Fiqh & Sunnah

An Abandoned Sunnah that must be Revived

There are many authentic ahadith from the sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam concerned with the command to straighten the rows (for congregational prayer), and so this is rarely hidden from any of the students of (Islamic) knowledge let alone their teachers. However it remains unknown to many that straightening the rows requires straightening it with the feet, not just the shoulders. Indeed we have often heard some of the Imams of the Masajid (Mosques) pointing out - when ordering the people to straighten the rows - that the Sunnah is to do so with the shoulders to the exclusion of the feet! Since this is contrary to what is established in the authentic Sunnah, I thought it necessary to mention some ahadith that exist on this topic, as a reminder for whoever wishes to act in accordance with the authentic Sunnah, not being deceived by the widespread customs and habits present in the 'Ummah.

There are two authentic ahadith on this topic: The first is the hadith reported by 'Anas, and the second is that reported by an-Nu'man ibn Bashir, may Allah be pleased with them both.

As for the hadith of 'Anas, then it as follows; The hadith of 'Anas ibn Malik. [The Prophet said:] "Straighten your rows and come close together, for indeed I see you behind my back". The hadith is reported by Al-Bukhari (2/176 - al-Fath, Bulaq edition), Ahmad (3/182 and 263), and Al-Mukhallis in Al-Fawa'id [1/10/2], all of them reporting via a number of transmission paths (turuq sing. tariq) from Humayd at-Tawil who said 'Anas ibn Malik narrated to us saying:

"The call for commencing of salah was made, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam turned to us and said ... " (then he mentions the above hadith).

Al-Bukhari adds in one narration of this hadith: "(He turned to us and said) before pronouncing the opening takbir ... " Also adding at the end " ... each of us would adjoin his shoulder with that of his companion (standing next to him) and his foot with that of his companion." This addition also occurs in the report of al-Mukhallis and Ibn Abi Shaybah [1/351] with the following wording: 'Anas said, " ... so I saw each of us adjoining our shoulder with those of our companions and also (adjoining) our feet with those of our companions, but if you were to practice this today, a person would flee (from you) like a restless mule." Its chain of narration (sanad) is also sahih according to the conditions stipulated by the Two Shaykhs (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Al-Hafidh (Ibn Hajr) ascribed this wording to Sa'id ibn Mansur and Al-Isma'ili. Al-Bukhari gave a chapter heading for this hadith by saying: "Chapter: Adjoining the shoulder with the shoulder and the foot with the foot in the row (for prayer)." As for the hadith of An-Nu'man (ibn Bashir) then it is as follows: The Prophet said: "Straighten your rows (he said it three times), by Allah either you straighten your rows or Allah will cause conflict between your hearts."

The hadith has been selected by Abu Da'wud [no. 662], Ibn Hibban [no. 396], Ahmad [4/276] and Ad-Dulabi in Al-Kuna [2/86] from Abu'l-Qasim al-Jadali Husayn ibn Al-Harith who said; I heard An-Nu'man ibn Bashir say: "The Messenger of Allah turned to us and said ... " (then he mentioned the above hadith). Then An-Nu'man ibn Bashir added: " ... so I saw each man joining his shoulder; knee and ankle with that of his companion." The sanad of this hadith is sahih, Al-Bukhari quoted it in discontinuous (mu'allaq) form in a decided manner (indicating that he considered it authentic). Ibn Khuzaymah also connected its chain of narration in his sahih [1/82,83] and Al-Mundhiri [At-Targhib 1/176] and Al-Hafidh [Al-Fath 2/176] both confirmed this. Ibn Hibban selected the hadith in his Sahih [14/396 - Mawarid] reporting through the tariq of Ibn Khuzaymah. The text of the hadith is also reported by Ad-Dulabi by way of Baqiyah ibn Al-Walid who said: "Hurayz narrated to us saying: I heard Ghaylan al-Muqri' narrate from Abi Qutaylah Marthad ibn Wada'ah (who said: I heard) An-Nu'man ibn Bashir say ... ", (then he mentioned the hadith). There is no problem with the sanad for the purpose of supporting reports (mutab'at), its reporters are reliable apart from Ghaylan al-Muqri' . Perhaps he is Ghaylan ibn 'Anas al-Kalbi (their mawla) Ad-Dimishqi. If that is the case then his condition (as a reporter) is unknown. A group of the reporters have narrated from him and Al-Hafidh (Ibn Hajr) said about him: "He is acceptable (maqbul)." Then it became clear that identifying this reporter in the sanad as al-Muqri' was a mistake, as Al-Bukhari and Ibn Hibban had said, and that in fact he is Ghaylan ibn Ma'shar al-Muqra'i [Lubab 3/237]. Ibn Abi Hatim [7/53] has given a biography for him, mentioning that a number of people have reported from him, and Ibn Hibban [5/290] declared him reliable.

The Fiqh of these Ahadith

In these two ahadith there are a number of important points of benefit and fiqh.

