The issue of joining the feet in prayers is one in which even the common layman can appreciate, without exerting too much intellectual effort, the catastrophic consequences of opening the doors of Ijtihad to the Mujtahids of today.
The articles below demonstrate that the feet gymnastics in vogue amongst the Salafi-influenced groups today is completely in conflict with the manner with which the great fuqaha from all four madh-habs understood the numerous Ahadith which commanded the ‘joining’ of the FEET, ANKLES, KNEES, NECKS, and SHOULDERS, in Salaat. For 14 centuries, none of the four madh-habs interpreted such Ahadith to mean a literal, physical attachment of such parts of the body with one’s fellow Musalli, throughout the duration of the prayer.
This fanatical bid’ah of obsessively gluing one’s feet (usually unwashed) took off rapidly when numerous scholars of the Salafi Sect, including the likes of Shaykh al-Albaani, seemingly made a sudden so-called unprecedented “breakthrough” that the whole Ummah for 1400 years failed to apply, or had misunderstood the true import of the numerous Ahadith which exhorted the ‘joining’ of various limbs of the body. The fact that this bid’ah is now starkly visible in countless mosques within the space of a few years is ample proof for the potential for a complete transformation of the Deen that the Salafi ideology brings with it.
The mass displacement of the exact taraweeh practice established by the Sahabah’s Ijma’ as transmitted by the four madh-habs, and the increasingly widespread acceptability that three talaqs equals to one, are two more of many examples demonstrating that our Deen is rapidly morphing into something else altogether as a direct result of the “Usools” (principles) pioneered and propagated rabidly by the Salafis.
Other rulings which are heading down the same route and are already well on course to become acceptable as “valid ikhtilaaf” (difference of opinion) include such views as the permissiblity of mass genocide of non-Muslim civilians, the belief that Hell-fire will end eventually for the kuffaar, the belief that Allah (exalted is He) is located in a specific direction and that He is able to sit upon the back of a mosquito, and the permissibility of a grown man drinking the breast-feeding milk of a strange woman in order to become her bosom relative, due to a subjective ‘need’.
More shall be written on how acceptable and disconcertingly widespread the aforementioned abominations have already become within the Salafi’s well-known scholarly circles, as a result of their chaotically destructive “Usools”, and also due to their fanatically blind taqleed of the likes of Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah, Shaykh Ibnul Qayyim, Shaykh Ibn Uthaymin, Shaykh al-Albaani, and others whom they have placed on a pedestal above the divinely formed compendium of rulings and beliefs represented by the four Madh-habs of Fiqh and the two Madh-habs of Aqeedah – the only Madh-habs today that have gone through a level of mass-scrutiny and mass-acceptance that makes it practically impossible for any anomalous Ijtihaad to become part of ‘Deen’, unlike what is occurring commonplace within the various groups influenced by the Salafi ideology.
The Feet In Salaat
(By Maulana Ahmad Sadeq Desai)
In this fourteenth century of the Islamic era, a recently mushroomed sect known as the Salafis, has invented some new rules which they believe are the Sunnat teachings of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Inspite of their views being in conflict with the teachings of the Salf-e-Saaliheen belonging to the Noblest Ages of Islam (Khairul Quroon), they obstinately cling to their misguided opinions. Their method is to subject the Ahadith to their personal understanding. Inspite of the divergence which this self-opinion produces from the Way of the Ummah inherited from the Sahaabah, the Salafis intransigently cling to their deviation.
A little reflection would convince them that it is not possible that the Aimmah-e-Mujtahideen who were the Students of the Sahaabah would propagate acts which are in conflict with the Sunnah. Any act which has been accepted and practised by the entire Ummah from the earliest era of Islam cannot be deviation. Deviation will be the act which is in conflict with this sacred Unanimity.
One of the erroneous practices of the Salafis is their act of spreading their legs wide apart during Salaat. In the bid to touch the toes of the musalli standing adjacent to them, they disfigure their stance and ruin their composure with the mental preoccupation of touching the toes of the musallis standing on both sides in the Saff during Jamaat Salaat. Even when performing Salaat alone, they stretch the legs hideously apart. But for this innovation they have absolutely no Shar’i evidence. A solitary Hadith which makes reference to ‘foot with foot’ has been grievously misunderstood and misinterpreted by them. Besides their misinterpretation, they have intentionally ignored all the other Shar’i proofs which refute their interpretation.
