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How should one correct a mistake or error made during prayers (salat)?

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In a Nutshell: To make up for a major mistake where you have forgotten an essential act in prayer (excluding omitting a prerequisite), there are two extra sujoods (sujood al-sahu) which are done towards the end of prayer just before or after the tasleem.

Introduction

It depends on what the mistake is (major or minor), why it happens (intentionally, accidentally), the nature of the prayer (obligatory or recommended) and who makes it (the individual praying alone, the one leading the prayer or the one following an imam).

I'll assume you're praying an obligatory prayer alone and the act was unintentional.

Mistakes such as those which violate any of the prerequisites (shurut) invalidates the prayers, violating the pillars (rukn) or mandatory aspects of prayers (wajibat) can invalidate the prayer and need to be compensated for via sujood al-sahu. Others are mistakes that do not invalidate the prayers so do not require repetition.

Pillars

The following are the pillars of prayers:

  • Standing during obligatory prayers if one is able to do so
  • The opening takbeer
  • Reciting sura Fatihah
  • Rukuh (bowing)
  • Rising from bowing
  • Standing up straight
  • Sujood (prostration)
  • Rising from prostration
  • Sitting between the two prostrations
  • The final tashahhud
  • Sitting to recite the final tashahhud and the two salaams
  • The two salams
  • Doing the pillars in order


Obligations

The obligatory parts of prayer, of which there are eight, are as follows :

  • Takbeers other than the opening takbeer
  • Reading “Sami’a Allaahu liman hamidah”
  • Reading “Rabbana wa laka’l-hamd”
  • Reading “Subhaana rabbiy al-azeem” once when bowing
  • Reading “Subhaana rabbiy al-a’laa” once when prostrating
  • Reading “Rabb ighfir li” between the two prostrations
  • The first tashahhud
  • Sitting for the first tashahhud


Prerequisites

Then there are prerequisites to the prayer - adult, Muslim, sane, wudu, facing qibla, intention etc.

Correcting Mistakes

To make up for a mistake, there are two extra sujoods (sujood al-sahu) which are done towards the end of prayer (both obligatory or non-obligatory) when you have forgotten an essential act just before or after the tasleem. Whilst some of the schools of thought state say one prostration is done for forgetfulness, the ahadith all suggest the messenger undertook two prostrations.

  • Forgetting to undertake the first tashahhud
  • Adding an extra rak'ah
  • Forgetting how many rak'ahs have been prayed

If you missed a precondition like not covering awrah, making intent, or facing qibla you will need to repeat the prayer.

For examples of minor mistakes where the prayer is valid and sujood al-sahu are not required:

  • where you did not complete the surah you started and moved to another.
  • omitting a word or two of the durood.


Evidences

The evidences for this comprise the following:

Allah's Messenger (saw) stood up for the zuhr prayer and he should have sat (after the second rak'ah but he stood up for the third rak'ah without sitting for Tashahhud) and when he finished the prayer he performed two prostrations and said takbir on each prostration while sitting, before ending (the prayer) with taslim; and the people too performed the two prostrations with him instead of the sitting he forgot.” (Bukhari 1230)

The Prophet (saw) offered the noon prayer and he gave the salutation at the end of two rak'ahs. He was asked. Has the prayer been shortened? then he offered two rak'ahs of the prayer and made two prostrations (at the end of it). (Abu Dawud 1014)

Once Allah's Messenger (saw) offered five rak'ah in the Zuhr prayer, and somebody asked him whether there was some increase in the prayer. Allah's Messenger (S.A.W.) said, "What is that?" He said, "You have offered five rak'ah." So Allah's Messenger (saw) performed two prostrations of Sahu after tasleem. (Bukhari 1226)

The Prophet (saw) said: "If one of you does not know whether he prayed three or four (rak'ahs), let him pray a rak'ah then prostrate twice after that when he is sitting. Then if he prayed five (rak'ahs), they (the two prostrations) will make his prayer even-numbered, and if he had prayed four, they will annoy and humiliate the Shaitan.”’ (Nasai 1239)


Conclusion

To make up for a major mistake in prayer (excluding omitting a prerequisite), there are two extra sujoods (sujood al-sahu) which are done towards the end of prayer (both obligatory or non-obligatory) when you have forgotten an essential act just before or after the tasleem.


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