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Does imagining words in one’s mind count as ‘recital’?

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher

I am new to the Shafi’i Fiqh and I was reading the reliance of the traveller about what to recite audibly and what to recite silently (if anything). What it says is that for the initial ‘Allahu Akbar, for Qur’an recitation (including al-fatihah), and any supplications, the minimal audibility is such that you can make out the words yourself. If something is supposed to be recited ‘aloud’ it is to be recited so that someone next to you is able to distinguish what you are saying.
1. Does this mean that there is nothing in the prayer that you recite silently (for example only recite mentally)? Such that if one were praying with a group of silent people in another Madhhab you would still be whispering to yourself even if no one else was doing so?
2. Could you elaborate on what that actually means–that what you recite ‘to yourself’ is such that it is audible to you but no one around. Does that mean audible such that you can understand it? or does it mean that you can hear the noise of what you are whispering without actually being able to distinctly make out the words? Any information would be greatly appreciated.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh

Scholars explain that for something to be considered “recital” (qira`ah) it must actually be uttered. Imagining words in one’s mind is not called “recital” (qira’ah) in Arabic (or even in English, for that matter).[1] Someone who scans a copy of the Quran, for example, reading it in one’s mind but not actually uttering what they are reading, is linguistically described as conducting a “perusal” (mutala`ah) of the Quran, not a “recital” (qira’ah) of it.

This is why Imam Nawawi (Allah be pleased with him) said in his compendium of prophetic invocations, Kitab al-Adhkar, “Know that the invocations that are legislated in the Sacred Law–whether during prayer or elsewhere, and whether obligatory or recommended–are not considered to have been performed until one utters them loud enough for one to hear oneself, given sound hearing and given the absence of noise.” (Kitab al-Adhkar in Ibn `Allan’s al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyya, 1.155)

Shaykh Ibn `Allan (Allah have mercy on him) comments on Imam Nawawi’s words by saying that “reciting silently” and “reciting loudly” both require one to utter the words loud enough for one to hear oneself. The difference between “loud” and “silent” is not a difference of audibility, but a difference of volume. “Loud” recitation is recitation that is loud enough for your neighbour to hear you. “Silent” recitation is recitation that is only loud enough for you to hear yourself (in other words, you can hear everything that you said). (ibid)

To my knowledge, this is not a point that is differed upon between the various schools of law. Someone who simply runs the words of the invocations in his mind without uttering them is not considered to have recited those invocations at all.

And Allah knows best.


[1] Imam Nawawi mentions in Kitab al-Adhkar that it is unlawful for people in a state of major ritual impurity to recite the Quran, but that it is permissible for them to look at words printed in a copy of the Quran, or to imagine the words of the Quran in their minds. Ibn `Allan explains in his commentary that this is because these matters are not considered “recital”. (al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyya, 1.129) This linguistic distinction, in other words, excludes these matters from the prophetic prohibitions of Quran recital for people in a state of major ritual impurity.

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