The Fiqh of Performing Salah on a Chair [With Summary]

A must-read for ʿulamā and those who use a chair when performing ṣalāh.

In recent times, we have seen a rise in the use of chairs in the masājid and as a result the masājid have been flooded with chairs. Many have resorted to its use for insignificant and trivial reasons; reasons many fuqahā (jurists) have declared as insignificant and invalid. As a result, many users would have sadly been offering salah to no avail while their efforts have gone in vain. As such, it is vital to be well-equipped with the correct legal rulings pertaining to matters which affect us on a day-to-day basis.

As performing ṣalāh while sitting on a chair was almost non-existent in earlier generations, it was difficult for later fuqahā (jurists) to find explicit mention of it in the books of aḥādīth and fiqh. As a result, they experienced some difficulty in providing a conclusive verdict.

Below, the respected Muftī Muhammad Riḍwān has given a conclusive verdict after an in-depth study of various fatāwā and numerous consultation with prominent Muftī’s.

Different Postures of Ṣalāh and the Ruling of Being Excused from Them. 

ʿImrān bin Husayn narrates that he once had piles, so he asked the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) about the prayer. He said, “Pray while standing and if you can’t, pray while sitting and if you cannot do even that, then pray lying on your side.” (Bukhārī)

From aḥādīth of these nature, we learn that until one is capable of standing, the ruling is to stand and pray. And when one is incapable of standing, then one will sit and pray; performing rukūʿ whilst sitting and performing sajdah by placing the forehead and nose on the ground. And if one is incapable of rukūʿ and sajdah, then one will perform rukūʿ and sajdah with gestures. Finally, if one is incapable of all the above, then one is to lie down and perform ṣalāh with gestures.

It is well-known that ṣalāh consists of various postures and utterances; among which some are farḍ (compulsory), some are wājib (obligatory) and some are sunnah and mustaḥabb (preferable). After studying the various postures of ṣalāh, we learn that there are four postures which are accorded the status of farḍ and are integral components of ṣalāh: 

  1. The first posture is qiyām (standing) which is farḍ (compulsory) in farḍ ṣalāh. 
  2. The second posture is rukūʿ which is farḍ in every rakaʿāt (unit)
  3. The third posture is sajdah; two of which are farḍ in every rakaʿāt (unit). 
  4. The fourth posture is qaʿdah (sitting), the final sitting which is farḍ. 

Islamic law contains texts which explicitly call for the elimination of undue hardship and difficulty from people’s lives. Allah declares, “Nor has he placed on you any [undue] strain in [your] religion.” (22:78) Hence, Islamic law wishes that its followers do nothing which would involve undue hardship or difficulty. However, which illness is given what type of dispensation and to what extent, was recorded by the fuqaha in their respective books. Hence, to presume oneself absolved from a certain worship due to an illness, merely based on self-judgement is not correct. Rather, one should enquire whether the illness or excuse justifies any dispensation and if so, to what degree?

Ultimately, one is allowed to forego only those postures of ṣalāh which are permitted to leave by Islamic principles. By contrast, those postures which do not carry any dispensation, must be carried out and will not be discarded under any circumstance.

Now the status of each qiyām, rukūʿ, sajdah, and qaʿdah and its respective ruling at the time of being excused will be addressed individually:

