What is the ruling on the imam who ...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

What is the ruling on the imam who prolongs prayers?


What is the ruling on the imam who prolongs prayers?


The criteria governing the length of prayers depends on how much the people can tolerate and not on the individual whims of the imam. The Sunnah dictates the length of a prayer depending upon the abilities of the worshippers.

In his work Al-Adhkar, Al-Nawawi recommends that the chapter following the recitation of Al-Fatiha in the morning and afternoon prayers should be a long one, in the midafternoon and night prayers it should be of medium length while in the sunset prayer it should be short.

According to scholars, it is recommended for the imam not to prolong the recitations and supplications made during the different motions of prayers. Instead of reading the longest verses or invocations, he may recite shorter ones [that are still in keeping with the requisites of prayer]. For this reason, Abu Huraira reported that Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once said: “When anyone of you happens to lead prayer, he should make them short and light, because there may be among you those who are sick, weak or old.”

Although it is disliked to prolong prayers, it becomes recommended if you are leading a smaller group which you know would like you to prolong the prayer and there is no possibility of outsiders joining it, as you are merely complying with their wishes. Indeed, there are some sound hadiths in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have prolonged prayers. But an imam should refrain from this if he does not know the people praying behind him, and is therefore not sure whether or not they wish him to prolong the prayer. This stance is also supported by sound hadiths including one attributed to Anas, in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “When I stand up for prayer, I sometimes intend to prolong it. But then, when I hear a child crying, I shorten it because I know that the child’s crying would upset the mother (who might be offering her prayer behind me)” [recorded in the Sahih of Bukhari and the Sahih of Muslim].

Even if a group of worshippers wish to prolong the prayer, the imam should not act according to their wishes because the congregation may include others who may not be able to endure the lengthy recitations. The imam may extend the duration of prayer only to the extent that it does not exceed the capabilities of those praying behind him. The hadith sources show that Al-A‘raf or a shorter chapter are both recommended for prayers. Even though the decision on which to choose is not left to the discretion of the imam, it is contingent on the capabilities of those praying behind him.

And God the Almighty knows best.

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