"Pray with your leader": a proto-Sunni quietist tradition.

Author:Aerts, Stun


According to the "pray with your leader" tradition, several versions of which have been preserved in the canonical and non-canonical hadith collections, the Prophet urged Muslims to fulfill the prayer (salat) obligation twice when an imam delayed its performance--first by performing it privately at the prescribed time, and then by joining the imam in the congregational prayer; the second time is considered an act of supererogation. (1) Relying on the Common Link theory, G. H. A. Juynboll dated this tradition to the middle of the second/ eighth century. (2)

In the first part of this three-part article, the main versions of this tradition are introduced. In the second part, the tradition is subjected to a transmission chain (isnad) analysis, which differs from that by Juynboll in that it factors in textual variations. Even though both analyses rely on the identification of key figures in the transmission of the hadith and use essentially the same data, Juynboll's result could not be reproduced. Instead, a significantly earlier date of origin for the tradition's two earliest versions presented itself: the early 60s/680s and the early 80s/700s, respectively. The final part of the article explores the context in which the different versions of the hadith were brought into circulation. It is argued that they constitute a reaction to Iraqi activists who disapproved of the religious practice of the Umayyads and their representatives in Iraq, particularly the governors Ibn Ziyad and al-Hajjaj, and of their alleged postponement of the salat.


    There are many variant readings of the "pray with your leader" hadith, and for analytical purposes I have identified four main versions, viz., the basic version, the combined version, the sabab version, and the hybrid version. Instances of the hadith belonging to the same version comprise the same basic constituents of the Prophetic dictum and exhibit the same mode of interaction between the Prophet and the Companion whom he advised. They are not identical, however, as many minor variations in the wording occur within one and the same version.

    1. The basic version

      The format of the basic version is similar to the conventional responsa dialogue ("I said ... he said ..."). In this case, however, both question and answer are given by the Prophet, with the Companion Abu Dharr, who transmitted the report, functioning as a mere sounding board:

      Qala li rasulu llah kayfa anta idha kanat 'alayka umara'u yu'akhkhiruna l-salata 'an waqtiha aw yumituna l-salata 'an waqtiha. Qultu fa-ma ta'muruni. Qala salli l-salata li-waqtiha fa-in adraktaha ma'ahum fa-salli fa-innaha laka nafila. (3) The Prophet asked me, "What would you do if you were confronted with leaders who delay the salat beyond its time or who kill [neglect] it beyond its time?" I said, "What do you order me to do?" The Prophet replied, "Observe the salat at its appointed time and if you happen to be there together with them, then perform the prayer, and it will be a supererogatory prayer for you." The use of the hyperbolic yumituna ("they kill"), conceivably to emphasize the gravity of negligence in prayer, is noteworthy. From the context it appears that it is synonymous or related to yu'akhkhiruna ("they postpone"). (4) In some instances of the basic version yumituna is either not specified by 'an waqtiha (5) or omitted altogether. (6) In other variants an absolute prediction is substituted for the conditional:

      Anna rasula llahi qala ya Aba Dharr, innahu satakunu 'alaykum a'immatun yumituna l-salata fa-in adraktumuhum fa-sallu l-salata li-waqtiha wa-j'alu salawatikum ma'ahum nafilatan. (7) The Prophet said, "O Abu Dharr! After me you will be confronted with imams who kill [neglect] the salat. Should you come across them, observe the salat at its appointed time and perform your prayers with the imams as an act of supererogation." Again, variant readings exist with yu'akhkhiruna or 'an waqtiha/mawaqitiha instead of or in addition to yumituna. (8) In some, an attempt is made to clarify yumituna--to little avail--with the apposition "they squeeze the life out of the salat." (9) Later commentators all agree that the phrase meant "to delay the prayer," (10) but seeing that the hyperbolic use of the fourth form is not uncommon, it could be adequately glossed as "to grossly neglect" it as well.

    2. The combined version

      On some occasions the hadith text (main) is expanded with that of another widespread hadith, the so-called "hearken and obey" (sam' wa-ta'a) tradition. All instances of the combined version, as it is called here, begin with the sam' wa-ta'a cluster, put in the mouth of Abu Dharr as follows:

      Inna khalill awsani an asma'a wa-uti'a wa-in kana (abdan mujadda'a l-atrafi wa-an usalliya l-salata li-waqtiha fa-in adrakta l-qawma wa-qad sallaw kunta qad ahrazta salataka wa-illa kanat laka nafilatan. (11) My dear friend [Muhammad] bade me to hearken and obey [the commander], even if he was a slave with his limbs cut off, and to observe the salat at its appointed time, [by saying,] "Should you come across people having observed the salat, you will have saved your prayer, otherwise it will be an act of supererogation for you." C. The sabab version