The Status of Qiyām and Ruling When Excused

  • It is farḍ to observe the qiyām in all the rakaʿāt (units) of farḍ ṣalāh and it is impermissible to observe the farḍ ṣalāh while being seated. 
  • It is permissible to offer sunnah and nafl ṣalāh, even when not being excused, while seated, performing sajdah while placing the forehead and nose on the ground, or if seated on a moving conveyance then doing both rukūʿ and sajdah with gestures. However, if one does not experience any difficulty in standing, then performing sunnah and nafl ṣalāh while sitting will bear half the reward as opposed to performing ṣalāh while standing. Although, if one experiences difficulty (due to old age, illness, or the like), then one will acquire the full reward by performing sunnah and nafl ṣalāh even while being seated. 
  • According to a narration of Imām Abū Hanīfah, it is not permissible to offer the two rakaʿāt sunnah of fajr while being seated or on a conveyance and do the rukūʿ and sajdah through gestures, without any excuse. (Although, this narration is not of a high standard, caution dictates that it is adhered to). Similarly, according to Imām Abū Hanīfah, it is not permissible to offer the witr ṣalāh while being seated or on a conveyance while gesturing rukūʿ and sajdah without any excuse. 
  • If a person is incapable of standing in farḍ ṣalāh, or experiences extreme difficulty, or standing will result in a potential illness or will aggravate an existing illness, or prolong the time of recovering, it will be compulsory to stand for the period which is ones capacity (though minimal) without any external support in farḍ ṣalāh. 
  • If a person is unable to stand without any external support; however, one is able to stand with support from a wall or a stick, according to a large number of fuqahā (jurists), it is compulsory for such a person to stand with external support, on the condition that such support is available. 
  • Although, standing with external support will not allow one to stand according to the sunnah method with the hands folded (as folding the hands in ṣalāh is sunnah), nevertheless qiyām (standing) will take precedence as it is farḍ (compulsory). However, in the situation where no external support is available, and one is unable to stand without it, qiyām (standing) will be absolved.  
  • Although a person sitting on a chair is seated with the support of the chair, and removing the chair will result in the person falling, a person offering qiyām (standing) with external support, without a valid excuse, will not be absolved of this obligation. Similarly, the hands of a person seated on a chair extend to the knees. As such, a person who stands while bowing to this extent, without a valid excuse, will not be absolved from the obligation of qiyām (standing). Rather, this position (where the hands extend to the knees) is in reality the rukūʿ position. The above proves that sitting on a chair will not achieve and fulfill the obligation of qiyām (standing). Hence, a person upon whom qiyām (standing) is obligatory, and he omits it by sitting on a chair and offers farḍ ṣalāh, his ṣalāh will be rendered invalid. On the other hand, if the ṣalāh is sunnah or nafl where qiyām (standing) is not an obligation, it would be permissible to offer sunnah and nafl ṣalāh while seated, and hence it would be permissible to offer sunnah and nafl ṣalāh while being seated on a chair; although, sitting on the ground is more rewarding. However, if one has the ability to perform sajdah on the ground, then the one performing sunnah and nafl ṣalāh on a chair will have to offer sajdah on the ground. It will be impermissible to gesture the sajdah while sitting on a chair, or to place the forehead on a table in front. Further details will follow. 

The Status of Rukūʿ and Ruling When Excused

  • It is farḍ to perform rukūʿ in every rakaʿāt of farḍ, wajib, sunnah, and nafl ṣalāh once. 
  • Rukūʿ means to bow. The minimum movement required for rukūʿ to be considered valid is to bow such that if the arms were to be extended they would reach the knees. In rukūʿ, ones posture is such that the upper body is bent forwards and lower body remains straight, while the body weight rests on the feet. 
  • If a person is unable to bend his neck and back such that his hands cannot reach his knees, either being incapable, or due to extreme difficulty, or it will result in a potential illness, or will aggravate an existing illness, or prolong the time of recovering; however, one is able to do qiyām (standing), and able to place the forehead on the ground and perform sajdah (although on the outset this scenario is seemingly impossible), such a person will be absolved of rukūʿ and will be allowed to make a gesture of rukūʿ. 
  • A person who is excused from qiyām (standing), or is performing a ṣalāh wherein qiyām is not an obligation (like sunnah and nafl ṣalāh), such a person is permitted to offer the entire ṣalāh while sitting. 
  • Just how sitting on a chair does not absolve one of the qiyām (standing) obligation; likewise, a person capable of doing qiyām, rukūʿ, and also placing the forehead on the ground for sajdah, and such a person sits on a chair to offer the rukūʿ of farḍ ṣalāh, then he will not be absolved of rukūʿ obligation. The reason being that the posture of rukūʿ is attained when weight of the body rests on the feet, and the upper portion of the body is bent forward and lower portion straight. And the above-mentioned posture cannot be attained when performing rukūʿ while seated on a chair. Rather, this (sitting on a chair) holds the ruling of qaʿdah. 

