Too Much Movement Invalidates the Solāh
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of the al-'ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam, is His Messenger.
There is a difference of opinion on this subject, and the scholars who mention three movements or four movements but bring no evidence to support their view. May Allāh have mercy on them. The correct view is that too much movement invalidates the Solāh and the scholars explain that "too much" movement is when the person who is praying, moves so much so, that another person looking at him will think he is not praying. Shaykh Ibn `Uthaymeen (rahimahullāh) explains it beautifully.
Five categories of Movement
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (rahimahullāh) stated that the basic ruling on moving whilst praying is that it is makrūh unless it is done for a reason. However it may be divided into five categories:
1 Obligatory movement
The obligatory movements
The obligatory movements are those on which the validity of the prayer depends. For example if a person notices something impure on his ghutrah (head gear), he has to move to remove it and take off his ghutrah. That is because Jibreel came to Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) when leading the people the Solāh and told Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) that there was something dirty on his shoe. So Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) took it off whilst he was observing Solāh and carried on doing the Solāh. [Narrated by Abu Dawūd, 650; ] Or, in other instance he was told that were not facing the Qiblah, he should move to face the Qiblah.
The forbidden movements
The forbidden movements are continuous movements done for no reason, because this kind of movement invalidates the Solāh, and whatever invalidates the Solāh is not permissible, because it is like mocking the signs of Allāh.
The mustahabb movements
The mustahabb movements are those done in order to do things that are mustahabb in the Solāh, such as if a person moves to make the row straight, or if he sees a gap in the row in front, so he moves forward whilst praying, or if there is a gap in his row and he moves to fill the gap and other such movements which allow one to do a deed that is mustahabb in the Solāh, because that makes the Solāh is more perfect and complete. Hence when Ibn `Abbās (radiallāhu`anhu) prayed with the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) and stood to his left, the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) took hold of his head from behind and made him stand on his right. [Al-Bukhāri, Muslim; a consensus by others]
The permissible movements
The permissible movements are small movements done when there is a reason, or large movements done in cases of necessity. Small movements done for a reason are like what the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) did when he was performing Solāh and he carried Umāmah, the daughter of Zaynab the daughter of the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam), who was the maternal grandfather. When he stood up he picked her up, and when he prostrated he put her down. [Al-Bukhāri, 5996; Muslim, 543]
Large movements in cases of necessity include praying whilst fighting. Allāh says: “Guard strictly (five obligatory) As-Solāh especially the middle Solāh (i.e. the best Solāh ‑ ‘Asar). And stand before Allāh with obedience [and do not speak to others during the Solāh (prayers)].And if you fear (an enemy), perform Solāh on foot or riding. And when you are in safety, offer the Solāh in the manner He has taught you, which you knew not (before)” [Al-Baqarah, 2:238-239]
If a person prays whilst walking he is undoubtedly moving a great deal, but in cases of necessity that is permitted and does not invalidate the Solāh.
The makrūh movements
The makrūh movements are all movements other than those mentioned above. This is the basic principle concerning movements whilst praying. Based on this, we say to those who move whilst praying that their action is makrūh and detracts from their Solāh. This is something that is seen in many cases, so you may see a person fiddling with his watch or pen or ghutrah or nose or beard and so on. All of that comes under the heading of makrūh, unless it is done a great deal and is continuous, in which case it is harām and invalidates the Solāh.
He also stated that there is no specific number of movements that invalidates the Solāh; rather it is any movement that contradicts the idea the Solāh in the sense that if anyone saw this man doing that it would look as if he were not Solāh. This is the kind of movement that invalidates the Solāh. Hence the scholars (may Allāh have mercy on them) defined it as something based on custom (al-‘urf) and said: If movements are many and are continuous then they invalidate the Solāh, without mentioning a specific number. Some scholars defined three such movements but that requires evidence because everyone who sets a certain limit or number or manner should produce evidence, otherwise he is introducing new ideas. [Majmū’ Fatāwa al-Shaykh, 13/309-311]
Shaykh `Abd al-`Azīz ibn Bāz (rahimahullāh) was asked about a man who moved a great deal whilst praying: did that invalidate his Solāh and how could he rid himself of this habit?
Shaykh `Abd al-`Azīz (rahimahullāh) replied: The Sunnah is to focus on one’s Solāh with proper humility, body and soul, whether it is an obligatory prayer or a nāwafil prayer, because Allāh says: “Successful indeed are the believers. Those who offer their Solāh with all solemnity and full submissiveness” [Al-Mu’minūn 23:1-2]
One must observe the Solāh in a tranquil and dignified manner.
This is one of the most important pillars and obligations of the Solāh, because the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said to one who prayed badly and was not tranquil and dignified in his Solāh: “Go back and pray for you have not prayed.” And he did that three times. Then the man said: “O Messenger of Allāh, by the One Who sent you with the truth, I cannot do any better than this, teach me.” The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: “When you stand up to pray, do wudhū’ well, then turn to face the Qiblah and say takbīr, and recite whatever you can of Qur`ān. Then bow until you are at ease in bowing, and then raise your head until you are standing up straight. Then prostrate until you are at ease in prostration, then sit up until you are sitting up straight and are at ease in sitting. Then prostrate until you are at ease in prostration, then get up until you are standing up straight. Then do that throughout your Solāh.” [Al-Bukhāri, Muslim; a consensus by others]
And according to a version narrated by Abu Dawūd, he (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said: “Then recite the Essence of the Qur`ān (al-Fātihah) and whatever Allāh wills.”
This sahīh hadīth indicates that being at ease in the postures is a pillar or essential part of the Solāh, and an important obligation, without which the Solāh is not valid. Whoever pecks out his Salāh (by moving too rapidly), entails is no Solāh for him. Khushū’ (proper focus and humility) is the essence of the Solāh. It is prescribed for the believer to pay attention to that and strive to achieve it.
With regard to defining the movements that contradict this ease and focus in prayer and limiting them to three movements, there is no hadīth from the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) to support this idea. Rather that is the suggestion of some scholars for which there is no reliable evidence.
But, it is makrūh to fidget during the Solāh, such as touching one's nose, beard or clothes and being distracted by that. Fidgeting a great deal invalidates the Solāh. But if it is done a little, according to what is customary, or is done a great deal but is not continuous, then the Salāh is not invalidated thereby. But it is prescribed for the believer to maintain proper focus and humility, and to avoid fidgeting a little or a lot, and to strive to make his Solāh perfect.
The evidence that small movements, or repeated movements that are not continuous, do not invalidate the Solāh is the report which says that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) opened the door for ‘Aa’ishah (radiyallāhu`anha) one day whilst he was observing Salāh. [Narrated by Abu Dawūd, 922; al-Nasā`ie, 601; classified as sahīh by Shaykh al-Albāni in Sahīh al-Tirmidzi, 601.]
It was proven in the hadīth of Abu Qatādah (radiyallāhu`anhu) that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) led the people in Solāh one day when he was carrying Umāmah the daughter of Zaynab. When he prostrated he put her down and when he stood up he picked her up.
[Fatāwa ‘Ulama’ al-Balad al-Harām, 162-164]
[Excerpted from turntoislam]