Q. I once heard a Shaykh give instructions regarding the janazah prayer and he mentioned that after the fourth takbeer, only one salaam is made and that is the salaam to the right. However, I have prayed the janazah prayer behind many Imams and they all make two salaams, i.e. one to the right and one to the left. Your perspective on this would be sincerely appreciated.

A. There is difference of opinion among the madhahib on the matter, but it would seem that the Shaykh is supported by stronger evidence. The matter has been discussed at length in the books of fiqh and sunna. I will give you my personal views and abridged translations from two excerpts, one from the book Hashiyat al Rawd al Murbi -- which is a textbook in the Shari'a colleges in Saudi Arabia, and also an excerpt from Shaykh Muhammad Nasir al-din al-Albani. Please note that when we say "abridged translations" we do not in any way edit the meaning. However, since there is a text and commentary being translated in one, we feel that the use of parentheses in text can be distracting and lead to false conclusions. We also mean that the English we use is in terms of meaning rather than in terms of word by word translation.

From Hashiyat al Rawd al Murbi (Vol 3, p.96)

Then one makes a single taslim to his right. Al-Jurjani reported from Ata b. al-Sa'ib that the Prophet (s) made a single taslim at a janaza... It was said to Ahmad: Do you know of anyone of the companions who used to make two taslims for a janaza? He replied: "No, but from six companions of the Prophet (s), that they used to make a single, light taslim. Al-Bayhaqi reported the same from ten companions of the Prophet. Ibn Qayyim said: "This is what is known from Ibn Abi Awfaa." ...And it is more applicable in the situation, and forms the bulk of what has been reported regarding the taslim, and it is the position of the majority of scholars of the companions and the tabi'in. Also because the janaza prayer is built on ease (the lightening of duties). Ibn al-Mubarak said: "Whosoever made two taslims over a janaza is ignorant, ignorant."

The Qadi (Abi Ya'ala) considered two taslims as mustahab, and one as sufficient. This is the position of Shafi'i and the Hanafis. Al-Muwafaq said: "The position of the Qadi (Abi Ya'ala) is different to that of his Imam and his companions, the ijma of the sahaba and the followers...

My own comment: Al-Albani, basically supports the two taslims, examining isnads that are sound, and also reporting from sahih Muslim that the Prophet (s) used to make two taslims in prayer. However, it must be pointed out here that one is talking about the normal prayer and not about a funeral prayer. One needs to note that as stated in the excerpt above, the funeral prayer is as light as possible. Al-Albani writes: It is allowable to limit oneself to the first taslim only, based on the hadith of Abu Hurairah: That the messenger of Allah (s) prayed over a janaza, made four takbirs over it, and made a single taslim."(Reported in Daraqutni, al-Hakim, al-Baihaqi. Its isnads are good. This is supported by the report of Ata b. al-Sa'ib that the Prophet made a single taslim over a janaza. This is reported by Baihaqi without a full isnad. It is further supported by the actions of a group of Sahaba. For al-Hakim said: "The report in the matter is authenticated by Ali b. Abi Talib, Abdullah b. Umar, Abdullah b. Abbas, Jabir b. Abdullah, Abdullah b. Abi Awfa, and Abu Hurairah -- that they used to make a single taslim over the janaza.

Al-Dhahabi has agreed with this, and al-Baihaqi had found the lines of transmission for most of these reports, and has added "Wathila b. al-Ashqa, Abu Umama and others." As far as ascribing authenticity to the narration of Ibn Abu Awfa, however, I have some reservations, since in its sanad is Al-Jarrah b. Mulaih, and he is weak...p.162 in "Akham al Janaiz wa bid'uha."

From the foregoing, it can be seen that both positions would seem to be correct. The fact, however, that we have reports of the companions doing so, in a case where there is a specific janaza, as opposed to following the hadith which refer to taslim in general as being two, gives more weight to the supporters of one taslim only. Needless to say, one should not get into any long debate on this issue, for it is peripheral to the main thing -- which is that a Muslim be buried in the Muslim manner. I assume you know that there are differences regarding the number of takbirs that can be performed, as to where the prayer can be performed, and when the prayer can be performed.

The matter that you ask about is the most insignificant of the differences, it would seem. I need point out something too, whenever a Shaykh (and by this, I assume you use the term to denote one who has studied at an Islamic University in the Middle East or one who has been sent by one of the governments of the Muslim Middle Eastern countries to instruct in religion, who would necessarily fulfill the first condition except in the case of Qur'anic recitation) advises you on something, you should not predicate your acceptance of his view based on what the Imams of your country, or the Imams in general do. This is because we know that the Imams from several regions -- the Caribbean, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, etc. in many instances have very little or no seminary training. This becomes a problem when their views override that of someone trained in Islam.

We are not advocating that any Shaykh is to be blindly followed, but we do feel that in a case where a choice has to be made, the benefit of the doubt should be in favor of the one who has studied at a Middle Eastern based university. For he generally has his proof and is willing to provide it, unlike most of the untrained Imams. And Allah knows best.

Posted October 13, 2000