A perusal of the relevant Ahadith on this subject will convince every unbiased Muslim that the Salafi interpretation of the Hadith is a concoction of the nafs. It is a concoction designed and prepared by shaitaan to create rifts and discord in the Ummah. When people opt to abandon the practices which the Aimmah Mujtahideen have reported on the basis of the authority of the Sahaabah, then shaitaani manipulation is evident.
All four Math-habs of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah unanimously refute the Salafi contention on the position to be adopted when standing for Salaat. None of the Math-habs teaches that the legs should be spread out widely when standing for Salaat nor that the toes of the Musalli alongside should be touched. Some of the Salafis go to great lengths in spreading their legs in the bid to touch the next man’s toes causing annoyance and much irritation.
Emphasis on Straightening the Sufoof
(Sufoof is the plural of saff which refers to the row of musallis in a Jamaat)
The Ahadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) emphasise the straightening of the sufoof. The emphasis in all the Hadith narrations dealing with this subject is directed to proper saff-formation, not on the feet of the musallis touching the toes of the musalli standing alongside as the Salafis inordinately and inconsiderately practice.
In the endeavour to sustain the practice of stretching the legs wide open while performing Salaat, the Salafis have gone to the extreme of adopting this ugly stance even when performing Salaat alone. While a man who is uneducated in the laws of the Shariah may misunderstand the solitary Hadith in which reference has been made to “foot with foot”, the same mistake cannot and should not be made in so far as Salaat performed alone because the question of “foot with foot” is not remotely related to infiraadi Salaat, i.e. performing Salaat alone.
The Salafis may abortively argue that the aim of spreading the legs wide apart is to ensure straightness of the sufoof, but what argument do they have for justifying this unbecoming practice when a man is performing Salaat infiraadan(individually)? Furthermore, there is no Hadith narration in this regard which could even be misinterpreted to support the case of a munfarid stretching his legs to the extremities of east and west or north and south, depending on the location of the Qiblah from where he happens to be.
The Salafis claim that it is Sunnah to stretch the legs wide apart and for a musalli’s toes to touch the toes of the musalli standing alongside him in the saff. This ludicrous position is imposed by the Salafis on even women who are obliged to stand with their legs wide open. What an ugly, miserable and immodest stance for a woman to adopt? A woman is an object of concealment according to the statement of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). When she has to stretch her legs wide open, she adopts the stance of lewd and shameless women. Throughout Salaat, a woman’s postures are to be constricted — made small and drawn in, not asserted like a man asserts and expresses his actions during Salaat.
As far as their stance is concerned for the munfarid, there is not a single Hadith which they can cite in substantiation for their view which anyhow is utterly baseless. All the relevant Ahadith on this topic teach the contrary, namely, that the feet should be held slightly apart — about four to five inches (10 cm). There also exists consensus of the Four Math-habs on this issue.
As far as the feet position for the saff is concerned, the Salafis conveniently overlook all the Ahadith which negate their corrupt view and intransigently cling to a view which they have understood to be the method. In taking to this view, they deliberately cast aside what exactly the Hadith in question says. They took a single word (namely ‘foot with foot’) out of the context of the Hadith and formulated the practice of stretching the legs wide apart and touching the toes of the musallis standing alongside on either side in the saff. For understanding this issue, it is best that we cite all the relevant Ahadith.
1. Hadhrat Umar (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: “Straighten the sufoof, line up the shoulders, close the gaps and become tender in the hands of your brothers. Do not leave any gaps for shaitaan. Whoever joins the saff, Allah will join him. And whoever cuts the saff Allah will cut him.” (Bukhari & Abu Dawood)[Become tender: that is to comply when a brother musalli in the saff touches your shoulder indicating that you should bring it in line with the shoulders of the other musallis in the saff.]
2. Hadhrat Baraa’ Bin Aazib (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) used to enter the saff from end to end, touching our chests and our shoulders. He would say:
“Do not be irregular (in your rows), for then your hearts will become irregular (i.e. discord will overtake you).” He would (also) say:
“ Verily, Allah Azza Wa Jal and His Malaaikah dispatch Salaam on the first sufoof”[When the word ‘Salaat’ is related to Allah Ta ‘ala, it denotes Rahmat, i.e. He sends down mercy. When it is related to the Malaaikah, it means that they supplicate to Allah Ta`ala to send His mercy upon His servants.]
