And from its (al-Faatihah’s) importance also, is that Allah subhaanahu wa ta’alaa obligated its recitation in every unit of the prayer. And the majority of the people of knowledge considered its recitation obligatory in the prayer and that whoever does not read it in the prayer, then indeed his prayer is not correct due to his (the Prophet’s) saying sallallahu alaihi wa salam: “There is no prayer for the one who does not recite the Fatihatul Kitab (the opening of the Book, [Surah al-Faatihah]).” [Agreed upon] and this is regarding the right of the able one to recite it, as for the unable one who cannot recite it due to his inability to memorise it, then indeed he reads what is easy for him from the Ayaat of the Qur’an other than the al-Faatihah.
And if there was nothing fitting (for his ability) from the Qur’an, then indeed he takes the formula (of remembrance): “subhanallah, al-hamdulillah, laa ilaaha illa Allah, wallahu akbar, wa la hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah” due to his sallallahu alaihi wa salam saying “When you stand for the prayer, then make takbeer (i.e. say Allahu Akbar), then, if you have with you something from the Qur’an then recite it, and if not, then praise Allah, and exalt him and supplicate the kalimah (the testimony of Faith); then make rukoo’…” [Recorded by Abu Daawood and at-Tirmidhi]
And the majority of the people of knowledge have considered its obligation (of recitation) upon the Imam (leading others) and the individual, and they differed regarding its recitation in reference to the right upon the one being led (in prayer), over three opinions:
The First Opinion:
It is obligatory upon every praying person, whether it be an Imam, one being led or an individual due to his (the Prophet’s sallallahu alaihi wa salam) saying: “There is no prayer for the one who does not recite the Fatihatul Kitab;” and this is general in regards to everyone praying. And he (the Prophet) sallallahu alaihi wa salam said: “Perhaps you all recited behind your Imam?” They (the companions) said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!” He said: “Do not do that except for Fatihatul-Kitab; for indeed there is no prayer for the one who does not recite it.” [It was reported similarly by Abu Daawood] And this is the madhab of Imam ash-Shaafi‘ee and a group from the Muhaddithoon like Imam al-Bukhaaree and others, they viewed its recitation an obligation upon the Imam, the one being led and the individual.
The Second Opinion:
It is not obligatory on the one being led, because the recitation of the Imam compensates him from it, due to his (the Prophet’s) sallallahu alaihi wa salam saying: “Whoever has an Imam (to lead him in prayer), then the Imam’s recitation is his recitation;” [Recorded by al-Bayhaqee in his Sunan, and Ahmad recorded it similarly] however, this Hadeeth has been criticised in respect to its Isnaad (chain of narrators).
And they (those who adopted this opinion) sought evidence from the statement of Allah: “So, when the Qur’an is recited, listen to it, and be silent that You may receive Mercy.” [7:204] They said from the aspect of deduction: Indeed Allah commanded listening to the Qur’an and being silent. And the ayah was sent down regarding the matter of listening in the prayer, meaning: when the Imam recites, it is upon the one being led to be silent and listen. So the ayah proves that there is no recitation required by the one being led; because the Imam recites it for himself and for those being led; and this is the opinion of the madhab of Abu Haneefah and Ahmad.
The Third Opinion:
And it is the opinion of Imam Malik and the preference of Shaykhul Islaam Ibnu Taymiyyah and a group from the scholars, that it is obligatory upon the one being led during the discreet prayers in which the Imam does not make (his recitation) audible, like the Thuhr and ‘Asr (prayers), and as for the audible prayers, and the Imam’s recitation is sufficient, and upon the one being led, is (the task) of being silent and listening.They (those who adopted this opinion) said: And by this (opinion), the proofs are reconciled; so the evidences which obligate the recitation of al-Faatihah refer to the discreet prayer and the other evidences and the noble Ayah refer to the audible prayer; and this opinion is fairest of the opinions, inshaa’Allah.
By Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan
Duroos minal-Qur’anil Kareem , Translated by A Majothi