Reading from a copy of the Qur`an during prayers
Is it permissible to read from a copy of the Qur`an while praying?
One of the best acts of worship and praiseworthy sunnas is to combine two meritorious deeds — prayers and reading the Qur`an — in an effort to complete the Qur`an during prayers. Since it is not possible for everyone to do this with the chapters one has memorized, scholars have discussed the permissibility of reading from a copy of the Qur`an during prayers by holding it in one's hands or placing it on a stand.
The opinion of the Shafi'is and the preponderant opinion of the Hanbalis
It is permissible for both the imam (the person who leads prayer) and the person praying alone to read from a copy of the Qur`an during prayers. This ruling applies to prescribed prayers and supererogatory prayers as well as to a person who has memorized the Qur`an and one who has not. This is the established opinion which Imam Ibn Qudama mentioned in Al-Mughni (336/1) through 'Ata` and Yahya al-Ansari from among the scholars of the predecessors.
Other scholarly opinions
- It has been mentioned through 'A`isha that her slave, Dhakwan, used to lead her in prayer while reading from a copy of the Qur`an [Recorded in the Sahih of Bukhari in an emphatic and mu'allaq hadith , in Ibn Abu Shayba's Musannaf in a hadith that includes the whole chain of transmission and in al-Baihaqi's Sunan Al-Kubra].
- Imam al-Zuhri was asked about a man who reads from a copy of the Qur`an during the month of Ramadan and he replied, "The best of us used to read from a copy of the Qur`an" [Recorded in Al-Mudawana Al-Kubra (1/228-289) and in Ibn Qudama's Al-Mughni (335/1)].
Just as reading from a copy of the Qur`an is an act of worship, so is looking at it. Combining the two acts of worship does not entail forbiddance but rather a greater reward since looking at a copy of the Qur`an is a surplus act of worship.
A meritorious act
The renowned scholar, Al-Ghazali, mentioned in Ihya` 'Ulum Al-Deen (1/229), "It has been said that the reward for completing the Qur`an by reading from a copy of it is seven fold. This is because looking at the Qur`an is also an act of worship." The legal principle states that means take the same rulings as their goals and the goal in this case is reading the Qur`an. Therefore, if this goal is achieved by looking at a copy of the Qur`an, it is permissible.
Imam al-Nawawi mentioned in Al-Majmu' (4/27), "The prayers of a person who reads from a copy of the Qur`an are valid, whether or not he has committed anything of it to memory. Rather, this becomes obligatory if he has not memorized the chapter of al-Fatiha. His prayers are not invalidated if he occasionally turns a page during prayers."
The luminary and Hanbali scholar, Mansur al-Bahuti, said in Kashf Al-Qina' (1/384), "Ibn Hamid maintains that a person may read from a copy of the Qur`an even if he has memorized it … this is permissible for prescribed and supererogatory prayers alike."
The Hanafis contend that reading from a copy of the Qur`an nullifies prayers. Ibn Hazm from the Zahirite school of jurisprudence upheld this same opinion based on a number of evidences which include the following:
- Ibn Abu Dawud's report through Ibn 'Abbas (may God be pleased with them both) who said, "The leader of the Believers, 'Umar (may God be pleased with him) forbade us from leading the people in prayer while reading from a copy of the Qur`an. He also forbade us from praying behind anyone save an adult" [mentioned in Kitab Al-Masahef (655)]. This non-Prophetic report is weak because Nahshal Ibn Sa'id al-Naisapuri, who was known to have been a liar, is among its chain of transmitters; his reports are therefore rejected. Al-Bukhari wrote in Al-Tareekh Al-Kabeer (8/115), "His reports include many weak hadiths", and al-Nisa`i wrote in Tahdheeb Al-Tahdheeb (10/427), "He is not trustworthy and any hadiths he reported are not to be written."
- Holding a copy of the Qur`an, looking at it and turning its pages involve excessive motions.
