Person most entitled to be an Imam

Q: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said in a long Hadith: “The most versed in reciting the Book of Allah should lead the people in Salah.” What is the ruling then if a regular Imam leads the Jumu‘ah (Friday) Prayer and congregational Salah (Prayer) in the presence of someone who is more versed in the Holy Qur’an than him? Is such a person, who is more versed in the Qur’an, to be asked to act as an Imam; and this should be the followed rule: whenever we find one more versed in reciting the Book of Allah he should be made the Imam? What is the criterion regulating this issue?

A: If the Imam is appointed by an official authority or he is chosen by the majority people of the Masjid to act as such and he is able to lead the Salah according to the Shar‘y (Islamic legal) way, it is impermissible that another should contend for the Imamate (leading people in Salah) with him, even if they are more knowledgeable than the appointed Imam. This is because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said at the end of the Hadith quoted above: “A man should not lead another in Salah while in his (the latter’s) place of authority.” (Part No. 6; Page No. 273) As the regular Imam is the one who has authority, he should lead the Salah to fulfill his official duty, even in the presence of one more versed in reciting the Qur’an, to block the means to anarchy and disagreement. Only if this Imam permits another qualified person to act as an Imam, will it be permissible for the person concerned to do so. Finally, you have to be keen to understand the Sunnah (whatever is reported from the Prophet) with neither excessiveness nor negligence and consult reliable scholars before proceeding with anything of which you do not have enough knowledge.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.