Joining Feet to Straighten Prayer-Rows: Is it a Sunnah?
Q. As part of straightening the rows for congregational prayer (salat al-jama‘ah), is it required or recommended that each person join their feet with those standing either side of them?
A. Two issues need addressing here. Firstly, the importance of straightening the rows and the care and attention our Prophet ﷺ gave to it. Secondly, the manner in which prayer-rows are to be straightened.
As for those hadiths which insist prayer-rows must be straightened, the following is a representative selection:
1. Anas relates; the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Straighten your rows and keep close together, for indeed I see you from behind my back.’1
2. Abu Mas‘ud al-Ansari related that the Prophet ﷺ would touch our shoulders at the prayer, saying: ‘Straighten [your rows] and do not differ, lest your hearts differ.’2
3. Abu Umamah relates the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Straighten your rows, stand shoulder to shoulder, be soft upon your brother and fill the gaps, for the devil enters through the gaps like the small lambs.’3
4. Ibn ‘Abbas relates; the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The best of you are those whose shoulders are the gentlest in the prayer.’4
5. Anas also relates that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Stand close together in your rows, keep them near each other and stand neck to neck. By Him in whose hand is my life, I see the devil entering between the gaps as do the small lambs.’5
6. Al-Nu‘man b. Bashir related that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Straighten your rows. For by Allah, if you do not straighten your rows, Allah will separate your hearts.’6
The above hadiths demonstrate that straightening the rows for prayer, and filling the gaps between people standing in prayer, is highly emphasised; a few jurists holding it to be obligatory.7 We further see that being neglectful about doing so could result in hearts being at odds with one another (as per the 2nd and 6th hadith): the shari’ah of Islam loathing even the slightest cause of disunity.
As for how the rows must be aligned and straightened, the following two companion-reports seem to lie at the heart of the contention:
Firstly, having related the 1st hadith, Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, went on to say: ‘I saw each one of us join shoulder to shoulder and ankle bone to ankle bone with that of his companion.’8
Secondly, at the end of the 6th hadith, al-Nu‘man b. Bashir, may Allah be pleased with him, remarked: ‘I saw each man join shoulder to shoulder with that of his companion, knee to knee with that of his companion, and ankle bone to ankle bone with that of his [companion].’9
In recent decades, and based upon these two companion-reports, some now hold that one is to literally [physically] join shoulders and feet with the persons praying either side of them. This they believe is the Sunnah that is to be maintained throughout the entire length of time one is standing in the prayer. At first glance, the opinion seems to be quite validated. But shine a little light on this claim and some quirky problems begin to show themselves.
Now before spotlighting some of these anomalies, it’s worth getting a grip on what’s at stake here. For this isn’t intended to be a bit of a fiqhi argy-bargy for its own sake. Not at all! Instead, the fact of the matter is that the above claim (that one is required to literally join shoulders and feet) is something of a point of dogma with many of its advocates. To them, this act isn’t only prescribed by the shari‘ah; more than that, it is: ‘an abandoned Sunnah that must be revived.’10 Who has it been abandoned by? Well, apparently not just by the ordinary laymen; those unschooled in the finer points of fiqh. But by the vast majority of the fuqaha and ‘ulema too! And just how long has this alleged Sunnah been abandoned? Apparently for more than a thousand years; in other words, for the majority of Islam’s fourteen hundred year history.
That’s not all: feeling more than a little privileged at being told of a sunnah neglected for the past millennium, the advocates are enjoined ‘to call the people to it, until they unify upon it’.11 Such is the spirit of dogma and missionary zeal which has been bred, that those who differ with this stance – even if they be from the ranks of the qualified scholars – can find themselves accused of ‘denigrating and belittling the status of the Sunnah.‘12 Lamentably, such can be the stakes.
So what are these anomalies? And how should the above two companion-reports be understood? As it happens, they’re quite straightforward to grasp. They do not require a trained juristic mind.
For instance, the norm among such practitioners is that they will get their shoulders and feet to literally touch the shoulder and foot of those standing either side of them in the prayer row. Yet why limit it to shoulders and feet; to just these two body parts? Where’s the proof? For doesn’t one of the reports mention knees as well?
To stand in the prayer, with not only shoulders and sides of the feet touching those on either side, but the sides of the knees too, makes for a highly awkward and difficult standing. For many, getting the knees to physically touch those praying on either side requires having to stand bandy-legged: standing with one’s legs curved outwards such that one’s knees are pushed wider apart and closer to one’s neighbours’. Is this gawky and ungraceful posture really what’s called for?
Furthermore, the apparent wordings of the reports do not actually mention feet, but rather anklebones (al-kabayn). Again, what’s the proof for not taking this literally? It could well be a case of the fiqh maxim: itlaq al-ba‘d wa iradat al-kul – ‘mentioning the part, but intending the whole.’ But what’s the proof for this being the case?
And if, as some die hards attempt to do, one insists on physically joining anklebone to anklebone, many people will not only be standing bandy-legged, but they’d also have to turn their feet outwards slightly in order for their anklebone to be physically joined to that of their companion. Such a standing goes from being awkward and unseemly, to being a tad gruelling and insufferable. As for how one can maintain the prescribed sakinah and adab – the tranquility, composure and dignified courtesy – in the prayer, in such a standing, it does beggar belief.
And what about the Prophet’s directive ﷺ to align the necks (as per the 5th hadith)? Should they be touching too? Obviously not!
Given the quirks and conundrums a literal reading of these hadith and reports throw up, a better reading of the reports could be what one contemporary scholar wrote: ‘All this – to straighten [the rows]; keep them aligned; and fill in the gaps – doesn’t mean that [the bodily parts] must physically touch. For getting necks to touch is impossible. Keeping shoulders touching throughout the entire standing is clearly taxing. Getting knees to touch is impossible. And ankles touching is, to an extent, unattainable … It is therefore evident that being close is from a single perspective, and it is in four things: necks, shoulders, knees and ankles. What is intended is to urge the establishment of the rows, keep them aligned and consolidate them: without any crookedness or gaps. By this, the aim of the Lawgiver is attained.’13
The above reading is more in keeping with what earlier, classical jurists have stated on the matter – as will follow shortly.
If, for a moment, we put aside talk of how right or not the ‘physical-touching’ reading is, yet even the application of it is often so very wrong. For what this opinion devolves down to a lot of the time is: fidgeting in the prayer so as to get feet touching; wedging one’s foot tightly against another’s (its detractors call it ‘foot-jamming’); and standing with feet so far apart that it causes huge gaps between peoples’ shoulders. Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymin once remarked:
‘From the extremism in this issue is what is done by some people, in that one of them will join his ankle with that of his companion, but his feet will be so wide apart that there will be a gap between his shoulder and that of his neighbour’s; thus opposing the Sunnah by doing so. Rather the aim is that shoulders and ankles should be aligned with one another.’14
Blinded by their uncritical convictions, such people fail to see how they contradict the Sunnah of filling the gaps, due to standing with feet so wide apart that it causes large gaps between people’s shoulders.
They fail to see how they breach the duty of limbs being reverent, tranquil and still; or hearts being attentive, mindful and focused (collectively called khushu‘), in the prayer, because of constantly fidgeting and foot-jamming.
And they fail to see how they violate the prescribed gentleness towards those praying next to them (as per the 4th hadith), because of an extreme reading, confusing means with ends, and an unwarranted rigidness in religious practice.
The bulk of jurists down the ages have understood the reports which mention knees and ankles are to be joined, to mean that they could be utilised to help align the rows; not that they should physically touch. Explaining al-Bukhari’s words in his Sahih al-Bukhari: ‘Chapter: Joining Shoulder to Shoulder and Foot to Foot in the Prayer-Row’, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani stated: ‘What is meant by this is to exaggerate [the importance of] straightening the rows and filling the gaps (al-mubalaghah fi ta‘dil al-saff wa saddi khalalihi).’15
After citing the above statement of Ibn Hajr, Shaykh Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri noted: ‘It is [also] the intended meaning in the view of the jurists from the Four Schools (al-fuqaha al-arba‘ah).’16
Al-Shawkani explains the hadith (no.3) which orders to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder’ to mean: ‘Aligning the body parts with one another so that the shoulders of each person praying are arranged and in line with the shoulders of others. In this way, shoulders and necks will be aligned.’17
To conclude: One hadith states that: ‘Allah’s Messenger ﷺ would straighten our rows as though he were straightening the shaft of an arrow, until he saw that we had learnt it. One day he came out and was about to commence the prayer, when he noticed a man whose chest was protruding from the row. He said: “O slaves of Allah! Straighten your rows, or else Allah may cause dissension among you.”’18
As to the expression: ‘he would straighten our rows as though he were straightening the shaft of an arrow’, Imam al-Nawawi explains that an arrow’s shaft (qidah) ‘is the long, wooden part of an arrow that is pared and trimmed [until it is as straight as can be] … Meaning that he paid great attention to making the rows straight, as if he were sparing no effort to straighten an arrow and keep it uncurved as possible.’19
This alone should help us realise just how punctilious we each should be to keep the prayer lines straight and to fill in the gaps. There’s an even greater responsibility upon the person who leads the prayer to ensure that this happens. The Sunnah demands we show no slackness in this, as part of our reverent quest to be present with Allah in the actual prayer.
