Praise be to Allah,
The opening Takbir is a pillar from the pillars of the prayer. No prayer can be initiated without it. The ‘pillar’ of something refers to its strongest part. The pillar of the prayer refers to its components. The difference between conditions and pillars of prayer is that the pillar of something refers to a component of it that exists within it. As for the condition, it is not one of its (interior) components- it either preceded it or continuously accompanies it as in the case of ritual purity or facing the qibla[i].
Allahu Akbar’ means that Allah is greater than everything, there is none greater in Might and Splendour, so He is greater than everything. It is called Tahreemuha al-takbeer or ‘takbiratul ihram (from the word Haraam) or opening Takbeer. This makes certain things unlawful which was lawful before the pronouncement was made, just as the ihram in Hajj and Umrah forbids hitherto lawful things once it is entered[ii].The evidence for this the hadith on the authority of Abu Hurayrah who said,
“The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) entered the masjid and a man entered thereafter and prayed. Then, he gave the salaam to the Prophet He returned the salaam to him and said:
“Go back and pray, for you have not prayed.” He went back and prayed similarly as he had prayed previously, then came and gave the salam to the Prophet (PBUH) So he said to him:
“Go back and pray, for indeed you have not prayed.”
This occurred three times until the man said, “By He Who has sent you with the truth, I am not able to do better than this. Therefore, teach me.” So, he (PBUH) said:
“When you stand to pray, make the Takbir. Then recite what is easy for you from the Qur’an. Then bow until you are at ease in the bowing. Then rise until you are standing upright. Then prostrate until you are at ease in prostration. Then rise until you are at ease sitting. Then do this throughout the entirety of your prayer.”[iii]
In another hadith, the Prophet of Allah (PBUH) said,
“Indeed, the prayer of one of you is not complete until he performs wudu washing completely the body parts that are washed in wudu. Then he makes the Takbir…”[iv]
Once a person enters the prayer, eating, drinking, or talking which were permissible now becomes impermissible in prayer.
Phrase other than Allahu Akbar
The phrase, “Allahu Akbar” cannot be replaced with another phrase, such as, “Subhanallah”‘, “Alhamdulillah” or “La hawla wa la quwwata ilia billah”. Saying any other phrase is forbidden.
It is recommended that while raising both hands, fingers are kept close to each other. It is recommended that he raise his hands, palms facing the direction of qiblah whilst saying the takbiratul ihram.
It should be pronounced in the Arabic language.
The opening Takbeer must be pronounced in the Arabic language. If a person cannot pronounce it in the Arabic language, then he must learn as soon as possible. If he can’t learn the opening takbeer before the time of the prayer expires, then the meaning should be interpreted for him, and he can express it in his language.
The opening takbeer must be said in a loud voice
The Takbeer should be pronounced loud enough such that those behind the imam could hear[v]. When the Prophet (PBUH) fell ill Abu Bakr used to raise his voice to convey the takbeer of the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) to the people.”[vi]
The opening takbeer must be said in the standing position
The opening takbeer must be pronounced in a standing position. An-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It is obligatory to say the takbeerat al-ihram whilst standing. This also applies to one who is late for the prayer and catches up with the imam when he is already bowing. His takbeerat al-ihraam must be enunciated properly whilst he is standing; if he pronounces any letter of it when he is not standing, he has not started his prayer, and there is no difference of scholarly opinion concerning that”[vii].
Rulings on raising hands while saying the opening Takbeer
Raising hands in prayer is a proven Sunnah. This means if a person does not do this, his prayer is valid but will lose the reward. Hands are raised at four points in the prayer: when pronouncing takbeerat al-ihraam, when doing rukoo’, when standing up from rukoo’, and after standing up from the first tashahhud.
Significance of catching the opening takbeer of the imam in a congregation
It is narrated on the authority of Anas bin Malik that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said,
“Whoever performs Salah in congregation sincerely for Allah for forty days, catching the first Takbir, two absolutions are written for him, absolution from the Fire, and absolution from hypocrisy.”[viii]
The noble hadith encourages us to pray in congregation with the Imam and commit ourselves to catch the opening of the takbeer. The reward of praying in the congregation from the opening takbeer is absolution from Fire and Hypocrisy.
