Question # 5: Is my rak’ah complete, if I catch the imam in ruku?
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.
Shorter Answer: Whoever catches up with the imam when he is bowing and bows with him that is regarded as a rak’ah for him, according to the view of the majority of scholars, even if he did not recite Soorah Fati’hah.
Long Answer: There are three opinions on this issue. The first, which is held by the majority, is that if the latecomer can catch up with the imam before he raises his head from the ruku and is able to bow with him, then he has caught the rak’ah. The second opinion is that if the imam has gone into ruku, the person has lost the rak’ah, and he cannot attain it unless he had done so after standing with the imam. This is attributed to Abu Hurayrah. The third opinion is that if he approaches the last row when the imam has raised his head from the ruku, but some of those in the row have not, and he joins them in ruku, he has gained the rak’ah, for some are leading the others. This was upheld by al Sha’bi. (‘Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid’ by Ibn Rushd)
However, according to the soundest view of scholars, the rak’ah is counted only when one catches up with the prayer during the bowing (position). The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “If you come to the prayer and we are in prostration, prostrate and do not count it as (a complete rak’ah). Whoever catches the bowing has caught the prayer.” (This hadith is sahih according to Shaykh al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami’ as-Sagheer, Recorded by Abu Dawud). This is also stated in a hadith narrated on the authority of Abu Bakrah Al-Thaqafy: I reached the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in the mosque while he was bowing in Salat, and I too bowed before joining the row. I mentioned it to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), and he said to me, “May Allah increase your love for the good. But do not repeat it again (bowing in that way)” (Bukhari). It is that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) did not order him to perform the rak’ah again, which proves that it is sufficient for one if one catches up with the prayer when the congregants are bowing. (‘AI-Mulakhkhas AI-Fiqhi’ by Dr. Salih AI-Fawzan and Fatwas of Ibn Baz)
‘Ata’ narrated that he heard Ibn az-Zubayr saying while on the pulpit, “If one of you comes to the mosque and the people are bowing, he should bow and walk while bowing until he reaches the row. That is the Sunnah.” (The chain of this report is sahih according to Shaykh al-Albani, Silsilat at-Ahadith as-Saheehah). And Zayd ibn Wahb said, “I went with ‘Abdullah, that is, Ibn Mas’ood, from his house to the mosque. When we reached the mosque, the Imam bowed, so ‘Abdullah made the takbir and bowed, and I bowed with him. Then we walked until we reached the row, at which time the people raised their heads. When the Imam had finished the prayer, I stood up, thinking that I had not caught that prayer. ‘Abdullah took my hand and sat me back down, saying, ‘You have caught (the rak’ah).” (This hadith is sahih according to Shaykh al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Saheehah, Recorded by al-Bayhaqi) (‘The Concise Presentation of the Fiqh of the Sunnah and the Noble Book by Dr. Abdul-Azeem Badawi)
As for the recitation of Soorah Fati’hah, all of the schools, with the exception of the Hanafis, agree that it is obligatory to recite the Fati’hah in every rak’ah that one performs regardless of whether the prayer is obligatory or voluntary. Evidence in favor of the view that the recitation of the Fati’hah is obligatory may be found in the hadith narrated by both Muslim and al-Bukhari according to which the Prophet stated, “Whoever has not recited the Fati’hah has not prayed.” According to the majority of scholars, someone who is being led in congregational prayer must recite the Fati’hah behind the imam unless he joined the prayer late and missed all or part of the Fati’hah. In this case, the imam’s recitation exempts the person being led from whatever part of the Fati’hah he missed. (‘Islamic Jurisprudence According to the Four Sunni Schools’ by ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jaziri)
Furthermore, if a latecomer to congregational prayer reaches the prayer while the imam is in the ruku, he must pronounce the opening takbir (in prayer) while standing, then he should bow with the imam, preferably after a second takbir. (‘AI-Mulakhkhas AI-Fiqhi’ by Dr. Salih AI-Fawzan) So if he pronounces the opening takbir in standing upright position, pronounces the second takbir and joins the imam in ruku, and does all of these while the imam is in ruku, he has caught the rak’ah even if he did not recite Soorah Fati’hah. Next, the scholars state that if the latecomer catches the bowing with the imam while the latter is already bowing and manages to say only one tasbihah (Subhana Rabbiyal Azim), then also he will have caught the whole rak’ah.
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.