by Dr. Mateen Khan (Trenton, New Jersey)
“Ok, I’m in salāh. I’m standing before my Creator. Focus… concentrate… khushū’. But why is this brother standing on my foot? Ok, I’ll move my foot over a bit and then, I can get back to my khushū’. He moved his foot over more. Why brother? Why?!?”
Turns out that brother is sincerely trying to act upon a hadith; a hadith in Sahīh Bukharī no less!
On one occasion, after our Nabi (Allah bless him and give him peace) told his Companions to straighten the rows for salāh, Sayyidna ‘Anas (May Allah be pleased with him) said, “Each one of us joined his shoulder with the shoulder of the one next to him and his foot with the foot of the one next to him.”
Bam! There you go! We’re done. Class dismissed. Thank you, come again.
Hold on, Apu1! You missed the other hadiths about joining the ankles, knees and shoulders2. If you were able to join your feet and ankles together, how are you going to join your knees together? Suppose you’re a ballerina and you managed that. How are you going to join your knees if you’re a midget standing next to Yao Ming3 (may Allah guide him to Islam)? How are you going to join your shoulders in that scenario? So unless we were commanded to be contortionists of the same height, we probably misunderstood something here.
When looking at all of the hadiths on this topic, it becomes apparent that our Nabi (Allah bless him and give him peace) intended for us to form the rows while making sure that our body parts lined up. He did not mean to literally join them. This is why in other hadiths, he mentions lining up our chests and necks too4. Hence, why our Nabi (Allah bless him and give him peace), the senior Companions and mujtahid imams never advised joining the feet together. Yes, that’s right. Read that sentence one more time.
Our Nabi (Allah bless him and give him peace) summed up his intention in another hadith, “Straighten your rows, align your shoulders, make space for your brothers, and close the gaps.5” The way of the salaf al-sālihīn6 and the overwhelming majority of scholars that came afterwards was to stand in a way that was comfortable so that they could focus on the task at hand and not the feet of the person next to them.
So now that we’re not trying to be contortionists, we can follow the Qur’an and “stand before Allah with humility7” to get back to that khushū’.
1 Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is the proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart, a popular convenience store in Springfield, and a friend of Homer Simpson. He is also an Indian immigrant. Apu is well known for his repeated and characteristic delivery of the catchphrase, “Thank you, come again.” It has been argued that the portrayal of this character is a racist caricature. (Wikipedia)
2 Nu’man bin Bashir (May Allah be pleased with him): “I saw each person join his shoulder with the shoulder of the person next to him, his knee with the knee of the person next to him, and his ankle with his ankle.” (Sunan Abu Dawud- one of the “six authentic books of hadiths”)
3 A now retired NBA player who was 7ft 6in tall.
4 The Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) commanded, “Line the necks up.” (Sunan Abu Dawud- one of the “six authentic books of hadiths”)
The Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) used to command the Companions to straighten the rows when he saw their chests misaligned or he would physically align them by touching their chests and shoulders. (Nasa’i- one of the “six authentic books of hadiths”)
5 Musnad Ahmad- The massive hadith collection of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal.
6 Salaf al-sālihīn refers to the first three generations of Muslims, who the Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) referred to as the best of generations.
7 Surah al-Baqarah: 287