Country: United Kingdom
I was born a muslim but I did not start to practice until 5 months ago when I started praying and following islamic rules alhamdulilah. I found a video on how to pray and was following that, it taught me how to pray. As I was learning more about my religion I found that I according to sunnah I should look at finger during tashahud and keep my finger pointed to qibla the whole time etc. whereas how I learned it was I only raised the finger during Shahadah and they didn’t say to look at it. So its a bit confusing for me. I just wanted to know, in this situation, is it ok to follow what I learned initially or is it ‘fardh’ to have to follow the sunnah way of looking at finger the whole time and keeping it up. This issue is causing me a lot of stress as there is so many opinions and I don’t know what to do. Im afraid if I don’t solve this issue it will cause me to lose my faith.
(Question published as received)
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the most Merciful.
It would be useful to make the following preliminary points before directly answering your query:
Ṣalāh (prayer) went through various changes throughout the life of the Messenger ﷺ. For instance, in the early days of Islam, it was permissible to speak in prayer. It was also permissible to move about while praying. The hands were raised at nearly every posture, including when coming up from the first prostration (sajdah). Similarly with fasting, a person had to begin his fast from the time he fell asleep, even if that happened to be just after sunset. One can find many examples of changes that took place in the various rituals of Islamic worship over the twenty-three years of prophethood.
Therefore, one source of why some narrations on prayer seem to apparently conflict with one another, is the gradual changes which occurred with prayer and this occurred during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ. The presence of these apparently conflicting narrations is thus one of the reasons why there are scholarly differences of opinion today on prayer and other aspects of worship. It was the work of the mujtahid Imams to holistically analyse all of these apparent contradictions and contextualise them in order to determine the truth of the matter.
This led to the formation of the four madhāhib (legal schools) – Ḥanafī, Mālikī, Shāfi’i and Ḥanbalī. Each madhab is an interpretation of the same sources of Sharīʿah (the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth) understood according to the methodology and systematic approach of their Imāms, all of whom possessed the ability to infer rulings directly from the Qurʾān and the Aḥādīth of Messenger of Allāh ﷺ. These four schools have been accepted and adhered to by the Muslim ummah and its scholars, century after century. In fact, after the codification of these four legal schools, almost every Muslim scholar from Islamic history has adhered to and taught according to one of these four madhhabs, and many voluminous biographical dictionaries have been compiled for the scholars of each school.
All four legal schools are valid in their interpretations, and following any one of them is permissible. However, a non-professional who lacks the ability to compare between the arguments of each school cannot pick and mix between different views to satisfy his personal desires. He most certainly would not understand the reasons for their differing based on their varying methodologies. Each madhab is the most authentic according to its own methodology and principles, thus mixing between them would mean butchering each of their distinctive approaches towards the interpretation of the sources of Shariʿah. Thus, the later jurists and scholars deemed it necessary for the common people to adopt a particular school in its totality. If one favours the madhhab of Imām Abū Ḥanīfah (raḥimahullāh) then one should adopt it in all matters. However, if one favours another madhhab, then they should adopt that one in full. One should not mix between the four schools.
The benefit of the validity of all four madhhabs is that a person can elect to follow any one of them based on a number of factors. However, once a person has adopted a particular madhhab, then he should not follow any other madhhab in any matter, whether for convenience or preference, as this would entail attempting to bend the Shariʿah to satisfy ones desires. Thus, the policy of “allegiance to a particular school” was a preventive measure adopted by the jurists to preclude anarchy in the matter of the Sharīʿah.
From the above points it is understood that in order to follow the Sharīʿah it is necessary for a person to adopt one of the four madhāhib. It is advisable that you adopt the madhhab which is dominant in your locality as this will make it easier for you to refer your questions to the scholars of that madhhab. Once you have adopted a madhhab you should refer to the pious, righteous and knowledgeable scholars of that madhhab for guidance in matters of jurisprudence.
The matter regarding which you have enquired is one such matter in which there is a difference of opinion amongst the different schools of thought. As per the Ḥanafī school of thought, after reciting ‘ashhadu’ – when saying ‘allā ilāha’ – a circle is formed with the thumb and middle finger of the right hand and the index finger is raised. The remaining two fingers will be closed (i.e. tucked in to the palm). When saying ‘illallāhu’ the index finger will be lowered slightly (not completely). The circle formed by the thumb and index finger will remain until the end. The eyes should be fixed towards the lap area when in the seated position. 
You have mentioned in your question that this is what you initially learnt. It is permissible for you to practice upon this and it is not necessary for you to adopt the opinion of keeping the finger up the whole time and looking at it.
In order to remove any doubts, we advise that you read up on the reason as to why there are different schools of thought and their importance, along with the requirement of following and adhering to one specific madhhab. The book ‘The Differences of the Imāms’ by Shaykh al-Ḥadith Mawlāna Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kandehlawi will be beneficial in this regard. You may also refer to the article: “The Obligation of Adhering to a Single Madhhab in all its Rulings” by Mufti Zameelur Rahman.
And Allah knows best
Mufti Abdullah Mulla
19 Ṣafar 1443 / 27 September 2021
 Ḥāshiyah al-Ṭaḥṭāwī ʿalā Marāqī l-Falāḥ