Many Muslims return to faith and observance and a few will ask about the prayers they neglected over the months and years away from practicing Islam. Anyone who conducts an extensive search on this topic online may find multiple varied responses. My goal here is to provide the details behind each side before stating my own preference.
The majority opinion
Most scholars in Muslim history, including the Four Imams and any modern institutions that limit themselves to their opinions and individuals strictly following one of those scholastic traditions, obligate making up inexcusably missed prayers. Their claim is that the prayers are a debt to Allah, and analogizing with zakat, another pillar, which, if someone neglects a portion of it temporarily without valid excuse, must be made up. The command to pray was made and does not fall with the passing of its time block. Hence, even if someone slept through the prayer entirely, they should make it up. The one who left it off intentionally is no different. The only difference is that the one who left it unintentionally will not be rewarded for their prayer, but merely have it removed from their debt to Allah. They are also sinful for having put it off without valid excuse.
This opinion makes sense especially were we to consider leaving off prayer as a non-apostatic but still sinful act of defiance. And there seems to be some limited precedent for this ruling.
When intending to pray, being conscious of it, and then lo and behold, time for the next prayer has begun while we may have been distracted, then the Prophet’s Sunnah dictates, as recorded by al-Nasa’I al-Kubra, we perform that prayer.
عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، أَنَّ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ، يَوْمَ الْخَنْدَقِ بَعْدَمَا غَرَبَتِ الشَّمْسُ، جَعَلَ يَسُبُّ كُفَّارَ قُرَيْشٍ، وَقَالَ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، مَا كِدْتُ أَنْ أُصَلِّي حَتَّى كَادَتِ الشَّمْسُ تَغْرُبُ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ: ” فَوَاللَّهِ مَا صَلَّيْتُهَا” فَنَزَلْنَا مَعَ رَسُولِلَّهِ ﷺ الْبَطْحَاءَ، فَتَوَضَّأَ لِلصَّلاةِ، وتَوَضَّأْنَا لَهَا، فَصَلَّى الْعَصْرَ بَعْدَمَا غَرَبَتِ الشَّمْسُ، ثُمَّ صَلِّي بَعْدَهَا الْمَغْرِبَ”
Jabir mentioned that during the Battle of the Trench one day, after the sun set, Umar started cursing Quraish and then said: O Messenger of Allah, I’ve yet to pray and the sun is setting! So the Prophet ﷺ responded, “By Allah I still haven’t prayed.” So we went down to BaTha’ with the Messenger ﷺ while we all performed ablution. Then he prayed `asr after the sun had set, and then prayed maghrib after it.
And look in the Ṣaḥīḥain from Ali and ibn Mas`ud how much this incident angered the Prophet ﷺ,…
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ، قَالَ: حَبَسَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ﷺ، عَنْ صَلَاةِ الْعَصْرِ حَتَّى احْمَرَّتِ الشَّمْسُ، أَوِ اصْفَرَّتْ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ: “شَغَلُونَا عَنِ الصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَى، صَلَاةِ الْعَصْرِ، مَلَأَ اللَّهُ أَجْوَافَهُمْ وَقُبُورَهُمْ نَارًا ، أَوَ قَالَ : حَشَا اللَّهُ أَجْوَافَهُمْ ، وَقُبُورَهُمْ نَارًا .
Ibn Mas`ud said: the idolaters blocked the Prophet ﷺ from going to pray `asr until the sun became red or yellow. So the Prophet ﷺ said, “They busied us on the Middle Prayer, `asr prayer, may Allah fill their bodies and graves with Fire!”
Note that this incident took place before Ghazwah Bani Mustaliq where the guidelines for war prayer were revealed.
The majority of scholars then, in defense of obligating the make-up of missed prayers, cling to the incident at the Trenches, and the following ruling…
عَنْ أَنَسٍ، قَالَ: قَالَ النَّبِيُّ ﷺ: «مَنْ نَسِيَ صَلَاةً أَوْ نَامَ عَنْهَا فَكَفَّارَتُهُ أَنْ يُصَلِّيَهَا إِذَا ذَكَرَهَا فإن الله قال: أقم الصلاة لذكري»
Anas said: the Prophet ﷺ said: whoever forgot a prayer or slept through it, then their expiation is to pray it when they remember to, because Allah said: Establish the prayer for My remembrance [20:14].