As for how the prayer-rows are to be formed and straightened, we’ve seen that there is no requirement to join feet or knees with those praying on either side, such that they physically touch. Ironically, insisting upon only this view and refusing to accept the validity of any other scholarly view, creates the very schism between Muslims that the hadiths wish us to avoid. Classical jurists chose not to follow such a literal reading of the reports, not out of neglect on their part (as some would have us believe); but out of a keen knowledge of the intent of the reports. Their collective juristic wisdom also came down in favour of worshippers each standing with their feet roughly the width of four fingers apart, or even a handspan, presumably to reflect a sense of humility of posture.20 In this way, each person aligns their shoulders with those on either side of them and ensures that gaps are gently filled. The worshippers may then focus on the Great Encounter that lies immediately ahead of them: Allahu akbar!
And Allah knows best.
1. Al-Bukhari, no.719.
2. Muslim, no.432.
3. Ahmad, Musnad, no.21760. It was confirmed as authentic (sahih) in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.1840.
4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.672. The hadith, with its collective support, is sahih – as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.2533.
5. Abu Dawud, no.667; al-Nasa’i, no.814, with a sahih chain. See: al-Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 2000), 4:227; and Albani, Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud (Kuwait: Dar Ghiras, 2002), no.673; al-Arna’ut, Sunan Abi Dawud (Damascus: Dar al-Risalah al-‘Alamiyyah, 2009), 2:9.
6. Abu Dawud, no.662 and its chain is sahih. Cf. Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.32.
7. Like al-Bukhari, Ibn Hazm and al-Shawkani. See: al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 2:266; al-Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar (Dar al-Mustaqbal, 2005), 3:211.
8. Al-Bukhari, no.719. Shaykh al-Albani wrote: ‘This addition also occurs in the report of al-Mukhallis and Ibn Abi Shaybah [1/351] with the following wording: Anas said, “I saw each of us joining our shoulders with those of our companions and our feet with those of our companions. If you were to do this today, a person would flee [from you] like a restless mule.” And its chain is also authentic, according to the conditions of the two Shaykhs.’ Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, 1:1:71; no.31.
9. Abu Dawud, no.662.
10. Al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah, 1:1:70; no.31.
11. ibid., 1:1:73; no.32
12. ibid., 1:1:73.
13. Bakr Abu Zayd, La Jadid fi Ahkam al-Salah (Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah, 1998), 14.
14. Majmu‘ Fatawa wa Rasa’il (Riyadh: Dar al-Watn, 1992), 13:52; no.428.
15. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2012), 2:561.
16. Fayd al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2005), 2:302.
17. Nayl al-Awtar (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2006), 6:113.
18. Al-Bukhari, no.717; Muslim, no.436.
19. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 4:131.
20. See: al-Kashmiri, Fayd al-Bari, 2:302.
Asalaamu Alaykum Shaykh,
JazakAllahu khairan for this post. A concise yet comprehensive elucidation. However, it is a real shame that this topic still needs to be addressed and revived, even though it has been done to death…and then some.
Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.
While I agree this topic has been written about in plentiful measure, Ive been wanting to put something in writing for the past eighteen years. So I finally did.
How much the topic still needs to be addressed is a bit subjective. In many communities the issue isn’t that explosive or divisive any more. People have opted for one position or the other without a great deal of fuss, schism or bad blood.
Unfortunately, there are a few places and individuals where it’s still seen as a defining mark of who’s truly orthodox and who’s not. And that certainly is a real shame. But hopefully, such infantile and hizbi attitudes are rapidly dwindling.
Alhamdulillah a very comprehensive article written indeed and hadiths explained. I have a sneaky feeling a few may still be blinded by their zealousness. Inshallah this Article will help redirect peoples thinking to a more open minded view of classical islam. I do however wonder how on earth this practice even came about surely any respectable scholar would have spotted
Thank you for your comment adammeah. I hope the article achieves some of the aims you’ve mentioned. As for how a tiny handful of scholars arrived at this view … well, however they did, we need to be respectful of genuine scholarship and remember that even the best steeds can stumble.
