Part II: Prayer (As-Salat)

Chapter 13

Prayer in Congregation

Importance of congregational prayer

         Both the Qur’an and the Sunnah (sayings and the practice of the Prophet of Islam) lay down a great stress on prayer in congregation. They enjoin that prayer should be performed collectively by the Muslims in the mosque and they should come to mosque to attend it with zeal and devotion five times a day. Prayer in congregation is so much essential that the believers have been exhorted to perform it even in the battle-field where danger to life is immense and imminent. Following are some of the Verses of the Qur’an and Traditions of the Prophet:

1-            And establish prayer (Salaah) and pay obligatory charity (Zakaah) and bow down with those who bow down (in prayer).  – (2:43)

2-            And when you (O Muhammad) are among them leading them in prayer (in the battle-field), let one party of them standup in prayer with you and take their arms with them. After they have performed their prostrations, let them withdraw to the rear and let the other party come which has not yet offered the prayer and let them pray with you taking all the precautions and their arms…… -- (4:102)

3-            Only they habitate the mosques of Allah who believe in Allah and in the Last Day and establish prayer and pay Zakat and fear none save Allah …… (9:18).

4-            O you who believe! When the call (Adhaan) is proclaimed for the prayer of Friday, hasten to the remembrance of Allah and leave your business……. (62:9).

5-            Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet said: “Offering prayer in congregation carries 25 times more reward than offering it alone”. In another report attributed to Ibn Umar, reward is 27 times (Bukhari, Muslim).

6-            According to Anas, the Prophet said: The person who offers his prayers regularly for 40 days in congregation without missing even the first Takbeer, is granted two immunities – immunity from Hell-fire and immunity from hypocrisy. – (Tirmizi)

7-            According to Ubbay bin Ka’ab, the Prophet said: If the people come to know of the great rewards of the prayer in congregation, they would never stay back but would rush to the mosque for it. The first row (merits the highest rewards and) is as if that of pure Angels. Congregation of two persons merits higher rewards than if they pray alone; the bigger the congregation, the dearer is it in the sight of Allah. – (Abu Daud)

8-            According to Ibn Abbas, the Prophet said: The prayer of the person who does not come (to the mosque) to pray with congregation after hearing the Adhaan, will not be accepted unless he has a valid excuse for this. When the companions asked what was meant by valid excuse, he said: “Fear or illness.” – (Abu Daud)

9-            Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet said: By him in whose hand is my life! I wish I should tell the Muadhin to pronounce Iqamah and appoint someone as Imam in my place, and I should myself go and set fire to the houses of those who donot come out for prayer even after hearing the Adhaan (Bukhari, Muslim). In Masnad Ahmad, the words are: Had the women and children not been in the houses, I would have commenced Isha congregation and ordered my young men to set fire to the houses of those who stay back in their houses and do not join the congregation.

10-         It has been reported that the Prophet said: If there live three men in a village and they do not hold congregational prayer, certainly the Satan conquers them. So you must perform prayer in congregation as a wolf attacks sheep that are not united.  – (Abu Daud)

         Keeping in view the above mentioned Verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and also keeping in view the practice of the Prophet and his companions, the jurists of Islam have prescribed that the five obligatory daily prayers and the Friday prayer must be offered by all adult and sane Muslim males in congregation in the mosque. Whether it is obligatory (Fard) or Sunnat Muakkadah, opinions differ with regard to it. According to majority, it is Sunnat Muakkadah and to miss it is great loss. According to some jurists, if some people offer prayer in congregation in a locality, the other people can pray alone. Fear and illness (and sometimes, rain, cold and wind) are valid excuse for not coming to mosque. Minor children, women, insane persons are exempted from coming to mosque to attend congregation. But if the minor children and women want, they are permitted to come to mosque.

Imam (Prayer Leader)

         The status of Imam (one who leads the congregation of the Muslims in Prayer) is considered one of the highest and the most important in Islam. In a way he is a representative of the Prophet in leading prayer. So elders of a locality or a village or a town should select and appoint an Imam with due care and due deliberations in consultation with each other. The person for the office of Imamate should have the following qualifications: (1) He should be a pious male Muslim, adult and sane.  (2) He should be the best or one of the best men available in conduct and manners.  (3) He must be a practicing Muslim who is regular in performing prayers and other articles of Islam. (4) He should have adequate knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith and the Islamic Fiqh, and should have deep insight in understanding and interpretation of their meaning.  (5) He should have full understanding of his duties and responsibilities and should be committed to discharge them with utmost labour, zeal and devotion.  (6) He should have necessary caliber and qualities to represent the Muslims before their God.  (7) He should be good in reciting the Quran and should possess a good voice.  (8)  He should be a Hafiz (memorizer of the Qur’an) or at least he should remember by heart adequate number of short Surahs or passages of long Surahs of the Qur’an. He should also remember an adequate number of Ahadith of Prophet.  (9) He should be a good orator and should have leadership qualities.

