Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: I am 20 years old and I started prayer when I was 16. I should've started when I was 13. My parents never really taught us to pray and I wasn't really religious at that time. When I was 16 I started to look into Islam myself and that's when faith really entered my heart. So I didn't miss my prayer out of laziness but because of ignorance. Do I still need to make up the years of missed prayers?
Answer: assalamu alaykum
You would have to make up any obligatory prayers you missed after attaining puberty even if they were missed due to ignorance.
Ignorance was deemed an excuse by some scholars for those who were newly converted to Islam in non-Muslim lands who did not perform the obligatory prayers due to lacking knowledge of its obligation. This related back to the notion that moral obligation to the divine law depends upon it reaching one (bulugh), namely the knowledge of the obligation of specific acts. However, what is of consideration is not actually possessing knowledge of an act being obligatory but the possibility of attaining this knowledge. In Islamic lands, this possibility is assumed to exist, while in non-Muslim lands it is not or is deemed insufficiently present.
In addition to the fact that this ruling would likely be difficult to apply to one born in a Muslim household, the reality of non-Muslim lands today is not the same as conceived by classical jurists. Indeed, Muslims are well-established and settled in these lands; many of them are indigenous peoples. There are mosques, religious institutions, and easier access to knowledge as well. All of this could effect the original ruling mentioned in the classical texts.
My advice to you would be to make an estimate of the obligatory prayers you missed and make them up gradually. It is not important for you to think about the number and duration it will take to complete these prayers but to simply begin performing them seeking the pleasure of God through the fulfillment of what He has obligated on us. Keep in mind the words of the Prophet (God bless him) that the most beloved of actions are those that are consistent even if small in number. So, take on a reasonable load and make these extra prayers a means to draw closer to God.
[Ustadh] Salman Younas
Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Salman Younas graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in Political Science and Religious Studies. After studying the Islamic sciences online and with local scholars in New York, Ustadh Salman moved to Amman. There he studies Islamic law, legal methodology, belief, hadith methodology, logic, Arabic, and tafsir.