Folding Hands in Prayers – An Innovation by Umar

It is only fair to ask the question the other way around as well. Why do other Muslims pray with their hands folded around their chest/belly? As far as the children and the grandchildren of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) are concerned, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) never held his hands on his belly/chest while praying. The children of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who were with the Prophet, 24 hours a day, should have seen him better and more than anyone else![1]

In fact, not even all the Ahlus Sunnah believes in holding hands on their belly/chest, while praying[2]. The Maliki Muslims, who follow Imam Malik, pray open-handedly, like the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.).

It proves that the holding hands on one’s belly/chest, is not a Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) otherwise, one fourth of the Ahlus Sunnah (the Maliki Muslims) could not be following the Sunnah! (Some people claim that Imam Malik could not hold his hands on his belly, because, he had fractured his hand! Do you mean to say that he had both his hands fractured? All of his life? How about millions of his followers today, have they all fractured their hands, too!).

So, who started with the Bidah of folding of hands whilst praying? It was Omar! (Not the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)).

But is Omar or anybody else for that matter authorized to change what Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) has already instructed the Muslims to practice? That is a big question that those who follow him have to answer.

This bidah started by Omar, when Persia was conquered by the forces of Islam.

The Persian princes and princesses were brought to Medina as captives. In accordance with the rules of the palace in Persia (Protocol) the captives were holding their hands on their belly/chest. (It’s still a custom among the people of Central Asia like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, etc. that the people stand with the folded hands in front of their leaders, superiors, landlords, especially the governors, ministers and the kings or the queens).

This was part of the Persian etiquette or the protocol which are observed in many regions of the world, including among the European royalty, even today. The other norms of the etiquette, aside from folding one’s hands in front of a dignitary, especially a king or a queen, are as follow:

1)      Holding a parasol over the head of a king or a queen.

2)      Asking the people to stand up while the king, queen, a minister or a judge is entering the court, etc.

When Omar saw such a sophisticated manner from the “civilized” Persians — something that did not exist among the Arabs of the desert, he said:

“If they (the Persians) could have so much respect for their kings, why shouldn’t we respect the King of all kings, Allah (s.w.t.) by folding our hands in front of Him, as the true slaves of Allah?”

Since that day, those who followed Omar started folding their hands during the prayers. This was only one of the more than 70 new rules that Omar added to the Islamic practices (like the addition of “Assalato Khairom Minan Naum”…. Prayer is better than sleeping! in the morning Azan, the Tarawih prayers the prevention of Mot’ah, etc.).

(It is very interesting to note that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) had already told the Muslims that “Prayer is the Pillar of Faith!” (As-Salato Imadod Din) and here comes Omar declaring that prayer is better than sleeping, only! What a distance between the two views! And while the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) declared that: “Prayer is the Ascension or Mi-raj of a believer”, Omar considers it to be only better than sleeping! The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) also said: “The sleeping of a learned man is higher than the prayers of an ignorant one!” But to Omar, prayer is better than sleeping, always!.

[1]        See Abu Dawud, vol. 1 Chapter 327, etc.

[2]        Sahih Muslim, vol. 1., p. 275, Kitab- As-Salat

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