بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Questions have been asked about what appears to be a novel practice amongst Western Muslims of people praying with their hands at their sides instead of folding them over their chests as has been reported in sound traditions about the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. It is common knowledge to Muslims everywhere that this was a practice of the virtuous Imam and erudite, Malik ibn Anas, may Allah have mercy on him.
What has also become commonplace is to hear a rather unsupportable explanation of why he did it. That explanation is that Imam Malik only prayed with his arms at his sides because he was tortured and therefore unable to fold his arms on his chest.
This claim, after being unsupported by fact, history, or logic, is clearly contravened by the explicit statement of the Imam himself. And, we challenge such a claim to be verified by and in any of the traditionally relied upon books of Islamic history. One will find oneself hard-pressed to find any evidence substantiating this argument.
Then, logically speaking, it would seem to be quite unreasonable to surmise that Imam Malik didn’t have the strength to place one of his hands over the other on his chest while praying, but have enough strength to support his own body weight when pushing himself up from the position of prostration to the standing position, since it was his view that when rising from prostration one should lift his/her knees before the hands.
What this paper will prove is that Malik, may Allah have mercy on him, only prayed that way, because it is what he saw there to be stronger evidence for, in addition to it being supported by sound traditions related about the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.
It will also be shown that Malik was not alone in this regard, and that many of the well-known scholars from the Taabi’in (Students of the Prophet’s Companions) also prayed that way. Then, we will bring out in the end that such a prayer is legally valid in all of the schools of Sunni law, and that ones prayer is not invalidated if one were to do so.
What people must understand about evidence is that it is not restricted to Qur’an and Sunnah, nor has it ever been restricted to them. Consensus (Al-Ijmaa’) is also proof. Legal Analogy (Al-Qiyaas) is another proof. There are also things like the Pre-Qur’anic sacred legislation that hasn’t been abrogated (Shar’u man qublanaa), and the statements and actions of the Sahaabah (qawl wa’amal as-Sahabah). There are also others that we chose not to mention, since this is not the place for such a discussion.
Were we to limit evidence to merely the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace, a great many things that we deem to be forbidden or permissible today would not be able to be supported or justified.
The reason for writing this paper is so that the author or others will no longer have to go into great detail repeatedly in explaining and justifying this issue. The aim of this explanation is not to appease or convince those opposed to this practice. Rather, it is to console and put at ease those who do it. This way, if one desires to know the facts, it would be as simple as taking recourse to the current paper, and those like it wherever they exist. We ask Allah to benefit all by it. Ameen.
I. The Position of Malik, may Allah be pleased with him
(“…Malik said about placing the right hand over the left during Salat. He said: (“I don’t know (of) that in the obligatory (prayer).” And he used to dislike it. “However, in voluntary prayers (nawaafil), when the standing is extended, there is no harm in that (for one who doesn’t) support himself by it.”…).
Malik’s statement, “I don’t know of that in the obligatory prayer”, seems to point to a clear reality to anyone who is acquainted with his method of deducing legal rulings. That reality is that, his statement indicates that he doesn’t know of any conclusive evidence that would be strong enough to consider placing the right hand over the left on the chest a Sunnah act of the obligatory prayer.
The statement also indicates that the main reason that he disliked it was that people folded their hands on their chests as a means of holding themselves up in prayer. That wouldn’t be necessary, since it is disliked for Imams to make the standings too lengthy during obligatory prayers. As for the voluntary prayers, he didn’t dislike it then, due to the fact that much of what is not permissible in obligatory prayers is permissible in voluntary prayers.
Now, where does the argument of the claimant stand in light of this decisive evidence?
II. Evidence from Hadith
As for the hadiths that indicate this, let us first start with the hadith of Abu Hamid as-Saa’idi, because of its complete soundness and clear unequivocal indication of the Prophet praying with his hands by his sides.
Ibn Hajar says in Fathul-Baari:
“Bukhaari, Abu Daawud, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, and Ibn Khuzaimah reported it.”
And, the version of Abu Daawud contains the following addition that is a clear indication of the hands being released at the sides. Its wording is:
“Ahmad related to us – Abu ‘Aasim Ad-Dahhaak ibn Makhlad related to us (transfer); Musaddad related to us – Yahya related to us.”
