Answered by Shaykh Umer Mian
Where should the follower stand when he is alone with the Imam in prayer?
If there is only one male follower behind an imam, he should stand to the right of the imam with his heel alongside (i.e. parallel to) the heel of the imam. This is not only permissible, but it is the correct way to stand according to the relied upon position in the Hanafi madhab. Those Hanafi scholars who wrote otherwise (i.e. that the follower in such a situation should stand slightly behind the imam) were probably doing so out of precaution.
“Muhadhiyan” in Arabic means “alongside of, parallel to.” It is stated in al-Durr al-Mukhtar:
ولو صبيا، أما الواحدة فتتأخر (محاذيا) أي مساويا (ليمين إمامه) على المذهب، ولا عبرة بالرأس بل بالقدم (الدر المختار، كتاب الصلاة، باب الإمامة)
“A single male (follower in the prayer), even if a child, should stand alongside the right side of his imam, according to the relied upon position of the madhab. No consideration is given to the head (i.e. in determining what’s deemed “alongside”), but rather consideration is given to the foot. As for a single female (follower in the prayer), she should stand (completely) behind her imam.” (al-Durr al-Mukhtar, Kitab al-Salah, Bab al-Imamah).
In Radd al-Muhtar, Ibn Abideen explains the above statement by adding:
a) Since consideration is given only to the placement of the feet (and not the head), there is no harm in the follower’s head being farther out than the imam’s head while in sajdah (of course, as long as their feet are parallel).
b) Being “alongside” the foot of the imam, means that that follower’s heel should be alongside the heel of the imam. If this is done, then there’s no harm in the follower’s toes extending out a little farther than the imam’s toes (for example, if the follower has large feet).
( قَوْلُهُ بَلْ بِالْقَدَمِ )
فَلَوْ حَاذَاهُ بِالْقَدَمِ وَوَقَعَ سُجُودُهُ مُقَدَّمًا عَلَيْهِ لِكَوْنِ الْمُقْتَدِي أَطْوَلَ مِنْ إمَامِهِ لَا يَضُرُّ ؛ وَمَعْنَى الْمُحَاذَاةِ بِالْقَدَمِ الْمُحَاذَاةُ بِعَقِبِهِ ، فَلَا يَضُرُّ تَقَدُّمُ أَصَابِعِ الْمُقْتَدِي عَلَى الْإِمَامِ حَيْثُ حَاذَاهُ بِالْعَقِبِ مَا لَمْ يَفْحُشْ التَّفَاوُتُ بَيْنَ الْقَدَمَيْنِ ، حَتَّى لَوْ فَحُشَ بِحَيْثُ تَقَدَّمَ أَكْثَرُ قَدَمِ الْمُقْتَدِي لِعِظَمِ قَدَمِهِ لَا يَصِحُّ كَمَا أَشَارَ إلَيْهِ بِقَوْلِهِ مَا لَمْ يَتَقَدَّمْ إلَخْ . (رد المحتار، كتاب الصلاة، باب الإمامة)
Finally, note that some texts of Hanafi fiqh seem to indicate that a single follower should stand to the right of the imam, with feet slightly behind the imam. Perhaps the most prominent text to state this is Nur al-Idah and it’s commentary Maraqi al-Falah, which state the following:
( وشروط صحة الاقتداء أربعة عشر شيئا )
( وتقدم الأمام بعقبه عن )
عقب ( المأموم ) (مراقي الفلاح، كتاب الصلاة، باب الإمامة)
“The conditions for correctly following an imam in prayer are about 14 things…Among them is the imam’s heel being ahead of the follower’s heel” (Maraqi al-Falah, Kitab al-Salah, Bab al-Imamah).
However, in his super-commentary on Maraqi al-Falah, al-Tahtawi comments on this line, stating:
قوله ( حتى لو تقدم أصابعه ) … واعلم أن ما أفاده المصنف من إشتراط التقدم خلاف المذهب لأنه لو حاذاه صح الإقتداء
“The author’s indicating that the imam must be ahead of the follower contradicts the relied upon position of the madhab. If the follower stands alongside his imam, his following (of his imam) is correct.”
Some have speculated that those Hanafi scholars (such as Imam al-Shurunbilali, author of Nur al-Idah and Maraqi al-Falah, quoted above) who required the follower to stand slightly behind the imam did so in order to prevent errors in people’s prayers. That is, if the awamm (laymen) are instructed to stand exactly parallel to the imam, their laxity in carrying out the rulings of the Sacred Law may lead to them getting slightly ahead of the imam, which would invalidate their prayers. In order to avoid this, some Hanafi scholars may have deemed it preferable to instruct the awamm to stand slightly behind the imam. See ‘Ila al-Sunan, Kitab al-Salah, Bab Mawqif al-Imam wal Ma’munin (Idaratul Qur’an print, vol. 4, pp. 246-247).
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