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Bowing to perils

May 12, 2016


Bowing to perils


No doubt one of the tastiest juristic bites in our school is offered by the master chef from al-Qayrawān, Abu’l-Hasan ‘Alī b. Muhammad al-Lakhmī (d. 478 AH), in his famous work At-Tabsirah.

In the Second Book of Prayer therein, he tackles the issue of whether one should ride on a ship if he is unable to perform the prayer on it the way it should be done.

This short extract teaches us a) the centrality of prayer in this earthly transit, as far as a committed and awake Muslim is concerned; b) the deep tragedy of brethren who die on the sea journeying as sardines in squalid boats where no motion associated with salāt, the mu’min’s ascension, is possible.



About prayer on a ship: Should one ride on the sea if he is unable to fulfil the conditions of prayer on it?


Mālik said: ‘Riding on the sea is disliked, inter alia because a person can only perform a defective form of prayer.’


Shaykh al-Lakhmī, may Allah have mercy on him, commented: Riding on the sea is of three categories:

-         Permissible: If a person knows that he can perform the obligatory prayer standing without feeling dizzy (= seasick).

-         Reprehensible: If he is not accustomed to ride on the sea, and does not know whether or not he will fill seasick and accordingly interrupt his prayer. Riding on it is not ruled to be prohibited in his respect, because the prevalent scenario is safety from such condition.

-         Prohibited: If he knows that he habitually feels seasick and is unable to perform the prayer, or he cannot perform it because there are too many passengers crowding him out, or he cannot prostrate at least.


Mālik said, according to Ashhab’s recension: ‘If none of them is unable to bow or prostrate other than on his brother’s back, they should not ride on the sea for the sake of journeying to the hajj or the ‘umrah. Should one ride as a passenger where he does not pray?! Woe onto whoever discards the prayer.’


It is likewise reprehensible if one cannot pray other than sitting.

Concerning one who wants to ride on the sea during the time for the Noon prayer and resolves upon combining the Noon and Afternoon prayers, duly standing, prior to journeying as a passenger, because he knows how hard a sea journey might be and knows that he would not manage to pray during it, the author said: “That he combines the two prayers on the land standing is dearer to me than praying each of them in its specific time sitting.”

In Al-‘Utbiyyah we read: “If they are unable to stand, let them sit. It would be in order for one of them to lead them in prayer.”

The context of his statement on those two aspects relates to what should be done by someone who normally rides on the sea or has resolved to ride on it. It does not relate to the separate aspect of choosing whether to ride on it or not.


Mālik liked that someone aboard a ship who is capable of exiting it and praying on the land should do so, since prayer on the land is more effective in instilling calm and sedateness and he may cover his head with dust.

Mālik said: ‘If they are unable to perform the prayer in congregation under its deck unless they bend their heads, they should pray individually on the deck. The former, in fact, entails a defective mode of praying. If they do that and render justice to the standing, however, their prayer is valid.

They must face the qiblah. If the ship rotates whilst they are praying, they, too, must turn in the direction of the qiblah.


That is so with regard to the compulsory prayer. As for the supererogatory prayer, there are discordant views. In the Mudawwanah they are instructed to do the same, unlike a traveller on the back of a riding animal. In Al-Mukhtasar we read: “On a ship, a passenger cannot perform supererogatory prayers except in the direction of the qiblah.” Ibn Habīb, instead, allowed him to perform a voluntary prayer whichever way was easy for him. The former view is preferable. There is no hardship in that, unlike the case of a person seated on a mount.




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