If there is only an individual present (one ma’moom), the ma’moom must station himself to the right of the prayer leader (imam); he must not stand behind him or on his left,
If they are a congregation (jamaah), that is to say, if there is more than one ma’moom, they should stand behind the imam. Hence, if the male followers are two or more, they stand behind the imam. If the group is made up of men and women, the men stand behind the imam while the women stand behind the men. If there is only one man and one woman, the man stands beside the imam on his right, while the woman stands behind them.
The ma’moom is not allowed to pray alone behind a row; otherwise, his prayer will not be valid.
Following the Imam
It is obligatory upon the ma’moom to follow the imam. He must spare no effort to ensure that every single action of his in the prayer is subsequent to that of the imam. He is not allowed to precede the imam. It is disliked of him to perform any pillar of the prayer simultaneously with the imam. If he precedes the imam in takbeerat-ul-lhraam, he has to repeat it; otherwise his prayer becomes invalid. His prayer also becomes invalid if he says the tasleem before the imam.
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “The prayer leader (imam) has been appointed for no other purpose than to set an example for the congregation to follow. Do not, therefore, differ with him. So when he pronounces the takbeer (the declaration of Allah’s Supreme Greatness), you must then pronounce the takbeer. When he bows down, you must then bow down. When he says: “sami’allaahu liman hamidah” (Allah hears (and accepts) the praise of those who praise Him), you must then say: Allaahumma Rabbanaa wa lakal-hamd (O Allah, our Lord, to You is the praise). When he prostrates himself, you must then prostrate yourselves. And if he performs the prayer in a sitting position, you must all remain seated throughout the prayer.”
Therefore, the ma’moom must not prostrate before the imam prostrates himself or at the same time as the imam does so. When the imam raises his head, he must then raise his head, but he must not raise it before the imam raises his or at the same time as the imam does so.
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “Does any one of you not fear that Allah may turn his head into the head of a donkey, or his body into that of a donkey if he raises his head before the imam does so?”
(al-Bukhaaree and Muslim)
All members of the congregation must therefore neither do any act in the prayer before nor at the same time as the imam does so. Rather, they must wait for the imam to say, ‘Allaahu Akbar (Allah is Most Great) and the sound of his voice can no longer be heard. Then, and only then, should they pronounce the takbeer (one’s saying ‘Allaahu Akbar). The prayer is not a trivial matter. It deserves our serious attention. So it sometimes happens that, as soon as the imam starts to pronounce the takbeer, some people behind him say the takbeer at the same time as he does, thereby committing a serious mistake. It is not correct for them to start pronouncing the takbeer until the imam has finished saying Allaahu Akbar‘ and the sound of his voice can no longer be heard. The same thing must be done with the rest of the prayer.
If someone arrives when the congregation (jamaah) has already been established and finds a gap in the row, he should fill it up and complete the row.
If there is no gap in the row, he must station himself together with one of the other worshippers to form a new row. In other words, he should station himself adequately in the row to be counted as a member of the congregation, At that point, he should steady himself, formulate the intention to pray behind the imam, pronounce the takbeerat-ul-lhraam and then join the imam at whatever stage of the prayer he may be.
If he enters the mosque at the stage when the imam is already in the bowing position (rukoo’), he should pronounce two takbeers (with a brief breath between the two), one of them for the purpose of entering the prayer (takbeerat-ul-Ihraam) and the other in connection with the act of bowing (rukoo’).
Thus, if he joins a Rakat before the imam rises from rukoo; he should count that Rakat as his first, However, if he joins the imam after he has already risen from rukoo (bowing), then he should not include that Rakat in his counting, but start counting from the next Rakat.
- Missing the First Rakat of the Fajr Prayer
If the latecomer has missed only the first Rakat of the Fajr prayer with the imam, he should not pronounce the tasleem (Assalaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullaah) with the imam, Rather, he should rise and perform the Rakat he has missed, reciting Surat al-Fatihah and any other surah. He should then proceed to complete the Rakat, sit for the tashahhud and end the prayer with the tasleem as is usual. The Rakat he has caught up with the imam is considered his first,
- The Person who misses the first and the second Rakats of a four-Rakat Prayer (Dhuhr, ‘Asr or ‘Ishaa)
In this situation, the latecomer has offered the third and the fourth Rakats with the imam. When the imam completes his prayer with the tasleem, the latecomer should not pronounce the tasleem. He should instead rise, saying Allaahu Akbar, and then perform the Rakats he has missed, the first and the second (with Surat al-Fatihah and another surah), sit in the process for the tashahhud and end his prayer with the tasleem as is usual. According to some jurists, his last two Rakats with the imam will be counted as his first and second Rakats, so there is no need for him to recite any part of the Glorious Quran along after Surat al-Fatihah.
- The Person who misses the first three Rakats of a tour-Rakat Prayer (Dhuhr, ‘Asr or ‘Ishaa)
In this situation, the latecomer has performed only the fourth Rakat with the imam. When the imam completes his prayer with the tasleem (Assalaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullaah), the latecomer should not say the tasleem. Instead he should rise, pronounce the takbeer and perform Rakat number one in which he recites Surat al-Faatihah and another surah. Since he has now offered two Rakats (the fourth and the first), he should now sit for the middle tashahhud. After that he should rise, saying Allaahu Akbar and then perform Rakat number two (with Surat al-Faatihah and another surah, and then Rakat number three with Surat al-Faatihah only), He should then proceed to complete his prayer as is usual.
According to the statement mentioned before, some jurists maintain that in this situation the fourth Rakat of the latecomer offered with the imam would be his first Rakat, and then after the imam’s tasleem, he should start his second Rakat. Thus, he does no have to recite any surah in his last two Rakats he performs individually, except for Surat al-Faatihah.
- Missing the first two Rakats of the Maghrib Prayer
In this situation, the latecomer has performed only one Rakat (the third one) with the imam. He has, therefore, missed the first two Rakats of the Maghrib prayer. When the imam completes the prayer by pronouncing the tasleem, the latecomer should instead rise, say the takbeer and perform the first Rakat with Surat al-Faatihah and another surah, and in the process, he should sit for the middle tashahhud. He will have now completed two Rakats of the Maghrib prayer. After the tashahhud, he should rise and complete the last Rakat with Surat al-Faatihah only and end his prayer in the usual manner by pronouncing the tasleem.
- If the latecomer enters the mosque when the imoom is already pronouncing the final toshahhud – that is to say, when the performance of that particular prayer is within a few moments of being completed
If the late arrival enters the mosque at the stage where the imam is already pronouncing the final tashahhud, his recommended course is to formulate the intention and station himself in the row so that he will still be in time to share the merit of the congregation (jamaah) prayer, Then when the imam concludes the prayer with the salutations (tasleem), the latecomer rises and performs a complete prayer by himself.
Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “Whoever performs ablution perfectly well, and then goes to the mosque, and finds that the people have already finished the prayer (in congregation), Allah will write for him the reward like that for the one who attended and prayed in congregation. The reward of those who have prayed in congregation will not be decreased in the least.”
(an-Nasaa’ee: Hadeeth no. 856),