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Sajdat al-sahw

Subject: Sajdat al-sahw (The Prostration of Forgetfulness)
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2000 23:01:13 EST

IIRC, in the Mālikī madhhab which I follow, there is a distinction between 
leaving something out by mistake and inserting something extra by mistake.

In the former case, you make the sajdat al-sahw before the salām; in the 
latter, make it after the salām.   

When the Prophet, peace be upon him, was reported to have made up what he 
missed, that would mean a whole rak`ah.  You can only do a whole rak`ah as a 
unit, not just a piece of it.  I think the hadith reported that he had prayed 
only three rak`āt when there were supposed to be four.  After the salām, they 
asked him if the prayer had been deliberately reduced to 3 rak`āt.  He said 
no, there should have been four.  So he made up the fourth one and finished 
with sajdat al-sahw.

If you just missed one rukn of prayer, like you forgot a rukū` or a sujūd, 
but otherwise made all the rak`āt, then IIRC sajdat al-sahw is called for, 
but without doing another rak`ah.

The Risālah of Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī says: "Someone who does not know 
whether he did three or four rak`āt of his salāt should build upon what he 
knows for certain, and do the salāt of which he is in doubt, in this case the 
fourth rak`ah, adding a prostration after saying salām."

Personally, like Faiz, if I can't remember how many rak`āt I did, I tend to 
give up and start all over again.  But Ibn Abī Zayd says:

"Someone who is obsessively doubtful about whether he made a mistake should 
shake off the doubt.  No reparation obliges him, but he should do only a 
prostration after the salām.  [i.e. a pair of prostrations--always in pairs.] 
 Such a person who has obsessive doubts and is not sure whether he mistakenly 
added or omitted something should only prostrate after the salām.  Someone 
who is sure of having made a mistake should prostrate after repairing his 
salāt.  But is his mistakes are many and they disturb him much, he should 
amend his salāt without prostrating for his mistakes."

So it seems his advice is not to obsess about it, and just to make the sajdat 
al-sahw, then leave it up to Allah and quit worrying about it.  Only if you 
have made a total hash of your prayer and your mistakes "disturb you much," 
then you can bail out and start over again.  If I understood that correctly.

To answer some of Tyagi's questions:
A madhhab is a school of Islamic jurisprudence.  There are five of them.  
They all agree on the main points of Islamic law, but differ in some details. 
 How do you select one when they differ?  Simple.  You decide which one suits 
you best, and then follow it all the time.  You don't mix some from this one 
and some from that one.  You just stay with one consistently, and have 
confidence that it's valid.  As for the others, you accept their validity too 
without following them.

The "essential acts" of salāt are called the arkān (singular is rukn), 
literally 'pillars'.
1. Tahārah (ritual purity)
2. Facing toward the qiblah (the direction of the Ka`bah)
3. Nīyah (intention).
4. Qiyām (standing).
5. Takbīr (saying "Allāhu akbar" while raising the hands--this initializes 
the salāt).
6. Tilāwah (recitation of al-Fātihah, the first sūrah of the Qur'ān, and 
sometimes another sūrah too).
7. Rukū` (bowing with hands on knees).
8. Qawmah (standing up straight again after bowing).
9. Sujūd (prostration).
10. Jalsah (sitting up in between prostrations).
11. Sujūd again.  
Acts 6-11 constitute one rak`ah.  A prayer can contain 2, 3, or 4 rak`āt.  
After the first two, and after the final rak`ah, you sit for:
12. Tashahhud (recitation of some words including the confession of faith 
[shahādah]--this is where the index finger comes up.)
13. Salām (turning the head to the right shoulder and saying "al-salāmu 
`alaykum").  This concludes the salāt.

There's a lot more to it than that, but IIRC these are the irreducible 
minimum requirements.

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