Bismi Llahir Rahmanir Rahim
by Naielah Ackbarali
The basis is that one performs the prayer as it has been prescribed with its integrals (arkan) and obligatory acts (fara’id). However, there may be genuine cases when one is sick, injured, or in pain and praying according to the usual manner is either extremely difficult or practically impossible.
Allah Most High says: “Allah does not charge a soul except (with that within) its capacity.” [Qu’ran 2:286].
The Prophet ﷺ said: “If I command you to do a thing, then do as much of it as you can.” [Bukhari & Muslim]
Thus, if a person is seriously ill and needs to pray, certain rulings are relaxed according to the following legal principle: Necessity permits that which is not normally permitted, but only to the extent of the need. (al-darurat tubih al-mahthuraat wa al-darurat tuqaddir biqadriha)
The application of this principle is seen in a narration by the Companion Imran ibn Husayn (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: “I was suffering from hemorrhoids and I asked the Prophet ﷺ about praying. He ﷺ said, ‘Pray standing, and if you cannot, then sitting down, and if you cannot, then lying on your side.’” [Bukhari]
In the Hanafi madhhab, standing is an integral (rukn) for the validity of the obligatory (fard) prayer, witr prayer, and sunna prayer of Fajr – meaning that it is not acceptable to pray these prayers except by way of standing. Thus, even if one is sick, the basis is that these prayers are performed while standing. However, if one is genuinely unable to stand – or standing causes undue hardship – then the obligation to stand is lifted as indicated in the previous Prophetic narration.
With regards to the remaining sunna and nafl prayers, standing is not an integral, and one may pray them sitting at any time. However, if they are performed while sitting in the absence of a lawful excuse, one receives only half the reward of the prayer.
So, how does one pray without standing?
For the prayers in which standing is an integral, the Hanafi scholars state the following breakdown:
- If one finds difficulty in praying while standing, then one stands for the length that one is physically able, even if it is only to the extent of saying the opening takbir (Allahu Akbar) or reciting a single verse while standing.
- If one cannot pray standing, then one prays sitting, but one rises for bowing (ruku’) and performs the prostration (sujud) directly on the floor.
- If one cannot prostrate on the floor, then one prays sitting with head movements. This category also applies to a person who can stand or bow but cannot prostrate.
- If one cannot pray sitting, then one prays with head movements while lying on one’s back or side, preferably facing the qibla.
Each of these positions will be explained in detail with pictures inshaAllah.
Excuses That Permit Not Standing
Standing is an integral (rukn) for the validity of the obligatory (fard) prayer, witr prayer, and sunna of Fajr – meaning that it is not acceptable to pray these prayers except by way of standing.
In order for the integral of standing to be lifted, standing in the prayer must cause ‘extreme’ or ‘severe’ hardship. Thus, experiencing a degree of difficulty is not sufficient to drop its obligation.
The sick person’s prayer rulings are dispensations that also apply to the one who fears that standing will increase their sickness, slow healing, create dizziness, or cause intolerable pain.
These rulings are helpful to know for someone who has a severe back problem, a bad knee injury, or a broken foot. Women who are heavily pregnant or in the middle of delivering a baby may need to use these rulings too.
A sick person resorts to reasonable surety (ghalabat ʾl-ẓann) in order to determine the severity of the hardship entailed by praying while standing. Reasonable surety is known through one of three ways:
- a similar, past experience;
- the advice of a skilled, Muslim doctor who is outwardly religious;
- or apparent signs that indicate one’s dire state.
As for someone who prays the obligatory (fard) prayers or mandatory (wajib) prayers while sitting but is able to stand, this is impermissible.
Category 1: Praying While Standing For A Short Period
If one is able to perform any of the prayer’s integrals while standing for a short period of time without undue difficulty, then one must. A short period of time is defined as the length it takes to say the opening takbir (Allahu Akbar) or recite one verse of the Qur’an while standing. However, if doing so would cause severe pain, then one should pray sitting from the start of the prayer.
