Answered by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam
Question : What is the ruling on reciting the Surahs against the order of the Qur’an in prayer?
Answer : According to the Hanafi School, reciting the Surahs in the order that they are in the Qur’an is necessary (wajib) inside the Fardh and Wajib prayers such as the five daily obligatory prayers, the Jumu’ah prayer, the Witr prayer and the Eid prayer. As such, reciting the Surahs in a reversed order deliberately is considered to be prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman) in these prayers, although it is not disliked in voluntary (nafl) prayers.
Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his al-Durr al-Mukhtar whilst discussing the disliked acts of prayer:
“…And that one recites the Surahs in a reversed order unless when one completes the Qur’an, in which case one will recite from Surah al-Baqarah. It is stated in al-Qunya (m: name of a book) that if one recited Surah al-Kafirun in the first Rak’at and Surah Alam tra (al-Fil) in the second Rak’at… thereafter one remembered, then one should complete the Surah one is reciting (i.e. Surah al-Fil). And it is said that one should stop what one is reciting and start again. And none of this is disliked in the voluntary (nafl) prayer.”
Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains the above by stating:
“(al-Haskafi’s statement: “And that one recites the Surahs in a reversed order”) such as reciting in the second Rak’at a Surah that is antecedent to the one recited in the first Rak’at. This is so because reciting the Surahs in order is from the necessary acts (wajibat) of recitation.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 1/546-547)
It is stated in Maraqi al-Falah:
“It is disliked (m: prohibitively) to recite a Surah antecedent to the one already recited. Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) said: “Whoever recites the Qur’an in a reversed order will himself be treated that way…” (Maraqi al-Falah, P: 352)
It should be remembered; however, that the condition for reciting the Surahs in a reversed order being prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman) is that it be done deliberately and intentionally. If one recites the Surahs in a reversed order out of forgetfulness or mistake, it is not considered prohibitively disliked.
Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“Reciting the Surahs in a reversed order (tankees)… is only disliked when it is done deliberately. If, however, it is done out of forgetfulness, then it is not disliked, as mentioned in Sharh al-Munya.” (Radd al-Muhtar, 1/547)
As for repeating the prayer or performing the prostration of forgetfulness (sujud al-sahw), indeed the general principle (qa’idah) is that “Any prayer offered with an element of prohibitive dislike attached to it, it is necessary to repeat it” (kullu salatin uddiyat ma’a karahat at-tahrim, tajib i’adatuha) but, as explained by Imam Ibn Abidin, this is when a prohibitively disliked element comes into the prayer by leaving out a Wajib that is of the prayer itself, and not a Wajib that is of something else. It is for this very reason that if one offers one’s prayer individually without joining in with the congregation (jama’ah), it is not necessary to repeat the prayer, even though offering the prayer in congregation (without having an excuse) is a Wajib, but this Wajib is not of the prayer itself.
Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states after discussing the above:
“This is supported by the fact that they (the fuqaha) have said reciting the Qur’anic Surahs in order is Wajib. However if one recites them in a reversed order, one is sinful, but offering a prostration of forgetfulness (sujud as-sahw) is not necessary because observing the order of the Surahs is of the necessary elements (wajibat) of reciting the Qur’an (qira’at) and not of the prayer itself, as mentioned in al-Bahr (of Ibn Nujaym) in the chapter of making mistakes.” (Radd al-Muhtar, 1/457)
As such, the prostration of forgetfulness and/or repeating the prayer is not necessary due to the fact that the necessity (wujub) of reciting the Surahs in order is of the necessary elements (wajibat) of reciting the Qur’an (qira’at) and not of the prayer itself.
Having said this, although the prostration of forgetfulness (sujud as-sahw) is never necessary, it may be better to repeat the prayer (if possible) in the case of reciting the Surahs in a reversed order deliberately. This is so because certain contemporary Fuqaha in their Fatawa works have stated that the prayer should be repeated. Imam Ibn Abidin himself has declared that repeating the prayer (i’adah) is necessary in situations such as performing the prayer in cloths containing pictures and praying whilst there is a suppressing need to urinate or defecate, both of which are prohibitively disliked and do not require the prostration of forgetfulness. (See: Fatawa Darul Uloom 2/224 & Radd al-Muhtar 1/457)
Finally, if an Imam recites the Surahs in a reversed order, the follower should simply assume that he did it forgetfully or by mistake, because it is one’s duty to interpret the actions of others in the best light, as the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) has commanded us in many hadiths.
In conclusion, we learn the following points:
1) It is necessary in Fardh and Wajib prayers to recite the various Surahs of the Qur’an in order and prohibitively disliked to recite them in a reversed order deliberately.
2) It is not disliked to recite the Surahs in a reversed order unintentionally and forgetfully.
3) There is no prostration of forgetfulness whether this is done deliberately or unintentionally.
4) It is also not necessary to repeat the prayer, though better to do so if this is done deliberately.
5) If an Imam was to do this in prayer, one should assume that it was done unintentionally.
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK