Praise be to Allah.
1 – Reciting Soorat al-Faatihah is a pillar or essential part of prayer – according to the correct scholarly view – and it is obligatory upon the imam who leads the prayer, the one who prays behind an imam and the one who prays on his own.
It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever offers a prayer in which he does not recite Umm al-Kitaab (i.e., al-Faatihah), it is defective” – and he said it three times. It was said to Abu Hurayrah, (What if) we are behind the imam? He said, Recite it to yourself, for I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say, “Allah said: I have divided prayer between Myself and My slave into two halves, and My slave shall have what he has asked for. When the slave says: Al-hamdu lillahi rabbi l-alamin (All the praises and thanks be to Allaah, the Lord of the ‘Aalameen (mankind, jinn and all that exists), Allah says: My slave has praised Me.
And when he says: Ar-Rahmaan ir-Raheem (The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful), Allah (mighty and sublime be He) says: My slave has extolled Me
and when he says: Maaliki yawm id-deen (The Only Owner (and the Only Ruling Judge) of the Day of Recompense (i.e. the Day of Resurrection)), Allah says: My slave has glorified Me - and on one occasion He said: My slave has submitted to My power.
And when he says: Iyyaaka na’budu wa iyyaaka nasta’een (You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything)), He says: This is between Me and My slave, and My slave shall have what he is asking for.
And when he says: Ihdina’s-siraata’l- mustaqeem, siraat alladheena an’amta alayhim ghayril-maghdoobi alayhim wa la’ d-daalleen (Guide us to the Straight Way. The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger, nor of those who went astray), He says: This is for My slave, and My slave shall have what he has asked for.”
(Narrated by Muslim)
So the worshipper must recite it properly in Arabic, because we are commanded to read and recite the Qur’aan as it was revealed.
2 – Whoever is unable to pronounce it properly because of some defect in his tongue or because he is not an Arabic-speaker must learn to correct his pronunciation as much as he can.
If he cannot, then he is relieved of this obligation, because Allaah does not burden people with more than they are able to bear.
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Allaah burdens not a person beyond his scope”
3 – If a person is unable to recite al-Faatihah at all or is unable to learn it, or he has just become Muslim and the time for prayer has come and there is not enough time for him to learn it, then he is given a way out in the following hadeeth:
It was narrated that ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Abi Awfa said: A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allaah, teach me something of the Qur’aan that will suffice me, for I cannot read.” He said, “Say: Subhaan-Allaah wa’l-hamdu Lillaah wa laa ilaaha ill-Allaah wa Allaahu akbar wa laa hawla wa la quwwata illa Billaah (Glory be to Allaah, praise be to Allaah, there is no god except Allaah and Allaah is Most great, there is no god except Allaah and there is no power and no strength except with Allaah).” The man made a grabbing gesture with his hand (indicating that he had learned a lot) and said, “This is for my Lord, what is there for me?” He said, “Say: Allaahumma ighfir li warhamni wahdini warzuqni wa ‘aafini (O Allaah, forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, and grant me provision and good health).” He made another grabbing gesture with his other hand and stood up.
(Narrated by al-Nasaa’i, 924; Abu Dawood, 832. Its isnaad was classed as jayyid by al-Mundhiri in al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, 2/430. al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar indicated that it is hasan in al-Talkhees al-Habeer, 1/236)
Ibn Qudaamah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
If a person does not know any Qur’aan, and he cannot learn it before the time for prayer is over, then he must say Subhaan-Allaah wa’l-hamdu Lillaah wa laa ilaaha ill-Allaah wa Allaahu akbar wa laa hawla wa la quwwata illa Billaah (Glory be to Allaah, praise be to Allaah, there is no god except Allaah, Allaah is Most great and there is no power and no strength except with Allaah), because Abu Dawood narrated that a man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, “I am not able to learn anything of the Qur’aan, so teach me something that will suffice me.” He said, “Say, Subhaan-Allaah wa’l-hamdu Lillaah wa laa ilaaha ill-Allaah wa Allaahu akbar wa laa hawla wa la quwwata illa Billaah.” The man said, “This is for my Lord, what is there for me?” He said, “Say: Allaahumma ighfir li warhamni warzuqni wahdini wa ‘aafini (O Allaah, forgive me, have mercy on me, grant me provision, guide me, and give me good health).” But he does not have to do more than say the first five phrases, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) only said that, and he only told him more when he asked for more.
