Accessible Conspectus: Invalidators of prayer

This post is part of a series of posts aimed at making The Ultimate Conspectus accessible to readers who have never read fiqh before.

2.3.6 Invalidtors

When you pray, you are worshiping Allah Most High in a manner that He has prescribed. A prayer must include certain things for it to be valid. These are its integrals, which were covered in section 2.3.2. A prayer must also be free of certain things for it to be valid. These are its invalidators, and they are the topic of this section.

The following eleven things invalidate prayer and require that the prayer be performed again.

The first invalidator is intentional speech consisting of a single letter that conveys a meaning, or two consecutive letters that do not convey meaning. The prayer is not invalided by the intentional speech that occurs as part of a supplication.

The second invalidator is excessive motion. Examples of excessive motion which would invalidate the prayer include one major motion of a type that is not part of the prayer (like jumping), or several small consecutive motions (like steps). Another example is intentionally adding an action that is itself an essential part of prayer (like a third prostration).

The third invalidator is the presence of ritual impurity, either by attempting to begin prayer while having ritual impurity or its occurrence during the prayer.

The fourth invalidator is the occurrence of filth. If someone’s clothing or their body becomes filthy, it invalidates the prayer unless the filth can be removed immediately. Suppose that Aḥmed was praying under a tree and a bird soiled his baseball cap. His prayer would remain valid if he immediately removing his cap. But his prayer would become invalid if he knew that it was soiled and did not remove it as soon as he found out.

The fifth is exposure of one’s nakedness. An intentional exposure of one’s nakedness immediately invalidates the prayer. (Nakedness during prayer was mentioned in section 2.3.1.) Suppose a woman intentionally removes her hijab, or a man raises his shorts above his knees. In both cases, they will have invalidated their prayers.

Having one’s nakedness exposed is slightly different from intentionally exposing one’s nakedness. If someone’s nakedness is exposed, their prayer is not invalidated if they immediately cover up what has been exposed. In the examples given above, suppose that wind had caused the woman’s hijab to open slightly, or the man’s shorts to ride up above the knee. Their prayer will remain valid if she immediately closes her hijab enough to cover her nakedness, or he immediately pushes his shorts down to cover his knee. But if she or he ignores it, the prayer becomes invalid.

The sixth invalidator is a change of intention. Examples of changing one’s intention include intending to leave prayer, or to leave if something occurs. So if Aḥmed intends to leave the prayer he is praying or he intends to leave the prayer if Bilāl enters his office, Aḥmed has invalidated his prayer. There are a few exceptions where changing one’s intention does not invalidate the prayer. One of these exceptions is intending to shorten a four prayer-cycle prayer to two prayer-cycles so that you can pray with a group.

The seventh invalidator is turning away from the direction of prayer. This refers to turning one’s chest. Turning one’s chest a few degrees away from the direction of prayer is enough to invalidate the prayer when it is done intentionally or one allows it to happen.

Turning the head does not invalidate the prayer. One should, though, keep one’s gaze focused on the place where they prostrate.

The eight and ninth invalidators are eating and drinking, whether a small or large quantity. However, it does not invalidate the prayer if the person who did it was unaware that it is unlawful. This is conceivable in cases where the person is new to Islam or grew up far from Islamic scholarship. As a general rule, whatever invalidates the fast also invalidates the prayer. (Things that invalidate the fast are the topic of section 5.3.)

The tenth invalidator is cackling or loud laughter.

The eleventh is apostasy. (May Allah protect us!)

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