What Is the Maximum Valid Distance between the Imam and the Follower?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick



In Shafi fiqh, is there guidance regarding how far apart the Imam and the nearest follower stand for the prayer to be accepted as a congregation? Is this distance acceptable if the first row behind the Imam is empty and the first line starts from the second row? What is the opinion of other Madhabs in this regard?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to what pleases Him. Amin.
I have adapted the following article from Ibn Al-Naqib Al-Misri’s ‘Umdat Al-Salik, with the relevant commentary from the Reliance of the Traveller by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Kellar.
Valid Group Prayer in Different Settings
In an Open Expanse
When the imam and followers find themselves outside a mosque, within an open area like a desert or a spacious house, the validity of their group prayer hinges on maintaining approximately 144 meters or less between them. Should this distance be exceeded, their group prayer becomes invalid.

It’s important to note that if there are multiple rows of people behind the imam, this distance limit also applies between each row and the one in front, regardless of vast physical separations. Whether miles apart, with natural obstacles, like rivers or busy streets, in between, this 144-meter rule holds.

In Different Buildings or Structures
Suppose the imam and follower are situated in separate buildings, such as two houses, or within the same complex divided by covered areas like courtyards and porches. In that case, the maximum allowable distance remains the same as for open spaces (144 metres).

This is provided that no barriers obstruct passage to the imam, such as latticework windows, and that nothing prevents the follower from seeing the imam, such as closed doors. In these scenarios, group prayers remain valid.

Imam in Mosque, Follower Nearby
When the imam leads the prayer within a mosque and the follower is in an adjoining space, their group prayer remains valid if the distance between them and the edge of the mosque is 144 meters or less. Additionally, there should be no unbreachable barrier between the follower and the mosque.

The concept of a “breach” could be illustrated by a follower standing before a gate in a wall. If these conditions are met, the prayer of those behind the imam, even if numerous, is also valid, extending beyond the immediate vicinity of the gate.

Imam in Mosque, Obstacles and Obstructions
However, it’s essential to understand that if the follower turns away from the gate or physical barriers, like the mosque’s walls, windows, or closed doors, including locked ones, intervene between the follower and the imam, the group prayer is no longer valid.
I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. 

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.