I know is related to the first, and the answer is again that it is unlawful. But there are certain things that make the matter distinct. For example, in the Eid situation, the Imam cannot lead the prayer as nafil and then as fard (see footnote). Nowhere, in no salat is it allowed. If he were the muqtadi in the first salat, there are those who would probably allow him to lead it elsewhere as a general permission. But the case you outline is specific. He was the Imam at one, and wants to be the Imam at another for the same prayer. Simply put, this is a bid'ah. In the normal observance of the five prayers, what can happen is that he prays the zuhr (as the imam). He comes to a congregation that has not yet prayed zuhr, and the time for asr has come. Purely for legal reasons, the Imam can lead the prayer with the muqtadis praying with the intention of zuhr, and he with the intention of asr. The Eid is different, for this not only a prayer, but involves a khutba, which means that he gives two khutbas. This is not done, as is evidenced by its lack of occurrence in the Friday prayer, which is the closest thing that can be syllogised to the Eid prayer.

[Footnote: The Eid prayer is not a fard on every Muslim, but in the rulings of Fard Kifayah, is fard on the Imam. For the Muslim community uses this as one of the "sha'aa'ir" of Islam. As Suyuti said: "It is among the distinguishing characteristics (Khasaa'is) of this Ummah." And it is incumbent on the Imam that he lead it, for he may not say that he does not want to, unless there is some compelling reason which would affect any prayer in the same circumstance. (As far as the Eid prayer being fard or not, please note that there is difference of opinion on it, and I choose to follow the middle path, it seeming the most logical to me. The general Hanbali view is that it is fard kifayah, Malik and Shafi'i consider it as sunnah, and Abu Hanifah considers it fard ain -- going along with the ayah of Sura Al Kawthar). Regardless of which madhab one follows, it is nonetheless, in the case of the Imam, a fard. Please note too that in some madhahib, when one uses the term sunnah, it means that fard which is established by the authority of the Prophet as opposed to the Qur'an. In the case of Shafi'i and Malik, it would seem to indicate this, as Suyuti himself was a Shafi'ite and put it as a distinguishing characteristic of Islam.]

Posted December 22, 1999