Praying Behind the People of Innovation | 3 | The Ruling on Praying in Mosques Which Have Many Innovations in Them and on Praying Behind an Imaam Who is an Innovator
by The Albaani Blog
Questioner: What is the ruling on praying in mosques which have many innovations in them, and following on from that, [what is the ruling on] praying behind an Imaam who is an innovator?
Al-Albaani: This is a question which is asked very often these days, and even though from one angle it shows signs of something good from another it bodes evil.
It shows signs of being something good in that those people who are keen on [implementing] the Sunnah are increasing day by day, alhamdulillaah, and they have started to pay attention to the many innovations found in the mosques and Imaams and muezzins and so on and for this reason they avoid praying in those mosques that are full of innovations and [avoid] following the Imaams who oppose the Sunnah in many of the things they do in their prayers.
So this is something good–but for how long will we carry on asking questions like this?
And I always and forever repeat two things: the first is related to following [i.e., praying behind] an Imaam who is an innovator and that it is from the Sunnah to pray behind every righteous or sinful person, this is a point of creed, mentioned in the aqidah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, [i.e.,] praying behind every righteous or wicked person, which is something contrary to what the Shee’ah do.
For the Shee’ah do not hold it to be valid to pray behind anyone except–[and here] I will not only say that they do not hold it to be valid to pray behind anyone except the Shee’ah–no, they are even more misguided than that, [for they say that prayer is not valid] except behind an infallible Imaam and naturally in their eyes such an Imaam can only be from the Shee’ah, from the Ahlul-Bait.
So the Salaf laid this principle down for us: that we even pray behind a wicked sinner, why?
Because in many hadiths it has been reported that prayer behind the tyrannical or oppressive Imaams is permissible, like his saying عليه السلام reported in Sahih Muslim, “There will be rulers over you who delay the prayer from its correct time, so if you meet them, pray the prayer at its correct time and then pray it with them, for it will be an optional prayer for you.”
And in another hadith which is more important, encompassing and greater, he said about the Imaams, “If they lead the prayer correctly then they and you will receive the rewards, but if they make a mistake, then you will receive the reward for the prayer and the sin will be theirs.” [Bukhaari, no. 694]. [Thus] what concern is it of a person’s when he is praying behind an innovator whether he [i.e., the Imaam] is praying according to the Sunnah or opposing it?
If he [i.e., the Imaam] is correct in his prayer then the reward is for him and us and if he makes a mistake then the sin is on him and the reward is for us, so we gain in both situations, just like [a person using] a saw, [whether he] pushes forward with it or pulls it back [on what he is cutting, either way it will cut and so he gains]. If we pray behind a Sunni Imaam then the reward is for us and if we pray behind an innovating Imaam then the reward is [still] for us–but his innovation is on his head and none of its sin reaches us. I always and forever repeat this regarding following these Imaams.
So this is an issue which I have constantly addressed and have mentioned that each Muslim is required to distance himself from praying in mosques that are decorated and full of innovations–but Allaah’s Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم spoke the truth when he said, ‘Indeed Islaam began as something strange and will return to being strange …’ nowadays it is rare that you will find a mosque which does not have an innovation or decorations by which they seek nearness, so they think, to Allaah, the Blessed and Most High.
If both types of mosque were present [i.e., ones with decorations and innovations and others without], I would have said that you should not pray in those mosques that are decorated and which have those innovations for it has been established from Ibn Umar, may Allaah be pleased with him, that he entered a mosque to pray the midday prayer when [all of a sudden] he was taken aback by a man calling out and saying, ‘The Prayer! The Prayer!’ after the actual call to prayer had been announced, so Ibn Umar said to the person with him, ‘Let us leave this mosque for there is innovation in it.’
If we wanted to copy this action of Ibn Umar’s in this age of ours we would have to stick to our houses for hardly a mosque can be found except that it is decorated … the carpets/prayer rugs and the images they are full of is enough, sometimes they have forbidden images, either they will have a forbidden image like a horse or something like that, a lion, or two crosses or something which resembles that. So there is hardly any mosque except that it has that which distracts [a person]–but, ‘Some evil is less than others [in severity].’
If the matter centres around us praying on our own at home and praying in decorated mosques in which the Imaams are innovators then we repel the greater evil with the lesser evil, especially when we are not responsible for that greater evil and nor did it emanate from us, it having done so from those other people.
If we hold back from the congregational prayer then we have sinned and opposed the Saying of our Lord, “And establish the prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience].” [Baqarah 2:43]
This is a point we must not forget, “And establish the prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience].” And what is that point [which we must not forget]? ‘Establish the prayer …’ i.e., perform it perfectly, ‘… and bow with those who bow …’ i.e., with the Muslim congregation.
So if we leave the congregational prayer in those mosques–[bearing in mind that] we are not responsible for the decorations in them or for the incorrect way that some of the Imaams perform the prayer therein, we are not responsible for both of these wrongs–but if we pray at home we will be responsible for having opposed our Lord’s Saying, i.e., ‘… and bow with those who bow …’
Al-Hudaa wan-Noor, 190.