JazakAllah! Sounds like another simple command convoluted by the literalists. Common sense and moderation: if we all applied a little of this to our daily lives, perhaps we could be closer to the path set by our Liegelord.
I share the generality of your sentiment. Common sense and moderation: such precious commodities; and today in such short supply. May Allah grant us tawfiq.
In my Masjid, they all physically connect their shoulders and feets to the point where you can see the discomfort. It is so bad, I no longer pray at the Masjid because sometimes you can’t even breathe.
That kind of discomfort probably requires our pity. May Allah guide and protect us all.
Great article. May it be widely accepted and understood. Touching of the feet appears to have become a pillar of the prayer to some.
That is the hope, that Allah grant understanding and acceptance; and if not, then even an uneasy truce.
There are a few (sadly) controversial issues which are oft-discussed, the topic of this article included. However, I always find your articles to be the best and first resources I send to people when they ask about such issues. They always summarize the topic excellently. Barak Allahu fikum.
I do accept that this topic has possible been over-toasted. Thank you for your generous comment, nonetheless.
So refreshing to read analysis that scratches well below the surface. Jzk!
Jazakallahu khayran for your kind remarks, Sr Fareena. It means a lot coming from a pioneer like yourself in the area of Muslim news and reflection in print.
You’d think, by looking at some people pray, they are trying to span the Grand Canyon, so wide apart are their feet. I’ll let you into a little secret, I used to be one of those people, ssh!
If secrets are to be revealed, from the late-eighties to the mid-nighties, I too was an advocate of touching shoulders and feet (and with a few people, sides of the knees). I was never a Grand-Canyoner though. I had my limits.
This was once known as the ‘Salafi horse stance’.
By now, I think most of us have said neigh to that!
MashAllah tabarakAllah a another very enlightening read. My only concern is that we try and avoid the tension depending on the masjid, I still touch my feet to my neighbours and not touch the feet of my neighbours when appropriate.
I still follow the opinion of touching shoulder to shoulder and feet to feet. But I will be not entertain a dispute/ discussion regarding this. dispute should be more with ourselves in making sure our connection is strong with our Rabb in Salah.
May AllahSWT give Us and me hidaya, protect Us and me. Amin
also lets not fall into the danger of looking down or feeling negativity towards a brother for indeed there will be shaitan inspiring divisions.
May Allah reward you abundantly for trying to keep the peace between Muslims, and for your tolerance too.
I think the crux of the issue here is in this famous maxim: “Do not adopt an opinion if you don’t have an Imam to precede you.” And it is felt by most scholars, that this view of physically touching feet and knees does not have a precedence in a clear-cut fatwa, ruling or stipulation from one of the early fuqaha.
And Allah knows best.
Maybe a bit of a rant here. Many, many years ago, because of the people I took my deen from, I was convinced that this was a fundamental issue, and that scholars who did not insist on it, or who differed, were “problematic”. The bigger issue is how many of these kinds of items there were where I felt the same way, thinking that just because the minhaj I followed said this, every other opinion was WRONG. Over the years, I have learnt how WRONG I was. Among some of these items which I know now feel come under the same category – some of which you have spoken about in other posts – are:
* Can’t follow a madhab
* Beard must be of a certain length
* Music is haram
* All clothes must be above the ankles
* Milaad is a completely unacceptable bidah
* Reciting the Quran for deceased is a completely unacceptable bidah
* That one cannot eat from food provided by someone earning haram earnings
* That parents can be rebelled against if they prevent you from being involved in Islamic activites
* That gold in a circular form is haram, even for women
* That reading 20 taraweeh was sinful
Over the years, as I have matured and tried to dig deeper outside the minhaj I was exposed to, I have realized that for all these matters there are different, authentic opinions from real scholars. I kind of feel pretty upset that I allowed myself to discard all other opinions based on the sliver of knowledge I had and which made sense to me.
Ok, rant over!
Salams br Hamayoun.
I’m certain many people can relate to what you’ve written, to a larger or lesser extent; including myself. The problem, in many of the above listed cases, was a lack tolerance and smug arrogance in areas of legitimate differing. In a few of the above issues, it was a matter of following rulings that actually opposed Sunni orthodoxy. In both situations it was, as the hadith states, a case of dal mudill – “misguided and misguiding”.
