Pray Behind the Virtuous and Sinful

وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه وسلم

There is an important point in Aqida al-Tahawiyah:

وَنَرَى الصَّلَاةَ خَلْفَ كُلِّ بَرٍّ وَفَاجِرٍ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْقِبْلَةِ وَعَلَى مَنْ مَاتَ مِنْهُمْ 

“We consider congregational prayer behind any of the people of qiblah, both the virtuous and the sinful, to be valid. We also pray over those among them who died.”

There are different narrations of ahadith with similar wordings on the topic, for example this one in Daraqutni:

صلوا خلفَ كلِّ برٍ وفاجرٍ وصلوا على كلّ برٍ وفاجرٍ وجاهدوا مع كل برٍ وفاجرٍ

“Pray behind every pious and sinful person, and pray upon (IE Janazah) every pious and sinful person, and strive (in jihad) with every pious and sinful person.”

Abu Dawud has two narrations as well:

الْجِهَادُ وَاجِبٌ عَلَيْكُمْ مَعَ كُلِّ أَمِيرٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا، وَالصَّلاَةُ وَاجِبَةٌ عَلَيْكُمْ خَلْفَ كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا وَإِنْ عَمِلَ الْكَبَائِرَ، وَالصَّلاَةُ وَاجِبَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا وَإِنْ عَمِلَ الْكَبَائِرَ

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Striving in the path of Allah (jihad) is incumbent on you along with every ruler, whether he is pious or impious; the prayer is obligatory on you behind every believer, pious or impious, even if he commits grave sins; the (funeral) prayer is incumbent upon every Muslim, pious and impious, even if he commits major sins. (Sunan Abi Dawud 2533)

الصَّلاَةُ الْمَكْتُوبَةُ وَاجِبَةٌ خَلْفَ كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ بَرًّا كَانَ أَوْ فَاجِرًا وَإِنْ عَمِلَ الْكَبَائِرَ

Abu Hurairah reported the Messenger of Allah(ﷺ) as saying:
The obligatory prayer is essential behind every Muslim, pious or impious, even if he has committed major sins (al-kaba’ir). (Sunan Abi Dawud 594)

Regardless of discussion on the authenticity of these various narrations, imam al-Tahawi included it in his aqida. So I would argue that any debate over their authenticity is a moot point for the topic–we only need to know that it is a point of our aqida, which we know.

I asked sheikh Abdul Nasr Jangda if the Mu’tazila were ahlul Qiblah and he said yes. That really changed how I thought about the ummah–they were some of the ultimate innovators, everybody across the board pretty much agrees upon that. Yet they still were “ahlul Qibla” (those who meet the bare minimum definition of what it is to be Muslim). Really puts the sectarian argumentation into perspective–and sheds light on where our attention is supposed to be. And when it comes to extremism, refutation culture, and polemics, it puts things into perspective–why waste your time? Leave it to the ulema’, even then most of them know better than to waste their time on such things that are unlikely to benefit your akhira, and more likely to harm yourself than remain unaffected by it.

وَنُسَمِّي أَهْلَ قِبْلَتِنَا مُسْلِمِينَ مُؤْمِنِينَ مَا دَامُوا بِمَا جَاءَ بِهِ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مُعْتَرِفِينَ وَلَهُ بِكُلِّ مَا قَالَهُ وَأَخْبَرَ مُصَدِّقِينَ

“We name the people who pray towards Mecca (ahl al-qiblah) as ‘Muslims’ and ‘believers’ as long as they remain upon (or acknowledge/confirm) what was brought by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, recognizing and confirming as true everything he said and reported.”

