Congregants standing ahead of the imam
The village mosque where we hold Friday prayers cannot accommodate the number of congregants who wish to pray in it because it is located on a public road. There is no other adjoining place where congregants may pray except the area in front of the mosque, i.e. the direction of the qibla. This is the same area where congregants make ablution and it can fit more than 50 individuals. Please note that the mosque door lies in the direction of the qibla. Based on this, is the prayer of those standing ahead of the imam valid?
The majority of scholars from among the Hanafis, Shafi'is and Hanbalis have maintained the impermissibility of standing ahead of the imam, holding that it renders their prayer invalid. They based their opinion on the lexical meaning of the word 'imam' (leader) which denotes the spatial relationship between him and the congregation.
• The Shafi'i scholar, Ibn Qasem al-Ghazzi, said in Fath Al-Qareeb Al-Mujeeb Sharh Matn Al-Ghaya wa Al-Taqreeb: "Following the imam's prayer in any place in the mosque in such a manner that a person is aware of the imam's actions or of those praying in the [previous] rows fulfills the obligation for (following the imam) as long as a person does not stand ahead of him. A prayer is invalid if a person's shoulder extends outward beyond the imam though there is no harm in standing adjacent to him; it is recommended to stand a little behind."
• The Malikis maintained the permissibility of standing ahead of the imam though they consider it disliked unless there is a necessity. They maintained the prayer's validity if a person is properly able to follow the actions of the imam, and based their opinion on the fact that nothing has been mentioned in this respect. It is therefore excusable as long as it does not disrupt the prayer, by virtue of the person positioned in front of the imam being unable to follow the latter's actions.
• The author of Mawahib Al-Jaleel Sharh Mukhtasar Khaleel cited the following: "It is doubly disliked for a person to stand ahead of the imam [in a group prayer] or the bier [in a Funeral prayer] ... Based on this, standing ahead of the bier is only disliked, and the prayer is valid whether the person standing ahead of the bier is an imam or a congregant."
• The author of Al-Fawakeh Al-Dawani 'Ala Risalat Ibn Abu Zayd al-Qirwani: "It is known from what we have decided that the arrangement of rows [in a group prayer] or standing behind the imam is recommended. It is disliked to do otherwise, i.e. standing in front of or adjacent to the imam without a necessity."
A person's position in respect to the imam's
It is important to take the following positions into consideration when standing ahead of, behind or adjacent to the imam:
• For a person standing: the shoulders.
• For a person sitting: the buttocks.
• For a person lying down: on his side.
The legal principle concerning matters on which there is a scholarly difference of opinion, is that whoever is afflicted with something controversial is to follow the opinion of those who permit it.
Based on this, a latecomer, who finds the mosque full and cannot pray inside, may pray outside. He must:
• Stand behind the imam or at least be in line with him.
• Not stand in front of the imam except when he cannot stand behind or be adjacent to him provided he is able to follow his actions.
• Intend to follow the Malikis in this respect.
His prayer will then be valid as is the prayer of a latecomer whom he follows in prayer.
Allah the Almighty knows best.