Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: I have heard that it is makruh tahreemi to pray behind an imam that has: insufficient tajweed, cuts his beard under fist length, or wears his trousers below his ankles.
I often find myself in situations where I pray at a masjid where I am not local, therefore I do not ask to lead in order to avoid conflict. However, due to the above factors (especially tajweed, as I am a hafiz), I find myself often repeating my prayer in case it personally becomes disliked for me, as some of my teachers have recommended.
My question is thus: Who has the most right to lead? The one with the most knowledge of Qur’an (quantity), the one with the most knowledge of tajweed, or the one most closely following the external sunnah(s)? Also, I am a hafiz but not an ‘aalim. If I am with an ‘aalim who is not a hafiz, who has more right to lead?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
The most knowledgeable of the people in the rulings (fiqh) of the prayer should lead them in congregation. And after him, the most accurate reciter [= best tajwid.] [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah]
The Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The one most versed in the Book of Allah should lead. If equal, then the one most knowledgeable of the Sunna should lead.” [Muslim]
The scholars explain that the ones “most versed” in the time of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) were the most knowledgeable of them. Thus in our times, we give preference to knowledge.
Bear in mind that: (a) this person has the right (haq) to lead, not that the prayer is invalid or the congregation is sinful if somebody else leads, and (b) the imam of the mosque has a greater right to lead the prayer than the most knowledgeable or the best reciter from amongst them.
And Allah alone gives success.