Thus, the vast majority of scholars say that intentionally missing the pray resembles this issue because it is prayer after its intended specified time block, perhaps even during the time of another prayer. So if it’s possible to pray two prayers together in a single time block, then the common `illah cited for the obligation of prayer [establishing Allah’s regular remembrance, as in Surah Ṭāhā 20:14] means that forgotten/abandoned prayers do accumulate, and that this is time which belongs to Allah and we have to repay it, sooner or later.
The minority opinion
But linguistically, this narration allows for the opposite conclusion if we apply the Usuli principle of contrary understanding [مفهوم المخالفة] respected by the jumhūr. And contrary understanding is stronger than qiyas to those who validate contrary understanding because it is directly understood from the texts, unlike qiyas which is only resorted to when the texts are silent. But since contrary understanding is a disputed type of understanding, it is weaker than qiyas which is universally accepted. To arbitrate, we accept this contrary understanding, and therefore do not see any room for qiyas. The only way the majority can claim this hadeeth validates their position then is by saying that it kharaja makhraj al-ghaalib was merely using the most common examples while intending us to deduce the greater ruling. The problem with that though is that those examples are NOT common, and that leaving the prayer intentionally is far more common in the Muslim world, Allahu musta’aan.
Thus, another opinion, perhaps first clearly articulated by al-Hasan al-Basri, and strongly championed by ibn Hazm, ibn Taymiyyah, ibnul-Qayyim, and many contemporary scholars swayed by their arguments, is that there is no possibility of making up consciously missed prayers—gone by out of nothing but laziness. So for the previous narration, it’s as if the Prophet ﷺ said, “if you missed prayer because you were absentminded, you pray it when you remember to—but as for other reasons or no reason at all, then you were conscious and had your chance and now it’s gone.” So the time block, for them, is set, and you can either choose to remember Allah during it or not, but it doesn’t accumulate days, weeks and months if you are awake and mindful of it.
The only option for such an individual is repentance, and to therefore continue their life diligently catching the prayer, in congregation when possible, and performing a good number of supererogatory prayers to bolster one’s account with Allah. This opinion makes the most sense especially if we consider forsaking prayer to be apostatic, which is what we’ve chosen. And since both Islam and repentance erase what sins came before that were exclusively from Allah’s rights, then it would be contradictory to obligate making up and correcting that former self-oppression.
Ibn Hazm (d. 456) said:
وَأَمَّا مَنْ تَعَمَّدَ تَرْكَ الصَّلَاةِ حَتَّى خَرَجَ وَقْتُهَا فَهَذَا لَا يَقْدِرُ عَلَى قَضَائِهَا أَبَدًا، فَلْيُكْثِرْ مِنْ فِعْلِ الْخَيْرِ وَصَلَاةِ التَّطَوُّعِ؛ لِيُثْقِلَ مِيزَانَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ؛ وَلْيَتُبْ وَلْيَسْتَغْفِرْ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ.
“And as for the one who intended leaving off the prayer until its time passed, then this one is never able to make it up. They should increase in good deeds and supererogatory prayers, to make their scales heavy on the Day of Resurrection; and they should repent and seek Allah’s forgiveness.”
This opinion also makes sense when analogizing with women who are commanded to make up missed fasts but not missed prayers, from when they were bleeding from menstruation or child birth. Obviously, this seems to be because making up missed prayers would take a lot of time, and busy them from attending to other pressing needs in the here and now.