And the chain of Ahmad reads:
Abdul-Hamid informed us – that is, Ibn Ja’far – (he said) Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Ataa informed me. He said,
“I heard Abu Hamid As-Saa’idi say while in the company of ten of the companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless and grant him peace: “I am the most knowledgeable of you of the prayer of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.”
They said, “How (so)? For by Allah, you were neither the one who spent the most time with him, nor the eldest of us to him in companionship.” He said, “True indeed.” They said, “Show (us).” He said, “Whenever the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless and grant him peace, would stand up to pray he would raise his hands until they were parallel with his shoulders, then say ‘Allahu Akbar‘ until each bone became settled in its place straightly. Then, he would recite…”
And the natural place of the hands/arms of a person is at his/her sides. And it cannot be said that a person’s arms are straight if they are folded on his/her chest.
Sheikh Muhktaar Ad-Daudi says,
“And if the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace, used to pray while placing the right over the left hand the ten companions would have rebuked him (i.e. Abu Hamid) for omitting it when he said: “…until each bone became settled in its place…” since peoples’ egos are disposed to a severe eagerness to point out the mistake of one’s challenger when competing. And amongst the ten companions was Sahl ibn Sa’d, may Allah be pleased with him, who said (in another hadith): “The people were ordered to place the right hand on the left forearm during Salat.” So, it becomes clear that the order in the hadith of Sahl, may Allah be pleased with him, came from one other than the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace, and Sahl’s acknowledgement, may Allah be pleased with him, of the description of the prayer which the clasping of the hands (qabd) has been omitted from is proof that the order in the aforementioned hadith is not from the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace.”
As for the hadiths that mention the Prophet praying with his hands folded on his chest or under his navel, they refer to the voluntary prayers.
“…And about Malik is also (the report mentioning) the favorableness of placing (the hands on the chest) in the voluntary (prayers), and the (favorableness) of leaving (them by the sides) during the obligatory (prayers). And this is what his followers from Basra gave more weight to…”
Muhammad al-Khadr ash-Shinqeeti said,
“And of the hadiths indicating the release (of the hands at the sides) is every hadith in which the prayer of the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace, is described wherein he covered (i.e. in the hadith) the mention of the recommended acts (mustahabbaat) of prayer without mentioning the clasping (of the hand). That’s because leaving (the hands hanging) is the original position as is not a secret. And clasping (the hands) is an added description. So, when it is not mentioned, the situation is to remain according to the original state, which is the release of the hands (irsaal). Also because silence about the description (of something) at the time clarification is required is indicative of limitation (to what is without the addition)…”
So, with to regard to hadith evidence, there is more that can be mentioned, although what has already passed should be sufficient enough evidence to establish that the Prophet did in fact pray while leaving his arms at his sides.
III. Evidence from the Traditions of the Sahaabah and Tabi’un
- Abu Bakr (ibn Abi Shaibah) declared: Hushaym declared to us about Hasan (al-Basari) – about Yunus (who declared) about Ibrahim (an-Nakha’i) that they (Hasan and Ibrahim) used to release their hands (at their sides) during prayer.
- ‘Affaan declared to us: Yazid ibn Ibrahim declared to us. He said: “I heard ‘Amr ibn Dinar say: “(Abdullah) Ibnuz-Zubayr (the grandson of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq), whenever he prayed, he used to release his hands (at his sides).”
- Ibn ‘Ulayyah declared to us: On the authority of Ibn ‘Aun about Ibn Seereen that he was asked about the man who holds his right hand with his left. He said: “That was merely done because of the Romans’ (influence).”
- ‘Umar ibn Harun declared to us: On the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn Yazid. He said: “I never saw (Sa’id) Ibn Al-Musayyib (the most knowledgeable of the Taabi’in) clasping his right hand in the prayer. He used to release them (at his sides).”
- Yayhaa Ibn Sa’id declared to us: On the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn Al-‘Eezaar. He said: “I used to accompany Sa’id ibn Jubair. So, he saw a man praying while placing one of his hands on the other. This one on this one and this one on this one. So, he went, separated them, and then returned (to me).”