It is Allah’s sheer grace that He guides a person from such a tainted attitude and path, to a more normative one. And for that we must give thanks.
And while, after tawbah, we hope Allah’s mercy and magnanimity may excuse our folly, we must also realise the following:
In some instances, a person can be a sincere seeker of the truth, but unwittingly become misguided. In other instances, it’s a case of the dal mudill deserving each other.
And we seek refuge in Allah from both.
i have a general question about shariah and this modern push to reform islam.
islamic hadd laws such as apostasy, stoning, lashing, capital punishment for various crimes can they enforced without an islamic state or caliph? how are hadd punishments relevant to your ordinary muslim today? there are half baked muslim governments partially implementing shariah law is this a case of better than nothing.
is there a principle in islam or usul where the jurists derive a law based on the benefits, harms to society? if so could some of these hadd rulings be revisted or reformed in the light of the world we live in. I heard a lecture by tim winters were he mentioned numerous muftis attended a conference and came to the conclusion that at most apostatsy would merit a prison sentence. Is this not an example
of small reforms which are valid? I also heard that hamza yusuf mention that alot of this work is yet to be done.
i wonder if you have written anything in the past or intend to in the future to address some of these questions.
Your question is probably the most pressing issue of our time. I’ve been wanting to write something about it for a while now, but it is rather complex and the juristic conversations about all the nitty gritty stuff is still on going. A few discerning trends have emerged that could be spoken of in general terms, but beyond that, no juristic consensus has emerged on these issues – other than the one that says that some new ijtihads are certainly needed. But how much and what issues is another question.
JazakAllah khayr Sheikh, I remember the statement of Anas (r.a) being used as a proof for foot-jamming. “If you were to do this today, a person would flee [from you] like a restless mule.” Is everything mentioned above enough to disprove this claim.
Barakallahu fikum, carzens86. I like the way you worded your question, mashallah.
Is all what has preceded enough to disprove the claim? I think it is, for two reasons:
1. We don’t have this ‘foot jamming’ transmitted to us in an unbroken chain of practice, and we should be suspicious of broken chains.
2. What mujtahid Imam clearly and unambiguously ruled with this?
All the juristic evidence suggests that such words are a hyperbole in speech – not to be taken literally – as the article clearly explains.
And Allah knows best.
What a wonderful post and what a great thought to help muslim reverts. May Allah bless you for your generous thoughts and actions salah. Muslim scholar
As-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.
May Allah bless you for your kind words, Ahmed, and increase us both in knowledge, understanding and righteous actions.
I tried going back and forth to see from where you drew your conclusion in the last paragraph that the “feet and shoulders” aren’t meant to physically touch, but I couldn’t. I read the statements of the scholars you mentioned, I did not. Yet, you concluded that:
“we’ve seen that there is no requirement to join feet or knees with those praying on either side, such that they physically touch.”!
I only saw you quoting the hadith of Anas about how they would make their feet and shoulders join with their companions. Any other proof for the physical joining of legs than this?
As regards the knees and neck, it suffices to sort it out with the principle of fiqh that says:
الميسور لا يسقط بالمعسور
Ie The obligation to do what’s obtainable does not cease because of what’s difficult to obtain.
This is clear from the hadith of Anas. They would join their feet to their companions’ feet. This is obtainable. So why ignore?
Secondly, another fiqh maxim says:
ما لا يدرك كله لا يترك كله
ie whatever can’t achieved in all (due to circumstances), then all should not be neglected.
You do part of the injunction that’s obtainable as the Prophet, SalaLlahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “whenever I command you to do something, then do it to the best of your ability”.
Thank you for your comments; may Allah bless you.
As for the conclusion, perhaps you overlooked the quotes from those jurists who assert that the intent of the hadiths are to align body parts with those praying on either side (as opposed to physically touching).
As for the two fiqh maxims you cited, surely they both apply in terms of those things that are physically possible – even if somewhat difficult – to do? The shari‘ah never instructs us with something impossible to do, along with the possible. Which is why those maxims have not been employed in this context by classical fuqaha, going back to the early mujtahid’s from the salaf. And Allah knows best.
The fact that one sound hadith mentions necks, and some salaf reports mention knees and ankle bones, is precisely why the majority of the jurists understand the order not to be taken literally. That, my brother, was the whole point of the post.
Should anyone wish to take the view that such things are literal, then let them keep in mind the final passage of the article:
‘Classical jurists chose not to follow such a literal reading of the reports, not out of neglect on their part (as some would have us believe); but out of a keen knowledge of the intent of the reports. Their collective juristic wisdom also came down in favour of worshippers each standing with their feet roughly the width of four fingers apart, or even a handspan, presumably to reflect a sense of humility of posture.20 In this way, each person aligns their shoulders with those on either side of them and ensures that gaps are gently filled. The worshippers may then focus on the Great Encounter that lies immediately ahead of them: Allahu akbar!’
May Allah increase us both in goodness and understanding, join our hearts in brotherhood, and grant us the tawfiq to pray with presence of heart.
Salam wa aleikum wa rahmattullah wa barakatu.
Dear brother, I completely disagree with your article since I believe that you are omitting a lot of scholarly information on this topic.
Nevertheless, may Allah reward you with trying to advise the community.
Please see the below information retrieved from https://www.salafiri.com/straightening-the-rows-feet-to-feet/ (from Silsilah al-Ahadith as-Sahihah of Shaykh Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albaani, vol. 1, pp. 70-74, hadith 31 & 32) which presents the subject in a scholarly or scholastically sound manner.
Straightening the Rows & Feet to Feet – Shaykh al-Albaani
AN ABANDONED SUNNAH THAT MUST BE REVIVED (1)
There are many authentic ahaadeeth from the Prophet (ﷺ) concerned with the command to straighten the rows (for congregational prayer), so this is rarely hidden from any of the students of (Islamic) knowledge let alone their teachers.
However, it remains unknown to many that straightening the rows requires straightening it with the feet, not just the shoulders.
Indeed, we have often heard some of the Imams of the Masaajid (Mosques) pointing out – when ordering the people to straighten the rows – that the Sunnah is to do so with the shoulders to the exclusion of the feet! Since this is contrary to what is established in the authentic Sunnah, I thought it necessary to mention some ahaadeeth that exist on this topic, as a reminder for whoever wishes to act in accordance with the authentic Sunnah, not being deceived by the widespread customs and habits present in the ‘Ummah.
There are two authentic ahaadeeth on this topic:
The first is the hadith reported by ‘Anas, and the second is that reported by an-Nu’maan ibn Bashir, may Allah be pleased with them both.
a/ The Hadeeth of ‘Anas ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him):
As for the hadith of ‘Anas, then it as follows; The hadith of ‘Anas ibn Malik. [The Prophet (ﷺ) said:] “Straighten your rows and come close together, for indeed I see you behind my back”. The hadith is reported by al-Bukhaari (2/176 – al-Fath, Boolaaq edition), Ahmad (3/182 and 263), and al-Mukhallis in al-Fawaa’id [1/10/2], all of them reporting via a number of transmission paths (turuq sing. tareeq) from Humayd at-Taweel who said ‘Anas ibn Maalik narrated to us saying:
“The call for commencing of salaah was made, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) turned to us and said…” (then he mentions the above hadith).
Al-Bukhaari adds in one narration of this hadith: “(He turned to us and said) before pronouncing the opening takbir…”
Also adding at the end “… each of us would adjoin his shoulder with that of his companion (standing next to him) and his foot with that of his companion.”
This addition also occurs in the report of al-Mukhallis and Ibn Abi Shaybah [1/351] with the following wording: ‘Anas said,
“… so I saw each of us adjoining our shoulder with those of our companions and also (adjoining) our feet with those of our companions, but if you were to practice this today, a person would flee (from you) like a restless mule.”
Its chain of narration (sanad) is also sahih according to the conditions stipulated by the Two Shaykhs (al-Bukhaari and Muslim).
Al-Haafidh (Ibn Hajr) ascribed this wording to Sa’eed ibn Mansoor and al-Isma’eelee.
Al-Bukhari gave a chapter heading for this hadith by saying: “Chapter: Adjoining the shoulder with the shoulder and the foot with the foot in the row (for prayer).”
b/ The Hadeeth of an-Nu’maan ibn Basheer (may Allah be pleased with him):
As for the hadith of an-Nu’maan (ibn Basheer) then it is as follows: The hadith of an-Nu’man ibn Basheer. [The Prophet (ﷺ) said:] “Straighten your rows (he said it three times), by Allah either you straighten your rows or Allah will cause conflict between your hearts.” The hadith has been selected by Abu Dawood [no. 662], Ibn Hibban [no. 396], Ahmad [4/276] and ad-Doolaabi in al-Kunaa [2/86] from Abul-Qasim al-Jadalee Husayn ibnil Haarith who said; I heard an-Nu’man ibn Basheer say: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) turned to us and said …” (then he mentioned the above hadith).