Furthermore, when considering the opinion of the majority, it leads to a contradiction. We have to say one of two things:
- The missed prayer can be made up and accepted by Allah, even if it is days or years late. But in that case, we are essentially saying that the prayer times don’t matter. That is unanimously rejected, since they do matter, and there are extensive rules for performing the prayer no matter our circumstance, and never does the Sharia say to delay until comfortable. Ibnul-Qayyim also recorded a strong silent consensus, based on Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq saying in front of the sahaabah and their scholars and jurists, “Allah has written prayers upon you in the day that He does not accept at night, and prayers upon you in the night that He does not accept during the day,” without any disputant. The majority could flee from that contradiction then by embracing the next opinion…
- The missed pray can be made up but it will not be accepted or rewarded by Allah, but only made up simply to remove it from the debt that they owe Allah. Then in this case, you fall out of the contradiction of acceptance and time windows, but you fall into another contradiction. These scholars say making up a missed obligatory prayer is more important than performing a present voluntary prayer, and that the latter should be forgotten until the former are all made up. The contradiction is that the nawaafil bring reward without any doubt, whereas the make-up does not bring any acceptance or reward! So busying one’s self with what has no reward over what does bring reward is sheer lunacy. They may cite the narration “Allah does not accept the voluntary until the obligatory have been performed” but this leads to the Muslim being forced to avoid any and every non-obligatory prayer or event with the Muslim community, including the tarawih and qiyam of Ramadan, until all their former prayers are made up. It is at that time more than any other that such a Muslim needs the companionship of his or her brothers and sisters in Islam the most to avoid feeling left out and lonely during a communal month! They may actually obligate that, because it is not without precedent. Allah’s Messenger warned believers that Allah does not accept the prayers of those who drink or visit fortune tellers for forty days–yet prayer is still obligatory upon them. However, this is partially because a believer must always attend a present prayer and because the threat of the narration is of speculative realization–maybe Allah would forgive them and accept from them. That’s different from prayers missed in the past.
And since the prayer is exclusively from the rights of Allah and not shared with people’s rights, it cannot be analogized with zakat. As for fasting, while most scholars hold that one can and has to make up an intentionally broken Ramadan fast, there is an opinion narrated from Ali and ibn Mas`ud [both in al-Musannaf of ibn Abi Shaibah] and a weak prophetic narration that says that unexcused breaking of the fast can never be “made up”. Even then, there are differences between fasting and praying, since you can fast and perform your other worldly and religious duties, with little exception, but prayer takes you away from everything else from the time you make ablution until you perform tasleem.
The question is: is the time for prayer time that belongs to Allah and must be given to Him, sooner or later? Or is it that your opportunity to remember Allah in the time He chose for you has passed by and there is no way to return or even pretend?
The hadeeth allowing the expiatory prayer for the sleeping and forgetful suggests that it should be performed even if its time has passed, but that ignores other variations of that hadeeth that explicitly state, that for that individual (who just woke up and remembered) their prayer time is when they remember. So the time didn’t accumulate, but it adjusted temporarily for them alone to seize.
Complicating the issue, there is no precedent from the Salaf for making up months or years of missed prayer. Many Arabs left Islam for multiple reasons when the Prophet ﷺ passed away but then returned to faith when Abu Bakr fought them over their baseless apostasy. There are no narrations from the companions asking those individuals to count the days and weeks of prayer they missed and to perform them. Thus, it really seems almost un-Islamic and without practiced precedent, even though logical arguments exist, for the making up of neglected prayers. And when it comes to matters of faith and worship, the exact definition of a bid`ah innovation is that worship which has no direct textual evidence to it or precedent. Hence, scholars often say that qiyas cannot be used to create new worship. Prayer is known for sure, but the intention, setting and justification for each prayer must also be known and validated by our faith as well. In this case, it would be qaḍā’ make-up when there is no specific evidence that qaḍā’ is valid with ṣalāt. Some contemporary scholars even said one should have a written will of the prayers they didn’t have a chance to make-up before they die–presumably for their relatives to continue with on their behalf(??), if the relatives themselves don’t have huge mounds of prayers to make-up! Imagine making up your own prayers and someone else’s along with the normal five daily prayers you have. This is getting out of control.
So it’s no wonder that no scholars in the first hundred years are known to have unequivocally voiced the opinion that such intentionally missed prayers must be made up. On the contrary, ibnul-Qayyim recorded in al-Ṣalāt,
فقال محمد بن نصر المروزي في كتابه في الصلاة: حدثنا إسحاق حدثنا النضر عن الاشعت عن الحسن قال: إذا ترك الرجل صلاة واحدة متعمدا فإنه لا يقضيها.
Al-Marwazi said in his book Ta`ẓīm qadr al-ṣalāt, narrating from al-Hasan who said: if a person leaves off one single prayer intentionally, then he does not make it up.
