بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The general rule is that when the muezzin calls out ‘Hayyaa alas Salah’ (Come to Prayer), it is required for all mature males to hasten to the congregational Salah in the Masjid.
If, for some reason, one was delayed and only came into the masjid after the prayer has already commenced, then he ought to join the congregation in whatever posture they happen to be in. Although, if one misses the ruku’ (bowing) with the Imam, he is considered to have missed that rak’ah, he should not wait until the Imam stands for the next rak’ah to join the congregation.
This is because the Masjid is the court of Allah Ta’ala, on entering it one should display exceptional respect and humility. The King of kings has summoned us to converse with him. The occasion demands a response of eagerness and willingness from our side. It is not befitting that we loiter, wait or converse with others at the back while the Imam is in Qiyaam (standing), Qa’idah (sitting) or Sajdah (prostrating). Delaying while the imam and congregation is in qiyaam (standing) is, in effect, saying “I don’t really need to stand in front of You, Allah, I have some more important business to discuss with this brother, firstly.” If the Imam is in sajdah (prostration), it is as though one is saying, “Well, we are not going to bow to You, Allah, since the rakah is still going to be considered missed.” In summary, this attitude portrays arrogance and total disregard for the sanctity of the masjid, the court of Allah Ta’ala, and the great act of salah.
Rather, our beloved Rasullullah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) taught us to join the Imam in whatever position he is in. He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said “When one of you comes to the Salah and (finds) that the Imam is in a (particular) position, then do as the Imam is doing.”[i] Even if the Imam is in Sajdah, the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) instructed us to join in by saying, “If you come to the prayer and find us in prostration, then go into prostration, but do not count it (i.e. do not count it as a rak’ah you have performed).”[ii] In another narration he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) commanded us, “Whoever finds me while I am bowing, prostrating or standing, then he should join me in the position I am in.”[iii]
The one who loiters and chats at the back or even stands in the line waiting on the Imam to come back up from the sajdah or first sitting (Qa’idah) is actually being disrespectful and is deprived of much good and rewards. Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi رحمه الله said, “In standing there and waiting on the Imam one is opposing the Muslims and delaying an act of worship.”[iv] After narrating the first hadith, Imam Tirmithi states, “Perhaps he may be forgiven before he raises his head from that Sajdah (provided he performs it).” Prostration is the position in which a human being comes closest to his Creator.[v] May Allah make it that we never miss any such opportunity. If the Imam is in the first sitting, we will get the chance to reap the tremendous rewards of reciting the tashahhud. This is why the muezzin also calls out, ‘Hayyaa alal Falaah’ (Come to Success). Thus, when Allah has called us, delaying our coming is a form of disobedience.
May Allah protect us and grant us tawfeeq and divine ability.
[i] Tirmithi #591 Shaikh Arnawut graded it ‘Sahih Li-Ghairihi’. (Vol.2 Pg.130 #597)
[ii] Abu Dawud #893, Hakim in Mustadrak Vol.1 Pg.216 and he authenticated it.
[iii] Ibn Abi Shaibah in his Musannaf #2616 Authenticated by Hafiz Ibn Hajr in ‘Al-Matalibul A’liyah’ (Vol.4 Pg.84 #479) The complete hadith is as follows: “An Ansari man said that the Prophet ﷺ heard the steps of my sandals while he was prostrating. So when he completed his salah, he asked, ‘Whose sandal steps did I hear?’ He replied, “I, O Messenger of Allah.’ He ﷺ asked, ‘So what did you do?’ He replied, ‘I found you prostrating, so I prostrated.’ He ﷺ said, ‘In this manner, you all should do but do not count it as a rakah. Whoever finds me while I am bowing, prostrating or standing, then he should join me in the position I am in.’”
[iv] Kawkab Durri Vol.1 Pg.470 Allah Ta’ala warns, “And whoever opposes the Messenger after guidance has become clear to him and follows other than the way of the believers – We will give him what he has taken and drive him into Hell, and evil it is as a destination.” (Surah An-Nisaa: 115)
[v] A hadith of Sahih Muslim #482