Then an-Nu’man ibn Basheer added: “… so I saw each man joining his shoulder; knee and ankle with that of his companion.”
The sanad of this hadith is sahih, al-Bukhaari quoted it in discontinuous (mu’allaq) form in a decided manner (indicating that he considered it authentic). Ibn Khuzaymah also connected its chain of narration in his sahih [1/82,83] and al-Mundhiree [at-Targheeb 1/176] & al-Haafidh [al-Fath 2/176] both confirmed this. Ibn Hibbaan selected the hadith in his Sahih [14/396 – Mawaarid] reporting through the tareeq of Ibn Khuzaymah.
The text of the hadith is also reported by ad-Doolaabi by way of Baqeeyah ibnil Waleed who said: “Hurayz narrated to us saying: I heard Ghaylaan al-Muqri’ narrate from Abee Qutaylah Marthad ibn Wadaa’ah (who said: I heard) an-Nu’man ibn Basheer say …”, (then he mentioned the hadith). There is no problem with the sanad for the purpose of supporting reports (mutaab’aat), its reporters are reliable apart from Ghaylaan al-Muqri’ . Perhaps he is Ghaylaan ibn ‘Anas al-Kalbee (their mawlaa) ad-Dimishqee. If that is the case then his condition (as a reporter) is unknown. A group of the reporters have narrated from him and Al-Haafidh (Ibn Hajr) said about him: “He is acceptable (maqbool).” Then it became clear that identifying this reporter in the sanad as al-Muqri’ was a mistake, as al-Bukhaari and ibn Hibbaan had said, and that in fact he is Ghaylaan ibn Ma’shar al-Muqraa’ee [Lubab 3/237].
Ibn Abi Haatim [7/53] has given a biography for him, mentioning that a number of people have reported from him, and Ibn Hibbaan [5/290] declared him reliable.
THE FIQH OF THESE AHADITH
In these two ahaadeeth there are a number of important points of benefit and fiqh.
The obligation to straighten the rows for salaah and to stand close together in them, due to the command mentioned in the ahaadeeth.
The rule concerning such commands is that they constitute an obligation (wujoob) except if accompanying evidence (qareenah) proves otherwise as is well established in the science of fiqh.
The qareenah here in fact emphasizes the obligation, and that is in the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ), ” … or Allah will cause conflict between your hearts”, since such a warning is never given for leaving that which is not obligatory as is quite clear.(2)
The forming and straightening of the rows mentioned in the hadith is only achieved by joining the shoulder and the side of ones foot with the shoulder and foot of the adjacent person.
This is because that is what the Companions, radiallahu ‘anhum, did when ordered to straighten the rows and stand close together in them.
Hence Al-Haafidh (Ibn Hajar) said in al-Fath after mentioning the additional saying of ‘Anas in the first hadith that I have quoted above:
“This (wording) is an explicit explanation that the mentioned action (of the Companions) was done in the time of the Prophet (ﷺ). With this in mind the usage of this action as a pretext for explaining what straightening the row means becomes complete.”
It is regrettable that many Muslims have neglected this Sunnah of straightening the row, or rather they have lost it altogether, except for a few of them. For I have not seen this practiced by any group amongst them except Ahlul-Hadith (the People of the Hadith).
I saw them in Makkah in the year 1368H enthusiastic and concerned with adhering to the Sunnah as with other Sunan of al-Mustafah (Muhammad the Messenger of Allah) (ﷺ).
This contrary to others from the followers of the madhaahib – and I do not exclude the Hanaabilah (Hanbalis), for this Sunnah has become utterly forgotten amongst them. In fact they have consecutively abandoned and turned away from it.
This is because most of their madhaahib state that the Sunnah in this regard is that a space of four fingers width should be kept between ones feet, and more than this is disliked, as is detailed in al-Fiqh ‘alal-Madhaahib al-Arba’ah [1/207].
This spacing has no foundation in the Sunnah; rather it is based on mere opinion. If it were correct then it would be necessary to restrict this practice to the Imam and the one praying on his own so that the authentic Sunnah (of standing close in the row) would not be opposed with this practice, as the fundamental principles of fiqh (al-Qawaa’id al-‘Usooleeyyah) necessitate.