Example from the Salaf:
It is reported that Al-A’mash never missed the opening takbeer in congregation in seventy years of his life[ix].
Permissibility of walking hurriedly to catch the opening Takbeer of the imam
It is reported in ‘al-Aswaf that Ibn al-Mundhir said,
“Abdullah ibn Masood used to forbid us from waking horridly to salah. One night, I saw him rushing, so I said to him, Abu Abd al-Rahman! You used to forbid us from walking hurriedly to salah, so why are you rushing? He said I would have missed the beginning of the salah (opening Takbeer) [ had I not rushed].’
Sheikh ul Islam ibn Taymiyyah said on this report,
“This incident indicates that rushing to catch the first takbeer is not included in the prophet’s prohibition against walking horridly to attend the salah in the masjid. The context of prohibiting hadith indicates that it is prohibited for those who already missed the opening takbeer (to rush to the masjid). The prophet prohibited this action when he heard some people’s noise while salah was already in action. In another hadith, the prophet said, “when you hear the Iqamah, proceed to the salah with calmness and solemnity and do not make haste.” The majority of people whose houses are a long distance from the masjid would miss the First takbeer upon answering the iqamah once they hear it. There is an excellent award for those attending the salah from its beginning before the opening takbeer with the imam. If a person misses a rakah of the salah, he can make up for what he missed. But if he misses a first takbeer with the imam, he could not make for it. For this reason, walking hurriedly to catch the first takbeer would be permissible.’[x]
The Imam forgetting to pronounce the opening takbeer
The opening Takbir is obligatory for both the Imam and the person praying alone by agreement and in respect for the one following in the well-known position. It is related to Malik that the Imam bears the responsibility of the Takbir al-ihram for the follower. If the Imam omits the Takbir al-ihram, intentionally or by forgetfulness, then his prayer is invalid as is the prayer of those following. The evidence for its obligatory nature is found in the two Sahih collections where the Prophet said,
“The key to the prayer is purification and its sanctification is the Takbir and its ending is the taslim.”[xi]
Timing of making intention
The intention must be made before making the opening Takbeer. If it comes after it, then it is agreed that it is not allowed. If one makes intention even slightly before pronouncing the opening takbeer, the prayer is valid.
Errors in saying Allahu Akbar, which is invalid are:
Allahu Ajall’ (Allah the most Majestic) would be not correct
An’ Allahu Akbar, with the beginning stretched, would not be accepted. This is because it now becomes a questioning sentence.
Allahu Akbaar, with a stretch on the ba’, is also not acceptable because this will change the meaning.
Allahu Wakbar, hamza is changed to waaw, this is acceptable. This is because in the Arabic language the alteration of hamza to waw is permissible if it is preceded by a dhamma vowel. Hence the meaning does not change. This is because the person does not intend to mean waaw’ as this will surely change the meaning and hence unacceptable[xii]. Ash Shafi‘i has said that the prayer can be initiated with the statement “Allahu-l-Akbar” الله لاكبر because the definite article does not alter its meaning and its definition. It only adds to its being definite[xiii].
Manners of raising hands
A worshipper can raise the hands along with:
With the opening Takbeer– The proof for this is the Narration from Abdullah bin `Umar:
I saw that whenever Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) stood for the prayer, he used to raise both his hands up to the shoulders, and used to do the same on saying the Takbir for bowing and on raising his head from it and used to say, “Sami’s l-Allahu liman hamidah”. But he did not do that (i.e. raising his hands) in prostrations[xiv].
Before the Takbeer– The proof for this the hadith from Ibn Umar who reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), when he stood up for prayer, used to raise his hands apposite the shoulders and then recited Takbir (Allah-o-Akbar), and when he was about to bow he again did like it and when he raised himself from the ruku’ (bowing posture) he again did like it, but he did not do it at the time of raising his head from prostration[xv].
