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In the name of Allah, We praise Him, seek His help and ask for His forgiveness. Whoever Allah guides none can misguide, and whoever He allows to fall astray, none can guide them aright. We bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah Alone, and we bear witness that Muhammad (saws) is His slave-servant and the seal of His Messengers.

The Imam is a position of honor within the Muslim community. Imams are selected for their piety, knowledge of Islam, and skill in recitation of the Quran.  Imam holds an especially important position, because, in fact, he represents the holy Prophet in the mosque and his rights and royalties over the worshippers  are of unique importance and significance in the religious system of Islam.

The right of your Imam in your congregation prayer is that you should know that he leads you in the prayer, so it is obligatory upon you to follow him and forbidden to precede him.

Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet (saws) said: "The imam is selected to be followed; therefore, do not differ with him. When he makes the takbir, make the takbir; when he goes into ruku, make ruku'’ when he says Allah hears him who praises Him,' say 'O Allah, our Lord, to You belongs the Praise’; when he goes into ‘sajdah’, make ‘sajdah’; if he prays sitting, then all should be sitting." Related by Bukhari and Muslim.

Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet (saws) said "the imam is to be followed. If he makes the takbir, make the takbir, and do not make the takbir until he does so; when he goes into ruku, make ruku, and do not perform ruku until he does so; when he goes into sajdah, make ‘sajdah’, and do not make ‘sajdah’ until he does so. "Related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud.

And what it means is that you start to do the actions of prayer immediately after the imam starts them, but without doing them at the same time. For example, when he bows, you bow, even if you have not completed the recitation that is mustahabb [recommended, encouraged], and even if you have a verse still to go, because that would mean that you are lagging behind, so you do not complete it. In sujood, when the imam rises from his prostration, you follow the imam, and your following him is better than your remaining in prostration making dua to Allah, because your prayer is connected to the imam, and you are now enjoined to follow your imam. 

The person who is praying behind an imam should not move to the next posture of the prayer until the imam has reached it, so he should not start to go down for prostration, until the imam has placed his forehead on the ground. 

Al-Bara’ ibn Aazib said: When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, ‘Sami’a Allahu liman hamidah’, none of us would then bend our backs [to start prostrating] until the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) went down into prostration, then we would go down into prostration after him. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 690; Muslim, 474.

The Worshippers behind Imam in prayer are commanded to follow every action of the ‘imam’ in the prayer, and regardless of the error the imam were to make in the prayers, they are not to abandon him for any reason whatsoever, although they should caution him about the errors by saying Subhannallaah.

Among the rights of Imam over the worshippers in prayer is that if he forgets some word or passage, or makes a mistake while reciting the Glorious Quran during the Salah, there is absolutely no harm if one amongst the worshippers praying behind him alerts the imam by reciting the relevant verse of the Quran.

Similarly, if he makes a movement error  leading the prayer (like standing up for the third rakah in a four-rakah prayer without sitting for the small tashahud, etc.), the worshippers praying behind him must alert him by declaring subhanallah; if one amongst the men did not alert the imam, the women are to alert the imam of his error by the clapping of their hands.

Moreover, the appointed Imam or the regular Imam has the right that none takes his place in leading the prayer except with his permission, as the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "Do not lead a man in prayer in his house or where he has authority, and do not sit in his place of honor in his house, except if he gives you permission or with his permission." [Muslim]

If he comes late, he has a right over the worshipers to wait for him if he has an excuse as long as waiting for him would not cause hardship.

However, if he is late beyond what is customary according to the people of the mosque and they know that he will probably not come given to their knowledge of him, then they may hold the congregational prayer and choose the worthiest of them to lead the prayer.

It has been narrated that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, was late for the prayer time, and Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, led the prayer. [Maalik in Al-Muwatta'] The same thing happened during the Battle of Tabook.

The basic principle is that no one is permitted to lead others in the prayer in a mosque that has a regular appointed imam, except with his permission. This imam is the one most entitled to lead others in the prayer. However, If he comes later than usual, then another person may lead the people in his place in order to avoid difficulty."

Allah knows best.

 

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