Undoubtedly a lot of us [Malikis] have been confronted with this question many times. Such question are important and, if answered correctly, can foster a greater sense of tolerance, love and appreciation for one another. However, some like to insist that there is “no dalil” for this practice and even claim that Imam Malik was beaten and prayed like that due to his injuries. Others hold that since Imam Malik related in his collection of hadith the hadith which mentions praying with one’s hands on the chest and that this is enough to nullify the schools position.
This article is not, by any means, the final word on this matter, nor is it meant to create the latest debate in our Islamic centers. The goal of this article is to provide enough proof for those who want to practice what is known as al-Sadl to do so based on proofs and fare arguments.
Contention Number One: There is no evidence from the Sunna for this practice
This, in and of itself, is a problematic statement that only shows one’s immaturity in grasping the essence of Islamic Law. However, when one says such things we should assume the best and know that it is only a sign of his sincere love and connection with the Messenger of Allah [sa]. That being said, this is not the place, nor will time permit for it to be elaborated on. Thus, let’s move right along to the proofs:
The First Proof: The Hadith “Go back and pray for, indeed, you have not prayed!”
“The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, entered the mosque and a man entered and prayed. He greeted the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who returned the greeting and said, ‘Go and back and pray. You have not prayed.’ He went back and prayed as he had prayed before. Then he came and greeted the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace,who said three times, ‘Go back and pray for you have not prayed.’ He said, ‘By the One who sent you with the truth, I cannot do any better than that, so teach me.’ He said, ‘When you stand for the prayer, say the takbir and then recite something you know well from the Qur’an and then do ruku’ until you are at rest in your ruku’ . Then stand back up until you are completely upright. Then go into sajda until you are at rest in your sajda. Then sit back until you are at rest in the sitting position. Do that throughout all of your prayer.’ ”
Related by al-Bukhari hadith(s) 715,751, 5782, 6174. Muslim hadith 602.
Understanding the Proof:
The Prophet [may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him] taught this man how to pray and did not tell the man to place his hands on his chest. Thus, according to the Malki school, this is a proof for placing one’s hands on the sides. [see Ibn Batal's explanation of Sahih al-Bukhari]
Imam al-Nawawi responded to this by stating that this hadith only illustrates the obligatory acts of prayer and not the sunnas. This is answered by the narration of al-Hakim, which is considered sound, in which the Prophet [may Allah be pleased with him] not only mentions the pillars of prayer, but also mentions how to make wudu and the sunnas of prayer as well. After that the Prophet [may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him] said, “None of your prayers will be complete until he does it like this [how the Prophet [may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him] described it]. al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn of al-Hakim #847.
In this narration, the Prophet [may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him] after mentioning how to pray and saying “None of your prayers will be complete until he performs it in this manner” did not mention to the person to place his hands on his chest. Thus, what is understood from this, according to the popular opinion in the school, is that placing one’s hands to the sides is sunna.
The Second Proof:
It is related from Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Ata’ that he was sitting with a group of the Companions of the Prophet. “We mentioned the prayer of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and Abu Humayd as-Sa’idi said, ‘I remember the prayer of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, better than any of you. I saw that when he said the takbir he lifted his hands level with his shoulders. When he did ruku’, he placed his hands on his knees and then bent his back straight. When he raised his head, he stood up straight until each vertebra had returned to its place. When he went into sajda, he placed his arms so that they were neither stretched out nor held close. The toes of his feet pointed towards the qibla. When he sat after the first two rak’ats, he sat on his left foot and kept his right foot upright. When he sat after the last rak’at, he extended his left foot across, keeping the other upright and sat on his buttocks.” Sahih al-Bukhairi # 794.
In the narration of Abu Dawood we find: “I heard Abu Humayid 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).”
Commenting on this al-Shaykh Muhammad al-’Abid wrote that “this is a clear proof for the practice of placing one’s hands to the side.” His reasoning was that this description of the Prophet’s prayer [may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him] took place during a gathering of the companions [may Allah be pleased with them all] who initially questioned Abu Humayid’s contention. However, after relating what he knew of the Prophet’s prayer they responded, “You have stated the truth! That is how he [may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him] used to pray.” Notice, as al-’Abid noted that they did not say, “You forgot to mention clasping the hands!”
Some may counter and say that Abu Humayid did not mention placing the hands on the sides? The response is that, such a statement supports placing one’s hands on the sides since something so common did not have to be mentioned and the origin, while standing, would be to place one’s hands to the sides.
It is hoped that this brief look at this issue will open the doors of understanding between those who follow the school of Imam Malik and those who don’t. It is important to realize that this contention is based on sound evidence and over 1000 years of academic rigor. The Schools of Fiqh represent a treasure of guidance and direction and are not simply based on whims and fashions. While not perfect, they must be respect and honored for one to truly understand and grasp the Shari’ah.
May Allah’s peace and blessing be upon the Prophet and those who follow him.