Abu Qatadah reports that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam was offering salah and Umamah bint Zainab was on his neck [shoulder]. When he performed ruku’, he put her down, and when he got up from his sajdah, he would place her back on his neck. ‘Amr inquired during which salah this happened. Ibn Juraij said that it is related from Zaid ibn Abu ‘Atab from ‘Amr ibn Salim that this happened in the morning prayer. This is related by Ahmad, anNasa’i, and others. Al-Fakihani comments: “The purpose behind the action of the Prophet of carrying Umamah in the salah was to set an example before the Arabs who considered having daughters and carrying them around as something bad or shameful. The Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam acted differently from them, and carried a girl on his neck in the prayer, and making something clear by example is much more effective than a mere precept.”
‘Abdullah ibn Shidad relates that his father said: “The Messenger of Allah came to us either during the noon or afternoon prayers and he was carrying Hassan or Hussain. The Prophet proceeded to the front and put him down and made the takbir for the salah. During the salah, he made a long sajdah. I raised my head and saw the child on the back of the Messenger of Allah while he was in sajdah. I returned to my sajdah. When the Messenger of Allah finished the salah, the people said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allah, you prostrated during your salah so long that we suspected you were thinking about some matter or you were receiving some revelation.’ He said: ‘None of that happened but my son was resting and I hated to rush him until he had finished what he desired.”‘ This is related by Ahmad, an-Nasa’i, and al-Hakim.
An-Nawawi observes that this, according to the opinion of ash-Shaf’i and those who agree with him, points to the permissibility of carrying or holding a young child, male or female, or any pure animal during an obligatory prayer, and that it is permissible for both the imam and the followers. The companions of Malik say that the permissibility is only for voluntary prayers and not for obligatory prayers. This interpretation is incorrect as it is clear that the Prophet was leading one of the obligatory prayers, and as stated earlier it was the fajr prayer. Some followers of Malik claim that its permissibility has been abrogated, while others say it was only permissible for the Prophet, and yet others hold that it was due to some necessity. All of this is wrong and to be rejected as there is no proof for any of it or any necessity. The authentic hadith clearly states that it is permissible and there is nothing in that ruling which contradicts any basic principle of the shari’ah as a human being is pure and what is in his/her abdomen is not relevant in this regard, as it remains within the stomach, its natural receptacle. Also, the clothing of a child is considered pure and the shari’ah is quite explicit on this point. Actions during the salah do not invalidate it if they are minor or few or dispersed. The fact that the Prophet sallallahu alehi wasallam did this is an exposition of its permissibility, and this argument is built upon the principle which we have mentioned before. This refutes what Abu Sulaiman al-Khattabi says, namely, that the Prophet did not carry the child intentionally but the child was holding onto the Prophet, and when he stood the child remained with him. He said: “Do not think that he held him again intentionally as that would be too much action and would distract the heart. If a curtain distracted him, how could [the child] not distract him?” This statement by al-Khattabi, may Allah have mercy on him, is incorrect and to be rejected. Among the things that refute it are the statements in Sahih Muslim, “when he stood, he carried him.” And, “when he got up from his sajdah, he would return [the child to his place].” Further refutations are derived from a version other than Sahih Muslim, “He came to us while carrying Umamah and prayed…” Concerning the ruling about the curtain, it distracts the heart without there being any benefit to it. Concerning carrying Umamah, we are not convinced that it distracts the heart, and even if it does, it is allowed due to its benefit and the principles that we have mentioned. The source of that preoccupation is that benefit, which differs from the incident concerning the curtain. Thus, the correct position is that the hadith is a clear exposition that it is permissible to carry a child in salah and this will continue to be part of the Islamic law until the Day of Judgment. And Allah knows best.