The opinion of the majority of the scholars, amongst them Malik, ash-Shafi and Ahmad, is that it is obligatory to recite al-Fatihah in the prayer and the prayer is invalid without it. Their opinion is based upon many proofs; from amongst them, the sayings of the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him,
“There is no prayer for the one who does not recite the Opening of the Book.” (Bukhari 723)
“Whosoever performs a prayer in which he does not recite the Mother of the Book then it is deficient, it is deficient, it is deficient, it is incomplete.” (Muslim 775)
“The prayer is not valid in which the Mother of the Qur’an is not recited.” (Muslim 772)
However, according to Abu Hanifah, and those of his companions who agreed with him, al-Awzai and ath-Thawri, it is not obligatory to recite al-Fatihah, rather any portion of the Qur’an would be sufficient. They based this upon the saying of Allah, “Recite what is easy [for you] of the Qur’an” (al-Muzzammil 73:20) and the saying of the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, to the man who prayed badly,
“When you stand to pray, say the takbir and then recite what is easy for you of the Qur’an.” (Bukhari 724)
Moreover, according to ash-Shafi and a group of the People of Knowledge, it is obligatory to recite al-Fatihah in every rakah of the prayer. However, another group were of the opinion that it is sufficient to recite it in the majority of the rakahs and yet another group, from amongst them al-Hasan and the majority of the scholars of Basra, were of the opinion that it is sufficient just to recite it in one rakah. This latter group took the literal sense of the hadith,
“There is no prayer for the one who does not recite the Opening of the Book”
In the case where one is a follower in a congregational prayer, the scholars fell into three opinions with regards to his reciting al-fatihah:
- It is obligatory upon him to recite it in all prayers.
- It is upon him not to recite it in all prayers.
- He should recite it in the prayer in which the recitation is silent, but not those prayers in which the recitation is loud.
The point here is not to discuss which is the strongest opinion but to show that al-Fatihah has specific rulings to it that are not shared by any other chapter in the Qur’an. Allah knows best. (ibn Kathir vol 1 p30-31)
The Spiritual Cure: An Explanation of Surah Al-Fatihah prepared and translated by Abu Rumaysah Pages 32-34