How to Make up Years of Missed Prayers? (Shafi’i)

Answered by Shaykh Shuaib Ally

Question: Assalam alaykum,

I have missed accumulatively maybe over 15 years of obligatory prayers when younger. Do I have to make up each and every prayer before engaging in the Sunnah prayers? This will take me years to achieve…

Being in the month of Ramadhan, my heart is sorely missing and yearning to participate in the Tarawih prayers.

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

The position of the school is that one needs to immediately devote all of their free time towards making up missed prayers.
Some modern scholars recommend making up one or two prayers alongside each obligatory prayer offered as a means of facilitating making up years of missed prayers.

The Shafi’i position is one of Mercy

While it seems prima facie difficult to do this, as opposed to starting over from scratch, the Shafi’i school considers its position to be one of mercy for two reasons.

Firstly, it doesn’t consider a person who left off their prayers due to sheer laziness to have been an actual disbeliever for this entire period (along with any rulings that would derive from such a classification);

Secondly, it provides a clear manner towards making up for one’s transgression in this regard, which is (at the very least, psychologically) superior to having no way to make up for it. It is an aspect of divine mercy to have a clear way to make up for transgressions in this life.

Should I pray Tarawih or Make Up Obligatory Prayers?

If a person has prayers to make up, choosing to pray the tarawih prayers in Ramadan instead, or other non-obligatory prayers, is impermissible. While their actions are praiseworthy from one perspective – they are engaged in highly recommended prayers – they are blameworthy from another – they are using their available time to pray non-obligatory prayers when they have something obligatory to make up. The school’s position, as mentioned above, is that one should devote all of their free time towards making up their obligatory prayers; they should be more concerned with fulfilling their obligatory obligations prior to non-obligatory ones.

Shuaib Ally