In short I appeal to the Muslims – especially the Imaams of the Masaajid, those who are concerned to follow the Prophet (ﷺ), and to acquire the virtue of reviving his Sunnah, I appeal to them to act by this Sunnah, have concern for it, and call the people to it until they unify upon it, and by what they will be saved from that warning ” … or Allah will cause conflict between your hearts.”(3)
I add in this addition (of my book) (4): It has reached from one of the callers to Islam (du’aat) that he belittles the status of the Sunnah that the Companions practiced, and which they did so with approval of the Prophet (ﷺ). He insinuates that the Prophet (ﷺ) did not teach them this practice. So he has not realized – & Allah knows best – that
• this was their understanding and that
• the Prophet (ﷺ) approved of their understanding and their practice. This is sufficient amongst Ahlus-Sunnah to affirm the legitimacy of this practice, because the witness sees what the absent does not, and the Companions are people whose followers will never be wretched (unsuccessful).
In the first hadith there is an affirmation of a clear miracle (mu’jizah) given to the Prophet (ﷺ), and that was his ability to see behind him without turning his head. However, it should be known that this was exclusively for the Prophet (ﷺ) when he was in Salah since nothing exists in the Sunnah that states that he used to see behind him without turning his head outside the Salah. And Allah knows best.
(i) this was their understanding and that
(ii) the Prophet (ﷺ) approved of their understanding and their practice. This is sufficient amongst Ahlus-Sunnah to affirm the legitimacy of this practice, because the witness sees what the absent does not, and the Companions are people whose followers will never be wretched (unsuccessful).
In the two ahaadeeth there is a clear proof for something that many people do not know about, although it has become recognized in the field of psychology, and that is the fact that outer (apparent) evil and corruption affects inner evil and corruption and vice versa.
There are many ahaadeeth about this; perhaps we will undertake the task of gathering and referencing them at some later opportunity if Allah, The Most High, wishes.
The entering of the Imaam into the opening takbeer for prayer when the mu’adhin says ‘The Prayer is about to start,’ (“…qad qaamatis salaah…”) is an innovation in the religion (bid’ah) due to its contradicting the authentic Sunnah, as these ahaadeeth prove – especially the first one.
The ahaadeeth show us that after the iqamah has been called there is a duty upon the Imam which he must fulfil, and that is commanding the people to straighten the rows, reminding them of that, for he is responsible for them and will be asked. “… And all of you are shepherds and all of you will be asked about your flock.”
(1)Translated from Silsilah al-Ahadith as-Sahihahof Shaykh Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albaani, vol. 1, pp. 70-74, hadith 31 and 32.
(2) TRANSLATORS NOTE ~ Standing close in the row, filling the gaps and straightening the line carries a great reward and virtue as well as being obligatory.
This is mentioned in a number of ahaadeeth, like the following: “The best of you are those who stand with their shoulders closest (to the one standing next to them) in the salaah, and there is no step greater in reward than that taken by a man toward a gap in the row thus filling it.”Reported by at-Tabaraanee in al-Awsat, refer to Saheeh at-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (1/200).“Whoever fills a gap in the row, Allaah raises him up due to it a rank and builds a house for him in al-Jannah.” Reported by at-Tabaraanee in al-Awsat and al-Asbahaanee in at-Targheeb, the hadeeth is Saheeh as occurs in Saheeh at-Targheeb (no.505).
(3) TRANSLATORS NOTE ~ There are a number of ahaadeeth that explain the virtue of reviving the Sunnah and calling the people to guidance and righteousness.
For example the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Whoever calls to guidance will have the same reward as all those who follow him in that guidance but this will not take anything away from their reward.
Whoever calls to untruth will carry the same sin as the sins of all those who follow him in that, but that will not take anything away from their sins.”Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad, Muslim in his Saheeh and others.
(4) TRANSLATORS NOTE — This article is taken from the newest edition.
Taken from: al – Bayyinaatus Salafeeyah Da’watun Wa – Naseehah, Issue one – January 1999/Ramadhaan 1419AH
Thank you for your comment Kada. But don’t you think it’s a redundant one, given that I referenced this discussion of Shaykh al-Albani in my article, and it was precisely his opinion I was addressing? As for simply pasting a translation of the entire article, without addressing the counter points in my one, then this is not the way of learning, knowledge or even maturity. For that reason, I’ll be deleting your entire redundant paste in a few days inshallah.