Question # 285: Can one pray sitting down if there is no excuse? Is the ruling different for nawafil?
Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Short Answer: Standing is obligatory for fard prayers. It can be left only if one has a valid excuse based on the following guidelines:
- If one is unable to stand;
- If standing will make his sickness worse;
- If standing will delay his recovery;
- Standing causes great difficulty of such a scale that he will be unable to focus properly (attain khushoo’).
The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) once fell from a horse and sustained an injury on his right side; consequently, he led one of the prayers sitting. Hence valid excuse does not detract from the reward that one would earn if one prays standing.
With regard to naafil prayers, it is permissible to sit during them with no excuse, according to scholarly consensus, but the reward of the one who sits in that case is half the reward of one who stands. According to Hanafi Madhhab, Nafl Salah may be performed seated, but the reward is reduced by half and praying while sitting should not be construed as a Mustahabb (preferred action). This sitting in Nafl with the ability to stand is only allowed in order that extra prayers are not neglected out of laziness or tiredness.
Long Answer: The basic principle concerning that is the report narrated by al-Bukhari from ‘Imraan ibn Husayn (رضي الله عنه) who said: I had haemorrhoids, and I asked the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) about praying. He said: “Pray standing; if you cannot, then sitting; and if you cannot, then lying on your side.”
By scholarly consensus ‘standing’ is from the integrals of the fard prayer. Given this, all the fard prayers offered sitting without a valid excuse, will need to be repeated. (Ibn Qudaamah, al-Mughni) Hence, standing is obligatory for fard prayers. It can be left only if one has a valid excuse.
Hence, it is not permissible for anyone to pray sitting unless he is unable to stand, or standing is very difficult for him, or he is sick and there is the fear that his sickness may become worse if he prays standing up. That also includes a paralyzed person who is unable to stand at all, and an elderly person for whom it is difficult to stand, and a sick person who will be harmed by standing because it will either make his sickness worse or delay his recovery.
Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity…” (Soorah Al-Baqarah, 2:286) It was narrated from Anas bin Malik (رضي الله عنه) that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) rode a horse and fell from it, and sustained an injury on his right side. He led one of the prayers sitting, and we prayed behind him sitting. When he had finished he said: “The Imam is appointed to be followed. If he prays standing then pray standing; when he bows, bow; when he says, Sami’ Allahu liman hamidah (Allah hears those who praise Him), say ‘Rabbana lakalhamd (Our Lord, to You be praise); and if he prays sitting then pray sitting, all of you.” (Sunan an-Nasa’i, graded sahih)
Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: The ummah is unanimously agreed that whoever is unable to stand in an obligatory prayer may pray sitting, and he does not have to repeat it. Our companions said: That does not detract from the reward that he would earn if he prayed standing, because he is excused. It is proven in Saheeh al-Bukhari that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “If a person is sick or is travelling, there is written for him (the reward) for the deeds he used to do when he was healthy or not travelling.” Our companions said: For a person to be allowed to pray sitting down, it is not a condition that he should be completely unable to stand, and it is not enough if he finds it a little difficult; rather what counts is evident hardship. If he fears that it will be extremely difficult or it will make his sickness worse, etc., or a person who is travelling by boat fears that he may drown or become dizzy, then he may pray sitting, and he does not have to repeat it.” (al-Majmoo’)
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) explained the definition of the hardship which makes it permissible for a person not to stand in an obligatory prayer, and how to sit. He said: The definition of difficulty is that which takes away khushoo’ (proper focus and humility). Khushoo’ means that the heart is focused and at peace. If it is the case that standing will make a person severely anxious and have no peace of mind, and he is longing to get to the end of al-Faatihah so that he can bow because he is finding it too hard to stand, then it is too difficult for him to pray standing, so he should pray sitting. (al-Sharh al-Mumti’)
With regard to naafil prayers, it is permissible to sit during them with no excuse, according to scholarly consensus, but the reward of the one who sits in that case is half the reward of one who stands, because of the report narrated by Muslim from ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr (رضي الله عنه) who said: I was told that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The prayer of a man who sits is half of the prayer of a man who stands.” I came to him and found him praying sitting. I put my hand on his head and he said, ‘What is the matter, O ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr?” I said, “I was told, O Messenger of Allah that you said, ‘The prayer of a man who sits is half of the prayer of a man who stands,’ and you are praying sitting.” He said, “Yes, but I am not like one of you.” Also, in the hadith narrated above by `Imran bin Husain: Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “If he prays while standing it is better and he who prays while sitting gets half the reward of that who prays standing; and whoever prays while lying gets half the reward of that who prays while sitting.” (Al-Bukhari)
Some Fuqaha amongst the Hanafi Madhhab are of the opinion that Nafl Salah (superogatory) may be performed seated. However, even they concede that the Thawaab (reward) is reduced by half. This is only a permitted act and should not be construed as a Mustahabb (preferred action). People may read the Nafl Salah whilst seated but they should not make a habit of doing so. This sitting in Nafl with the ability to stand is only allowed in order that extra prayers not be neglected out of laziness or tiredness. (Mufti Ebrahim Desai)
The instances in which the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) offered prayer upon his camel are all limited to nafl prayer, as this is explicitly mentioned in many narrations (Muslim, Abu Dawud etc.)
(Most part of the above reply is based on various answers by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid, unless stated otherwise)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.