Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) explained the definition of the hardship which makes it permissible for a person not to stand in an obligatory prayer, and how to sit.
He said: The definition of difficulty is that which takes away khushoo’ (proper focus and humility). Khushoo’ means that the heart is focused and at peace. If it is the case that standing will make a person severely anxious and have no peace of mind, and he is longing to get to the end of al-Faatihah so that he can bow because he is finding it too hard to stand, then it is too difficult for him to pray standing, so he should pray sitting.
The same applies to one who is afraid and cannot pray standing, such as if he is praying behind a wall, and there are enemies around watching out for him, and if he stands they will be able to see him from behind the wall, but if he sits he will be hidden from his enemies. In this case we say to him: Pray sitting.
This is indicated by the verse in which Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And if you fear (an enemy), perform Salaah (pray) on foot or riding”
Allah has exempted the one who is afraid from bowing, prostrating and sitting, and the same applies to standing if he is afraid.
But how should he sit?
He should sit mutarabbi’an on his buttocks, with each calf tucked up to the thigh.This is called tarabbu’, and in this posture the calf and thigh on the right and the left are all visible, whereas in the case of iftiraash the calf disappears beneath the thigh, but in tarabbu’ all four parts (thigh and calf on both sides) are visible.
Is it obligatory to sit like this?
No, it is Sunnah. If a person prays muftarishan (in the posture called iftiraash) there is nothing wrong with it, and if he prays muhtabiyan (sitting with one’s legs drawn up and wrapped in one’s garment) there is nothing wrong with it, because of the general meaning of the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “If he cannot, then sitting.” He did not explain how he is to sit.
If a person says: Is there any evidence to suggest that he should pray mutarabbi’an? The answer is yes. ‘Aa’ishah said: I saw the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) praying mutarabbi’an. And because that is usually more comfortable than al-iftiraash. It is well known that standing needs a longer recitation than saying, “Rabb ighfir li warhamni (Lord forgive me and have mercy on me).” Hence it is better to sit mutarabbi’an. And there is another benefit, which is differentiating between sitting instead of standing, and sitting when one is supposed to sit; if we say that a person should sit muftarishan during the time of standing, there would be no difference between the way of sitting when one is supposed to and the way of sitting when it is done instead of standing.
If that is at the time of bowing, some of them say that it should be muftarishan but the correct view is that it should be mutarabbi’an, because when bowing a person’s leg and thigh are upright, and he only bends his back. So we say that if a person is mutarabbi’an he should remain like that and bow in that posture. This is the correct view concerning this matter.
From: Al-Sharh al-Mumti’, 4/461
Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
The ummah is unanimously agreed that whoever is unable to stand in an obligatory prayer may pray sitting, and he does not have to repeat it. Our companions said: That does not detract from the reward that he would earn if he prayed standing, because he is excused.
It is proven in Saheeh al-Bukhari that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“If a person is sick or is travelling, there is written for him (the reward) for the deeds he used to do when he was healthy or not travelling.”
Our companions said: For a person to be allowed to pray sitting down, it is not a condition that he should be completely unable to stand, and it is not enough if he finds it a little difficult; rather what counts is evident hardship. If he fears that it will be extremely difficult or it will make his sickness worse, etc, or a person who is travelling by boat fears that he may drown or become dizzy, then he may pray sitting, and he does not have to repeat it.
End quote from al-Majmoo’, 4/201.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said:
The Muslims are agreed that if a worshipper is unable to do some of the obligatory duties of prayer, such as standing, reciting, bowing, prostrating, covering the ‘awrah, facing the qiblah etc,then what he is unable to do is waived for him.
End quote from Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 8/437
The view favoured by Imam al-Haramayn is the view which Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen thought most likely to be correct. He said:
The guideline on what constitutes hardship is that which prevents one from focusing properly. Proper focus means having presence of mind and being at ease. If standing will cause intense anxiety which makes one ill at ease and makes him wish to reach the end of al-Faatihah quickly so that he can bow, because it is too hard to stand, then he may pray sitting down.
End quote from al-Sharh al-Mumti’, 4/326
Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azeez ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
The one who prays sitting on the ground or on a chair must make his prostration lower than his bowing. The Sunnah is for him to put his hands on his knees when bowing, and when prostrating the Sunnah is to put them on the ground if possible; if he cannot do that then he should put them on his knees, because it was proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“I have been commanded to prostrate on seven bones: the forehead – and he pointed to his nose – the two hands, the two knees, and the edges of the two feet (i.e., the toes).”
If a person is unable to do that and prays on a chair, there is nothing wrong with that, because Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can”
and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“If I tell you to do a thing, then do as much of it as you can.”
Saheeh – agreed upon.
From: Fataawa Ibn Baaz, 12/245, 246
With regard to naafil prayers, it is permissible to sit during them with no excuse, according to scholarly consensus, but the reward of the one who sits in that case is half the reward of one who stands, because of the report narrated by Muslim from ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I was told that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“The prayer of a man who sits is half of the prayer of a man who stands.”
I came to him and found him praying sitting. I put my hand on his head and he said, ‘What is the matter, O ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr?” I said, “I was told, O Messenger of Allah that you said, ‘The prayer of a man who sits is half of the prayer of a man who stands,’ and you are praying sitting.”
“Yes, but I am not like one of you.”
Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Sharh Muslim: What this means is that the prayer of one who sits brings half the reward of the prayer of one who stands, which means that it is valid but brings a lesser reward. This hadeeth is to be understood as referring to a naafil prayer offered sitting when one is able to stand. This brings half the reward of a prayer offered standing. But if a person offers a naafil prayer sitting down because he is unable to stand, then the reward is not reduced, rather it will be the same as one who stands. With regard to obligatory prayers, if a person prays sitting down when he is able to stand, his prayer is not valid and he will not be rewarded, rather he is sinning.
Our companions (the Shaafa’is) said: If he believes that to be permissible, he is a kaafir and is subject to the rulings on apostates, just like one who regards zina (adultery), riba and other haraam things to be permissible.
If a person offers an obligatory prayer sitting down because he is unable to stand, or lying down because he is unable to stand or sit, then his reward will be like that of one who stands, and it will not be reduced, according to the consensus of our companions. The hadeeth about the reduction in reward is to be understood as applying to one who offers a naafil prayer sitting when he is able to stand. This differentiation is our view and is the view of the majority concerning the meaning of this hadeeth.
And he said: With regard to the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):“I am not like any one of you,” according to our companions it is one of the unique characteristics of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that his naafil prayers offered sitting when he was able to stand were like his naafil prayers offered standing, as an honour for him, as he was also singled out for other honours that are well known in the books of our companions and others. We have discussed them in the beginning of Tahdheeb al-Asma’ wa’l-Lughaat.
End quote from Sharh Saheeh Muslim, 6/14