The Status of Sajdah and Ruling When Excused

  • It is farḍ to do two sajdah’s in every rakaʿāt (unit), whether the ṣalāh is farḍ, wājib, sunnah or nafl. Furthermore, there are some elements of sajdah which are wājib/farḍ and some sunnah. 
  • In light of many prophetic narrations (which have been omitted for sake of brevity), we learn that not only is sajdah farḍ but the most important integral of ṣalāh. Similarly, on account of such narrations, the fuqahā (jurists) have concluded that for sajdah to be deemed correct, a portion of the forehead must be rested on the ground. 
  • With regards to placing the nose on the ground, though many fuqahā consider it sunnah, the opinion of Imām Abū Hanīfah and some others is of it being wājib. 
  • If a person is excused from placing his forehead on the ground (due to an injury or something of the like); however, he is capable of placing his nose, then according to Imām Abū Hanifah it is wājib to place his nose on the ground and perform sajdah. Placing the nose on the ground will be, in this situation, equivalent to a proper sajdah and gesturing sajdah will not be permissible. 
  • Furthermore, it is necessary to do sajdah on a surface which can completely stabilise and settle (i.e. the place bears the weight of the head).
  • A complete sajdah consists of placing the forehead along with the nose, the hands, knees, and toes. Placing the hands, knees, and toes on the ground is wājib, meaning it is wājib for a person capable of doing so to place the above on the ground.
  • Performing sajdah while the forehead is placed on the ground can only come into existence when the upper and lower portion of the body no longer remain straight, and the body is bent even further than one would do in rukūʿ, and also when one leaves the posture of qaʿdah whereby the head lowers further than the back. 
  • Nonetheless, a person who is unable to place the forehead and nose on the ground, it will suffice to gesture sajdah. One will not be required to place a raised object in front to place the forehead on. (This is proven in light of many narrations). 
  • If a person sitting on a chair climbs off to perform sajdah by placing his hands, knees, forehead and nose on the ground, then the performance of sajdah and it’s wājib elements will be considered valid. On the contrary, if one was to remain seated on the chair and merely move the head to gesture sajdah, it is clear that the hands, knees and forehead will not touch the ground, whereby neither sajdah nor its wājib elements will be performed. Hence, a person capable of performing sajdah while placing the forehead or nose on the ground will not be permitted to perform sajdah by way of gesturing on a chair. Moreover, placing a platform which is adjacent to ones chair and placing the forehead on it will not validate the sajdah. 
  • On the other hand, a person incapable of placing the forehead on the ground will be required to lean forward to his ability to perform sajdah. 
  • With respect to this, the opinion of some scholars was that a person sitting on a chair was required to place the forehead on a platform adjacent or a little higher from where one would be sitting. They considered this to be equivalent to an actual sajdah performed on the ground. They considered this mandatory for a person performing ṣalāh on a chair. However, recently these scholars have redacted their verdicts and considered the above (placing the forehead on a adjacent platform) not necessary, but opine that gesturing sajdah will suffice. As a person incapable of placing the forehead or nose on the ground in sajdah, will be excused altogether from sajdah and rather be permitted to merely gesture it. 
  • It should be noted that when rising from sajdah to qiyām, it is permissible to sit and rest momentarily due to weakness, illness or pain. Accordingly, those who are capable of performing sajdah on the ground, nevertheless find it difficult to immediately stand after the second sajdah, they are permitted to shortly rest, thereafter stand. Hence, it is necessary for such people to rest in this manner and perform ṣalāh normally, and solely for this reason they are not permitted to forego doing sajdah on the ground and perform ṣalāh on a chair. 
  • In normal circumstances, to stand from qaʿdah or sajdah without any support (from the hands or a wall) is sunnah. Although, taking support out of necessity, is permissible and does not entail any dislike. 

The Status of Qaʿdah and Ruling When Excused

  • Qaʿdah refers to the sitting position made after two, three and four rakaʿāts of ṣalāh. According to the well-known opinion of the Hanafi school of thought, the first qaʿdah (also known as qaʿdah-e-ūlā) is wājib, and according to the majority of fuqaha (jurists) the final qaʿdah is farḍ, whether the ṣalāh is farḍ, wājib, sunnah or nafl.
  • The posture of qaʿdah is attained when the upper portion of the body is straight and the lower portion is curved, while resting on the ground with support from the buttocks. Whoever is capable of performing the above posture, will have performed a valid qaʿdah and will be required to do so.
  • The fuqaha are unanimous that a person in pain may keep the posterior on the ground and emerge the left foot from under the right foot. Similarly, such a person is permitted to sit cross-legged, whether male or female. However, doing so without a valid excuse is considered makrūh (disliked).
  • A person unable to sit in the sunnah posture in qaʿdah; however, able to sit with the posterior on the ground with the left foot emerging on the side, or cross-legged, or raising both knees, or spreading both legs on either side while sitting on the posterior, or on the toes with the posterior resting on the heels, and is also able to perform qiyām, rukūʿ and sajdah, then such a person is required to perform qiyām, rukūʿ and sajdah in the prescribed manner but may perform qaʿdah in any way described above.
  • If a person is unable to rest his posterior on the ground (due to pain in the posterior or thighs); however, capable of resting the knees, such a person is permitted to perform qaʿdah while resting on the knees and keeping the posterior of the ground.
  • Similarly, if a person is unable to bend the feet (due to pain), one is permitted to stretch the legs out in front or the side and perform qaʿdah.
  • If one is capable of sitting on the ground in any position, that position should be adopted and sitting on a chair should be avoided to the best of ones ability. Nevertheless, a person with their posterior on a chair will be considered to be in the qaʿdah posture, although the sunnah posture will not be achieved.
  • It is a different matter, that sitting on a chair and performing ṣalāh is not stipulated by Islamic law. Though the obligation of qaʿdah is fulfilled when sitting on a chair, performing rukūʿ and sajdah in the proper prescribed manner becomes somewhat difficult or most people tend to forego it, rendering their ṣalāh invalid (as qiyām, rukūʿ, and sajdah must be performed in their prescribed manner when having the ability to do so). That being said, to consider the performance of qiyām, rukūʿ and sajdah valid while sitting on a chair, albeit qaʿdah being valid, is an erroneous assumption.

