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Last Updated: 2006/08/30
Summary of question
What is the duty of those following the prayer, when the Imam makes a mistake?
What are the procedures if the leader of a congregated prayer forgets what rakat he is in? this happened a few days ago during Isha prayer, the Imam was saying his tashahud and finishing up the prayer in the 3rd rakat, and some of the people in the ranks behind him began to loudly say "Subhanallah" as to remind the Imam that the prayer was not finished yet. He didn’t get it and eventually, while still in salat one person yells out ''this is the third rakat" and to make matters worst, the leader turns his head back and says… "Oh really?" and then he continues his salat by making one more rakat and finishing his prayer, what is the ruling here?
Concise answer

Assuming the Imam of a congregational salat either doubts the number of units (rak’ahs) recited or recites the salat in error, the ma’mumin (those following the Imam in salat) may inform the Imam in relation to the number of units, or other duty, as long as they are certain. However, the manner of notifying the Imam must be such as to not invalidate one’s own salat; by way of example, valid methods include signalling by hand (e.g. clapping) or reciting a thikr (doxology) – such as Allahu Akbar etc. – aloud. Informing the Imam by merely speaking with him will invalidate one’s salat. Concerning the Imam, invalidatory factors vis-à-vis his salat include talking or turning away from the direction of the Qiblah. Assuming the Imam realises his error – via the above valid means – he ought to correct and then continue with the salat, thus accomplishing a valid salat without the need to either repeat or execute additional precautionary units. However, if the Imam does not realise his error, the followers may convert their niyyah into that of a singular, rather than congregational, salat. In other words, assuming the ma’mun notices the Imam’s error, he/she must endeavour not to invalidate one’s own.

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