Questioner: If the Imaam performs the Qunut supplication in the morning prayer, raising his hands, and the one praying behind him knows that he performs the Qunut in the morning prayer, does the one praying behind him have to raise his hands in order to follow the Imaam?
Al-Albaani: Yes. Because of the previous hadith, and in reality this is a precise/detailed issue, because in the first part of that hadith he عليه السلام said, ‘The Imam is only there to be followed, so when he says, ‘Allaahu Akbar,’ then you should say it, and when he recites, then listen, and when he bows then you should bow, and when he says, ‘Allaah has heard the one who praised him,’ then say, ‘Our Lord, all praise is for you,’ and when he prostrates then you should prostrate, and if he prays standing then pray standing, and if he prays sitting then you should pray sitting.’
This hadith is a very great text concerning the fact that the praying person has to follow the Imaam even if it means that he has to leave a pillar of the prayer, not just something obligatory or sunnah [but a pillar even], because we all know that from the pillars of the prayer, without which the prayer is not correct, is to pray whilst standing, as He, the Most High, said, ‘… and stand before Allaah, devoutly obedient.’ [Baqarah 2:238]
If a man performed an obligatory prayer whilst sitting when he could have done so standing, then his prayer is null and void, this is in contrast to the optional prayer which the Legislator has permitted one to pray sitting, but He made its reward equivalent to half of the one who prays whilst standing.
As for [praying] the obligatory prayer whilst sitting if one is not ill or does not have any other excuse, then such a prayer is null and void.
Yet even though that is the case [and to show how important following the Imaam is], if the Imaam prayed whilst sitting out of illness then all of those who are following him, even though they are healthy, have to pray whilst sitting along with him as a realisation of this general principle, that, ‘The Imam is only there to be followed …’
And the circumstance relating to this hadith is that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was riding an animal of his one day when he fell off and hurt a vein in the middle of his arm. The time for midday prayer approached and so he led them whilst sitting, since due to the severity of the impact he عليه السلام wasn’t able to do so standing. He عليه السلام noticed that the people behind him were praying standing, since firstly, this was what [in normal circumstances] was ordained for them and they always used to pray behind him عليه السلام standing, so he signalled for them to sit which they did and then he عليه السلام said, ‘You were almost about to do what the Persians do before their greats, they stand before their kings. ‘The Imam is only there to be followed, so when he says, ‘Allaahu Akbar,’ you should say it …’ until the end of the hadith.
So we notice here that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم ordered his Companions who were strong and healthy to sit down, because he was. He was the one who couldn’t stand and so was excused, those following him were able to stand, but the Wise Legislator deemed them to be excused from having to pray standing in order to follow the Imaam who, due to a valid excuse, was praying sitting.
For this reason, we say that when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, ‘… when he bows then you should bow and when he prostrates you should prostrate …’ he did not do so to mean that following the Imaam was only to be limited to these things, but rather it was to give an example [of the things he is to be followed in], and there is a difference between those things being mentioned by way of limitation and between being mentioned as some examples, i.e., the Prophet عليه السلام mentioned them as examples to affirm the principle that, ‘The Imam is only there to be followed …’
And we know, for example, that when an Imaam forgets [to sit for] the first tashhahud and stands, it is upon some of those following him to remind him by saying, ‘Subhaanallaah!’ So if he remembers, he goes back and this has some elaboration which maybe I can mention soon, and if the Imaam doesn’t remember and stands, then he will have left this [first] tashhahud, [he will have left] the sitting for the first tashhahud and what is to be read therein mistakenly–but we [i.e., the people praying behind him] follow him in that mistake [i.e., we have to stand up with him and can’t remain sitting to recite the tashhahud], because he has an excuse [i.e., forgetfulness].
And in a similar way, elimate each issue where difference has occurred between the Imaams, so if the Imaam is performing a prayer in which he opposes the Sunnah while believing himself to be upon the Sunnah, then we do not oppose him.
But as we mentioned earlier, if he left the Sunnah out of negligence/disregard then following him is not applied here, because he is not following the Sunnah and not following an Imaam, here we oppose him because he has opposed the Sunnah and his Imaam, so he is a negligent, lazy person who does not have an excuse.
So the principle is that he [i.e., the Imaam] is followed in whatever breach he has an excuse for, and if he doesn’t [have an excuse] then no, the Sunnah.
Al-Hudaa wan-Noor, 75.