Prompting the imam
A man was leading others in prayer and he absentmindedly omitted a word from the chapter he was reciting after al-Fatiha. In such a case, is it obligatory for a congregant to prompt the imam and correct him? If so, when and how is this to be done?
Prompting the imam, which is permissible, may either include correcting a mistake in the his recitation or cuing him to assist him in his recitation. The legal premise for this permissibility is the report of Miswar Ibn Yazid, the Maliki scholar, who said that once a man brought the Prophet's attention toa verse he had omitted during his recitation in prayers. The Prophettold him, "You should have alerted me" [Abu Dawud]. Abu Dawud also recorded that Abdullah Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) said, "Once the Prophet made a mistake in his recitation during prayer. When he finished the prayer he asked Ubay, 'Did you pray with us?' 'Yes,' Ubay replied. The Prophet then said, "What prevented you from correcting me?" [Al-Khatibi maintained that this hadith was reported with a good chain of transmission].
In the first hadith, when the Prophet omitted a verse, Miswar assumed that it had been abrogated. The Prophet told him that it had not and that he wished that Miswar had alerted him of his omission. Al-Shawkani wrote in Nayl Al-Awtar (2/339) that both hadiths attest to the permissibility of prompting the imam, contrary to the Shi'a sect who have two opinions that it is either recommended or obligatory.
It was reported that Abu Hanifa considered it disliked to prompt the imam. He based his opinion on the hadith narrated by Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) who reported that the Messenger of Allahsaid, 'O 'Ali! Do not prompt the imam during prayers' " [recorded by Abu Dawud and by 'Abdul Razzaq in his Musannaf]. It is a weak hadith and does not conflict with what has been mentioned on the permissibility of prompting the imam.
Ibn Qudama wrote in Al-Mughni (1/711): "There is no objection to prompting the imam in either an obligatory or voluntary prayer if he hesitates or makes a mistake in his recitation."
This opinion was reported from 'Uthman, 'Ali and Ibn 'Umar. Some of the tabi'in (those who were born after the Prophet's death and were contemporaries of his Companions) such as Al-Hasan and Ibn Sireen. Ibn Mas'ud, a Companion of the Prophet, considered it disliked as did Shurayh and al-Sha'biy. Abu Hanifa said that a person's prayer is invalidated by such action. Ibn Qudama cited the previous hadiths and said that it is obligatory for the imam's followers to prompt him if he falters when reciting al-Fatiha, similar to when he forgets a bowing or prostration in which case a follower reminds him of it by saying 'Subhan Allah'. If the imam is unable to recite al-Fatiha, he may motion to someone to replace him. This is because it is considered an excuse similar to being overcome with minor impurity.
There is no harm in prompting the imam if he forgets a word or verse during his recitation of other than al-Fatiha, provided he does this without causing any commotion in the mosque. On the other hand, it is obligatory upon the imam's followers to prompt him if he falters during his recitation of al-Fatiha since it is one of the pillars of prayer. This is similar to when one forgets to bow or prostrate and is reminded of his omission by another saying 'Subhan Allah'. This is based on the words of the Prophetwho said, "Men say 'Subhan Allah' while women clap." Similarly, congregants are obliged to correct the imam if he makes a manifest mistake in his recitation that changes the meaning. Examples include conveying that the people whose abode is Hell-fire will enter Paradise and vice-versa. However, congregants must observe Islamic etiquette and not open a gate for Satan to spoil our lives and prayers.
Allah the Almighty knows best.