(end of Ibn Qudaamah’s words)
But if a person is able to recite part of al-Faatihah only, he should recite that which he is able to recite. And he has to repeat what he can recite well (i.e., so that the total number of what he recites will be seven verses, equivalent to the number of verses in al-Faatihah).
Ibn Qudaamah said:
It may be sufficient for him to say alhamdu-Lillaah (praise be to Allaah), laa ilaaha ill-Allaah (there is no god but Allaah) and Allaahu akbar (Allaah is most great), because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whatever you know of Qur’aan, recite it, otherwise praise Allaah, proclaim His Oneness and magnify Him.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood)
(al-Mughni, 1/289, 290)
What you have read about the prayer being invalid if the worshipper mispronounces a single letter of al-Faatihah cannot be taken as general in meaning. Not every mistake in al-Faatihah invalidates the prayer; rather it cannot be invalidated unless something is omitted from al-Faatihah, or the pronunciation is changed in a way that distorts the meaning. Moreover, this ruling on the prayer becoming invalid applies to those who are able to recite al-Faatihah correctly or who are able to learn it but do not.
As for those who are unable to do so, they should recite it as best as they can, and that does not affect them, because Allaah does not burden a soul beyond its scope. One of the basic principles established by the scholars is that nothing is obligatory when a person is unable to do it. See al-Mughni, 2/154.
In this case a person should recite al-Faatihah as best as he is able, and then glorify Allaah, praise Him, magnify Him and proclaim His Oneness (by saying Subhaan-Allaah wa’l-hamdu Lillaah wa Allaahu akbar wa laa ilaaha ill-Allaah), so that this will make up for whatever he has missed out of al-Faatihah.
See al-Majmoo’, 3/375.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked:
Is the prayer of one who mispronounces al-Faatihah valid or not?
If a person mispronounces al-Faatihah in a way that does not distort the meaning, his prayer is valid, whether he is leading others in prayer or is praying alone.
But with regard to the kind of mispronunciation that distorts the meaning, if the person knows the meaning, such as if he says ‘Siraat allaadheena an’amtu ‘alayhim [meaning “The way of those on whom I have bestowed my grace”, instead of the correct version an’amta (The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace)], and he knows that this verbal form is wrong, then the prayer is not valid. But if he does not know that he is distorting the meaning, and he thinks that this form is second person singular rather than first person, then there is a difference of scholarly opinion on this point. And Allaah knows best.
Majmoo’ al-Fataawam 22/443
He was also asked about when a person ends a word with –i that should end in –a when praying (or renders it genitive when it should be accusative).
If he is aware of what he is doing and he does it deliberately, then his prayer is invalid, because he is playing about in his prayer. But if he is unaware of that, then his prayer is not invalid, according to one of the two scholarly views.
Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 22/444
So you must try hard and keep practising it. You can do this by reciting it to another Muslim sister who can recite it well, and by listening to soorahs recited by skilled reciters on tapes or broadcasts.
There is no need to feel nervous and anxious, because Allaah knows what is in people’s hearts, and He knows who is trying hard and making the effort, and who is lazy and heedless.
The difficulty that you find in reciting Qur’aan will increase your hasanaat (good deeds) and rewards. It was narrated that ‘Aaishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The one who is skilled in reciting Qur’aan will be with the noble and obedient scribes (i.e., angels) and the one who reads the Qur’aan and struggles with it because it is difficult for him will have two rewards.”
(Narrated by Muslim, 798)
Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
The one who struggles with it is the one who is hesitant in his recitation because he is not able to memorize it well. He will have two rewards: the reward for reciting it and the reward for his efforts in reciting it.
There is no need to repeat verses more than once, because this is not what the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did or taught. Rather that opens the door to waswaas (whispers from the Shaytaan), detracts from the prayer, makes you lose your focus, distracts you from pondering the meaning of the verses and makes the Shaytaan happy, because from that he can find a way to make you suffer so that you will ultimately give up praying. But Allaah is Most Gracious and Most Merciful, and He is more merciful towards us than we are to ourselves, and He does not burden us with more than we can bear .