After the Takbeer– The proof for this the hadith of Malik b. al-Huwairith who said that when God’s Messenger said the Takbir he raised his hands and placed them opposite his ears, and when he raised his head after bowing and said, “God listens to him who praises Him,” he did the same. A version has, “and placed them opposite the tops of his ears.”[xvi]
Minimum and Maximum point of Raising hands
Level of shoulders– Narrated `Abdullah bin `Umar:
‘I saw that whenever Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) stood for the prayer, he used to raise both his hands up to the shoulders, and used to do the same on saying the Takbir for bowing and on raising his head from it and used to say, “Sami’s l-Allahu liman hamidah”. But he did not do that (i.e. raising his hands) in prostrations.[xvii]. This is the view of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and his son, and Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with them). It is also the view of ash-Shaafa‘i in al-Umm, and of his companions, as well as the view of Maalik, Ahmad, Ishaaq, and Ibn al-Mundhir, as noted in al-Majmoo‘ (3/307).
Level of Earlobes– Wa’il bin Hujr said:
I said: ‘I am going to watch how the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) prays.’ So I watched him and he stood and said the Takbir, and raised his hands until they were in the level with his ears, then he placed his right hand over his left hand, wrist, and lower forearm. When he wanted to bow he raised his hands likewise. Then he prostrated and placed his hands in level with his ears. Then he sat up and placed his left leg under him; he put his left hand on his left thigh and knee, and he put the edge of his right elbow on his right thigh, then he held two of his fingers together and made a circle, and raised his forefinger, and I saw him moving it and supplicating with it.”[xviii]
Level up to the top of Ears– It was narrated from Malik bin Al-Huwairith that:
He saw the Prophet (ﷺ) raise his hands when praying when he bowed, when he raised his head from bowing, when he prostrated and when he raised his head from prostrating until they were in level with the top part of his ears’[xix].
The worshipper has the choice between all the options, and neither of them is superior to the other.
Wisdom of Raising Hands
The simple answer to this is that we emulate the Sunnah of the prophet (PBUH).
It is mentioned that raising the hands in the opening Takbir signifies the removal of the barrier between the worshipper and his Creator. The worshipper can now focus with heart and know that he is standing in front of Allah[xx].
Mistakes in performing the Opening Takbeer
Raising hands below the shoulders. This is futile as this has no evidence and hence against the sunnah.
Putting index fingers in Ears– This is prescribed in wudu and not in takbeer.
Touching ear with hands: There is no basis for this[xxi] Sheikh Albani said,
“As for actually touching the earlobes with the thumb then there is no basis for this in the Sunnah. Rather in my view, it is something that incites misgivings[whispering of the satan][xxii].
The opening Takbeer would suffice for takbeer of bowing in case of a late comer
The latecomer who joins prayer in the congregation when the Imam is already in ruku must say the opening takbeer and immediately join the Imam in ruku (the bowing position). He can say the takbeer of bowing or directly go into ruku. Sheikh ibn Baaz said,
‘It is better and more on the safe side to say takbeer twice, once for starting to pray, which is a pillar or essential part of the prayer which must be done when he is standing, and the second time for bowing when he starts to bow. If he fears that he may miss the rak’ah, then the opening takbeer will suffice according to the more correct of the two scholarly opinions, because they are two acts of worship being combined at the same time and the greater will suffice for the lesser. And this rak’ah will count according to the majority of scholars. End quote[xxiii].
Refuting the Hanafi view
As said earlier, the prayer is not started with anything other than the phrase “Allahu Akbar’. This is the position of Ahmad, Malik, Ibn Mas‘ud, At-Tawus, Ayyub, Malik, At-Thawri, and Ash-Sha’fi all stated that the prayer is initiated by way of the Takbir. This is the consensus amongst the people of knowledge of old and later times. However, Abu Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him) said it can be initiated with any Name of Allah, the Exalted, in a manner which denotes magnification, other than the Takbeer. Imam Al- Quduri mentions in his Mukhtasar, an authoritative book on Hanafi Jurisprudence that,
‘According to Abū Ḥanīfah and Muḥammad, may Allah have mercy on them, it suffices him to say, “ Allāhu all – Allah is more majestic,” or “[Allāhu] a‘ẓam – Allah is more tremendous,” or “ar-Raḥmānu Akbar – the Most Merciful is greater,” in the place of the [normal] takbīr.’
