Q. If someone is leading a congregational prayer, and loses his wudu, what should s/he do? Does your answer apply to any member of the congregation who loses his/her wudu as well during the prayer? What does the imam or muqtadi do if s/he cannot leave the prayer without passing in front of someone who is praying, given that there is a reprimand from the hadith about this?

A. In the case of the imam losing wudu, s/he motions to the person behind to come forth and take over the prayer. S/he then exits to perform the wudu. A member of the congregation simply leaves the prayer to go and remake the wudu. Note that in both scenarios (i.e. the imam as well as the follower), the loss of the state of wudu temporarily suspends the prayer, but there is no necessary end to the prayer. Therefore, no taslim is required prior to leaving to re-perform the wudu. If the follower can return before the end of the prayer, s/he joins the prayer and continues, and makes up for what was missed. In the case of the imam, he cannot reassume his imamate, for the simple reason that his making up of rakaats in his position of imam would mean that the followers would be praying over and above the maximum.

Regarding this business about leaving the prayer without passing in front of someone who is praying, the imam is exempt from this, for according to another hadith, the sutra of the imam is the sutra of the people. Being who he is too, and given the greater problem if he stays, he simply heads towards the nearest exit, using his hands to move the people. Now assuming that he cannot leave because of heavy crowds, then it becomes a matter of ijtihad. For example, he can simply move to the side after having motioned to the person behind him to come and lead the prayer. He then remains in this position during the prayer, without praying. As for those who may say that he has missed the prayer, the obvious answer is that he missed it because of an emergency, and it was not a voluntary act on his part.

To those who may state that he could have made tayammum and continued, it is also a matter of ijtihad, which could conceivably cause problems. There are many who would not agree with him in this case, and he therefore resorts to the fiqh rule: "yutahammal al darrar al khaas li daf' al darrar al 'aam" -- private tribulation is borne to offset a greater tribulation (i.e. to the general public). He therefore endures the discomfort, and probably spiritual/mental discomfort of sitting there, embarrassed maybe, but it is all so that the congregation's prayer may continue with as little interruption as possible. When he can make the wudu after the prayer, he does so and completes that which he has missed. It should be noted that tradition and logic dictates that he should not talk or engage in any worldly affairs during this time, or during the time between which he sits down and waits, and the time he makes wudu, until he completes his prayer.

The muqtadi is more at liberty. Since he is not being followed and his prayer is essentially between him and Allah, he may, if he follows the ijtihad of those who allow it, resort to tayammum (see footnote). He may also, given the inconvenience and probable commotion that can result, simply stay in his place and not continue the prayer, making it up afterwards in much the same way as has been described for the imam.

Footnote: On the aspect of the permissibility of tayammum or not, there are variant opinions. The ayah, some state, clearly defines the condition for allowance "if you do not find water." In this case, water is available but not reachable, and it therefore can be found, hence the condition for tayammum does not apply. However, those who will allow it may seek resort to three contentions:

a) A hadith wherein a companion was faced with a situation where water was available, but it was cold. He (Amr bin al-Aas) made tayammum, and recited the verse: "Do not kill yourself, certainly Allah is most merciful to you." (The syllogism being made is that the water is available but its use entails several difficulties, and the worshipper here simply resorts to the general ruling that Allah wants that which is easy for us.)

b) We also have the ruling of al-Hasan al-Basri who stated that if a sick person has water but cannot find someone to pass it to him, then he can perform tayammum. The line of proof here is that the water for the sick man is as unavailable as to a person who is cut off from it by the crowds, and is afraid of the commotion he will cause. As to those who state that al-Basri is not the Prophet, the response is that his ruling was given at a very early time, and reflects the thinking of one familiar with the thought patterns of those who were the Prophet's contemporaries. They respected his rulings and in any case, it is simply ijtihad, which is the basis of the matter.

c) The ayah: "And if you do not find water" is to be read in conjunction with the verse that states "Allah does not demand from you more than you are able to do." The finding of water means to obtain it with relative ease, and therefore if one has to go through many difficulties to get at it, it comes under the ruling of unavailability, even though it may be in terms of physical proximity, just a few meters away. As I have stated, it becomes a matter of ijtihad, and my personal option is for the latter permissibility for the muqtadi. Since the imam will generally be permitted to circulate in peace among the people, I believe he should forego the prayer, and let someone else lead.

Posted April 12, 1999