Congregational Prayer and its Excellence
The fact that both the Qur'an and Sunnah have laid great stress on the congregational Prayer and described its unique excellence, shows that the Fard Prayer is meant to be offered collectively, and no one in the Islamic community should even think of observing it individually a must one has to do so on account of a genuine reason. The Qur'an says:
" . . . And bend down in ruku with those who been down in ruku" [Qur'an 2:43]Arguing from this verse, the commentators are generally of the view that the Prayer has to be offered collectively. The importance of the congregational Prayer in Islam is so great that the Muslim have been joined to observe that even in the battlefield where danger to life is extreme. The Qur'an has prescribed the following way:
" and when you, O Prophet, are among the Muslims and are going to lead them in the Salat (in a state of war), let a party of them stand behind you, carrying their weapons with them. When they have made their prostrations, they should fall back and let another party of them, who have not yet offered Salat, say it with you and they, too, should be on their guard and keep their weapons with them." [Qur'an 4: 102]The holy Prophet has also greatly stressed the offering prayer in congregation and described its unique merit and excellence. For instance, he has said:
1. "Nothing is harder on the hypocrites than the Isha and Fajr Prayer; had they known of the great rewards that Allah would bestow for those Prayers they would never have missed them even if they had to come (to the mosque) on their knees." Then he said, "I wish I should tell a Mu'azzin to pronounce Iqamah and appoint someone as Imam in my place, and I myself go and set fire to the houses of those who do not come out even after hearing the Azan." (Bukhari, Muslim)
2. "Offering the Prayer in congregation carries 27 times greater rewards and offering it alone individually." (Bukhari, Muslim)
3. According to Hadrat Anas, the holy Prophet said: "The person who offers his Prayers continuously for 40 days without missing the first takbir, is granted a twofold immunity by Allah - immunity from Hellfire and immunity from hypocrisy." (Tirmidhi)
4. According to Hadrat Abdullah bin Mas'ud, the holy Prophet said: "O Muslims! Allah has prescribed paths of right guidance for you (to lead you to real success) among which is the offering of the daily Prayers in congregation in the mosque. If you start saying your prayers individually at home, as so-and-so does, you will be forsaking the Sunnah of the Prophet. And if you forsake the Sunnah of your Prophet, you will certainly be going astray." (Muslim)
5. According to Hadrat Ubayy bin Ka'b, the holy Prophet said: "If the people come to know of the great rewards and benefits of the congregational Prayer, they would never stray back but would rush to the mosque for it. The first row merits the highest rewards and should be regarded as if it consisted of pure angels. Two persons praying together merit greater rewards than each praying individually, the rule being that the larger the congregation, the higher its rewards in the sight of Allah." (Abu Da'ud)
6. "Give good news to those who go to the mosque in the darkness of the night to offer the Prayer in congregation, that on the Day of Judgement they will be provided with a perfect light." (Tirmidhi)
7. Hadrat Uthman has reported that he heard the holy Prophet say: "The person who observes the Isha Prayer in congregation will have the rewards and blessings of half the night in Prayer, and the one who observes the Fajr Prayer in congregation will have the reward and blessings of the whole night in Prayer." (Tirmidhi)
8. Hadrat ibn Abbas has reported that the holy Prophet said: "The prayer of the person who does not come to attend the congregational Prayer after hearing the Azan, will not be acceptable unless he has a valid reason for this." When the Companions asked what was meant by a valid reason, he said: " Fear or illness." (Abu Da'ud)
9. Hadrat Aswad says that one day when he and his Companions were sitting before Hadrat A'isha, she described them the event of the holy Prophet's last illness, thereby stressing the importance and merit of the Congregational Prayer. She said: "One day when Azan was pronounced at a Prayer time the holy Prophet said: 'Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in Prayer.' We said, 'Abu Bakr is a tender hearted man. He will not be able to stand your absence and lead the Prayer properly.' The holy Prophet again said: 'Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in Prayer.' We again made the same remark whereupon the holy Prophet replied: 'You are disputing with me just like the Egyptian women disputed with Joseph. Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in Prayer.' Accordingly, Hadrat Abu Bakr took his place in front. In the meantime, the holy Prophet felt a little better and he went out to the mosque with the help of two men. I still remember the scene: the holy Prophet was too weak to stand on his feet and walk properly. He was dragging his feet along. Hadrat Abu Bakr who had already started the Prayer wanted to step back, but the holy Prophet beckoned him to carry on and the Prayer was completed under Abu Bakr's leadership." (Bukhari)
Regulations Concerning the Congregational Prayer
1. It is Wajib to observe all five daily Prayers collectively, as far as possible, in the mosque. But if any Prayer is observed collectively outside the mosque, at home or in the jungle, on account of a valid reason, there is no harm.
2. The Friday and the Eid Prayers are conditioned upon congregation, i.e. these Prayers cannot be held without a congregation.
3. It is Sunnat (compulsory) to offer the Taravih Prayer during Ramadan collectively, even if the whole Qur'an has been finished in recitation.