      The third major version of the "pray with your leader" tradition differs from the basic version less in the makeup of the Prophetic dictum than in the formulation of the isnad. For the first three transmitters after the Prophet it is said why and how they heard the narration from their informant or, in the case of the Companion Abu Dharr, from the Prophet. More importantly, this motive is the same for all three of them and takes the place of the classic formulae used to connect the transmitters in an isnad (e.g., haddathani, akhbarana, etc.):

      'An Abl l-'Aliyati al-Barra'i qala akhkhara Bnu Ziyadin al-salata fa-ja'ani 'Abdu llahi bnu l-Samiti fa-alqaytu lahu kursiyyan fa-jalasa 'alayhi fa-dhakartu lahu sani'a Bni Ziyadin fa-'adda 'ala shafatihi wa-daraba fakhidhi wa-qala inni sa'altu Aba Dharrin kama sa'altani fa-daraba fakhidhi kama darabtu fakhidhaka wa-qala inni sa'altu rasula llahi kama sa'altani fa-daraba fakhidhi kama darabtu fakhidhaka wa-qala salli l-salata li-waqtiha fa-in adrakatka l-salatu macahum fa-salli wa-la taqul inni qad sallaytu fa-la usalli. (12) Abu l-'Aliya al-Barra' said, "Ibn Ziyad delayed the salat, then 'Abd Allah b. al-Samit came to me, I offered him a chair, and he sat down on it. I mentioned to him what Ibn Ziyad had done. He bit his lip, struck my thigh, and said: I once asked Abu Dharr what you asked me. He struck my thigh like I struck yours and said: I once asked the Prophet what you asked me. He struck my thigh like I struck yours and said, 'Perform the salat at its time, and if it turns out that you can perform the salat together with them, then pray. Don't say, I already prayed and will not pray again.'" The repeated motive becomes a motif in the chain of transmitters. This phenomenon is unusual, but not unique. (13) In classical hadith science the transmitter's motive to narrate a tradition or the context that solicited its narration is called sabab al-tahdith. A special type is the context in which the Prophet spoke the words that are transmitted to the next generations in the form of a hadith, which is called sabab al-hadith. (14) In the classical educational framework in which pupils received hadiths from a teacher in bulk, there was no connection between the context and the transmitted material. Assuming that the sabab al-tahdith is not fabricated, its presence indicates that the report in question was transmitted for a specific reason, e.g., to be used as an argument in a legal or doctrinal debate. Although it is not typically found in an Isnad, it belongs there and not to the content and purport of the main. The sabab al-hadith, on the contrary, marks the transition from isnad to Prophetic dictum and often gives directions for the interpretation of the dictum itself. In the case at hand, the sabab al-hadith established that the Prophetic dictum applied to situations in which the imam delayed the prayer.

    3. The hybrid version

      The final major version of the hadith is the following:

      Qala rasulu llahi wa-daraba fakhidhi kayfa anta idha baqita fi qawm yu'akhkhiruna 1-sala.ta can waqtiha. Qala [Abit Dharr] ma ta'rnuru. Qala salli l-salata li-waqtiha thumma dhhab li-hajatika fa-in uqimati l-salatu wa-antafi l-masjidi fa-salli. (15) While striking my thigh the Prophet said, "What would you do if you were left among people who delay the salat beyond its time?" AbD Dharr said, "What do you command?" The Prophet said, "Observe the salat at its appointed time, then go do your business; if the salat is initiated while you're at the mosque, then pray." The hybrid version begins with a highly elliptical variant of the sabab version, dropping the repetitive sabab al-tahdith as well as the allegation that Ibn Ziyad delayed the salat, and retaining only a fraction of the sabab al-hadith. The ellipsis is so drastic that the part that remains (daraba fakhidhi, "he struck my thigh") no longer conveys the context of the Prophetic dictum. It is reduced to a phrase that is meaningful only to those familiar with the sabab version. The remainder of the hybrid version is similar to the basic version. As in the latter, it is the Prophet and not AbD Dharr who asks what one should do if prayer is delayed. The Prophet's answer is also the same, with the addition of advice to return to day-to-day activities once the salat has been observed in a timely fashion and the implicit permission to skip the delayed communal prayer if one is not at the mosque.


    An attempt at dating hadiths can be undertaken on the basis of the data retrieved from the isnad, the composition and purport of the main, or both. Here both isnad and main will be analysed. For the former, I employ the Common Link (CL) theory, which...

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