3. Hadhrat Anas Bin Maalik (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that the Iqaamah for Salaat was given. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) turned towards us and said: “Straighten your sufoof and stand close together, for verily I see you from behind.” In a narration of Hadhrat Anas (radhiyallahu anhu) it is mentioned: “Everyone among us would put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion (alongside) and his foot with his foot.”
4. Hadhrat Anas (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: “Join your sufoof and stand close together, and stand in line with (your) necks. I take oath by The Being in Whose power is my life that most certainly I see shaitaan entering the gaps in the saff as if he is a lamb.” (Abu Dawood)
5. Abul Qaasim Jadli (rahmatullah alayh) said :“I heard Nu’maan Bin Basheer (radhiyallahu anhu) say: ‘Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) turned towards the people (the musallis) and say three times: ‘By Allah! Most certainly, you should straighten your sufoof otherwise Allah will create discord in your hearts.’ Thereafter I saw that a man would attach his shoulder to the shoulder of his companion (the one standing alongside), his knee to the knee of his companion and his ankle to the ankle of his companion.” (Bukhari & Abu Dawood)
6. Nu’maan Bin Basheer (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates: “Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would arrange (set in order) our sufoof. One day he came out (from his home) and saw a man (in the saff) whose chest was protruding in front of the (chests of) the community (i.e. the musallis). He then commented: ‘Straighten your sufoof otherwise Allah will cast discord in your faces (i.e. in the words coming from your mouths).” (Tirmizi)
7. Maalik Ibn Abi Aamir Ansaari (radhiyallahu anhu) narrates: “Uthmaan Bin Affaan (radhiyallahu anhu) would recite in his Khutbah: ‘When the Salaat is ready, arrange the sufoof properly and line up with the shoulders’ (i.e. the shoulders of the musallis should all be in line and touching).” (Muatta Imaam Muhammad)
8. Hadhrat Anas (radhiyallahu anhu) narrated that Nabi (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: “Join your sufoof and draw close among yourselves and line up with the necks.” Reported by Abu Dawood and Nisai. Authenticated by Ibn Hibbaan. (Bulooghul Maraam)–I’laaus Sunnan
These are about all the narrations pertaining to the manner and style of standing in Jamaat Salaat. Explaining these Ahadith, Imaam Bukhaari (rahmatullah alayh) states in the section captioned:
“JOINING SHOULDER TO SHOULDER”:
“This is what the Jamhoor have said: ‘Verily, the meaning (of joining in this context) is complete nearness and lining up, not actual joining (or touching).’” Al-Haafiz said: “The meaning of this is to emphasise in straightening the saff and closing the gaps.” And Aini too has said so. With this, the indication is towards emphasis in straightening the sufoof and closing the gaps. Qustulaani and others have also said this.”
(Laamiud Duraari—commentary of Bukhari)
In Faidhul Baari it is reported as follows:
“It is stated in Sharhul Wiqaayah: ‘The musalli should stand apart (with his feet) so that there is a distance of four fingers in between them, and that is also the view of Imaam Shaafi (rahmatullah alayh), In another view it is said that the distance (between the feet) should be one hand (i.e. about 10 cm).’ (The author says): I did not find any difference of opinion among the Salf (i.e. Salf-e-Saaliheen) between the stance (of the musalli) in Jama’ah and in infiraad (i.e. performing alone). There is no difference regarding the gap (between the feet). It is not that the spreading of the feet should be more in Jama’ah than when performing Salaat alone.”
The summary of this is: When we do not find the Sahaabah and the Taabi-een differentiating in their standing position between Jama’ah and individual Salaat, then we understand that the only meaning of Rasulullah’s statement of ‘joining the shoulders’ is to line up closely and to abstain from leaving gaps (between the musallis).
The following appears in Laamiud Duraari, Commentary of Saheeh Bukhaari:
“The Authorities (the Fuqaha) stated that it is best for the musalli to keep his feet about four fingers apart. They did not say that the feet should be united in ruku’ or sajdah. Aini says in Binaayah: ‘It is appropriate that there be the distance of four fingers between the feet of the musalli, for verily, this is nearest to khushoo.’”
Ibn Umar (radhiyallahu anhuma) would not spread (widely) his feet nor would the one foot touch the other, but between this there would be neither much closeness nor much distance.