So it would almost seem to be a matter of consensus reached within the first hundred years of Islam. Had the opinion of al-Hasan spread, we could say for certain that a consensus existed. Al-Marwazi justified al-Hasan’s opinion saying that either it was because he saw neglecting prayer as apostasy or that qada` (making up) requires its own command, and there exists no specific command in the scriptures to make up “missed prayers” but only the command to pray on time. Indeed, the Sharia bends and twists in amazing flexibility for the circumstances we may be in during the time of prayer, allowing us to pray sitting, lying down, riding on horseback, or just with our heart, but never does it say “pray later” or even allow that without excuse of sleep or sheer forgetfulness—two things we could put under the heading of “common absentmindedness”.
Considering that Abu Hanifah and Malik also did not deem it obligatory for the apostate to make up prayers missed in their apostasy, this makes their otherwise known opinions on the issue restricted to whether you believe leaving prayer is apostasy. Ibn Qudamah also made that connection and affirmed its validity. But I personally believe abandoning prayer is apostatic, and that delaying it horridly with the intention to do it eventually within a “reasonable” time (like the same day) could still be disbelief, but is not near as bad as leaving off the prayer for weeks or more at a time. Yet in this age of ignorance, the sick Muslim patient has strong excuse, especially when the 4 imams themselves have differed.
Another opinion that some contemporary researchers have chosen is that if the number of missed prayers is small, like a day’s worth, then they should be made up, but if the number is large, then they should be repented for and move on.1)I saw this opinion chosen and rationalized in a commentary of ibn Taymiyyah’s ikhtiayarat. When looking to the opinions of the Four Imams, and seeing no disagreement or second opinion among them regarding making up a missed prayer, one has to wonder if they were referring to those who may have neglected prayer for a few hours or days, or if they intended their opinions to even cover those who neglected prayer for months or years. Hence, we see Abu Hanifah, Malik and an opinion from Ahmad acknowledged those exceptions for people who completely gave up Islam during a period of time in their lives, not considering themselves Muslim.
A slightly resembling issue, which we may be tempted to analogize with, or if it has some evidences, may help us understand the nature of prayer better, is the prayer of one who is comatose or loses their sanity temporarily and later regains their faculties—should they make up the prayers they missed? For this issue there is a little more dispute, as Imam Malik and his student al-Shafi`I each say there is no making up of those prayers since the individual was not of those addressed by the command to pray during that time. However, they obligate making up missed fasts. So for them, the `illah regarding prayer is being addressed [المخاطبة] by the command to pray, which was absent since the Prophet ﷺ said the pen was lifted from them. They also analogized with menstruating women as a precaution, hence obligating making up missed fasts. When we consider the one who left prayer consciously, we see that they are not excused by this school because the pen was not lifted from them. Otherwise, ibn Hazm agreed with them and mentioned several narrations from the Salaf, regarding their fainting [الإغماء عليه] and not making up prayers missed during their lapse and unresponsiveness. That would show that many of the Salaf did not consider such to be equivalent to customary absentmindedness, and that the prayer block was seen as limited, never accumulating and transferring except from regular sleep or forgetfulness.
The Hanafis said that there is only make-up for the unresponsive if the person lost five or fewer prayers—six according to al-Shaybānī. Any more than that is unnecessary ḥaraj difficulty. As for the Hanabilah, in an opinion unique to them, they completely excused the insane or possessed [مجنون] but required make-up from the comatose since the latter usually never lasted long (not months or years like may happen in rare instances nowadays),
Some contemporary Ḥanābilah differentiated, if the period was longer than three days or longer than a week, then it is analogous with the insane (and should not be made up since the insane is not asked to pray), but if less, than analogous to the fainted one, e.g. from a concussion (and should be made up, analogous to the sleeping). I tend to agree with that. Still even, some differentiated, did the individual choose to be in an unresponsive state, like voluntarily entering a surgery that lasts more than 24 hours for example, or did this happen to them involuntarily, like after a car crash. They would obligate it upon the one who chose, not the one who didn’t. As for the one who didn’t choose, it is as if Allah has not asked them of anything for that period that He decreed they would be forced into unconsciousness, unresponsive against their preference.
