الحمد لله رب العالمين، وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين، أما بعد
Shaikh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-‘Uthaimeen (rahimahullaah) was asked:
Esteemed Shaikh; movement within the prayer nullifies it, there is no doubt in that; however when an insect comes during the prayer upon the face of the one that is praying such as a mosquito or a bothersome fly; or when a person has a cold and secretion (due to the cold) and other than that which incites him to make movement, does he have the right to move his hand in order to ward off that insect or to wipe his nose; or should he be patient until the prayer ends? Clarify for us the movement in the prayer – may Allaah reward you with good.
The Shaikh replied:
All praise is for Allaah, The Lord of the whole of creation, and may Allaah extol and bestow peace and security upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon his family and his Companions and those that follow them upon excellence until The Day of Recompense.
The saying of the questioner; that movement in the prayer without doubt nullifies the prayer is not correct. Movement within the prayer is of five types:
The first type: the movement which is obligatory.
The second: the movement which is recommended.
The third: the movement which is permissible.
The fourth: the movement which is disliked.
The fifth: the movement which is forbidden and thus nullifies the prayer.
As for the movement which is obligatory; then it is every movement that the validity of the prayer is dependent upon. An example of that is that one remembers that upon his head-cloth (scarf) is an impurity or on his garment there is impurity or upon his sock there is impurity, in this circumstance it is obligatory upon him to remove that impurity. So he removes the head-cloth, removes the pants (undergarment), removes the sock, because the validity of the prayer is dependent upon that. Hence when Jibreel informed the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa ‘alaa aalihi wa sallam) that upon his shoes was something unclean; the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa ‘alaa aalihi wa sallam) removed them both.
Likewise if the one that is praying is not facing the qiblah in the open country; however – this is what his independent judgment led him to, then a person comes to him and says: “the qiblah is to your right.” Here it is obligatory to move to the direction of the qiblah, because the validity of the prayer depends upon this movement. Likewise if one makes a row by himself behind a row due to the completion of the row (in front), then a gap opens up in front of him, then he is to move forward to the row (in front) out of necessity, because the validity of the prayer is dependent upon this movement. This has many other examples, however, its binding issue is: every movement upon which the prayer is dependent upon – then it is obligatory.
As for the recommended; then it is every movement upon which the excellence (perfection) within the prayer depends upon, such as straightening up close together in the rows in that the people straighten up close together gradually – little by little; so here movement is essential. Likewise if two people begin praying – the Imaam along with one that follows, then a third person comes along – here the Sunnah is that the two should retreat behind the Imaam, hence this is a movement which is recommended because the perfection of the prayer is dependent upon it.
Many of the people ask; should the third person make the row inside (the prayer) before he tugs his companion and he makes the Imaam precede forth? Or should he make the Imaam precede forth or tugs his companion before he makes the row inside of the prayer? The answer: is that he should make the Imaam precede forth or draw back the one that is following (the Imaam) and then make the row. This is because if he makes the row (in the prayer) before he makes the Imaam precede forth or draws back the one that follows the Imaam; that then necessitates movement within the prayer for which there is no need. Therefore the movement which is recommended is every movement upon which the perfection of the prayer depends upon.
The movement which is permissible: is every movement which is done due to a need; yet has no association with the prayer – or that it is done due to a necessity. An example of that: is that someone seeks permission from him to enter his room and the door is shut. So he moves forward a little and then opens the door, or that someone speaks to him regarding something as to: did it happen or didn’t it happen – and so he makes an indication with his head: yes if it happened or with his hand (he indicates): no if it did not happen, and that which is similar to that.
As for scratching in the prayer, then if it is slight scratching that does not cause the khushoo’ (humility and attentiveness) of the prayer to go; then it is from the permissible type. Yet if it is severe scratching that causes the khushoo’ to go; then movement in order for its soothing (alleviation) is a Sunnah, because the perfection of the prayer depends upon it. Since if he scratches it, then it brings a soothing to him and his heart becomes present/attentive in the prayer.
As for the movement which is disliked; then it is the movement which has no need for it; however it is not plentiful, such as you will find some people; one will dally with his pen or with his watch or with his nose or with his head-cloth or with his cloak or that which is similar to that. These are movements which are disliked, so if they become plentiful and are done continually; then they form:
The fifth type: which is excessive movement without there being any need; this nullifies the prayer because it is completely incompatible with the prayer. From that is: laughter, for laughter within the prayer nullifies it; this is because laughter is incompatible with khushoo’ (humility and attentiveness) – completely, and so due to this the scholars (rahimahumullaah) have said: laughter in the prayer is a nullifier of it; excluding smiling, for smiling does not have a sound to it, so it cannot be a nullifier of the prayer.
(For further reading refer to: Sharh al-Mumti’ ‘alaa Zaad al-Mustaqni’ vol 3 p.258-260 & Majmu’ Fatawaa wa Rasaa-il Fadheelah Ash-Shaikh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-‘Uthaimeen vol 13 p.309-316)
 To bring clarity to the issue of removing any attire in the prayer due to the presence of impurities and how it is done whilst being cautious of not exposing one’s ‘awrah (bodily areas of the loins and private parts which must be covered); the Shaikh (rahimahullaah) stated elsewhere: “If it is mentioned that upon his head-cloth there is an impurity and he is praying; then it is obligatory upon him to take it off in order to remove the impurity, and then he should continue with his prayer. If it (the impurity) is present upon his garment; and it is possible to remove it – without exposing the ‘awrah; then he should remove it and continue with his prayer, and if it is not possible for him to remove it except by exposing his ‘awrah; then he should break-off his prayer and wash his garment or change it for other than it, then recommence the prayer.” (See: Sharh al-Mumti’ vol 3 p.259)
 Lifting up or placing a child down whilst praying enters into this type of movement as was mentioned by the Shaikh when he said regarding slight movements being permissible: “As for that (movement) which is slight – due to a need, then an example of it was the action of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) when he was praying and was holding Umaamah bint Zainab bint Rasool-Allaah (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) – and he was her grandfather on the side of her mother. So when he stood up; he would pick her up, and when he would prostrate; he would place her down.” (See: Majmu’ Fataawa wa Rasaa-il Fadheelah Ash-Shaikh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-‘Uthaimeen vol 13 p.310)