In Raddul Mihtaar it is reported as follows:
“The meaning of joining ankles to ankles is that everyone in the Jama’ah should stand alongside the other (i.e. in a straight line). So is it said in Fataawa Samarqand).” (I’laaus Sunan)
From all the narrations and views of the Muhadditheen and Fuqaha of the Khairul Quroon era it is abundantly clear that the Hadith which mentions joining foot with foot does not have a literal meaning. It simply means that the feet should be all in line, and this is achieved by the heels of the musallis all being in the same line. This will ensure a straight saff on which the emphasis of all the Ahadith is.
The Salafis of this age, while grabbing the words ‘foot with foot’, ignore ‘neck with neck’, ‘shoulder with shoulder’, ‘knee with knee’ and ‘ankle with ankle’. The narrations command joining of the necks just as it instructs joining of the feet. And, in the same way it commands joining of the knees and ankles. How is it possible for the neck of one musalli to touch the neck of the musalli alongside? At most, shoulders can touch. But to achieve the phenomenal act of joining necks, the musallis will have to ruin their Salaat and stand on their toes balancing at a precarious angle to achieve the goal of touching each other’s neck. But no one has ever advocated this ludicrous stance. Similarly, if the literal sense of the ‘ankle with ankle’ has to be accepted, it will place the musallis under great stress to achieve what is not simple because the protruding heels are barriers for this achievement. Also, if ‘knee against knee’ had to be literally considered, the musallis would have to stand with ugly bandied legs, stretching even their thighs hideously in order to join their knees with the knees of their companions? But, not even the Salafis have ventured such ludicrousness.
Why do the Salafis choose only ‘foot with foot’ out of the several instructions pertaining to the joining of various bodily parts? For this choice they have only their intransigent nafsaani desire –no daleel whatsoever. What is the determining factor to choose only feet and to ignore necks, knees, shoulders and ankles? On the other hand, the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah — the followers of the Four Math-habs — have a mass of evidence to support ‘joining of the shoulders’. Furthermore, joining or lining up of the shoulders is simple, rational and fulfills in the best way the instruction of straightening the saff.
It should be noted that the emphasis is on closing the gaps. There should be no gap between two musallis standing in the saff. But, the wider the legs are spread apart, the more the distance between the shoulders will increase. Thus, spreading the legs wide apart defeats the very command issued in the Hadith to close the gaps and straighten the sufoof.
In order to achieve ‘foot with foot’ literally, the Salafis are constrained to turn their feet at angles away from the Qiblah. In this hideous exercise they manage only to touch the toes of the adjacent musalli with much difficulty and irritation to those whose peace of mind is disturbed with the unruly encroachment of his companion’s toes. When the toes are made to touch with the feet in diagonal positions, the shoulders cannot touch, the knees, ankles, necks, etc. are thrown completely out of alignment.
When shoulders are not lined up, it is impossible to achieve straight sufoof. It is for this reason that the Hadith emphasises more on shoulders. Feet are mentioned only once. The Sahaabah and the Taabi-een relate the instruction ‘to line up’ and straighten the saff to the shoulders, necks, knees, ankles and the feet. In other words, all these should be in line, not out of alignment. It is for this reason that the Hadith clearly mentions that the Khulafa-e-Raashideen, in fact Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) himself, would order protruding chests to recede into line. Never did any of the Authorities of the Shariah speak about feet which should touch.
In the adoption of the Salafi mode, the movement is excessive in Salaat. Neither is proper Ruku’ nor proper Sajdah possible if this hideous posture has to be retained throughout Salaat. In fact Sajdah is not at all possible with the feet spread wide apart. Therefore, the Salafis are constrained to shift positions repeatedly when going to ruku’. This excessive movement in Salaat in negatory of khushoo’.
THE FOUR MATH-HABS
While the case of the Four Math-habs is logical, the actual daleel (proof) for our view is not rational interpretation, but is narrational evidence. Such evidence has been transmitted down the centuries from the Sahaabah. It should be understood that the Aimmah-e-Mujtahideen — the Imaams of the Math-habs — had acquired their knowledge of Islam from either the Sahaabah or the Taabi-een who were the Students of the Sahaabah. Whatever they taught is therefore, what the Sahaabah had instructed. It is the height of folly and deviation to differ with them and to choose a way which is at variance with what they had disseminated.
It is not conceivable that the Salf-e-Saaliheen — all the Imaams of the Math-bas were among them — were in deviation and the present-day Salafis are on Rectitude. This is unacceptable to any Muslim who is prepared to reflect a bit. The greatest daleel for the view of the Math-habs is that whatever they teach has been acquired directly from either the Sahaabah or the Taabi-een.