The important take-away from this issue is simple: the four prevalent Sunni schools avoided obligating making up a large number of prayers due to the hardship involved.
One final, but directly related issue is the new Muslim who does not understand the obligation to pray, what it entails or has not learned how to pray or its obligation—and anyone else who is ignorant of the most fundamental basics of prayer. While three schools suggested that this individual too must make up what they missed, the Hanafis differed, thank God…
جَاءَ فِي الْفَتَاوَى الْهِنْدِيَّةِ: لاَ قَضَاءَ عَلَى مُسْلِمٍ أَسْلَمَ فِي دَارِ الْحَرْبِ وَلَمْ يُصَل مُدَّةً لِجَهْلِهِ بِوُجُوبِهَا
In al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyah (1/121): There is no make-up for the Muslim who accepted Islam among a minority and did not pray for a period of time, ignorant of its obligatory nature.
And this opinion I support whole-heartedly. Accepting Islam and learning the faith should be met with glad-tidings, ease, gradual education and peer-inspired implementation. Not excessive burdens of duties that subtly punish them for uttering the shahādah but not learning the facets of practice until later. After all, look at what less-than-stellar examples they may be privy to among the Ummah, may Allah guide us all to what pleases Him.
Final Opinion and Choice
Some concluding statements…
- Overall, regarding consciously missed prayers, the opinion I lean towards is that prayers missed are indicative of time away from Islam, and that when a person begins praying again, they are returning to Islam, and do not need to make up the prayers they were commanded to perform, because they were away from Islam.
This is also analogous to new Muslims who enter the faith but are not commanded to make up prayer that they missed while they were disbelievers—as a large number of scholars believe that even the disbelievers are commanded to pray [as per the dictates of ayah 74:42-43] but none, ever, obligated new converts making up the prayers missed since puberty. The prayer is the core act of Islam, and with it, in the tashahhud we always renew our testimony of faith. But even making ablution and standing to pray is a sufficient return.
- I firmly believe that obligating the make-up of any large number—more than a week for example—of missed prayers is wrong, without precedent, and becomes especially messy and tricky for women who menstruated or even gave birth during the years they did not pray. Calculating and making up their prayers is difficult, to say the least.
For me personally, I know the exact moment I first declared my shahadah, and the day I started regularly praying five times a day. So it is easy for me to calculate two and a half years of on and off praying. After what I’ve said above, the only things that make me greatly inclined to making up those prayers is the fact that I intended to do so from the very start. I was incredibly lazy, in bed most of the day when I first accepted Islam, not even going to school, but always had it in my mind that I would make up those missed prayers, since that’s what I was told was upon me. Although as they added up, and more than a couple months passed, I thought less and less of it, and sometimes avoided the thought. Accepting Islam is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I want that to count; even though I was not a good Muslim, I believed I was a Muslim, but just very ignorant of my faith and its requirements, and overwhelmed. If I was told that by not praying on time then I was not a Muslim, then I may have started praying regularly early on. And Allah knows best.
Lastly is the fact that a kind of consensus did exist, briefly claiming that make-up was obligatory, between the time of ibn Hazm and ibn Taymiyyah. Imam al-Nawawi for example claimed a consensus was reached that intentionally missed prayers should be made up, and ibn Qudamah agreed. It’s very difficult to argue against an opinion held up by all Four Imams and about which a temporary consensus existed. Yet even that is based on those imams’ opinion that leaving off prayer intentionally is not apostatic, which we saw is a condition with Abu Hanifah and Malik and ibn Qudamah, and I personally believe, as seen from the previous discussion that conscious neglect of prayer is apostatic, although most scholars disagree. Both issues have evidence, albeit weak, of a consensus for their opposing sides.
- For those reasons, I do not hold anyone who makes up such prayers as being wrong or innovating, only when they obligate others to make up years’ worth of prayers.