I doubt there’s any Muslim today among the average laymen who are on the level of deviation that the Mu’tazila were upon, be they Ash’ari, Maturidi, Salafi, Sufi, and even modern Shi’a. If the scholars whom you follow are telling you not to pray behind Salafis, Asharis, or Maturidis, etc, then consider looking for other scholars to follow. Speculation about deviation is itself a deviation–so unless such a person espouses and publicly promotes actual kufr, which all Sunnis would agree upon is kufr, then pray behind them. On this topic, the next point in aqida al-Tahawiyah brilliantly is:

وَلَا نُنْزِلُ أَحَدًا مِنْهُمْ جَنَّةً وَلَا نَارً اوَلَا نَشْهَدُ عَلَيْهِمْ بِكُفْرٍ وَلَا بِشِرْكٍ أَهْلُ الْقِبْلَةِ لَا يُكَفَّرُونَ وَلَا بِنِفَاقٍ مَا لَمْ يَظْهَرْ مِنْهُمْ شَيْءٌ مِنْ ذَلِكَ وَنَذَرُ سَرَائِرَهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى

“We do not declare any of them to be in Paradise or Hellfire. We also do not accuse any of them of disbelief (kufr), idolatry (shirk), or hypocrisy (nifaq), as long as none of that manifests (يظهر) from them. We resign their inner states to Allah ta’ala.”

The default assumption is that they’re Muslim, until proven otherwise. It’s not a kangaroo court where we assume you’re guilty until you prove you’re innocent. If someone is not following a sect that the entire ummah agrees upon is outside of the fold of Islam, then assume the best about them. Stick to husn al-zhunn (حسن الظن), laa adree (لا أدري), and Allahu ‘alam and focus on your relationship with Allah ta’ala and your heart, which is what really matters to our akhira.

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said:

يُصَلُّونَ لَكُمْ، فَإِنْ أَصَابُوا فَلَكُمْ، وَإِنْ أَخْطَئُوا فَلَكُمْ وَعَلَيْهِمْ

“If the Imam leads the prayer correctly then he and you will receive the rewards but if he makes a mistake (in the prayer) then you will receive the reward for the prayer and the sin will be his.” (al-Bukhari 694)

Pray behind the imams in your local masajid. If there are several masajid and one imam is closer to what you believe, feel free to prefer that one. But the main point I want to focus on is don’t stop praying in the masjid over petty polemics. Don’t assume to know what your imam believes, until he publicly espouses and promotes it. Even then, if he does, is he still within the fold of ahlul Qiblah?

A hadith I’ve been thinking about:

وعن عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه عن النبى صلى الله عليه وسلم قال‏:‏ “لا يدخل الجنة من كان في قلبه مثقال ذرة من كبر” فقال رجل” إن الرجل يحب أن يكون ثوبه حسناً ونعله حسناً‏؟‏ قال‏:‏ “إن الله جميل يحب الجمال الكبر بطر الحق وغمط الناس” ‏(‏‏(‏رواه مسلم‏)‏‏)‏‏.‏ 

‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: 
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who has, in his heart, a tiny weight of arrogance (مثقال ذرة من كبر) will not enter Jannah.” Someone said: “A man likes to wear beautiful clothes and shoes?” Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Allah is Beautiful, He loves beauty. Arrogance means ridiculing and rejecting the Truth and looking down upon people.” [Muslim

The heart/qalb is a vitally important part of our relationship with Allah ta’ala to pay attention to. If you want to achieve the highest ranks, then think high of the ummah, even those who wronged you. Many sins will be forgiven on Qiyamah, but what about our hearts? 

Aqida Tahawiyah is truly a gem and a beacon of nur. Worth studying many times over. I intend to study it many more times, if Allah ta’ala permits.

I recommend for every Muslim on every level to listen to sheikh Hamza Maqbul’s series on this text, which can be found for free here on YouTube.

Note: Remember that general statements may not always apply to specific cases. If in doubt, ask scholars you trust. Consider asking several scholars depending on the case, sometimes others will add more nuance that others miss. Different countries and localities can have different situations as well, so know that I am writing this in the USA. Use wisdom and ask Allah tala’a to guide you to what is best.

والله أعلم

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