(Leader in Prayer)
The Imam has to be selected with due care and attention because, in fact, he represents the holy Prophet in the mosque and his duties and responsibilities are of unique importance and significance in the religious system of Islam. Only such a person, therefore, should be appointed for this job, who is on the whole the best man available among the worshippers not only in matters of knowledge, righteousness, spirit of sacrifice and insight into religion (which are the necessary qualities of an Imam of the Muslims), but he should also possess leadership qualities to guide them in the practical affairs of life.
During his last illness, when the holy Prophet found himself unable to attend the mosque, he appointed Hadrat Abu Bakr as his representative, who was on the whole the best man among the Muslims. Though the ladies made repeated requests to the holy Prophet to appoint someone else because they thought Abu Bakr was a tender hearted man, the holy Prophet turned down their request every time and said: "Let Abu Bakr lead the people in Prayer." And Hadrat Abu Bakr then led the Prayer accordingly. Prayer being the most important duty in Islam, it can be held only by such a person who has the necessary calibre and qualities to represent Muslims before Allah and who is religiously the best person on the whole among the people.
Hadrat Abu Mas'ud has reported the holy Prophet as saying: "The Imam of the Muslims should be such a one who possesses the deepest knowledge and understanding of the Qur'an. If all are equal in this, the Imam should be the one who has the deepest knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari'ah. If all are equal in this, he should be the one who migrated first. And if all are equal in this too, then the one who is most senior in age." (Muslim)
"The deepest knowledge of the Qur'an" implies that he should have a special inclination and taste for the Qur'an. He should have committed a large portion of it to memory, and should be able to recite it well, and have deep insight into its meaning and contents and has understood and absorbed its message well. If all are equal in this quality, then the Imam should be a person who has profound knowledge of the Sunnah and Shari'ah regulations. If all are equal in this quality then it should be the one who has offered maximum sacrifices for the sake of Islam and upheld its cause through all the vicissitudes of life. If all are equal in this quality too, then the one most senior in age may be given in honour of leading the Prayer.
Regulations Concerning the Functions of the Imam
1. A woman is not allowed to lead males in Prayer. Hadrat Jabir has reported the holy Prophet as saying: "No woman is permitted to lead a male in Prayer." (Ibn Majah)
2. The female Imam should stand in the row and not alone in front, whether she has one female follower with her or more.
3. The Imam should have regard for his followers and should not recite long passages or prolong the ruku or sajdah unduly, for the holy Prophet has said, "When anyone of you happens to lead the Prayer, he should make it short and light, because among the followers there may be the sick, the weak or aged people. However, when you are offering the Prayer alone, you may prolong it as much as you like." (Bukhari, Muslim)
Hadrat Mu'az used to recite long Surahs in the Isha Prayer. When the holy Prophet came to know of it, he was annoyed, and said: "O Mu'az, do not put the people to trial!" - and then instructed him to recite short Surahs like Al-A'ala (87), Ash-Shams (92), Al-Lail (92) and Wad-Duha (93) (Bukhari, Muslim)
Concerning his own practice, the holy Prophet once remarked: "When I stand up for Prayer, I sometimes intend to prolong it, but then I hear some child crying and I shorten the Prayer, because I know that the child's crying would upset the mother (who might be offering her Prayer behind me." (Bukhari)
4. It is permissible to appoint one or more persons (called Mukabbirs) among the followers, who should repeat the Imam's takbir, etc., in a louder voice so as to convey it to the followers at the rear so that they may perform their rukus and sajdahs and other articles of Prayer correctly and properly behind the Imam.
5. It is highly undesirable to appoint a sinner, or a wicked person, as Imam. If however a better person is not available, then such a person may be allowed to act as Imam.
6. It is permissible to offer prayers under the leadership of an Imam belonging to another school of juristic thought. If the Imam has adhered to his own particular fiqh, the Prayer of the followers will be valid regardless of the different schools to which they may belong.
7. If a person is offering the fard rak'ahs of the Maghrib, Isha or Fajr Prayer alone, and is joined by another person as a follower, he must start starting reciting the Qur'an aloud as an Imam. If he has already recited al Fatiha and an additional passage, he must repeat them aloud as prescribed for these prayers. In case he has to repeat al Fatiha, he will have to perform sajdah sahv in the final sitting.
8. It is undesirable to appoint a person as an Imam who suffers from a repulsive or serious disease like leprosy etc.
9. To appoint a handsome young man whose beard has not yet grown as Imam, is undesirable.
10. A man who is disliked or hated by the people should not act as the Imam. The followers' willingness and approval in this regard is necessary.
11. If a Prayer is to be offered in the house of a person, the person himself deserves to be the Imam. However, if he allows another person to act as Imam, there is no harm. Similarly the appointed Imam of the mosque has a greater right to act as Imam in the mosque unless he himself allows another person to lead the Prayer on that particular occasion.
12. If the Prayer of the Imam becomes void for some reason, the Prayer of the whole congregation will automatically become void, whether it happens during the progress of the Prayer, or comes to light after the Prayer is over. In any case the Imam is duty bound to inform the followers to repeat their Prayer.
13. It is the responsibility of the Imam to see that the rows are made straight and balanced and the followers are standing close to one another without any gaps between them.
14. A male Imam may lead women in Prayer provided there is at least one other male present in the congregation, or a mahram female, like mother, wife, sister etc.
15. It is not permissible for the followers to offer a Prayer by playing a tape or a recording containing the voice of the Imam, nor is it permissible to follow an Imam who is leading prayers over the radio at a distant place.(1)
1. Maulana Abul-a’ala Maududi has expressed his opinion on this point in response to a questioner who asked him whether it was permissible and valid to offer prayers by playing tapes or recordings or even under the leadership of an Imam who might be leading the prayer over the radio thousands of miles away. The Maulana wrote:
“In principle, it is not valid to offer prayers under the leadership of an Imam who is leading prayers over the radio at a distant place, or by playing a recording containing his voice for the following reasons:
(a) “An Imam is not there only to lead the people in prayer, but he is in fact a leader of the local people as well. It is his duty to establish personal contacts with the people of the place, to keep an eye on their morals and other affairs and to carry out the duty of reforming and guiding them through sermons and other means as and when necessary. Though, like the other affairs of Muslims, this institution has also suffered deterioration, it is necessary to keep it intact and established, as far as possible, in its real form. If prayers start being held over the radio or by playing recordings, the real spirit of the institution of Imam will soon be extinguished.