Praise by to Allah!
The only criteria for appointing a person to lead the Salah (prayer) is the one who has memorized Quran more. If there are more than one haafiz present , then anyone can lead the prayer. Injury. illness or physical disability does not degrade a person’s ability to be an imaam.
If an Imaam has an injury or is ill due to which he is unable to lead the prayer whilst standing, then it is permissible for him to lead the people in prayer whilst sitting down, according to the view of Imaam Abu Haneefah, al-Shaafa’i and imaam Ahmad.
But how should the worshipers behind him pray? Should they sit or should they stand during the prayer? This depends on the situation which can be divided into two:
1) If the imam starts praying sitting down, then the people behind him should pray sitting down.
The evidence for this is the hadith of Al Bukhari, from the chapter of Al-Adhaan, hadith no. 648:
It was narrated from Anas ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allaah (sallallahu alahi wasallam) rode a horse and fell, and the right side (of his body) was injured. He offered one of the prayers sitting down, and we prayed behind him sitting down. When he finished (the prayer) he said, ‘The imam has been appointed to be followed. If he prays standing up, then pray standing up; when he bows, bow; when he raises his head, raise your heads. When he says Sami’ Allaahu liman hamidah(Allaah hears the one who praises Him), say Rabbanaa wa laka’l-hamd (Our Lord, to You be praise). If he prays standing, then pray standing, and if he prays sitting, then pray sitting, all of you.’”
2) If the imam starts the prayer in standing position and due to some reason he sits down inbetween, then those praying behind him should complete the prayer standing.
The evidence for this is the hadith of Al Bukhari, from the chapter of Al-Adhaan, hadith no. 655::
It was narrated that Aaishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “The Prophet (sallallahu alahi wasallam) became seriously ill and asked, ‘Have the people prayed?’ We replied, ‘No, they are waiting for you.’ He said, ‘Put some water in a tub for me.’ We did that and he took a bath and tried to get up, but he fainted. Then he (sallallahu alahi wasallam) recovered, and again asked, ‘Have the people prayed?’ We said, ‘No, they are waiting for you, O Messenger of Allaah.’ He again said, ‘Put some water in a tub for me.’ He sat down and took a bath and tried to get up but fainted again. Then he recovered and said, ‘Have the people prayed?’ We said, ‘No, they are waiting for you, O Messenger of Allaah.’ He again said, ‘Put some water in a tub for me.’ He sat down and took a bath and tried to get up but fainted again. Then he recovered and said, ‘Have the people prayed?’ We said, ‘No, they are waiting for you, O Messenger of Allaah.’ The people were in the mosque, waiting for the Prophet to lead them in ‘Isha prayer. The Prophet sent word to Abu Bakr that he should lead the people in prayer. The messenger went to him and said, ‘The Messenger of Allaah (sallallahu alahi wasallam) is telling you to lead the people in prayer.’ Abu Bakr, who was a soft-hearted man, said: ‘O ‘Umar, lead the people in prayer.’ But ‘Umar answered, you have more right to do that.’ So Abu Bakr led the prayers during those days. Then when the Prophet felt a little better, he came out supported by two men, one of whom was al-‘Abbaas, for the Zuhr prayer. Abu Bakr was leading the people in prayer, but when Abu Bakr saw him, he wanted to step back [to let the Prophet lead the prayer]. But the Prophet gestured to him that he should not step back. He said, ‘Sit me down beside him,’ so they sat him down beside Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr continued praying, but he followed the Prophet (sallallahu alahi wasallam) in prayer, and the people were following Abu Bakr in the prayer, and the Prophet was sitting down.”
The relevant point in this hadeeth is that Abu Bakr started to lead them in prayer standing up, then the Prophet (sallallahu alahi wasallam) came and led them from where Abu Bakr had reached, and he prayed sitting down, and the Sahaabah prayed behind him standing up. This indicates that if the imam starts the prayer standing, then he becomes unable to carry on standing, then the people praying behind him should still pray standing.
Abu Isaam Imran Ali is a student of knowledge in Islam. He studied at Jamia Darusaalam, Oomerabad for a short period of time and also completed his diploma in Islamic studies (Aqeedah) from India. He then set out on the path of knowledge to Al Madinah Al Munawwara, to learn the sciences of Hadith, fiqh, tafseer etc from Major Scholars. He completed his Diploma from Jamia Islamia (Madinah University) and is currently pursuing his kulliyah in Islamic Shariah from Mahad Al-Haram (Masjid-un-nabawi).