Category 2: Praying While Sitting
If one cannot pray while standing, then one prays while sitting, but one rises for bowing (ruku’) and performs the prostration (sujud) directly on the ground. One may sit on the floor or in a chair in whichever position is easiest, such as cross-legged or leaning against a pillow.
It is important to note that when the scholars mention that a person may pray sitting, the only action lifted is the integral of standing. One must still rise from the sitting position in order to bow and to prostrate on the actual ground.
Category 3: Praying With Head Movements
If one is unable to prostrate on the floor, one prays sitting with head movements. It is obligatory to bend one’s head lower for prostration than for bowing. Otherwise, the prayer is invalid.
However, one is only required to bend the head slightly lower than the movement for bowing to differentiate between the two integrals of bowing and prostrating. It is not obligatory to bend the head as low as possible or bend the back forward since the requirement is slight movements with the head.
Furthermore, one does not raise a pillow or the like to one’s forehead when making the head movement for prostration, which was forbidden by the Prophet ﷺ, and thus disliked.
If someone cannot prostrate but they can bow, the obligation to bow is lifted and the person prays with head movements for bowing and prostrating. This could be the case for someone with a sprained ankle – it may be easy to rise and bow but prostration is not possible without feeling intense pain.
Similarly, if someone is able to stand but cannot bow or prostrate, it is better to sit – and not to stand – while performing the head movements.
Category 4: Praying While Lying Down
If one is unable to sit up while praying – even by way of leaning against a pillow or a wall – then one prays lying down with head movements. There are two positions that are possible:
- Lying on the back with the feet positioned towards the direction of the qibla. The knees are bent upwards so that the bottom of the feet are not facing the qibla. One’s head should be slightly elevated with a pillow so that one’s gaze is directed towards the qibla and not upwards to the sky.
- Lying on one’s right or left side with one’s face facing the qibla. Lying on the right side is best.
The first position of lying on the back is what is preferred because one’s head movements are directly towards the qibla, whereas in the second position the head movements are deviated to the side.
Moreover, this is the ruling if one is able to move into these positions by oneself. In other words, a sick person is not obliged to ask another person to move or lift them. Rather, the sick person is only obliged to move according to their individual capability, and if it is not possible to face the qibla, then the obligation is lifted and the sick person can face any direction that is within their capacity. However, if family members want to move them in the direction of the qibla, it is praiseworthy, but it is not obligatory upon them.
Furthermore, if a sick person cannot make ablution (wudu) alone, or with the help of someone, the sick person can make tayammum with a rock or dirt.
Becoming Sick Or Healthy During The Prayer
If one began the prayer in a healthy state and becomes sick during the prayer, one completes the prayer in whichever way possible. For example, if one began the prayer standing, one may complete it while sitting (category 2) or with head movements (category 3 or 4). This is only in the presence of a weakness and apparent need.
If one began the prayer while praying with head movements (category 3 or 4) and within the prayer regained one’s health, such that one is able to now pray while standing or sitting (category 1 or 2), it is not permissible to build on the prayer. The reason being is that one cannot build strong actions upon weak actions, and head movements are weaker than sitting or standing. Consequently, one must restart the prayer from the beginning.
Missing The Prayer Due To Sickness
As for leaving the prayer entirely if one is ill, this is not permissible. The sick person must pray, providing that they are physically able to perform the prayer’s actions – even if by mere head movements.
If one is unable to pray with head movements (category 3 or 4), performing the prayer is delayed. In the Hanafi madhhab, it is not valid to pray with the eyes, the heart, or the eyebrows.
If being physically incapable of head movements causes one to miss prayers, then if the missed prayers exceed a full day and night, one is not obligated to make them up – even if one was in a state where one could understand human dialogue. However, if what was missed is five prayers or less, one is obliged to make them up.
For more details about the prayer, check out our courses.
- Imam Ala al-Din Abidin, الهدية العلائية
- Imam ibn Abidin, رد المحتار على الدر المختار
- Imam Shurunbalali, مراقي الفلاح
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