And Imam An-Nauwawi said in his Majmoo’:
“Laith ibn Sa’d (said about the person who prays): “He releases them (i.e. the hands). Then, if that (i.e. the prayer) is too long for him, he should place the right over the left.” And Awzaa’i said: “(One has) a choice between clasping and releasing (the hands).”
Sheikh al-Khadr said,
“I say (that) the statement of al-Laith is unequivocal in indicating that clasping (the hands) is not in his view from the Sunnah. However, it falls under the category of support (of one’s body weight). And this is exactly the reason that Malik expressly considered it to be disliked, since it is a form of supporting (oneself). And Ibn Abi Shaibah reported Ibn Seereen as saying when he was asked about the man who holds by his right hand his left hand: “That was merely because of the Romans.””
Then Abu Daawood relates that Muhammad ibn Jahaadah said about the matter of releasing the arms at ones sides:
“Then, I mentioned that to Hasan ibn Abi al-Hasan, and he said: “It is the prayer of Allah’s messenger, may Allah bless and grant him peace. Whoever does it does it. And whoever abandons it abandons it.”‘
“And the ‘ulamaa have said that Ibn az-Zubair took the description of prayer from Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. Al-Khatib reports in Taarikh al-Baghdaad that Ahmad ibn Hanbal – may Allah be pleased with him – said: “‘Abdur-Razzaq related to me.” He said: “Verily, the people of Makkah say: “Ibn Juraij took the description of prayer from ‘Ataa. And ‘Ataa took it from Ibn al-Zubayr. And Ibn az-Zubayr took it from Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. And Abu Bakr took it from the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace.” And this indicates that Abu Bakr used to release (his hands) in his prayer, because, Ibn az-Zubayr took the description of prayer from him.
And Ibn ‘Abbaas (The Prophet’s cousin) testified that the Salat of Ibn az-Zubayr is the Salat of the Prophet – may Allah bless and grant him peace – in what Abu Daawud relates about Maimoon al-Makki that he saw ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr while leading them in prayer. He said afterwards, “Then, I went to Ibn ‘Abbaas and said: “Verily, I have seen Ibn az-Zubayr prays a prayer that I have never seen anyone pray.” Then I described to him this gesture, and he said: “If you’d like to look at the prayer of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless and grant him peace, then copy the prayer of ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr.”
“And what is confirmed by scholars is that Ibn az-Zubayr used to release (his hands) in his Salat. So, it is known by the testimony of Ibn ‘Abbaas that his prayer is the prayer of the Prophet, may Allah bless and grant him peace, and that he used to release (his hands) in Salat…”
And in the Musannaf of Abdur-Razzaq as-San’aani he says,
“I saw Ibn Juraij praying while releasing his hands. And Awzaa’i said: “Whoso pleases does it. And whoso pleases leaves it.” And it is the view of ‘Ataa.”
IV. The Position of the Majority of Scholars
Most scholars hold the view that the normative, if not permanent, practice of the Prophet, may Allah have peace upon him, was folding his arms while praying. This is the position taken by the other three schools, and is the opinion considered by many Malikis to be the position having more evidence in support of it. However, the basis for this position is that it has been related about 18 Sahaabah and 2 of the Taabi’un that the Prophet prayed with his hands clasped. However, there exists contention regarding the chain of transmission of each one of these narrations. It has been related about them, which is a clear indication of weakness and indecisiveness.
Hadith scholars know it as “the wording indicative of sickness” (seegat at-tamreed). As for the one or two sound narrations, which are found in the collections of Bukhaari and Muslim, they are not clear in their indications that the Prophet prayed with his hands clasped. For that reason, it is not possible to unequivocally conclude that he, may Allah grant him peace, prayed with his hands clasped. Rather, it is equally plausible, if not more reasonable, to conclude the opposite.
“As for ascribing the (position of) clasping the hands (qabd) to the majority (of scholars), if the intended (ascription) is (an ascription to) the majority of the Sahaabah, then this ascription is not true by any means, since it (i.e. clasping the hands) has not been found to be soundly established about the Prophet, may Allah grant him peace, nor one of his Rightly-Guided Successors. So, how could attributing it to the majority of the Sahaabah and Taabi’un be true?
