I was performing the ‘Isha prayer in congregation in the mosque and the cell phone of one of the worshipers rang twice. The Imaam spoke during the prayer and said, "Please, switch off the cell phone." What is the religious ruling for such an act? Does this invalidate the prayer of only the Imaam or that of the Ma'mumeen (those who pray behind the Imaam) as well?
All perfect praise be to Allaah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.
If the Imaam intentionally engages in any extraneous speech during the prayer, his prayer will be considered invalid according to the consensus of Muslim scholars. Ibn Qudaamah said in his book, Al-Mughni:
"Deliberately talking during the prayer invalidates it when the worshipper is conscious of being in the prayer, is aware of the prohibition in this regard and when such extraneous talk is not done for any good of the prayer, according to the consensus of Muslim scholars."
Imaam An-Nawawi said in his book, Al-Majmoo‘, after classifying extraneous talk during prayer into many categories:
"First, when a worshipper deliberately talks during the prayer without a real need or benefit for it, his prayer is invalidated according to the consensus of Muslim scholars. The consensus of Muslim scholars in this regard was reported by Ibn Al-Munthir and others .
However, the Imaam talking during prayer in this case was not to prevent something from invalidating the prayer since the ringing of a cell phone does not invalidate prayer, even if it constitutes a source of disturbance for worshippers. If this Imaam talks during the prayer out of forgetfulness or ignorance, his prayer is valid according to some Muslim scholars. This opinion was adopted by Shaykhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah as he said in his book, Al-Fataawa Al-Kubra, "A prayer is not invalidated if the worshipper talks in it out of forgetfulness or ignorance and this is the opinion of Imaam Ahmad ."
When a worshipper engages in all kinds of extraneous speech during prayer while knowing of the prohibition in this regard, he has committed a misdeed since invalidating the prayer and ending it abruptly without finishing it is impermissible without a Sharee'ah-acceptable reason or excuse. If a worshipper talks during the prayer out of forgetfulness or ignorance with the purpose of putting an end to the disturbance that is caused to the worshippers because of the ringing cell phone, the Imaam in such a case is excused and is not considered a sinner. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "Allaah Almighty forgives my Ummah's (community) mistakes, forgetfulness and acts done under coercion." [Ibn Maajah; Al-Albani: authentic]
If the Imaam's prayer is invalidated, this does not necessarily mean that the prayer of the Ma'mumeen is invalidated as well, since the reason for the invalidity of the Imaam's prayer may be unknown to the Ma'mumeen. They may think that what he did was right and allowed. In fact, the prayer of the Ma'mumeen is invalidated in such a case if the worshippers knew of the reason for the invalidity of the Imaam's prayer and yet followed him anyway.
Allaah Knows best.
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