Another important factor leading me to disfavor the opinion of the majority is that the idea of making up months or years of prayer as, ironically, contradicting some of the maqāṣid of worship. The Prophet ﷺ warned Muslims from overexerting themselves for fear of becoming bored and displeased with any worship, especially prayer and the Quran.2)al-Daraqutni collected in al-Du`a from Aa’ishah, her saying “The Prophet ﷺ and his companions did not rhyme [in sermons or invocations]; and if you see a people engaged in conversation do not interrupt them when they’re speaking; do not make people bored or annoyed from the Book of Allah;…” Forcing people to make up months and years of missed prayer, when not even the next day is guaranteed to them, necessitates that they make themselves bored and annoyed with the worship of Allah at a time when they need to gradually accustom themselves to steady worship habits that escalate slowly.
Another maqṣad of worship that making up months of missed prayers contradicts is forcing Muslims to focus excessively on their past, not the present nor the future. The Prophet ﷺ told us to strive for a good ending husn al-khaatimah, and that repentance wipes out whatever sins we committed before, especially if it was solely from Allah’s rights and not of the creation’s.
- As for the smaller number of missed prayers, for example, a day’s worth, or a couple prayers that one felt busy to perform, then I do believe that should be performed, based on the Prophet’s action during the Battle of the Trench, and Allah Knows best.
For those who do wish to make up their large number of missed prayers, there are certain etiquettes to doing so. Firstly, if you can safely estimate when the time began and ended of the period of absent or inconsistent prayer, then do so, and perhaps make, buy or print a calendar of that time period. Then as you make up the prayers of each day, you can go through the calendar making five tallies, one for each prayer of each day. You should then use your free time, whenever you can, to making up those prayers in order. You do not need to wait for `asr time to make up an `asr prayer. You can perform several prayers, indeed, several days’ worth of prayer, in one sitting if you like. A day’s worth of prayer could take about thirty minutes if performed without any break in between each, other than a sip of water, and you simply limit yourself to the least number of remembrances that keep a prayer valid.3)The Malikis differed with this approach, but most scriptures suggest, if we analogize with forgotten or slept through prayers, that we should pray them no matter the time. Since when the companions slept through fajr on a journey, waking up with the sun high above them, some suggested waiting till the next day, but the Prophet ﷺ objected “Does Allah prohibit you from usury and then accept it from you!?” and told Bilal to make the adhan and so they prayed fajr during the time of ḍuḥā.
Also, making up a missed obligatory prayer takes precedence over performing a present voluntary prayer. In other words, one should avoid praying voluntary prayers, even the tarawih of Ramadan, until they finish making up all missed obligatory prayers. As for present obligatory prayers, then they are given full priority. Needless to say, this is a long project and requires dedication, discipline and commitment. As for the times normally forbidden to pray in, one should pray in these times when you forgot or slept through a recently unintentionally missed prayer. As for prayers missed when one was not practicing Islam, then I personally believe you should pray them during normal prayer times, and intend, that if that opinion to make up those missed prayers is incorrect, that Allah register them for you as voluntary prayer. And the forbidden times are forbidden for voluntary prayers. Such a hesitant dual-intention for a prayer is not without precedent, as ibn Mas`ud for example, hoped that some of his units of obligatory prayer which he saw as unprecedented, in an obligatory prayer behind Uthman during hajj, would be accepted as voluntary.
So while making up months of prayer can be extremely time consuming, this brings us to another issue, what are the fewest words and actions a worshiper can perform for their prayer to be counted? And what should we do when we cannot pray properly and the time is waning or we know our circumstances won’t improve before the time to pray ends?
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||I saw this opinion chosen and rationalized in a commentary of ibn Taymiyyah’s ikhtiayarat.|
|2.||↑||al-Daraqutni collected in al-Du`a from Aa’ishah, her saying “The Prophet ﷺ and his companions did not rhyme [in sermons or invocations]; and if you see a people engaged in conversation do not interrupt them when they’re speaking; do not make people bored or annoyed from the Book of Allah;…”|
|3.||↑||The Malikis differed with this approach, but most scriptures suggest, if we analogize with forgotten or slept through prayers, that we should pray them no matter the time. Since when the companions slept through fajr on a journey, waking up with the sun high above them, some suggested waiting till the next day, but the Prophet ﷺ objected “Does Allah prohibit you from usury and then accept it from you!?” and told Bilal to make the adhan and so they prayed fajr during the time of ḍuḥā.|