Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Assalam alaykum.
If an imam forgets the number of cycles (rakat) he prayed (e.g. four cycles to be prayed but he prayed five cycles) and later everybody comes to know of this error, what is the solution for this?
Answer: Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah,
If the imam sat for the final sitting (tashahhud), the prayer of all would be valid, even if he performed an extra cycle (rakat).
However, in the case that the imam did not sit for the final sitting, and he actually prayed an extra cycle, then there are two scenarios:
(1) If the followers remained seated after the fourth cycle (whilst prompting the imam to also sit), and subsequently exited the prayer when the imam prostrated for the fifth cycle, then their prayer is valid. Note that this is the proper response to the situation at hand, whether he performs the final sitting or not.
(2) If they simply followed the imam in his actions, then everybody’s prayer would be deemed a voluntary (nafila) – and not the obligatory prayer due from them. Thus, they would all be required to repeat it.
This is in the case of reasonable surety that five cycles were prayed without a final sitting. Otherwise, doubts should be ignored as the operating assumption is validity and soundness.
[Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah with Tahtawi’s Gloss (2.71-72)]
Please also see: A Reader on Missed Prayers
And Allah Most High alone knows best.
[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Tabraze Azam was born and raised in Ipswich, England, a quiet town close to the east coast of England. His journey for seeking sacred knowledge began when he privately memorized the entire Qur’an in his hometown at the age of 16. He also had his first experience in leading the tarawih (nightly-Ramadan) prayers at his local mosque. Year after year he would continue this unique return to reciting the entire Quran in one blessed month both in his homeland, the UK, and also in the blessed lands of Shaam, where he now lives, studies and teaches.