Is there evidence that standing ahead of the Imam invalidates prayer?
Firstly I’d like to say I am an adherent of the Shafi’i madhab. When praying side by side with only the Imam, I was taught to stand slightly behind the Imam in prayer and that if my feet were to go slightly in front of the Imam’s feet, it would invalidate my prayer. Someone told me this is baseless as there is no proof and should stand in line with the Imam. I read that standing slightly behind the Imam is the adopted position of the madhab, but I could not find any evidence for it. I would greatly appreciate it if you can provide some evidence for this.
Shukran for writing to us.
The preponderant view in the Shafi’i school holds that if the follower (ma’mum) stands in front of the Imam in prayer, his salah will be invalid. Standing ahead of the Imam is determined by placing one’s heels in the standing position and not toes, as you stated. [Kifaya al-Akhyar]
Taqi al-Din al-Hisni’s commentary on the Mukhtasar Abu Shuja is an excellent resource when looking for the proofs of the Shafi’i madhhab. He says therein that this ruling mentioned above is deducted from the practice of the companions with the Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the companions/successors with the rightly guided caliphs. In those eras, the followers never stood ahead of the Imam.
Nonetheless, it is crucial to appreciate that scholars differed regarding this ruling and that the evidence in itself is not definitive. The Maliki communities around the globe often have a large portion of the congregation praying in front of the Imam. As followers of the Shafi’i madhhab, we should have confidence and practice the views expressed by our scholars. At the same time, we should have respect for others that may adopt a different opinion. Likewise, in turn, those who hold an opposing view of our school should similarly respect the stance taken by our scholars.
And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Abdurragmaan Khan
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdurragmaan received ijazah ’ammah from various luminaries, including but not restricted to: Habib Umar ibn Hafiz—a personality who affected him greatly and who has changed his relationship with Allah, Maulana Yusuf Karaan—the former Mufti of Cape Town; Habib ‘Ali al-Mashhur—the current Mufti of Tarim; Habib ‘Umar al-Jaylani—the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah; Sayyid Ahmad bin Abi Bakr al-Hibshi; Habib Kadhim as-Saqqaf; Shaykh Mahmud Sa’id Mamduh; Maulana Abdul Hafiz al-Makki; Shaykh Ala ad-Din al-Afghani; Maulana Fazlur Rahman al-Azami and Shaykh Yahya al-Gawthani amongst others.