Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
Since I learned that delaying for more than three “Subhan Allah” makes sajda al-sahw wajib, it has made my prayer and life much more difficult. I spend far too much time praying, and afterward, I sometimes question the validity of my prayers. I desperately need your assistance because I can’t keep asking the Imam of my masjid for answers. It even reaches the point where I consider abandoning my prayers.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
The prostration of forgetfulness (sajda al-sahw) is meant to make up for any major deficiencies in the prayer.
The basis is that one’s prayer is sound. One does not make any assumptions contrary to this basis. One will only apply the rules of Sajda al-Sahw when one is certain they have significantly delayed a necessary act without need or excuse.
The criteria to determine a significant delay from a slight delay varies depending on which act is being delayed.
This is not considered a delay if one prays slowly for whatever reason.
A delay is an interruption caused by forgetfulness or confusion coupled with inaction during the prayer.
If one remains engaged in some act of the prayer (such as remembrance of Allah or recitation) while thinking, no interruption is present and no prostration is due.
Some scenarios where this is common are as follows:
- Delays while thinking of what to recite after commencing the prayer.
- Delays while thinking of how many units one has performed or which prostration one is on.
- Delayed rising from the first sitting to the 3rd unit of prayer.
Suppose one commenced the prayer, recited al-Fatiha, and paused while thinking about what chapter to recite after that. In that case, one should not wholly pause and remain inactive – this would necessitate the prostration of forgetfulness.
Instead, one should recite something (such as the Basmala) slowly while thinking. Or better yet, one should recite whatever is easy for them from the Quran. Ideally, one would know what they are reciting in the prayer before commencing.
Furthermore, one may take a deep breath to buy themselves a few seconds of thought. Breathing is allowed and required for one to do the prayer, so it is excused.
Thinking of the Number of Units or Prostrations
Another common situation is when one becomes confused about the number of units or prostrations they have done. In such a case, one must learn to be quickly decisive, whether it is the 1st or 2nd unit or 1st or 2nd prostration, for example.
Suppose one is unable to be decisive about the number of units they prayed, and they completely pause to think for an extended time. In that case, this is a significant delay, as the sequence and performance of the prayer were interrupted. [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
If, however, they remained in a state of remembrance such as repeating the invocation “Subhan Rabbi al-A’ala” (Glorified is my Lord, Most High) while they are in the prostration thinking of the number of units – once they conclude the correct amount they may continue the prayer, and no prostration is required; no interruption was made.
The reason is that they did not remain inactive in any one position; they merely elongated the position with remembrance, which is their prerogative.
The First Sitting
Another situation where prostrations of forgetfulness are due is when one delay standing up from the first sitting to the third unit. In such a scenario, the delay is considered significant if one recites beyond the tashahhud supplication and says, “Allahuma Salli ‘Ala Muhammad.” [Maydani, al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab]
To this extent is considered a significant delay. The same applies if one completely pauses after the tashahhud for the same amount of time it would take to say the above addition. [Ibid.]
If one stops before saying “Muhammad,” one continues the prayer and does not perform the prostrations. [Ibid.]
As you can see from the above, prostrations of forgetfulness are caused by significant interruptions of inactivity. Many times this occurs because people freeze or panic. This is part and parcel of the general agitation that causes people’s minds to wander in the prayer.
As a solution to this, one must try to calm themselves down before entering the prayer. The pre-prayer Sunna prayers are great in this regard. Another option is to sit remembering Allah Most High for some time before the prayer.
If one still finds themselves in a situation of confusion in the prayer, one should not freeze. Continue to remember Allah or recite the Quran or whatever action that movement demands while trying to be decisive regarding the confusion at hand.
If one can learn to do this, no prostration of forgetfulness is required.
Any misgivings that occur after the final tashahhud supplication are to be ignored. This is especially true if one has already exited from the prayer. Such misgivings are baseless and are ignored unless one is reasonably sure or certain that they clearly missed a necessary action or integral of the prayer. Such surety requires proof and clear knowledge. [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
The prayer is an act of worship. Its purpose is to bring the heart to a state of deep remembrance of Allah Most High. “(…) And establish the prayer for My remembrance.” [Quran, 20:14]
Due to the prayer’s immense blessings and powerful spiritual effects, Shaytan wants nothing more than to sever the ties of presence from the heart of the one performing the prayer.
You must understand that these doubts, misgivings, what-ifs, and conjectures that occur during and after the prayer and make you sometimes want to leave the prayer are from Shaytan. You are not accountable for such thoughts unless you allow them in and entertain them.
Learn to acknowledge them for what they are and ignore them. Even if this is difficult to do, it will get easier. One of my teachers, Shaykh Yamin Husain, mentioned that one will be rewarded the reward of one fighting in the path of Allah Most High for fighting off these thoughts during the prayer in aims of presence and focus.
Before the prayer, try the following general and specific advice to increase your preparedness for the prayer:
- Inculcate a firm resolve and determination to attain presence in the prayer and striving thereto;
- Strive for focus and presence during the pre-prayer ablution;
- Remove distractions from you heart and from the place of prayer;
- Recite Surat al-Nass while bringing to mind the greatness of Allah Most High [Imam Ahmad bin Hasan al-Attas];
- Recite the following supplication before commencing the prayer:
“.أَعُوذُ بِاللهِ العَظِيمِ وبِوَجْهِهِ الكَريمِ وبِسُلْطَانِهِ القَديمِ مِن الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ”
(A`udhu billahi-l`Azim wa biwajhihi-l’karim wa bi sultnihi-l-qadim min ashaytan-irrajim)
“I seek refuge in Allah the Almighty, in His noble countenance and in His eternal power from the accursed Devil.”
The above was taken from advices from Sayyidi al-Habib Umar bin Hafiz. They can be accessed from this link as well.
In the end, this is a journey, something to strive towards. It will not happen overnight, but one should strive for it. Perceive your weakness and deficiency in presence in the prayer and, as Imam Ahmad bin Zain al-Habshi mentioned, “Perhaps witnessing this weakness is more beneficial than actually being present, and witnessing this weakness is in fact being present with Allah.”
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Quran and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Quranic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.