Question # 356: If a person is offering 2 rakahs sunnah after Maghrib in the Mosque, when a new comer joined him for Jamaah. What should he do as he is offering the Sunnah if he knows that the new comer is under the impression that he is offering fard. Could you please clarify as to what should be done in such a situation where you are offering a Sunnah prayer and someone joins you thinking its Fard with specific reference to whether he should recites out loud or quietly?

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: There is nothing wrong in offering a fard (an obligatory prayer) behind one who is offering a sunnah or naafil prayer. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with a person starting his prayer alone and then becoming an imam when someone else joins him. In such a situation, the imam has the choice as to whether he recites out loud or quietly. But if he intended to lead the prayer from the outset, then he should recite out loud. However, it is not valid for the one leading the prayer to change the intention from naafil to obligatory to suit the requirement of the circumstances, because the intention should be made with the opening takbeer, or shortly before it. 

Long Answer: There is nothing wrong with one who is offering an obligatory prayer praying behind one who is offering a naafil prayer. It is proven that Mu‘aadh ibn Jabal (رضي الله عنه) used to pray ‘Isha’ with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), then he would go back to his people and lead them in praying ‘Isha’, and the prayer was naafil for him and obligatory for them. 

It was narrated that Jaabir ibn ‘Abd-Allah (رضي الله عنه) said: Mu‘aadh ibn Jabal (رضي الله عنه) used to pray with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), then he would go to his people and lead them in prayer. And he would recite al-Baqarah. … The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Recite ‘By the sun and its brightness’ (Soorah al-Shams 91:1), and ‘Glorify the Name of your Lord, the Most High’ (Soorah al-A’la 87:1) and the like.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari (5755) and Muslim) 

Al-Nawawi said: “In this hadith we see that it is permissible for one who is offering an obligatory prayer to pray behind one who is offering a naafil prayer, because Mu‘aadh used to offer the obligatory prayer with the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم), so he discharged his duty, then he would pray the second time with his people, so it was voluntary for him and obligatory for them. This is stated clearly elsewhere than in Muslim, and this is permissible according to al-Shaafa‘i (may Allah have mercy on him) and others.” (Sharh Muslim) 

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with a person starting his prayer alone and then becoming an imam when someone else joins him. 

It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) said: I stayed overnight with my maternal aunt. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) got up to pray at night and I got up to pray with him. I stood on his left and he took hold of my head and made me stand on his right. (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim) 

Imam al-Bukhari included this report in a chapter entitled: If the imam did not intend to lead others in prayer, then people join him so he leads them in prayer. 

And it was narrated that Anas (رضي الله عنه) said: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was praying in Ramadan, and I came and stood beside him, and another man came and stood too, until there was a group of us. When the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) realized that I was behind him, he made his prayer brief. (Narrated by Muslim) 

Some of the scholars said that it is permissible to do this in naafil prayers, but not in obligatory prayers. But the correct view is that it is valid in both cases. 

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “The correct view is that that is permissible in both obligatory and naafil prayers.” (Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa) 

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “But the correct view is that it is valid in both obligatory and naafil prayers. With regard to naafil prayers, it is mentioned in the text; with regard to obligatory prayers, what is proven in the case of naafil prayers is also proven with regard to obligatory prayers, unless there is evidence to the contrary.” (Al-Sharh al-Mumti‘) 

Thirdly, if a person starts to pray behind a man who has started to offer a naafil prayer, then the imam has the choice as to whether he recites out loud or quietly. But if he intended to lead the prayer from the outset, then he should recite out loud, because of the hadith of Mu‘adh (رضي الله عنه) quoted above. 

Furthermore, it is not valid to change the intention from naafil to obligatory, because what is required in an obligatory prayer is for the intention to be formed with the opening takbeer, or shortly before it. 

Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said in al-Majmoo’: “Al-Maawardi said: Changing the intention from one prayer to another falls into different categories:

  1. Changing the intention from one obligatory prayer to another: neither of them counts.
  2. Changing the intention from one regular naafil prayer to another, such as Witr to the Sunnah of Fajr: neither of them counts.
  3. Changing from a naafil prayer to a fard prayer: neither of them counts…” 

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “… the intention for a specific act of worship must be formed from the beginning, before starting it. If he formed the intention partway through, that implies that the part of it that he did before forming the new intention is devoid of the intention to offer the prayer that he changed to, and the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Actions are but by intentions, and every man will have but that which he intended.” So the questioner has to repeat the ‘Isha’ prayer.” (Majmoo’ Fataawa Ibn ‘Uthaymeen) 

(The above reply is based on various answers provided by Islam Q&A on the topic)

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