He further says that Abu Yusuf, his student did not agree with the teacher and considered it prohibited. He says,
‘Abū Yūsuf, may Allah have mercy on him, however, said that it is not permitted for him to say anything but, “ Allāhu Akbar – Allah is greater,” or “ Allāhu’l-Akbar – Allah is the Greatest,” or “ Allāhu’l-Kabīr – Allah is the Great.”[xxiv]
Ibn Qudamah said, “The Prophet (PBUH) would initiate the prayer with the statement “Allahu Akbar”. It has not been transmitted from him that he diverted from this up until he departed from this world. This indicates that it is not permissible to depart from it, and that which Abu Hanifah has stated opposes the evidence established by the narrations. Therefore, it (i.e., Abu Hanifah’s view on this issue) should not be adhered to.[xxv]”
Allah Knows Best.
[i] An Explanation of the Conditions, Pillars, Requirements of Prayer, Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab, Explanation and commentary by Sheikh Muhammad Amaan bin Alee Al-Jamee and Sheikh Abdul Muhsin Bib al Hammad al-Abbad. Page- 181
[ii] A Commentary On Zad Al-Mustaqni, Salih Fauzan Al-Fawzan, Vol- 1, page 231
[iii] Al-Bukhari (no. 757) and Muslim (no. 397). See also, The prophet’s Prayer described by Sheikh uthaymeen. Page 108
[iv]: Sunan Abi Dawud 857. In-book reference: Book 2, Hadith 467. English translation: Book 3, Hadith 856
[v] Ahmad & Haakim, who declared it Saheeh and Dhahabi agreed. See also, The Prophet’s Prayer Described
“from beginning to end as though you see it” By Sheikh Muhammed Naasir-ud-Deen Al-Albaani. Page 28
[vi] Muslim & Nasaa’i. see also, The Prophet’s Prayer Described “from beginning to end as though you see it” By Sheikh Muhammed Naasir-ud-Deen Al-Albaani. Page 28
[vii] End quote from al-Majmoo‘ (3/296).
[viii] al-Tirmidhi no. 241; classed as da’eef by al-Tirmidhi but as Hasan/sound by al-Albani).
[ix] Siyar A’lam al Nubala Vol 6, page 228. See also, Reverence for the Salah, Sheikh Abdur Razak Ibn Abdul Muhsin Abbad al Badr. Translation by Abu Yusuf Abdullah Imran. Page 116
[x] Sharh al-Umdah Vol 1, Page 597. Quoted in Reverence for the Salah, Sheikh Abdur Razak Ibn Abdul Muhsin Abbad al Badr. Translation by Abu Yusuf Abdullah Imran. Page 119
[xi] The Risala : A Treatise on Maliki Fiqh ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (310/922 -386/996) Translated by Alhaj Bello Mohammad Daura, MA (London). Page 90
[xii] The prophet’s Prayer described by Sheikh uthaymeen. Page 109
[xiii] THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PROPHET’S Prayer By Shaykh Muqbil Ibn Haadee Al-Waadi’ee. Page 12
[xiv] Sahih al-Bukhari 736 In-book reference: Book 10, Hadith 130.
[xv] Sahih Muslim 390b. In-book reference: Book 4, Hadith 25
[xvi] Mishkat al-Masabih 795.In-book reference: Book 4, Hadith 223
[xvii] Sahih al-Bukhari 736. In-book reference : Book 10, Hadith 130
[xviii] Grade: Sahih (Darussalam). Reference: Sunan an-Nasa’i 889. In-book reference: Book 11, Hadith 14.English translation: Vol. 2, Book 11, Hadith 890
[xix] Sahih (Darussalam). Reference: Sunan an-Nasa’i 1085.In-book reference: Book 12, Hadith 57. English translation: Vol. 2, Book 12, Hadith 1086
[xx] The prophet’s Prayer described by Sheikh Uthaymeen. Page 111
[xxi] The prophet’s Prayer described by Sheikh Uthaymeen. Page 112
[xxii] The Abridgment of the prophet’s Prayer Described. Sheikh Nasiruddin Albani.
[xxiii] Majmoo’ Fataawa Ibn Baaz, 11/244-245
[xxiv] MUKHTAṢAR AL-QUDŪRĪ, A Manual of Islamic Law, According to the Hanafi School. Translated by Tahir Mahmood Kiani. Page 68
[xxv] Al-Mughni (pg. 639),