As we all know, intentionally speaking verbally about unrelated matters of prayer will invalidate the prayer. My question is, what about sign language used by a mute person? Does the same ruling apply as if he has spoken verbally?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
An Islamic legal maxim states:
الإِشَارَةُ المعْهُوْدَةُ لِلْأَخْرَسِ كَالْبَيَانِ بِاللِّسَانِ
“Signs language used and understood by the mute is the same as a verbal deposition.” (Refer al-Asybah wa al-Nazha’ir by al-Imam al-Suyuti, pg. 31; al-Asybah wa al-Nazha’ir by Imam Ibn Nujaim, pg. 343 and al-Wajiz fi al-Qawa’id al-Fiqhiyyah, pg. 244)
Sheikh Ahmad al-Zarqa’ explains: Sign language which is usually understood by the mute through any of his body like his hand or head is considered as speech or explanation through words. (Refer Syarh al-Qawa’id al-Fiqhiyyah, pg. 351).
So, originally, the status of these signals is the same as the status and position of words by people who are not mute. However, the scholars give exceptions on this matter for three things, and one of them is language and signs by the mute do not invalidate prayers unlike intentional words which will invalidate prayers. In fact, Imam al-Bujairimi states that if a mute perform sells or buys something using sign language during prayer, the selling and buying are considered valid and his prayer will not be invalidated. (Refer Hasyiyah al-Bujairimi ‘ala al-Khatib 3/497)
In this issue, the sahih opinion in maddhab al-Shafi’e, a qaul in maddhab Maliki, the opinion of the majority of scholars from madhhab Hanbali and a zahir opinion of madhhab Hanafi stated that the mute’s signs do not invalidate prayers. (Refer Raudhah al-Tolibin 1/292; Mawahib al-Jalil 2/32; Kasyyaf al-Qina 1/378 dan Hasyiyah Ibn ‘Abidin 1/433)
The same fatwa is also issued by Hujjah al-Islam Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, because the sign is not a form of speaking, it is also not a form of actions which is considered as too much, and signs are also not considered as speech even if its meaning is understandable. (Refer Fatawa al-Imam al-Ghazali, tahqiq by Syeikh Mustafa Abu Sway, pg. 26)
To conclude, we state the general Islamic legal maxim which states that the same rulings for speech and words are applicable to sign language of a mute person, but there are some exceptions.
In this matter, the signs of a mute are not considered as matters that will invalidate the prayer, even if it is understandable, with the condition that the signs are not too much and are not included under the category of actions that invalidate the prayer.