As for what Tirmidhi relates from Samaak ibn Harb from Qabeesah ibn Hulb from his father who said: “The Messenger of Allah used to lead us, and take his left with his right.” and declared it to be Hasan (of fair grading), then said, “Action is in accordance with this among the companions of the Prophet – may Allah grant him peace, the successors (taabi’in), and those after them”; There is no doubt that he (Tirmidhi) depended upon the hadith of Hulb in attributing this action, since there is a distance (in time) between him, and between the Sahaabah and Taabi’un. Also because, he didn’t mention any support for that other than the hadith of Hulb. And if it (the hadith) had been Saheeh (sound), it would have resolved the dispute.
However, it is one of the narrations of Samaak and Qabisah. And it has already preceded that Samaak is weak and Qabisah is unknown (majhul). And only Samaak narrates on his authority. And Tirmidhi’s choosing of this chain from (all) the different chains going back to the Prophet in this chapter is a proof that all chains of transmission fall in the center of ignominy.
Just as it has already preceded about the Imams of the Taabi’un (Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab, Sa’id ibn Jubair, and Mujaahid) what points to the contrary of what Tirmidhi attributed to the Sahaabah and Taabi’un, while knowing that these know better the doings of the Sahaabah in the matter than Tirmidhi and all from his generation.
And if what is intended by “the majority“ is the majority of those lesser than the Successors of the Successors (Taabi’u at-taabi’in), the ascription to them is true. The statement of Nauwawi in Sharh Muslim (4/114) indicates it. “The proof of the majority (of scholars after the Salaf) regarding the favorableness of placing the right on the left is the aforementioned hadith of Waa’il, and the hadith of Abu Haazim on the authority of Sahl.”
So, this gives the feeling that the Sahaabah and Taabi’un are outside of this majority, since they don’t present the aforementioned hadith of Sahl as evidence, because the one giving the order is unknown. And if he had not been unknown, the Imams of the Salaf would not have differed regarding its ruling. (They also differed) because the hadith of Waa’il is weakened (ma’lul) due to a break in its chain, and the weakness of one of its narrators. So, the Salaf didn’t present it as evidence…”
V. The Statements of other Scholars
Ibn Rushd says,
“Scholars have differed regarding placing the hands, one of them on the other during Salat. Malik considered that makruh (disliked) during the obligatory prayer, and permitted it during the voluntary prayers.
Others considered this action to be from the one of the Sunnahs (recommended acts) of Salat. They are the majority (of those after the Salaf).
The reason for their difference is that some established traditions (of the companions and successors) have come. The description of the Prophet’s prayer, may Allah grant him peace, has been related in them. And nowhere in them was it related that he placed his right over his left.
It also has been confirmed that the people were commanded to do that (i.e. clasp their hands).
That has also been mentioned as part of the description of his prayer – may Allah bless and grant him peace – in the hadith of Abu Hamid.
And some people saw that the reports that have been confirmed necessitated an addition upon the reports not containing this addition, and that the addition must be followed.
Others saw that the more worthy obligation was to follow the reports that don’t contain the addition, because they are more numerous, and since this (i.e. clasping of the hands) doesn’t befit the actions of prayer. Rather, they fall under the category of seeking support (in remaining still and standing). Therefore, Malik permitted it in voluntary prayers, and did not permit it in the obligatory…”
Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr says,
“…And placing the right of them over the left or releasing them (at the sides), all of that is a Sunnah in Salat…”
VI. Summary and Conclusion
We know the validity of praying with our hands at our sides from the following:
- It was the position held by our Imam Malik, and most of his disciples and Malikis historically.
- The hadiths of the Prophet indicate that he prayed that way.
- It was the opinion taken by the Taabi’un, the most knowledgeable of them being by unanimous consensus Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab.
- It was the position of ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr who learned from his grandfather, Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq who learned from the Prophet himself. In addition, it hasn’t been confirmed in any sound reports that any of the other Sahaabah prayed while clasping their hands.
- None of the Imams of the other madhhabs (legal schools) hold it to be an obligation to pray while clasping ones hands. They only consider it to be a Sunnah. As for Malik, it is permitted without dislike during voluntary prayers when the standing is long. As for the obligatory prayers, he disliked it, although dislike does not mean that something is prohibited according the scholars.