         The Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: “The Imam of the Muslims should be such a one who possesses the deepest knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an; if all are equal in this, the Imam should be the one who has the deepest knowledge and understanding of the Sunnah and Shariah; if all are equal in this, he should be the one who migrated first, and if all are equal in this too then the one who is seniormost in age.”  (Muslim)

         A blind man and a slave is allowed to act as Imam as the Prophet himself appointed Ibn Maktoom (a blind man) and Salam (a librated slave of Abu Hudhaifah) as Imam. However, a woman cannot lead a congregation of men or a mixed congregation of men and women. She can, however, lead a congregation of women  only and she would stand in the midst of the first row instead of standing in front of them. The Prophet himself appointed Umm Waraqah binet Nawfal to lead prayer of the people living in her house.

Regulations regarding congregational prayer

         Following are some of the important regulations with regard to prayer in congregation:-

1-            All the Fard (compulsory) Rakaahs of five obligatory daily prayers and Friday prayer must be performed in the congregation in the Mosque, or at a place where you are. In the holy month of Ramadhan, Witr and Taraveeh prayers are also offered in congregation as it is Mustahib. Congregation is imperative for Eid prayers as they are not allowed without congregation. Other Sunnah, Nafl and voluntary prayers must be performed individually and it is better to perform them at home.

2-            For congregation of prayer at least two persons are required except Friday prayer in which according to majority of the jurists, there should be at least three persons including the Imam. According to Abu Musa Ashaari, the Prophet said: Two or more persons make congregation (Ibn Majah).

3-            If there are two men or one man and one boy; one of them should be Imam and the other man or the boy should stand on the right side of Imam with his heels a little behind the Imam. If one is man and the other is woman, then the man would be Imam and the woman would stand behind him and not on his right side. If there are three persons or more, then one of them would be Imam and would stand in front and the others would stand in row or in rows behind him.

4-            Utmost care should be exercised to line up the persons gathered for offering prayer. The rows should be made straight and balanced and there should be no gap between two persons. The first row should be completed first and then the second and then the third and so on. The Prophet is reported to have instructed: “Keep your rows straight and balanced in the prayer as proper alignment is a necessary condition for observing the prayer perfectly” (Bukhari, Muslim). He is also reported to have said: “Keep your rows straight, otherwise Allah might turn your hearts one against the other.” Noaman bin Bashir, one of the companions of the Prophet, has reported that the messenger of Allah used to straighten our rows in a manner as if he would set the arrows straight with their help.

5-            If the gathering comprises men and children and women, then the men should be in the first rows behind the Imam, the children should be in the following rows and the women in the last rows.

6-            The Imam should have due regard for the difficulties of his followers and should not recite long Surahs of the Holy Qur’an in the congregational prayer or prolong the Ruku or Sajdah unduly. The Prophet once expressed his displeasure with Muadh bin Jabbal when he came to know that Muadh recited long Surahs and those who followed him in prayer were not happy. He is reported to have instructed: “When anyone of you happens to lead the prayer, he should make it light and short because among the followers there may be sick and weak and aged people” (Bukhari, Muslim). Anas has reported that once Prophet said about himself: When I stand up for the prayer, I sometimes intend to prolong it. But then I hear some child crying and I shorten the prayer, because I know that the crying of the child would upset his mother (Bukhari).

7-            The followers in the congregational prayer should follow the Imam and should not try to precede him in any action. They should perform their actions immediately after the Imam has begun the action and not with or before him.

8-            The followers should remain silent and listen to the recitation of the Qur’an by the Imam in those prayers where recitation is in loud voice. However, they should recite surah Al-Fatihah in their hearts when the Imam is reciting it aloud, but they should not precede the Imam in recitation.

9-            If a person joins the Imam in the Ruku of a Rakaah or before it, he is deemed to have gained that Rakaah’ but if he joins late, he will have to continue and offer the missed one or two or three Rakaahs independently after the Imam completes the prayer with greetings.

10-         If someone is offering Sunnat or Nawafil and Imam commences the congregational prayer, he should immediately curtail or finish it with greetings and join the congregation.

11-         If the Imam forgets or commits a mistake in the recitation, the follower who knows should remind him. If the Imam forgets any act of prayer then a follower can remind him by saying Subhan-Allah.

12-         Use of mechanical appliances to lead prayers like tap, gramophone, telephone, computer containing the voice of an Imam, is not permissible.

Second congregation can be held in the same mosque after the first one with different Imam and different people if they arrive after the conclusion of the first one.


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