Forgetting number of Rakats
Assalam Alaikum. May Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) Reward you all. I was praying Asr and I got confused whether I was in the second rakah or the third when I was deciding whether I should sit for the tashahhud or not. I think I am more likely to be in the second rakah so I sit and started to recite tashahhud. But while I was reciting I remembered that actually I probably have already recited the tashahhud and hence I am actually in the third rakah. Thus, I stood up and continued my prayer. I did prostration for forgetfulness after saying salam. Did I do the right thing? Thank you. Answer: ﺑﺴﻢ اﷲ اﻟﺮﺣﻤﻦ اﻟﺮﺣﯿﻢ In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
In principle, if someone has doubt regarding how many rakats they have prayed, and he does not habitually experience such doubts, then he must repeat the entire prayer. However, if such doubts occur frequently then he should base his decision upon his presumption (i.e. that which his heart is inclined towards most). For example, he is doubtful whether he prayed two or three rakats (e.g. he is praying Zuhr Salah) but his heart’s inclination is more towards two, hence he will add two more rakats and sajdah sahw will not be binding.
Nevertheless, if his heart does not incline towards either two or three rakats, the general rule is that he will build upon the lesser of the two numbers. In other words, he will assume that he has prayed two rakats, thus he will sit after the second rakat and read the tashahud, then he will pray the third rakat and sit thereafter reading the tashahud (because of the possibility of it being his fourth rakat), finally he will pray the fourth rakat, make sajdah sahw (because of the possibility of him adding an extra rakat), and finish his prayer as usual.
In relation to the particular scenario that you have mentioned, if you strongly believed that you prayed three rakats, consequently you stood up to pray the fourth rakat, made sajdah sahw, and completed your prayer, then your prayer would be valid and what you did would be considered correct. Notwithstanding, sajdah sahw would only become binding upon you if you sat down (after the third rakat) to the extent one can say subhanAllah three times.
(Behishti Zewar: p.173-174 [Darul Isha’at]; Fatawa Hindiyah: v. 1, p. 144 [DKI]; Munyatul Musalli: p. 162 [Maktaba Tayyiba]; Mukhtasarul Qudoori: p. 106 [Bushra])
Only Allah knows best
Written by Maulana Mohammad Ahsan Osmani Checked and approved by Mufti Mohammed Tosir Miah Darul Ifta Birmingham