Answered by Shaykh Farid Dingle
Given that there are different and conflicting ways of raising a finger in prayer, shouldn’t we drop it entirely?
Differing opinions over a significant issue of religion only indicate the care and introspection of the scholars that looked into it. Instead of looking at it as a contradiction, we should look at it as a variety of solid and acceptable answers.
As such, we shouldn’t just ignore it but rather learn one way of moving one’s finger in prayer based on one of the Four Madhhabs and stick to it.
The answer is discussed in detail below:
Different Ways to Raise One’s Finger
Shaykh Abdurrahman al-Jaziri mentions the different opinions on how to raise one’s finger in tashahhud in his book al-Fiqh ala al-madhahib al-Arba:
The Malikis hold that when the worshiper is seated for the testimony, it is recommended that they make a fist with the right hand while leaving the forefinger and the thumb extended, then move the right forefinger back and forth in a continuous, moderate fashion.
The Hanafis specify that the pointing during the testimony should be done with the right index finger only such that, if this finger is defective, ailing, or weak, one must not point with some other finger instead. As for how such pointing is to be done, the Hanafis hold that when denying the divinity of any being other than God Almighty in words, la (“there is no god…”), one should raise the index finger. When affirming God’s divinity alone in terms of illa Allah (“…but God”), one should lower one’s finger again. Hence, raising one’s finger signals negation, while lowering it signals affirmation.
According to the Hanbalis, one should fold one’s right little finger and ring finger under while leaving one’s middle finger, index finger, and thumb free. Then, whenever one utters the Divine name during the testimony and any associated supplications, one points the right index finger without moving it.
According to the Shafi’i, one should make a fist with one’s right hand, leaving the index finger extended and holding one’s thumb up against the side of one’s hand. Then, when uttering the phrase, illa Allah… (“but God…”), one should point with the right index finger and keep it lifted and motionless until it is time to stand up after the first testimony and until one utters the greetings of peace after the final testimony. One should also keep looking at the right index finger as long as one continues pointing. (Islamic Jurisprudence According to the Four Sunni Schools, Abd al-Rahman al-Jaziri, tr. Nancy Roberts)
Just as a disclaimer, as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf mentions in the blurb of the print of the book above, no one knows all of the Four Schools ideally, so one should study the details of the tashahhud with someone specialized in one of the Four Schools before acting upon it.
One welcomed question might be, what are the proofs for these different opinions? Or, more importantly, given that they differ, doesn’t that mean they cannot have any evidence from the Quran and Sunna?
The answer to the first question is that all Four Schools are based on the Quran and Sunna. One could find ample proof for each position in the Muwatta Imam Malik, Kitab al-Athar by Imam Muhammad and Qadi Abu Yusuf (two separate books with the same name), Musannaf Abdurrazzaq, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba, the Six Books, Shark Maani al-Athar by Imam al-Tahawi, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahawi by Imam al-Jassas, Marifat al-Sunan wa al-Athar of Imam al-Bayhaqi, al-Tamhid by Ibn Abd al-Barr, Aridat al-Ahwadhi by Qadi Ibn Al-Arabi, al-Majmu by Imam al-Nawawi and many works besides.
There are differences of opinion because there are many different hadiths and descriptions of how the Sahaba used to pray, and the language used in the hadiths can be interpreted differently.
Variety Not Conflict
Since the time of Sahaba, scholars have always differed over the minutiae of jurisprudence. This is just indicative of the breadth of Islam and its inclusive nature and not a product of internal conflict.
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz said, ‘I am delighted that the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) disagreed on issues. Had they all agreed on just one thing, were someone to go against it, he would be going astray. Since they disagreed, both are fine if someone follows one position and another follows another. [Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu’ al-Fatawa]
To get a fuller picture of why the ulema disagree, even though they are looking at the same sources, please read the differences of the Imams by Kandhlahawi [Raf al-Malam by Ibn Taymiyya]
Scholars have differed in their explanation of how the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) moved his finger in prayer, and they all have strong proofs to back up their opinions.
One should take a course on worship according to one of the Four Schools and rest assured that what is being taught is the Sunna, even if other scholars see otherwise.
I pray this helps.
[Shaykh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic language.