The Legal Ruling of Performing Ṣalāh on a Chair 

The above primary discussion on the status of each qiyām, rukūʿ, sajdah, and qaʿdah and the details that followed, has to some extent demonstrated the ruling of performing ṣalāh on a chair. Below, the ruling of performing ṣalāh on a chair will be discussed specifically. 

Performing Ṣalāh on a Chair is Contrary to the Sunnah & Disliked 

It has become a custom and trend, rather a regular practice for many to perform ṣalāh while sitting on a chair as a result of insignificant and minor pain. 

Firstly, during the era of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), even the extremely ill and weak would come for ṣalāh despite requiring support from two men.

Just days before the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) passed away, despite his health severely deteriorating, he made his way to perform ṣalāh in congregation while taking support from two companions, and even in this state he did not resort to sitting on a platform or the like. Rather, he sufficed to sitting on the ground.

Likewise, no one from the early scholars has recorded anyone performing ṣalāh on a raised platform with the legs hanging down. Even though there existed the same illnesses, pain, and objects serving the same purpose of a chair. 

Furthermore, the fuqaha (jurists) have extensively discussed the rulings and possible dispensations available for an excused individual. However, they have never mentioned a chair-like scenario under any of these lengthy discussions. This is clear evidence that performing ṣalāh on a chair is an innovation of latter generations and contrary to the practice of the former. 

Secondly, while performing ṣalāh on a chair, none of the postures of ṣalāh can be achieved in the liked and prescribed way. Therefore, performing ṣalāh on a chair, in general circumstances, is contrary to the preferable and sunnah way and thereby makrūh (disliked). 

Thirdly, ṣalāh, in reality is presenting oneself in the court of Allah; hence, its performance should be in a state of utter humility. Sitting on a chair defies the element of humility which is manifested in performing ṣalāh while sitting on the ground. Sitting on a chair in the presence of a highly esteemed individual is considered disrespect as opposed to standing or sitting on the ground. 

Fourthly, the permissibility of performing ṣalāh on a chair is preconditioned to many requisites, to which the masses are unmindful and unaware of. 

Fifthly, those who are excused fall under different categories, each for whom the procedure of ṣalāh varies. As performing ṣalāh restricts one to a certain posture, many excused individuals do not meet the requirements to perform ṣalāh on a chair with gestures, hence omitting vital postures and invalidating their ṣalāh. 

Apart from the above, the use of a chair entails many more complications; namely that, others tend to follow the trend without a valid excuse, the rows in congregation become disarranged, disturbance when chairs are left unattended, and many more. 

Due to the above-stated reasons and many other underlying factors, the use of chairs cannot be encouraged. In more simple words, it’s use is contrary to the sunnah method and makrūh (disliked), and in most cases a cause for ṣalāh being rendered invalid altogether. 

As such, it is the responsibility of ʿulamā to educate and caution the masses. 

Nonetheless, in dire circumstances, when sitting on the ground is not possible, or results in unbearable pain, the use of a chair during ṣalāh will be permissible. Though, those postures (like qiyām, rukūʿ, sajdah) which one is capable of performing, must be performed. 

Summary –

Permissible and Impermissible Scenarios of Performing Ṣalāh on a Chair

Below a summary of permissible and impermissible scenarios will be mentioned:

(1) Ruling of the Person Capable of Qiyām

A person capable of standing, even though it may be by means of support, or only capable of standing for one rakaʿāt, or only for a moment (even if it be the time taken to say the opening takbīr), such a person is required to stand according to their ability in farḍ ṣalāh. It is impermissible for such a person to forego standing (to their capability) and resort to a chair which will render the ṣalāh invalid. 

(2) Ruling of the Person Capable of Sajdah 

A person capable of doing sajdah on the ground, must perform it while placing the forehead on the ground. It is impermissible to gesture sajdah while sitting on a chair, whether the ṣalāh is farḍ, wājib, sunnah, or nafl. 