- Some Imams hold both folding the hands as well as leaving them at ones sides to be Sunnahs that have been both related about the Prophet, may Allah grant him peace.
In the end, I’d like to say that it would be much more beneficial for those seeking to sow discord through this matter to address some of our more pressing issues like the divorce rate in the Muslim community, or things like, trying to help solve the problems of Muslims suffering from substance abuse and alcohol problems. Instead of policing peoples’ prayer when they’re not doing anything wrong, they should go looking for things, which are truly haram and try to find the proper Islamic solutions for them.
 He was one of the most famous and greatest of Malik’s students.
 Al-Mudawwanah al-Kubraa. It is one of the main source books for Maliki fiqh.
 Al-Mudawwanah. 1/111. Daar al-Fikr: 1998.
 The remainder of the hadith is,
“…Then, he would recite. Then, he’d say ‘Allahu Akbar’, and raise his hands until they were parallel with his shoulders. Then, he’d bow placing his palms upon his knees. Then, he’d straighten out (while bowing) without lowering his head or inclining. Then, he’d raise his head, and say: “Allah hears he who praises Him.” Then, he’d raise his hands until they were evenly parallel with his shoulders. Then, he’d say: “Allahu Akbar.” Then, he’d fall to the ground, and extend his arms away from his sides. Then, he’d raise his head, fold his left leg, and sit on it while spreading the toes of his feet when he fell prostrate, then he’d prostrate, and say: “Allahu Akbar.” Then, he’d sit up, bend his left leg, and sit on it until every bone returned to its place. Then, he’d do in the other units (rak’at) the like of that. And when he stood from the two rak’ats he said: “Allahu Akbar”, raised his hands until he made them parallel with his shoulders just as he gave the takbir at the beginning of the prayer. Then, he’d do that in the rest of his Salat, until the prostration containing (i.e. before) the taslim (i.e. the final Salaam) left out his left leg, and sat leaning to one side on his left (buttock).” They said: “You have spoken the truth. That is how he used to pray, may Allah bless and grant him peace.”
 He is one of the scholars of Mauritania, author of Mashroo’iyat as-Sadl fis-Salaat (The Legitimacy of Laying the Hands in Salaat).
 Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawwawi. 4/96. Hadith 401. Daar al-Fikr. 1995.
 He is Muhammad al-Khadr Ibn al-Sheikh ‘Abd Allah ibn Mayaabi al-Jakani al-Shinqeeti. He was one of the most remarkable and outstanding scholars of Mauritania who appeared in the first half of the fourteenth century of the Hijrah. He died in the 1405 a.h.
 These hadiths are many. Unfortunately, we won’t bother to mention them here in an attempt to avoid prolixity. What we will do instead is mention where they can be found. Those narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar can be found in Muwatta, Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim. As for those from Abu Hurayrah, check the six renowned collections with the exception of Ibn Majah. From ‘Ali, you can look in Ahmad’s Musnad, Abu Daawud, Tirmidhi, Nasaai, and Ibn Maajah. As for Abu Qalaabah, refer to Bukhaari and Muslim. And refer to Abu Daawud for those found on the authority of Salim al-Barrad.
 Ibram al-naqd fima qila min arjahiyyat al-qabd. Daar al-Bashair al-Islamiyyah. 1996.
 The Musannaf is one of the earliest hadith canons in Islamic history.
 This is one of the major source books on Shaafi’i fiqh.
 Ibram al-naqd. P.57.
 Abu Dawud.
 Ibram al-naqd. P.63.
 This Musannaf is also one of the earliest hadith canons in Islamic history.
 Al-Musannaf. 2/276.
 Mashroo’iyat al-sadl. P. 69.
 Ibn Rush was a famous Muslim philosopher, magistrate, and jurist from Islamic Spain who died in the year 595 after the emigration (Hijrah) from Mecca to Medina.
 Bidaayat al-Mujtahid. Pp. 192-193.
 Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr was a great Maliki jurist and hadith scholar known as “The Great Hadith Retainer of the West” (Haafiz al-Maghrib). He died in the year 468 after the Hijrah, the same year that his counterpart al-Khatib al-Baghdaadi, “The Great Hadith Retainer of the East” (Haafiz al-Mashriq) passed away.
 Al-Kaafi. P.43.