By Mawlana Tameem Ahmadi
A person saw an Islamic program in which it was mentioned that the folding of trousers or shalwar is not permitted due to a hadith stating that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) prohibited the folding of clothes. It was also mentioned in the program that folding trousers from either the bottom or top is not permitted. This is the first time I have heard this. Can the ‘ulama shed some light on this issue?
In regards to folding one’s clothes while praying and the issue of isbal (wearing one’s garment below the ankles), Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him) writes in Lami’ al-Darari1 (vol. 1, pg. 327-28):
“Qadi ‘Iyad considers the tying back of the hair and folding of the clothes undesirable for the person performing salah, this is regardless of whether he does it outside or inside salah, and he mentions that the scholars are unanimous that this does not invalidate the prayer.
“‘Allama ‘Ayni writes in Al-Talwih: ‘The ‘ulama are in consensus that it is makruh (disliked) to pray with the clothes/sleeves folded up, or hair tied up in a bundle, or tucked into the turban. But this is only makruh tanzihi (against the preferred manner; undesirable), so if he does pray in this manner, he has done a wrong, but his prayer will be regarded valid.’
“Mawlana Gangohi says: ‘A person should not pray in such a condition (as mentioned above) because the desired method is that a person prays in the most presentable manner as possible. And the manner in which a person ties his hair back, etc. is against the normal habit of the Arabs; rather their usual habit is that they leave the hair open.’
“Qastallani says: ‘He should not hold his garments with both hands while going into ruku‘ (bowing) and sujud (prostration) because the hair and clothes prostrate along with the worshipper. Also, if a person holds back his hair and clothes from touching the ground, he resembles the arrogant people (who regard it below their dignity to let their clothes touch the ground, even when in worship).'”
From these statements we have understood the following points:  To pray with the hair tied back and the clothes folded does not invalidate the salah;  to pray in such a manner is makruh tanzihi (against etiquette);  One should perform the salah in the most presentable manner;  the clothes and hair also prostrate before Allah Most High, thus they should not be held back from doing so;  it resembles the action of arrogant and proud people.
Whatever the case may be, all of these statements indicate that to perform salah with folded clothes is against the preferred mode of worship.
As for praying in a condition where the garments are dragging on the ground or are below the ankles, Imam Abu Dawud narrates in his Sunan from Abu Hurayrah (Allah be pleased with him) that there was a person praying in a condition in which his lower garment was hanging below his ankles. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) commanded him to perform wudu’ (ablution) twice and then the Companions inquired from him, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Why did you command him to perform wudu’ and then remained silent?’ The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied: ‘He was praying whilst wearing his lower garment below his ankles, and verily Allah Most High does not accept the salah of a person who hangs his izar (lower garment) below his ankles.’
The following points are to be understood from this hadith:  To hang the garments below the ankles is a major sin; it is for this reason the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) commanded the person to repeat his prayer and ablution as penalization (zajr) and reprimand (tawbikh) as is mentioned by ‘Allamah Tibi and Ibn Qayyim Jawziyya in his Tahdhib al-Sunan.
 The hadith is clear and explicit in the fact that the impermissibility of isbal is not conditional to pride and arrogance alone. Rather there are other narrations which clearly state that isbal in itself is a sin and an indication of pride and arrogance is its perpetrator. This is mentioned in the hadith, ‘Beware of hanging the garment below the ankles for indeed, this action in itself is an action of pride and arrogance…’ Narrated by Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi from Abu Juray Jabir ibn Sulaym (Allah be pleased with him).
 The gravity of the sin of isbal, in which the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) commanded the worshiper to repeat his prayer and wudu’, cannot be compared to folding up of the garments which the fuqaha (Islamic jurists) have clearly mentioned to be against etiquette. Rather it will be necessary to fold those garments which are hanging below one’s ankles to abstain from a major sin despite the fact that one might be doing what is against etiquette. For example, if one’s prayer cap falls off the head in prayer, the Islamic jurists have stated that one should put it back on the head with one hand if possible. This action (despite being little) is better than praying bareheaded which is more undesirable than the minimal movement in salah (‘amal qalil).
 Isbal (whether done with or without pride) is also against the normal mode of dress of the believers; rather the sign of a believer is that he wears his garment to the middle of the shin, and if not to the middle then he is allowed up to above the ankles. This means that when a person is engaging in isbal he is simultaneously involved in sadl as well, which is wearing the garment in a mode it is not normally to be worn in. He is thus combining many undesirable acts in one.
In regards to this issue our Akabir ‘Ulama have chosen the stance that corresponds to the riwaya (hadith narration with sanad) and diraya (meaning and commentary of hadiths). For further reading, refer to Imdad al-Fatawa (vol. 4, p. 121) and Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Zakariyya’s discussion on this in Awjaz al-Masalik.
And Allah Most High knows best.
- “Written in Arabic, a collection of the unique remarks and observations on Sahih al-Bukhari presented by Shaykh Rashid Ahmad Gangohi . These life-long acquired wisdoms were recorded by his student Shaykh Yahya Kandhlawi (Shaykh Zakariyya’s father) during their lessons. Shaykh Zakariyya edited, arranged, and commented on his father’s compilation, clarifying the text and adding a comprehensive introduction at the beginning.” (White Thread Press, “Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi”, http://whitethreadpress.com/authors/shaykh_zakariyya.htm) [↩]