In response to this, we mention that the Prophet once prayed while carrying Umama bint Abu al-`As on his shoulder. He put her down when he bowed and picked her up when he straightened. Some hadiths state the permissibility of simple movements during prayers and, since turning the pages of a copy of the Qur`an is one of such motions, it is condoned. Moreover, reading from a copy of the Qur`an does not necessarily involve excessive motions due to the intervals between turning its pages. Turning pages is, in itself, a simple act and a person may put a copy of the Qur`an with large fonts on an elevated surface in front of him and read one or two pages without the need to frequently turn its pages.
Imitating the People of the Book
The Hanafi scholars, Abu Yusuf al-Qadi and Muhammad Ibn Hasan al-Shaybani, maintained that reading from a copy of the Qur`an while praying is absolutely disliked regardless of whether the prayer is prescribed or supererogatory, though it does not invalidate the prayer. This is because reading from a copy of the Qur`an is an act of worship that has been added to another act of worship. They based their opinion on the fact that this act involves imitating the People of the Book. However, it is established that it is only forbidden to emulate the People of the Book if the imitation is intentional. This is because imitation involves resolving to do something and acting upon it. One of the legal principles is to take into account the intentions of the legally responsible Muslim. This is further evidenced by Imam Muslim's report through Jabir Ibn 'Abdullah (may God be pleased with them) who said, "We were once praying behind the Messenger of God when he was ill and praying while seated. He looked behind him and saw us standing, so he gestured to us to sit down. We sat down and offered the prayer in a sitting posture. After making salutation, the Prophet said, 'You were on the verge of doing an act similar to that of the Persians and the Romans; their kings remain seated while their subjects stand before them. Do not do this but follow your imams. If they offer prayers while standing, do likewise, and if they offer prayers while seated, follow suit.' When the verb 'kada' used in the hadith and which means "almost' or 'on the point of' occurs in the affirmative, it negates the predicate and denotes the near occurrence of an action. Since the Companions did not intend to imitate the People of the Book, the ascription of the action to the Companions is eliminated. The idea of imitating the People of the Book does not cross the mind of a person reading from a copy of the Qur`an during prayers, let alone doing it deliberately!
For this reason, the luminary and Hanafi scholar, Ibn Nujaym, mentioned in Al-Bahr Al-Ra`iq (2/11), "Know that imitating the People of the Book is not disliked in every aspect since we eat and drink as they do. Prohibited acts include imitating their reprehensible acts and other deliberate imitations. Based on this, according to Abu Yusuf al-Qadi and Muhammad Ibn Hasan al-Shaybani, imitation is not disliked if it is not deliberate."
The Maliki position
Maliki scholars differentiated between prescribed and supererogatory prayers as follows:
1. It is absolutely disliked to read from a copy of the Qur`an during the prescribed prayer whether at the beginning or during the prayer.
2. It is likewise disliked for a person to read from a copy of the Qur`an during a supererogatory prayer if he has not done so from when he first started his recitation as this will most probably distract him from his prayer.
3. In a supererogatory prayer, it is permissible without it being disliked, to read from a copy of the Qur`an if a person has started to do so from the moment he began his recitation. This is because what is forbidden in a prescribed prayer may be allowed in a supererogatory prayer [Manh al-Jalil Sharh Mukhtasar Khalil (1/345)].
We can respond to the above by saying that unlawful motions during prayers are those which are diversionary or unnecessary since they compromise reverence and humility in prayer; it is therefore disliked to occupy oneself with them. Reading from a copy of the Qur`an during prayer is different; it is a simple act done for an intended purpose and there is no objection to such acts. The legal premise for this is Abu Sa'id al-Khudri's report in which he said that the Prophet removed his shoes during prayers when it was revealed to him that they were unclean [recorded by Imam Ahmed in his Musnad (3/92) and by Abu Dawud in his Sunnan (650)].
Based on the above, it is valid and permissible to read from a copy from the Qur`an during prescribed and supererogatory prayers; it is not disliked let alone invalid.
It must be noted that as long as there is a difference of scholarly opinion, the matter is capacious due to the established principle that objection is not for issues where there is a difference of opinion. Furthermore, this must not be a cause of conflict and discord among Muslims.
God the Almighty knows best.