Question # 203: If I make a mistake while imam is preforming prayer, what shall I do?

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).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: If the person praying behind the imam makes a mistake in his prayer and he joins the imam in the first rak’ah, then he does not have to perform the prostration of forgetfulness, because the imam carries it for him. But if we a person makes a mistake that invalidates one of the rak’ahs, (e.g., forgetting to recite al-Faatihah), then in that case he must stand up when the imam says the salaam and repeat the rak’ah perform the prostration of forgetfulness after the salaam. On the other hand, if the person praying behind the imam makes a mistake in his prayer, and he joins the prayer late, then he should do the prostration of forgetfulness whether he made the mistake whilst he was praying with the imam or after he stood up to complete the part of the prayer that he missed.

Long Answer: Although the questioner has enquired about the mistake in salah by a Muslim brother/sister praying behind Imam, we will also cover the issue pertaining to mistake by Imam and ruling for Muslims with respect to sujood al-sahw (prostration of forgetfulness), praying behind: 

  1. If a person offers the entire prayer with the imam, then the imam makes a mistake and performs prostration of forgetfulness, he has to follow him, whether he does the prostration before the salaam or after.
  1. If a person joins the prayer late, and the imam makes a mistake in the part of the prayer that he catches up with, then it depends: if the imam performs the prostration of forgetfulness before the salaam, the person praying behind him should prostrate with him, then complete his prayer, then perform the prostration of forgetfulness once again, because the first prostration that he did with the imam was not at the proper place for him, because the prostration of forgetfulness cannot be performed during the prayer, rather it should be performed at the end of the prayer, so his prostration with the imam was merely for the purpose of following the imam.

If the imam prostrates after the salaam, then the person who joined the prayer late should not prostrate with him, rather he should stand up and complete his prayer and say the salaam, then do the prostration of forgetfulness and say the salaam.

  1. If the person praying behind the imam joined the prayer late, and the imam made a mistake in the part of the prayer that he did not catch up with, such as if he made a mistake in the first rak’ah and the person joined the prayer in the second rak’ah:
  • If the imam prostrates before the salaam, the person praying behind him should follow him, then complete his prayer, but he does not have to prostrate again because the ruling on his imam’s mistake does not apply to him.
  • If the imam does the prostration after the salaam, the person praying behind him should not follow him, and he does not have to prostrate after finishing his prayer either, because the ruling on his imam’s mistake does not apply to him, as the mistake happened before he joined the imam in the prayer.

All of these cases apply when the mistake is made by the imam. If the mistake is made by the person praying behind the imam, that is also subject to further discussion:

  1. If the person praying behind the imam makes a mistake in his prayer, and he did not join the prayer late, i.e. he caught up with all the rak’ahs with the imam, such as if he forgets to say “Subhaana Rabbiy al-‘Azeem (Glory be to my Lord the Most Great)” when bowing, then he does not have to do the prostration of forgetfulness, because the imam carries it for him. But if we assume that the person made a mistake that invalidates one of the rak’ahs, such as if he forgot to recite al-Faatihah, then in that case he must stand up when the imam says the salaam and repeat the rak’ah that was invalidated because of his mistake, then he should recite the tashahhud, say the salaam and perform the prostration of forgetfulness after the salaam.
  1. If the person praying behind the imam makes a mistake in his prayer, and he joined the prayer late, then he should do the prostration of forgetfulness whether he made the mistake whilst he was praying with the imam or after he stood up to complete the part of the prayer that he missed, because if he prostrates he will not be differing from the imam, as the imam will already have finished his prayer.

See: Risaalah fi Ahkaam Sujood al-Sahw by Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him)

(The above reply is based on answer provided by Islamqa.info on similar issue)

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.

Wassalaam