Answered by Ustadh Shuaib Ally
Question: My question is in regards to reciting surah fatiha and following the imam. I was reciting surah fatiha behind the imam but the imam was so fast that when the imam was in ruku, I was still reciting fatiha. Is my prayer valid?
Answer: Assalamu ‘Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Baraktuhu,
Yes, in the Shafi’i school, your prayer is valid in the scenario you described.
Falling Behind Because of the Fatiha
A follower may fall behind the imam for a reason related to the Fatiha (for example if the follower recites slowly, or the imam quickly, and therefore hasn’t completed the Fatiha before the imam moves into ruku’).
In such a scenario, his falling behind is temporarily overlooked because he is performing an obligatory part of the prayer. He can attempt to finish the Fatiha and must catch up to the imam before the imam completes three integral units of prayer (rukn;arkan) that are (a) complete; (b) actions (c) long, not short. If he does not reach the imam before this, his prayer becomes invalid.
Example: The follower remains standing to complete the Fatiha, while the imam continues with his prayer. When the imam completes three long rukns (the ruku’, and two prostrations), then moves up from the second prostration, the follower’s prayer becomes invalid if he hasn’t caught up to the imam.
In case he does not catch up, to ensure that his prayer is not rendered invalid, the follower can consider his rak’ahincomplete. He can return to following the Imam, and make up the missed rak’ah at the end of the prayer.
Falling Behind for Another Reason
A follower may fall behind for another reason unrelated to the Fatiha, such as spending time doing something that is not obligatory (like recommended supplications in the prayer).
In this scenario, falling behind is not overlooked. His prayer becomes invalid if he falls behind by two integral parts of prayer that are (a) complete; (b) actions; (c) either short or long.
Example 1: The imam performs ruku’, returns to the standing position, then moves towards prostration, while the follower is still in the original standing position. In this case, his prayer becomes invalid, as there are two completed rukns between him and the imam: one long (ruku’), and one short (standing after the ruku’).
Example 2: The imam performs the second prostration, then stands and recites, then moves towards ruku’, while the follower is still in the sitting between two prostrations. In this case, his prayer becomes invalid, as there are two completed rukns between him and the imam, although here both are long (the second prostration and the standing following it).
Falling Behind by One Rukn
A prayer is not invalidated by falling behind by one rukn, but falling behind is nevertheless disliked, as one of them main purposes of praying in congregation is to follow the imam.
Source: al-Hawashi al-Madaniyyah