The Salafi practice of spreading the feet wide apart and the irritating attempt to touch the next man’s toes are in conflict with the Sunnah as the aforegoing Shar’i evidences have established.
1. According to the Hambali Math-hab there should be a ‘small’ gap between the feet of the musalli.
2. According to the Maaliki Math-hab, the distance should be moderate, neither together nor so wide apart which is considered repugnant.
3. According to the Shaafi Math-hab, the gap between the feet should be one hand. It is Makrooh to spread the feet wider than this.
4. According to the Hanafi Math-hab, the distance between the feet should be four fingers.
This is the Sunnah and the Way of the Salf-e-Saaliheen. The Salafis have no authority from the Salf-e-Saaliheen to substantiate its view of bid’ah.
The Distance Of The Feet In Salah (Prayer)
(By Mufti Abdur Rahman bin Yusuf)
Many Ahadeeth have been narrated about the straightening of the rows and they include a number of different expressions to emphasise this point, such as the following narrations:
1) Sayyiduna Anas (ra) narrates that the Prophet (saw) said, ‘Pull your rows together, keep them close and keep your necks in line, for by He in Whose hands rests the soul of Muhammad, indeed I see the shayateen entering the gaps in the row as though they are small sheep.’
2) Sayyiduna Nu’maan ibn Basheer (ra) says, ‘The Prophet (saw) turned his face to the people and said thrice, “Straighten your rows.” (He then said), “By Allah, you will straighten your rows or Allah will make your hearts differ.”‘ (Sayyiduna Nu’maan ibn Basheer (ra) continues), ‘I saw each man join his shoulder with the shoulder of the person next to him, his knee with his knee, and his ankle with his ankle.’ 
This is one of the hadiths put forward as evidence by those who assert that each person’s feet should be joined with the next person’s during congregational prayer. Some of them are overly particular about this, so much so that if someone standing next to them happens to draw in their feet, these people would adjust their legs even further just to maintain foot contact with thier neighbour. They continuously critisize those who do not leave a wide gap between their feet, as though the sunnah method is only what they claim.
In vain, however, are their attempts to use the above hadith and other similar hadiths to establish that joining the feet in salat is necessary [wajib]. This is true for a number of simple reasons:
(1) The words which actually describe the joining of the feet are not the words of the Messenger of Allah (saw), but are rather the words of the narrator. Hence, this portion of the hadith is not a direct statement from the Messenger (saw) himself [marfu’], but rather the narrator’s description of the reaction of the Companions to the Messenger’s (saw) warning. Hence, it becomes quite clear that the Messenger (saw) did not command the joining of the feet together.
(2) The hadith of Nu’man ibn Basheer (ra) merely tells us about the behaviour of the Companions before the prayer began. In other words, the observed behaviour of the Companions was to join their ankles, kneews, and shoulders together prior to the prayer’s commencement. Nowhere in the hadith does it indicate that this posture was maintained throughout the prayer.
(3) If, for the sake of argument, we were to accept that the joining of the feet was maintained throughout the prayer, a number of questions arise. One such question is whether the feet should be joined together in all postures of the prayer or only during the standing posture (qiyam). If the answer is that it is required only during the standing posture, then the next questions are: ‘What is the evidence for that?’ and ‘Why is this arrangement confined to the standing posture only and not required ina ny other posture?’ If the answer is that it is necessary in all postures of prayer, then the question is: ‘How will people in each row go about joining their feet and shoulders together while in prostration or in the sitting posture?’ Clearly it would be quite impossible to achieve this.
Moreover, if the counter-argument is that it is only necessary to have the feet together while in qiyam (standing) because of its difficulty in the other postures of prayer, then the reply is that it is also very difficult for a row of people to ensure that this joining arrangement is maintained between them during the standing posture as well.
(4) Based on the above mentioned hadith, if it is deemed necessary to join the shoulders and feet together, then why have the knees been excluded from this ruling? In the above narration, the Companions joined their knees together as well. It should therefore follow that the joining of the knees also be treated as an obigatory act throughout the prayer. However, one must be warned that standing even for a short while with one’s knees joined to the next person’s knees can be quite painful. This is even impossible in some cases, when there is a significant size difference between two people standing besides one another.