One should remember that when performing nafl ṣalāh, one is absolved of qiyām despite having the ability. However, the ruling of sajdah in nafl ṣalāh is the same as farḍ ṣalāh (i.e. necessary to perform it while placing the forehead on the ground).

Nevertheless, a person may gesture rukūʿ and sajdah while aboard a conveyance when performing sunnah or nafl ṣalāh. 

(3) Ruling of the Person Capable of Qiyām, Rukūʿ and Sajdah but Incapable of Qaʿdah

A person capable of qiyām and performing rukūʿ while standing, and also capable of performing sajdah on the ground, is required to perform these postures in their proper manner. It is impermissible to use a chair and gesture rukūʿ and sajdah. The one who is capable of the above three postures, however unable to sit on the ground in any way, due to pain in the knees or legs, may use a chair when doing qaʿdah; while observing the other three postures in their proper manner.

(4) Ruling of the Person Incapable of Sajdah but Capable of Qiyām & Rukūʿ

As for a person incapable of performing sajdah on the ground, though being capable of qiyām and rukūʿ, it is impermissible according to the majority of scholars for such a person to abandon qiyām by sitting on the ground or a chair and to gesture rukūʿ. Nevertheless, one is permitted to gesture the sajdah by leaning forward as per ones capability. If such a person abandons qiyām then according to the majority of scholars the ṣalāh is considered invalid and must be repeated. This view is the strongest in light of evidence and carries more precaution. 

Some ḥanafī fuqahā (jurists) are of the opinion that qiyām and rukūʿ is pardoned for one who is not capable of doing sajdah on the ground. Such a person is permitted to gesture the rukūʿ and sajdah while sitting on the ground or a chair, though sitting on the ground is more preferred. Nonetheless, this opinion is weak and contrary to precaution; something which worship -especially ṣalāh- demands. 

To conclude, a person incapable of performing sajdah while placing the forehead on the ground, may not omit qiyām and rukūʿ in farḍ ṣalāh.

(5) Ruling of the Person Incapable of Rukūʿ but Capable of Qiyām & Sajdah

A person incapable of performing rukūʿ while standing, but capable of doing qiyām and sajdah, is not absolved from doing according to the majority of fuqahā (jurists). Rather, one must stand and offer qiyām and then gesture the rukūʿ while standing and thereafter perform sajdah on the ground. This view is the strongest in light of the evidence and is definitley the more prudent and cautious step to take.

Some ḥanafī fuqahā (jurists) are of the opinion that such a person is absolved of qiyām and rukūʿ while standing and may offer them while sitting on the ground. Nonetheless, this opinion is weak and contrary to precaution; something which worship, especially ṣalāh demands. 

The fuqahā (jurists) are unanimous that such a person must perform sajdah while placing the forehead on the ground and may not gesture it. 

(6) Ruling of Qaʿdah When Sitting on a Chair

A person sitting on a chair is considered to have performed a valid qaʿdah, albeit not according to the sunnah method. 

As such, a person who is incapable of qiyām, rukūʿ while standing and placing the forehead on the ground in sajdah, however capable of sitting on the ground in any position, then sitting on the ground and offering ṣalāh is deemed more virtuous. Although, if ṣalāh is offered on a chair it will be permissible and there is no need to place a platform to place the forehead on.

Performance of Integral Postures is More Important than Congregation

It ought to be remembered that if an ill or excused individual is capable of performing qiyām, rukūʿ, sajdah and qaʿdah in their prescribed manner while at home – for e.g. there is support available at home, or one is capable of offering a short qiyām as opposed to performing in the masjid (where qiyām is generally longer), then it is better and more virtuous for such a person to perform qiyām, rukūʿ, sajdah and qaʿdah in their prescribed manner at home than performing in the masjid in congregation where the above integrals will be omitted. The performance of the integral postures of ṣalāh is farḍ (obligatory) whereas performing ṣalāh in congregation is sunnah mu’akaddah (emphasised) or wājib. Many individuals deem ṣalāh in congregation more virtuous than performing the integral postures of ṣalāh which results in their efforts being profitless.

Allāh knows best and His knowledge is Most-Perfect and Flawless

Muhammad Riḍwan

3 Jumādā al-Ūlā 1436

23 February 2015

(Adapted from Kursī Par Namāz kā Sharī Hukm by Muftī Muhammad Riḍwan. 

Published by Kutub Khāna Idāra Gufrān, Rawalpindi.)

Categories: FiqhTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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