The Question is often asked, what are we supposed to say/think when behind the Imam of prayer in congregational prayers? It is necessary for the follower to recite all the things of the prayers himself, except Surah al-Hamd and the other Surah. However, when the Imam of prayers recites those Surahs, do we also say the Surahs or do we remain quiet?


We must remember there are two sets of rulings. One is for the prayers that the recitation is said out loud (Fajr, al-Maghrib and al-Isha) and those prayers that the recitation is said quietly (al-Dhuhr and al-Asr prayers). The Imams (as) explain:

“I once asked abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, about performing Salat (prayer) behind an Imam if I must do the recitation. He (the Imam) said, ‘Salat (prayer) in which recitation is not aloud, it is assigned to him. So you do not recite behind him, and for Salat (prayer) in which recitation is done aloud, he is commanded to recite aloud so people behind him remain silent; thus, if you hear him, remain silent, and if you do not hear him, then you are to recite.’”

Sanad: Muhammad ibn Yahya has narrated from Muhammad ibn al-Husayn from Muhammad ibn `Isma‘il from al-Fadl ibn Shadhan all from Safwan ibn Yahya from ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Hajjaj who has said the above hadith

Source: al-Kafi, Volume 3, Chapter 224, Hadith #1 (See First Image below)

Grading: Allaamah al-Majlisi said it is Sahih/Authentic (صحيح) [Mira’at al-Uqool, Volume 15, Page 263 (See Second Image below)]

“Abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, has said, ‘If you perform Salat (prayer) behind one whom you follow, do not do the recitation behind him, regardless if you hear his recitation or not, except, when it is a Salat (prayer) in which recitation is done aloud and you do not hear then you are to recite.’”

Sanad: Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from ibn abu ‘Umayr from Hammad ibn ‘Uthaman from al-Halabiy who has said the above hadith

Source: al-Kafi, Volume 3, Chapter 224, Hadith #2 (See First Image below)

Grading: Allaamah al-Majlisi said it is Hasan/Good (حسن) [Mira’at al-Uqool, Volume 15, Page 265 (See Second Image below)]

“Abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘Alayhim al-Salam, has said, ‘When you perform Salat (prayer) behind an Imam and are happy with him in Salat (prayer) of which recitation is to be read aloud and you do not hear his recitation, then recite to yourself, but if you hear a humming sound, do not recite.’”

Sanad: It is a narration from him (narrator of previous Hadith) by his father from ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mughirah from Qutaybah who has said the above hadith

Source: al-Kafi, Volume 3, Chapter 224, Hadith #4 (See First Image below)

Grading: Allaamah al-Majlisi said it is Hasan/Good (حسن) [Mira’at al-Uqool, Volume 15, Page 265 (See Second Image below)]

Imam al-Baqir (as) explains how important it is to follow these rulings:

“Abu Ja‘far, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, has said that `Amir al-Mu’minin would say, ‘One who recites when performing Salat (prayer) behind an Imam whom he follows and dies, he has died in a religion other than Fitrah (Islam).’”

Sanad: Muhammad ibn Ahmad has narrated from Muhammad from Hammad ibn ‘Isa from Hariz from Zurarah from Muhammad ibn Muslim who has said the above hadith

Source: al-Kafi, Volume 3, Chapter 224, Hadith #6 (See First Image below)

Grading: Allaamah al-Majlisi said it is Sahih/Authentic (صحيح) [Mira’at al-Uqool, Volume 15, Page 266 (See Second Image below)]

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Another interesting hadith from al-Sadooq’s (rh) Faqih:

Narrated by Zurarah who narrated that Imam al-Baqir (as) said: “If you perform Salat (prayer) behind an Imam, do not recite anything in the first two and remain silent to his recitation; and you do not recite in the last two because Allah (swt) said to the believers: And when the Quran is recited”, meaning in obligatory Salat (prayer) behind an Imam, “then listen to it and remain silent, that mercy may be shown to you.” (7:204) and the last two follows the first two.”

Source: Man Laa Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih, Volume 1, Hadith #1161

Grading: Sayed al-Kho’i (rh) graded it Sahih/Authentic in Kitaab al-Salaah (See Here)

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Sayed al-Sistani (hf) concurs with these hadiths:

1471. If the follower hears Surah al-Hamd and Surah of Imam in the first and second Rak’at of the Fajr, Maghrib and Isha prayers, he should not recite them, even if he may not be able to distinguish the words. And if he does not hear the voice of the Imam, it is Mustahab that he should recite Surah al-Hamd and Surah silently. But if he recites them loudly by mistake, there is no harm.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/book/48/2254/

The question is however raised, in the prayers that the surahs are not to be recited loudly, can (and should) you say anything since you cannot hear anything? the Imams (as) explain:

“One of the two Imam, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, has said, ‘If you perform Salat (prayer) behind an Imam whom you follow then remain silent and say Tasbih (glorification of Allah) to yourself only.’”

