What if One Forgot to Recite A Surah After The Fatiha in Prayer?

Shaykhul Islam Ahmad b. al-Mubarak al-Lamati wrote:

[We] heard someone pose a question to a Friend of God who’d received illumination. The question was about the recitation of the surah that follows the Fatiha, namely:

Q: If someone performing the ritual prayers forgets the surah and now must pray the prostration (of forgetfulness) as compensation for it, but then forgets the prostration up to the point that he says salam (and ends the prayer), and much time has gone by, are his prayers then invalid because of omitting the compensatory prostration (of forgetfulness) – on the basis that the surah contains three customary observances (sunan)? (1) Or is this not the case, on the basis that the surah doesn’t contain three customary observances? Shaykh al-Hattab and others hold the first view, whereas the commentators on the Risala (of Ibn Abi Zayd) hold the second view.

The questions asked this Friend of God who’d received illumination to specify for him what was the truth in God the Sublime’s view.

The Friend replied quickly:

A: The truth in God the Sublime’s view is that forgetting the surah in no way obligates one to perform the prostration (of forgetfulness), and if someone performs a prostration because of it, his prayers are invalid.

This Friend of God was a common person with no formal education. The questioner knew him and knew the elevation of his rank with regard to illumination. So when he heard his answer, he knew it was the truth without any doubt.

As for the man with cleverness and intelligence (who was with us), he experienced doubt and uncertainty. He said to the questioner after they’d left the Friend’s presence: “Surely this man” – i.e. the Friend of God – “is ignorant and knows nothing. Look how ignorant he is about God’s judgement in this obvious matter. He says: “If someone omits the surah, he doesn’t have to perform a prostration.” But Ibn Rushd considers the surah to be among the emphasized sunnan, just as he considers reciting it out loud or silently to be an emphasized sunna as well.”

The questioner replied: “The friend who’s received illumination isn’t restricted to a school of religious law but he circulates with the truth wherever it circulates.”

The clever man, who was a scholar of religious learning, said: “We never go beyond the teachings of our imam Malik.”

The questioner replied: “What the Friend endowed with illumination said is what Ashhab transmited from Malik, as reported in the Tawdih. He transmitted from the imam that the surah is recommended (mustahab) but it isn’t a sunna of the prayer. Moreover, this is the teaching (madhhab) of al-Shafi’i (may God be pleased with him) whose view is that the surah is one of the things that improve the prayer but isn’t one of the sunnan of the prayer. If someone adds a prostration in its place, his ritual prayers are invalid. Now our question to the Friend of God was that he specify the truth without any restriction. This isn’t exclusive to the standard opinion (mashhur) in Malik’s school of religious law. He’s specified what we asked him about. This accords with a particular report transmitted from Malik and it’s also the opinion of al-Shafi’i (may God be pleased with the two of them), so how could there be any blame on the Friend of God for his answer?

This was the reply the questioner gave. When the clever man heard it, he was cut off and he didn’t know what to say. I would add that such is the manner and the habit of the deniers. All you find in their case is sheer deficiency!

– Ahmad b. al-Mubarak al-Lamati, Pure Gold from the Words of Sayyidi Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh, pp. 664-6. With some editing and improvements to the translation.


(1) The standard Maliki opinion states that the prayer is invalidated due to the omission of 3 consecutive sunnahs: the sura, standing for its recitation, and audibleness or inaudibility; whereas 3 stressed sunnahs are counted as 1 compulsory act.

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