(5) Another interpretation of the above hadith offered by some scholars is that the narrator Nu’man ibn Basheer (ra) only intended to show how the Companions attempted to form extremely straight rows at the instructions of the Messenger of Allah (saw), and not that they actually joined their feet, shoulders, and ankles together. It is for this reason that the title of this chapter in Sahih al-Bukhari, ‘Chapter on the Joining of the Shoulders and Feet Together While Forming the Rows,’ has been classified by Hafiz Ibn Hajar (ra) as an exaggeration. He writes in his commentary, Fath al-Bari, that: ‘(Imam Bukhari’s) reason for choosing this specific title to exaggerate (mubalagha) the importance of straightening the rows and filling gaps in between.’[Fatha al-Bari 2:247]
It is deduced from this statement that the above-mentioned naration is not to be taken literally. Imam Shawkani, who is constantly reffered to by those who prefer not to follow a school of though in Islamic Jurisprudence, also does not take the hadith’s literal interpretation. He writes in his Naylk al-Awtar: ‘[This statement] means: place the parts of the body [shoulders, etc] in line with each other, so that the shoulder of each person performing prayer is in level with the shoulder of the next person. This way everyone’s shoulders, knees, and feet will be in a single straight line.’ [Nayl al-Awtar 3:65]
In clear words, he indicates that the actual reason for joining the shoulders and other body parts, was to straighten the rows and not because the joining itself was an obligatory act.
(6) Anas (ra) has also stated in a narration of Ma’mar, which Ibn Hajar has recorded in his Fath al-Bari, that: ‘If I were to attempt this [joining the shoulders and feet together] with anybody today, they would scurry away like restive mules.’ [Fath al-Bari 2:247]
It is apparent from Anas’s (ra) statement that even the Companions did not continue this practise after the death of the Messenger of Allah (saw). If it had been a continuous action of the Messenger (saw) [sunnah mustamirra], the Companions would never have abandoned it, let alone speak of it in such a manner.
(7) Once it is established that the primary reason for the Companions joining their feet together was to achieve perfect order in their rows, it can be easily understood that this joining of the feet is not required any longer, since, in most of the masjids and places of worship today, the lines are well marked on the carpets, marble, and floor coverings. By standing together with their heels on the markings, the worshippers will automatically come together in perfectly straight rows. Hence, there is no need to be overly critical and go around ensuring that everyone’s feet have been joined together.
3) Sayyiduna Anas ibn Malik (ra) reports that the Prophet (saw) said, ‘Straighten your rows, for indeed I see you from behind my back.’ Sayyiduna Anas (ra) says, ‘We would join our shoulders and feet with the shoulders and feet of the person next to us.’ 
 Ahmad 13324, Abu Dawood 667 and Nasa’i 815
 Ahmad 17962, Abu Dawood 662, Ibn Kuzaimah 160, Ibn Hibban 2173 and Daraqutni 1080
 Bukhari 692
The Various Opinions
We will begin by stating some of the opinions of the Hanafi school on the issue of feet position in prayer. In all, there seems to be two dominant opinions found in the Hanafi texts. The first of these calls for a gap of four fingers to be left between the feet of a person when he is praying. This opinion is found in Imam ibn ‘Abidin’s authoritative commentary on ‘Allama Haskafi’s al-Durr al-Mukhtar, where it states: ‘The gap to be left between a person’s feet should be equal to that of four fingers of the hand, because this [amount] is very effective in creating [the posture of] submission and humility [sought in prayer].’ [Radd al-Muhtar 1:299]
Leaving a gap equal to four fingers has been described by the jurists (fuqaha) as being the superior method, as it sometimes proves quite uncomfortable to stand with legs spread wide apart for an extended period of time. This discomfort makes concentration difficult and often results in the loss of focus and devotion in the prayer.
The second method according to the Hanafi school can be understood from the following. In Ma’arif al-Sunan, a commentary of Sunan al-Tirmidhi by the late hadith scholar ‘Allama Yusuf Binnori, it is stated that there is no mention, among authentic hadith narrations, of a stipulated amount of space to be left between one’s own feet during the prayer. For this reason, it could be concluded that the sunnah method of positioning the feet in prayer is whatever distance a person finds convenient and comfortable while praying. [Ma’arif al-Sunan 2:298]
A hadith is reported in Sunan al-Nasa’i which states that: “Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (ra) saw a person standing in prayer with his two feet together [i.e. touching each other] and judged it to be against the sunnah. He advised the person that if he had practised murawaha it would have been more preferable.”[Sunan al-Nasa’i 1:142]
The Arabic word ‘murawaha’ usually means to stand on one foot and then the other, alternating between them as one becomes tired. However, another meaning of ‘murawaha is to leave a slight gap between the feet, and this seems to be the most probable meaning of this word in referance to the above narration, since the person had been standing with his feet together. If we take this latter meaning of the term ‘murawaha’, the hadith means that Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (ra) instructed the person to maintain a small gap between his feet, since the sunnah was not to completely join the feet together (nor to keep them so far apart).
