Fiqh-us-Sunnah Volume 1, Purification and Prayer, Fiqh 1.146.

Section : Sunnah acts of prayer, Reciting Behind an Imam.

One’s prayer is not accepted unless al-Fatihah is recited in every rak’ah. But, one who is praying behind an imam is to keep quiet while the imam is reciting aloud, as Allah says in the Qur’an, “When the Qur’an is recited, listen and remain silent that you may attain mercy.” The Prophet, upon whom be peace, also said, “When the imam makes the takbir, (you too) make the takbir. When he recites, be silent.” (Related by Muslim.) One hadith states, “Whoever is praying behind an imam, the imam’s recital is his recital. If the imam reads quietly, then all of the followers must also make their own recital. If one cannot hear the imam’s recital, he must make his own recital.

Commenting on this subject, Abu Bakr al-‘Arabi says, “What we see as the strongest opinion is that one must recite during the prayers in which the imam’s recital is subdued. But, during the prayers where the imam recites aloud, one may not recite. This is based on the following three proofs:

1. This was the practice of the people of Madinah,

2. it is the ruling of the Qur’an, as Allah says, “When the Qur’an is recited, listen and remain silent,” and

3. this is supported by two hadith: one from ‘Imran ibn Hussain states, ‘I know that some of you compete with me (in my recital…),’ and ‘If it is recited, you should listen.’ The preceding hadith is the weightiest position according to the following argument: If one cannot recite along with the imam, then when can one recite? If one says, ‘While he is silent,’ then we say, ‘It is not necessary for him to be silent,’7 so how can something that is obligatory be dependent on something that is not obligatory? But we have found a way in which the person may ‘recite’ with the imam, and that is the recitation of the heart and of concentrating on what is being recited. This is the method of the Qur’an and the hadith, and the way the worship has been preserved. It is also part of following the sunnah. One is to act by what is the strongest (opinion). This was also the choice of az-Zuhri and Ibn al-Mubarak, and it is a statement from Malik, Ahmad and Ishaq. Ibn Taimiyyah supports it and shows it to be the strongest opinion.