Assalamualaikum ustaz. How should a mualaf who has yet to memorize al-Fatihah perform his prayer?
Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.
Prayer is an obligation for every Muslim who has pronounced the syahadah. Allah SWT states:
“And establish prayer,” 
The Prophet PBUH said:
بُنِيَ الْإِسْلَامُ عَلَى خَمْسٍ ، شَهَادَةِ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ، وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ ، وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ ، وَالْحَجِّ ، وَصَوْمِ رَمَضَانَ
“Islam is based on five things: the testimony that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger, the observance of the prayer, the payment of zakat, the Pilgrimage, and the fast during Ramadan.” 
Hence, when a mualaf who is now a Muslim, he is obligated to learn the methodology of prayer and to fulfil it according to his capability as a person who has just learned Islam.
The ruling of the recitation of al-Fatihah in prayer
Prayer has its own requisites, among them include the fi’li (action), qauli (recitation) and qalbi (in one’s heart) requisites. Reciting al-Fatihah is one of the qauli requisite to be recited in prayer apart from the tasyahhud recitation and praise and salutation for the Prophet PBUH. While other recitations are sunnah.
A prayer is invalid if al-Fatihah isn’t recited. This is based on the hadith narrated from ‘Ubadah bin al-Somit RA, Rasullullah PBUH said:
لَا صَلَاةَ لِمَنْ لَمْ يَقْرَأْ بِفَاتِحَةِ الْكِتَابِ
“He who does not recite Fatihat al-Kitab* is not credited with having observed prayer.” 
Likewise, the same is stated in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah RA, Rasullullah PBUH said:
مَنْ صَلَّى صَلاَةً لَمْ يَقْرَأْ فِيهَا بِفَاتِحَةِ الْكِتَابِ فَهْىَ خِدَاجٌ. يَقُولُهَا ثَلاَثًا
“He who said his prayer, but did not recite the opening chapter of al-Kitab, his prayer is incomplete. He repeated it thrice.” 
Imam al-Nawawi Rashimahullah said: “Reciting al-Fatihah for those who are capable to recite it is a fardhu and requisite of which cannot be translated to a language other than Arabic and cannot be replaced with other Quranic recitation. It is also obligatory to be recited in all prayers regardless of whether the obligatory or sunnah prayers.” 
If a person forgets to recite al-Fatihah, the obligation isn’t abrogated. This is the opinion that has been agreed upon by the jumhur of scholars of madhhab Syafie. This is stated by Imam al-Nawawi in al-Majmuk. 
Whereas, regarding the recitation of a makmum together with the imam, Imam al-Nawawi stated:
وَاَلَّذِي عَلَيْهِ جُمْهُورُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ الْقِرَاءَةُ خَلْفَ الْإِمَامِ فِي السِّرِّيَّةِ وَالْجَهْرِيَّةِ
“Jumhur Muslims are of the opinion that it is obligatory to recite al-Fatihah behind the imam whether it is in sir (low voice) or jahr (loud voice).” 
Imam al-Baijuri explained the several conditions that one should be mindful of when reciting surah al-Fatihah in prayer, among them are:
- Recite it in its original Arabic language and don’t translate it into another language, for if it is translated the miracle of the Quran is no longer there.
- Specific for those who aren’t able to recite surah al-Fatihah, he should replace it with other surahs in Arabic. 
We also state the opinion of al-Baijur, that is if one isn’t able to recite anything even just a simple supplication, then he should just stand like he was reciting al-Fatihah. 
A situation when a mualaf doesn’t know how to recite al-Fatihah in prayer
Originally, the two obligatory recitations are surah al-Fatihah, tasyahhud and praise and salutations for the Prophet PBUH. While other recitations are sunnah. For a mualaf, we see that there are several orders that one should follow if he has yet to memorize surah al-Fatihah.
- If he can read it but hasn’t memorised it yet, it is permissible to hold papers with surah al-Fatihah. Or save the surah in a smartphone, tab or others so that he can easily hold it when praying.
- If he can read it but has only memorized a part of the surah, it is obligatory for him to recite surah al-Fatihah of what he is able and always repeat his memorization.
- If he isn’t able to read and doesn’t memorize but can follow the recitation, it is suggested for the mualaf to be helped by a facilitator who has a great recitation of surah al-Fatihah.
- If he isn’t able to read, memorize al-Fatihah and follow the recitation of a facilitator or there isn’t any facilitator who can help, then it is permissible to recite 7 verses from any surah in the Quran or repeat the same verse of al-Quran. He can also recite some verses from al-Fatihah and other verses from other surahs that he memorized.
- If he doesn’t know how to read and doesn’t memorize it, recite dhikr, any dhikr that he memorized. For example, (سبحان الله والحمد لله ، ولا إله إلا الله ، والله أكبر ، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله)
- If he doesn’t know how to read and doesn’t memorize any verse or dhikr that he can recite, then he should just follow the imam without reciting anything. However, he is still obligated to learn, recite and memorize it until he is fluent. 
Islam is a complete, comprehensive and relevant religion for all of its followers. Allah SWT states:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” 
Allah SWT states:
فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ
“So, fear Allah as much as you are able…” 
May Allah SWT grant us all strength to continue learning Islam and spread the understanding and beauty of Islam to everyone.
 Surah al-Baqarah: 43
 Narrated by al-Bukhari (7)
 Narrated by al-Bukhari (756) dan Muslim (900)
 Narrated by Muslim (907)
 See al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 3/283
 See al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 3/288
 See al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 3/365
 See Hasyiyah al-Baijuri, 1/290. Also see al-Mu’tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafi’e, 1/255
 See Hasyiyah al-Baijuri, 1/290
 For example, the facilitator prays as the imam / beside him / doesn’t pray but recite it loudly so that the mualaf can follow it. Moreover, the mualaf can also utilize modern technology available such as by using voice recorder, smartphone and earphones as to not disturb the other congregants.
 See further discussion in al-Taqrirat al-Sadidah, pg. 217; al-Mu’tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafie, 1/255-256; Nihayat al-Muhtaj, 1/484-485; Mughni al-Muhtaj, 1/357-358; Al-Majmu’ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 3/374
 Surah al-Baqarah: 286
 Surah al-Taghabun: 16