From the above, we learn of the flexibility of the Hanafi school on this issue. It would therefore be permitted for a person to stand with a gap between his feet equal to or greater than the width of four fingers.
In determining the opinion of the Shafi’s on this issue, a careful study of their literature reveals that their most popular view is that a person should maintain a gap equal to one hand span between his feet [Nihayat al-Muhtaj 1:347]. However, it is recommended in al-Anwar, another text on Shafi’i fiqh, that the gap should only be four fingers – as is one view of the Hanafis. Furthermore, the great Shafi’i scholar Imam Nawawi concludes: ‘It is undesirable [makruh] to join the feet together; it is preferable [mustahab] to keep some distance between them.’[Sharh al-Muhadhdhab 3:266]
In total, we have three opinions of the Shafi’i school: (1) a gapequivalent to one hand span; (2) a gap of four fingers; and (3) as much a gap as the person deems necessary. The first opninion is particular to the Shafi’i school, whereas the the latter two opinions are common to both the Shafi’i and Hanafi schools.
One has probably noticed by now that not a single opinion meantions that a person’s feet must be joined together with the feet of the adjacent person(s). If indeed this was the correct and sunnah way of standing in prayer, it would have undoubtedly been accepted as such.
A noteworthy point to mention now is that many of those who assert that the feet be joined together are normaly observed widening their feet even during their individual prayers. In fact, on many occasions, they widen them beyond shoulder width. Even if they consider the joining of the feet in congregational prayers to be necessary, it does not mean they must also widen their feet beyond shoulder width. The reason for this is that if everybody stood shoulder to shoulder and joined their feet together, the gap between the two feet would only be as wide as the shoulders. It would be quite impossible to spread them any more and still maintain shoulder contact.
Another reason why one should not overspread his feet suring individual prayer is that the above-mentioned hadiths only describe the Companions joining their feet while in congregation. Hence, these ahadeeth cannot be used as evidence for the widening of the feet during individual salat.
In the end, we can conclude, without fear of contradiction, that those who insist on joining the feet together have failed to comprehend the true meaning of the ahadeeth, and, as such, do not have any strong evidence to support their position. It is not possible to follow the Qur’an and Hadeeths by always employing verbatim translations, which is the methodology of the Literalists (Zahiriyya), whose many views majority of scholars have not accepted. The grave consequences of following this type of methodology is quite apparent.
Indeed, it is important to come together during prayer, but this is normally achieved by joining the shoulders together (which has been ordered in ahadeeth) and standing with the heels on the lines. It is virtually impossible not to leave any gaps at all as some people insist. Is it too difficult to understand that when someone attempts to fill in the gap between his and the next person’s feet, he opens a gap between his own feet?
Therefore, the Sunnah method would be to either leave a space of approximately four fingers between one’s feet or any such gap through which one can achieve a comfortable and humble posture. During the congregational prayer, each person must ensure that he is close enough to the next person as to touch shoulders and that his feet are on the marked lines so that the whole congregation is ordered and comprised of straightened rows.
Joining Shoulders and Feet in Prayer Rows
(By Shaykh Abu Asim Badrul Islam)
There has been a growing tendency in recent times within some quarters of the Muslim Ummah to attempt to understand the hadiths of the beloved Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) without the proper prerequisite knowledge of fiqh and its principles. Movements have emerged, a fundamental part of whose methodology it is to take hadiths in their apparent and literal meanings, without attempting to understand the actual purpose of any hadith. The issue of how those in congregational prayer should stand is no exception. They have looked at the chapter in Sahih al-Bukhari entitled Bab ilsaqi ‘l-mankibi bi ‘l-mankibi wa ‘l-qadami bi ‘l-qadami fi ‘l-Saff (Chapter regarding the joining of shoulders to shoulders, and feet to feet in prayer rows) and the athar of Sayyiduna Nu’man ibn Bashir and that of Sayyiduna Anas (may Allah be pleased with them) (hadith: 725) and without even attempting to use their intellect to explore the various interpretations to which the wording is open, they seek to enforce on the Muslims the physical joining of shoulders and feet with one another when standing in the prayer row. The ‘ulama of the madhhabs (that is, the four established schools of Islamic law) have always maintained that this is not how these athar are to be understood.
