Q: During the congregational salat, some imams make a long enough pause after the recitation of Al Fatiha to allow their followers to read it silently, while others immediately move on to the next sura. Is the audience supposed to read it again after the imam?

Also, I have heard some Muslims (who claim to follow the Hanafi school) say that when performing the Zuhr and Asr prayers in congregation, the imam recites for all of the followers, so they do not have to recite anything, just follow his actions. Is this correct?

A: There is controversy on this, for the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) said: "The one who has not read Fatiha has not prayed." Thus some of the people take this as a command to be followed by everyone. They forget that in a communal prayer, the recitation of the imam is the recitation of the people. The people who wait are in fact reading Fatiha twice, and making the prayer longer than it should be, doing something which the Prophet did not sanction. There is no hadith, as far as I know, where the Prophet paused in between the Fatiha and the subsequent sura to allow the muqtadis to read. Besides, when one comes late, and the imam is in ruku, he does the ruku without repeating the rakaat. Why? Isn't it because the imam's recitation is considered as covering for all?

We therefore cannot assume and put rulings on salat, the main thing is for it to be easy. There would be no need for communal salat if their reasoning is followed, since Fatiha is the bare minimum. If each person has to read it for himself, then why congregate? And what are they doing when the imam is reciting? Are they not following in their minds, and is this not reading? This is what happens when people try to introduce rules and draw parameters that flaunt Allah's mercy.

Regarding the second part of your question, the Hanafis have erred on this, for the qira'at (recitation) of the imam is only when there is jahri salat (audible recitation) involved. In the sirri salat (silent recitation), every person prays for himself. In the jahri we have to remain quiet and listen, for Allah tells us that when the Qur'an is recited, we must remain quiet and listen to it. The hadith on the prayer dictate the same thing.

Now in the sirri, there is no prayer heard, only the lips of the person are supposed to move, and no sound should issue (this was the prayer of Hannah according to the Talmud). Are we therefore going to stand there and do nothing? We are told to reflect upon the Qur'an, but we cannot hear the imam, so what are we going to reflect upon? In prayer, there is no prayer except with Fatiha, and in the sirri that qira'at becomes fard ayn (obligatory).

Posted January 11, 1999