Sanad: Ali has narrated from his father from Hammad from Hariz from Zurarah who has said the above hadith

Source: al-Kafi, Volume 3, Chapter 224, Hadith #3 (See First Image below)

Grading: Allaamah al-Majlisi said it is Hasan/Good (حسن) [Mira’at al-Uqool, Volume 15, Page 265 (See Second Image below)]

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Abu Abdillah (as) said: “I dislike that one prays behind an Imam in a prayer that Qur’an is not recited out loud and stands as if they are a donkey.” So he was asked: “May I be sacrificed for you, so what does one do?” the Imam (as) replied, “He does Tasbih (glorification of Allah)”

Sanad: Bakr bin Muhammad from Aba Abdillah (as)

Source: Man Laa Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih, Volume 1, Hadith #1162 (See Image below) [in this narration it says it is for the lady, but in other narrations it says the males, such as in al-Tahdheeb al-ahkaam of Sh. al-Tusi]

Grading: Sayed al-Kho’i (rh) graded it (and the other chains found in books) Sahih/Authentic in Kitaab al-Salaah (See Here)

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The Imam (as) was asked: “a man prays behind an Imam whom he is happy with the Dhuhr and Asr prayers, does he recite?” The Imam (as) replied: “No, but rather he does Tasbih, shows Thankfulness to his Lord (eg: al-Hamdulillah) and sends blessings upon the Prophet (sawa) and his progeny (as).”

Sanad: Abdullah bin Ja`far, from Abdullah bin al-Hassan, from Ali bin Ja`far, from his brother (as) who narrated the above

Source: Wasaa’il al-Shia, Volume 8, Page 361 (See Image below)

Grading: Sayed al-Kho’i (rh) graded it Sahih/Authentic in Kitaab al-Salaah (See Here)

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Again, Sayed Sistani (hf) concurs:

1475. The follower should not recite Surah al-Hamd and Surah in the first and second Rak’ats of Zuhr and Asr prayers and it is Mustahab that instead of them he should recite Zikr.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/book/48/2254/

Keep in mind, this is all relating to when you are happy and believe the Imam leading the prayers is qualified to read them. If you do not believe they are qualified and you pray behind them then you MUST read the surah’s even if in soft voice – regardless if you can hear them or which set of prayers it is. There are many hadiths on this, such as the following:

“Abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, has said, ‘When you perform Salat (prayer) behind an Imam who is not qualified, read behind him the recitation, regardless, you hear him or not.’”

Sanad: Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from ibn abu ‘Umayr from Hammad ibn ‘Uthaman from al-Halabiy who has said the above hadith

Source: al-Kafi, Volume 3, Chapter 221, Hadith #4 (See First Image below)

Grading: Allaamah al-Majlisi said it is Hasan/Good (حسن) [Mira’at al-Uqool, Volume 15, Page 255 (See Second Image below)]

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The basic principle of who can lead salah is that they must be Adult (Baligh), Sane, Ithna ‘Ashari Shi’ah, ‘Adil (Just), Of legitimate birth, and being able to offer the prayers correctly. Furthermore, if the follower is a male, the Imam also should be a male. To follow a boy of ten years of age is a matter of Ishkal. (See Sistani fatwa here). An example of how non-Shia’s (and even some Shia’s) do not fall under the category of a qualified Imam is seen by many hadiths such as below, considering many take the enemies (such as those who waged war against the Imam) as role-models rather than disassociating from them. :

Imam al-Baqir (as) was asked: “a man loves Ameer al-Mu’mineen (Ali (as)) but does not disassociate from his enemies, despite him saying I love him (Ali) more than those who opposed him?” So the Imam (as) replied: “He is a mixer (truth with falsehood) and is an enemy (to us) so do not pray behind him and unless under taqiyyah”

Sanad: from al-Hassan bin Sa’eed, from al-Nadhr, from Yahya al-Halaby, from ibn Miskaan, from Isma’eel al-Ju`fy who narrated the above

Source: Man Laa Yahdhuruhu al-Faqih, Volume 1, Hadith #1117 (See Image below)

Grading: Sayed al-Kho’i (rh) graded it (and the other chains found in books) Sahih/Authentic in Kitaab al-Salaah (See Here)

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Sayed Sistani (hf) also agrees that when praying behind a non-Shia, you should recite the two Surahs yourself:

Question: Is it permissible to offer congregational prayers behind a Sunni prayer leader?
Answer: It is permissible but you must recite Hamd and Sura yourself even though the recitation may be in low voice.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01291/

elsewhere he says:

Question: Can one say one’s congregational prayer behind a Sunni Imam with the intention of Jama’at (congregation)? And should one recite al-hamd on his own?
Answer: It is permissible to offer prayer in their congregational prayer. However, it is obligatory upon you to recite al-Hamd and Sura-e Tawhid yourself – be the recitation in low voice though.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01262/

Here Sistani (hf) shows it is done under taqiyyah as suggested by the hadiths:

Question: I am 19 years old and a convert to Islam of five months. My question is, being a practitioner of Twelver Jaf’ari Islam is it permissible for me to pray behind a Sunni Imam for Salaatul-Jummah and for regular congregational prayers, and is it required to prostrate on Turbah inside a mosque?
Answer: Taking part in Friday and congregational prayers of the Ahl-e Sunnat is permissible in areas where Taqiyah (dissimulation) is required. If you are not going to face a problem, you should, as far as possible, prostrate on a stone or anything upon which Sajda (prostration) is permissible. Prostration on carpets in the case of Taqiyah or out of necessity is permissible and there would be no objection in it. But if you are not offering your prayers with them out of Taqiyah it is not necessary to attend their congregational prayers and you can offer your prayers separately.

Link: http://www.sistani.org/english/qa/01262/