Imam ‘Allamah Sayyid Anwar Shah Kashmiri (may Allah mercy him) has discussed this issue at some length in his commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, Fayd al-Bari (2:301-302). He explains how it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for people to physically join their shoulders and feet when standing in the prayer row. Those who seek the physical joining of feet and shoulders argue their case pointing at the letter ‘ba’ used in the abovementioned athar. The rule in grammar that ‘al-ba li ‘l-ilsaq’ (the letter ba is used to denote physical contact) is not to be understood in this context as a full physical contact or ilsaq. For, if this were the case, how would they explain the sentence Marartu bi Zayd? Does this mean that the subject (fa’il) of the verb passed by, or with, Zayd whilst physically sticking to him?
When any verse, hadith or athar is ambiguous or open to interpretation, we must look at the practice of the Companions (Sahabah) and the Salaf (those illustrious Muslims who succeeded the Sahabah). It would appear that neither the Companions nor the Salaf were in the habit of physically joining their shoulders and feet in the way that some Muslims so painstakingly do today. Imam Anwar Shah Kashmiri states that this interpretation has not been adopted by any of the madhhabs but by the abovementioned Muslims only.
The intention of the athar, with its ambiguous wording, is that the shoulders and feet should be straight and parallel, that there should be no gap for Shaytan between any two people standing in a row, and that the rows should be straight. It does not mean shoulders and feet should be in physical contact. This interpretation is also given by Imam ‘Allamah Badr al-Din al-’Ayni in his monumental ‘Umdat al-Qari (commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari – 5:377) and Imam Ibn Hajar al-’Asqalani in his unparalleled Fath al-Bari (2:611).
Another explanation given by Imam Kashmiri is that the specific wording could have been not of the noble Companions to whom they are attributed, but of the narrators. This practice is well known in the science of hadith.
In his Lami’ al-Darari ‘ala Jami’ al-Bukhari (1:279), the great shaykh Imam Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi has mentioned some very logical arguments supporting the above interpretations. He writes that physically joining shoulders and feet would only be possible when the shoulders of all those standing in the row are at the same height and their feet are of the same length. Moreover, to do this, all the people standing in the row would have to spend some time before saying the takbir and entering their prayer to get their shoulders and feet in the right place. Clearly, this would be contrary to khushu’, the desired calmness and the spirit of Salah.
After providing similar explanations as the ones mentioned above, ‘Allamah Mawlana Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani in his Imdad al-Ahkam (1:290) states: “Even if [for argument’s sake] it is accepted that physical contact of ankles is required by the Shari’ah, the question arises as to whether this is so in every part (rukn) of Salah or just some [parts]. If it is said that it is required in every part, one must ask how this is possible in the sitting posture. If, on the other hand, it is said that physical contact is only required in some parts of Salah, the question would follow as to what evidence has specified these parts of Salah while others are excluded? If it said that the physical contact of ankles is difficult in the sitting posture and therefore it is exempted in such a posture, then we will say the same regarding the standing posture; those standing in the prayer row find this very difficult. One may try doing this and see for themselves…
“The words of the Companion Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) have been reported in Fath al-Bari from Ma’mar: ‘Had I done this with any of them today, he would have fled like a wild ass’ (2:612). This clearly indicates that after the demise of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) Sayyiduna Anas did not join his ankles with people standing next to him in prayer. This is proof that the joining of ankles is not a desired Sunnah act. For, had it been so, none of the Companions would have forsaken it for the fear of others disliking it. People would also dislike a practice only when it is not normally done in Salah. If a practice is normally done in Salah, then there is no reason for people to dislike it. Thus, if the joining of ankles were to be a desired Sunnah, it would have been a general practice of all of the Companions, and the Followers (Tabi’un) would have taken this as a Sunnah element of Salah. Hence, there would have been no reason for anyone to dislike the joining of ankles. Just as it can be understood from the above statement of Sayyiduna Anas that he would avoid joining his ankles with those of others standing next to him fearing they would dislike it, it can be inferred that this practice [of joining ankles] was not the general practice of the Companions or the Followers. This is evidence of its not being a desired Sunnah. This is the reason why [to the best of my knowledge] there is no command to join ankles in the hadith of the beloved Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).”