1. The obligation to straighten the rows for salah and to stand close together in them, due to the command mentioned in the ahadith. The rule concerning such commands is that they constitute an obligation (wujub) except if accompanying evidence (qarinah) proves otherwise as is well established in the science of fiqh principles. The qarinah here in fact emphasizes the obligation, and that is in the saying of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, " ... or Allah will cause conflict between your hearts", since such a warning is never given for leaving that which is not obligatory as is quite clear.[1]

2. The forming and straightening of the rows mentioned in the hadith is only achieved by joining the shoulder and the side of ones foot with the shoulder and foot of the adjacent person. This is because that is what the Companions, radiallahu 'anhum, did when ordered to straighten the rows and stand close together in them. Hence Al-Hafidh (Ibn Hajar) said in Al-Fath after mentioning the additional saying of 'Anas in the first hadith that I have quoted above:

"This (wording) is an explicit explanation that the mentioned action (of the Companions) was done in the time of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. With this in mind the usage of this action as a pretext for explaining what straightening the row means becomes complete."

It is regrettable that many Muslims have neglected this Sunnah of straightening the row, or rather they have lost it altogether, except for a few of them. For I have not seen this practiced by any group amongst them except Ahlul-Hadith (the People of the Hadith). I saw them in Makkah in the year 1368H enthusiastic and concerned with adhering to the Sunnah as with other Sunan of Al-Mustafah (Muhammad the Messenger of Allah) sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. This contrary to others from the followers of the madhahib - and I do not exclude the Hanabilah (Hanbalis), for this Sunnah has become utterly forgotten amongst them. In fact they have consecutively abandoned and turned away from it. This is because most of their madhahib state that the Sunnah in this regard is that a space of four fingers width should be kept between ones feet, and more than this is disliked, as is detailed in Al-Fiqh 'ala'l-Madhahib al-Arba'ah [1/207].

This spacing has no foundation in the Sunnah; rather it is based on mere opinion. If it were correct then it would be necessary to restrict this practice to the Imam and the one praying on his own so that the authentic Sunnah (of standing close in the row) would not be opposed with this practice, as the fundamental principles of fiqh (Al-Qawa'id al-'Usuliyyah) necessitates.

In short I appeal to the Muslims - especially the Imams of the Masajid, those who are concerned to follow the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and to acquire the virtue of reviving his Sunnah, I appeal to them to act by this Sunnah, have concern for it, and call the people to it until they unify upon it, and by what they will be saved from that warning " … or Allah will cause conflict between your hearts."[2]

I add in this addition (of my book): It has reached from one of the callers to Islam (du'at) that he belittles the status of the Sunnah that the Companions practiced, and which they did so with approval of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam. He insinuates that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam did not teach them this practice. So he has not realized - and Allah knows best - that (1) this was their understanding and that (2) the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam approved of their understanding and their practice. This is sufficient amongst Ahlus-Sunnah to affirm the legitimacy of this practice, because the witness sees what the absent does not, and the Companions are people whose followers will never be wretched (unsuccessful).

3. In the first hadith there is an affirmation of a clear miracle (mu'jizah) given to the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and that was his ability to see behind him without turning his head. However it should be known that this was exclusively for the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam when he was in Salah since nothing exists in the Sunnah that states that he used to see behind him without turning his head outside the Salah. And Allah knows best.

4. In the two ahadith there is a clear proof for something that many people do not know about, although it has become recognized in the field of psychology, and that is the fact that outer (apparent) evil and corruption affects inner evil and corruption and vice versa. There are many ahadith about this, perhaps we will undertake the task of gathering and referencing them at some later opportunity if Allah, the Most High, wishes.

5. The entering of the Imam into the opening takbir for prayer when the mu'adhin says 'The Prayer is about to start,' is an innovation in the religion (bid'ah) due to its contradicting the authentic Sunnah, as these ahadith prove - especially the first one. The ahadith show us that after the iqamah has been called there is a duty upon the Imam which he must fulfill, and that is commanding the people to straighten the rows, reminding them of that, for he is responsible for them and will be asked.

" ... And all of you are shepherds and all of you will be asked about your flock."

 From Silsilah Al-Ahadith As-Sahihah of Shaykh Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albani, vol. 1, pp. 70-74, hadith nos. 31 and 32. Translation by Oways al-Hashimi


  1. TRANSLATORS NOTE: Standing close in the row, filling the gaps and straightening the line carries a great reward and virtue as well as being obligatory. This is mentioned in a number of ahadith, like the following: "The best of you are those who stand with their shoulders closest (to the one standing next to them) in the salah, and there is no step greater in reward than that taken by a man toward a gap in the row thus filling it." Reported by At-Tabarani in Al-Aswat, refer to Sahih At-Targhib wa't-Tarhib (1/200). "Whoever fills a gap in the row, Allah raises him up due to it a rank and builds a house for him in Al-Jannah." Reported by At-Tabarani in Al-Aswat and Al-Asbahani in At-Targhib, the hadith is sahih as occurs in Sahih At-Targhib (no. 505) ^back
  2. TRANSLATORS NOTE: There are a number of ahadith that explain the virtue of reviving the Sunnah and the calling the people to guidance and righteousness. For example the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said: "Whoever calls to guidance will have the same reward as all those who follow him in that guidance but this will not take anything away from their reward. Whoever calls to untruth will carry the same sin as the same sin as all those who follow him in that, but that will not take anything away from their sins." Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad, Muslim in his Sahih and others. ^back

Be Mindful O Mankind!

No man can have anything better after faith (iman) than a woman of righteous character, loving and child-bearing. And no man can have anything worse after unbelief (kufr) than a sharp-tongued woman of bad character.
'Umar ibn Al-Khattab (d. 23H), Commander of the Faithful, may Allah be pleased with him