4. It is Sunnat (compulsory) to observe the Solar Eclipse Prayer collectively.
5. It is Mustahabb (desirable) to offer the Witr Prayer collectively during Ramadan.
6. It is undesirable to observe the Lunar Eclipse Prayer collectively.
7. It is undesirable to offer any Nafl Prayer collectively with Azan and Iqamah. However if some people get together and offer a few rak'ahs of Nafl collectively without a special arrangement, there is no harm.
Conditions for the Congregational Prayer
Four conditions have to be satisfied for holding a prayer in congregation:
1. The participants have to be males: it is not essential for females to offer prayer collectively.
2. Adulthood: minor children are under no obligation to offer a prayer collectively.
3. Sanity and normal state of mind. Insane, abnormal and mad persons are not bound to offer prayers collectively.
4. Absence of the reasons for which it is permissible to abandon the congregational Prayer.
Reasons for Which Congregation May Be Abandoned
Reasons for which congregation may be abandoned are of four types. One may abandon the congregational Prayer in the presence of these reasons if one so likes, but as far as possible one should attend the mosque to offer all the prayers in congregation:
to visit the mosque. This may be due to:
causing illness or entailing undue hardship, e.g.:
to life and property. This may be due to:
physical or natural factor which may not allow one to pay full attention
to the Prayer, for instance:
Regulations for Lining-up
1. Utmost care has to be exercised to keep the rows straight and balanced. The holy Prophet has instructed: "Keep your rows straight and balanced in the prayer, for proper alignment is a necessary condition of observing the prayer well." (Bukhari, Muslim)
Hadrat Nu'man Ibn Bashir has reported: "The holy Prophet straightened our rows in a manner as if he would set arrows straight with their help, till he realized that we understood and appreciated the due importance of proper alignment. One day he came out and was about to pronounce the takbir for prayer when he saw a man with his chest protruding a little from the row. He said: 'Servants of Allah! Keep your rows straight and balanced, otherwise Allah might turn your hearts one against the other." (Muslim)
2. The front rows should be filled and completed first.
3. The people possessing deep knowledge and understanding of religion should stand close to the Imam behind him, then those who are next to them and knowledge and understanding, then those who are next Imam in knowledge and understanding.
4. The front rows behind the Imam should consist of men, then of children, and then of women at the rear.
5. The followers should stand behind the Imam in a balanced way, equally on the right and left, keeping him in the middle and front.
6. If there is a single follower, whether an adult male or a boy, he should stand on the right of the Imam with his heels a little behind the Imam's. It is undesirable for a single follower to stand behind the Imam in a separate row.
7. If the followers are more than one, they should invariably stand behind the Imam; it is undesirable for two or more followers to stand beside the Imam, on his right or left. ('Ilm al-Fiqh)
8. If at the commencement of the Prayer, there is only one follower and later on one or more followers join in, then they should either pull the first follower back in the row, or the Imam should step forward and let the followers make the row behind him.
9. If the front rows are complete and there is no room for a latecomer, he should avoid standing alone behind but should pull a person back from the front row and make a separate row at the rear.
10. If there is room for a latecomer to stand in the front row, it is undesirable for him to stand alone at the rear.
Women's Congregational Prayer
1. Women are permitted to hold congregational Prayers with a female Imam.(1) ('Ilm al-Fiqh)
2. The female Imam should stand inside the row and not alone in front regardless of the followers.
3. A male Imam is allowed to lead to women in Prayer provided that there is at least one other male present in the congregation, or a mahram female, for instance a mother, sister, or wife, etc. In case there is no such person present in the congregation, it is undesirable for a male Imam to lead to women in prayer.
4. One or more female followers, whether an adults or miners, should stand invariably behind the male Imam for offering congregational Prayer.
1. If a person intends to offer his Prayer at a place which is open and in front of where people walk about, he should fix a stick or something else about a yard in height and as thick as a finger in front of him, before standing up for the Prayer. This is called sutrah.
2. As a rule, it is sinful to cross the front of a praying person, but if he has placed a sutrah in front of him, there is no harm in crossing his front, provided one does not pass between the praying person and his sutrah.
3. If the Imam has placed a sutrah in front of him, it will suffice for the whole congregation. It is not sinful to cross the front of the Imam in the presence of the sutrah.
Miscellaneous Regulations for Congregational Prayer
1. If a person finds that the congregational Prayer in a local mosque is over, he may try to join the congregational Prayer in another mosque, or even come back home and observe the prayer in congregation with the people of his house.
2. For the congregational Prayer to be valid, it is necessary that both the Imam and the followers should pray in the same place, whether it is the same mosque or the same house, or it is the same place in effect, e.g., the Imam standing in the mosque and the followers on the road or in a house, and continuous rows one behind the other, without any unusual gap between the rows.
3. A congregational Prayer will be valid if the Imam stands in the mosque and the followers on the roof of the mosque, or on the roof of a house adjoining the mosque, provided that the gap between the Imam and the followers is not so wide as to accommodate two or more rows.
4. If a person, who has offered a Fard prayer alone, finds that the same Fard prayer is being offered collectively, then he should join the congregation, unless it is the Fajr, or Asr or Maghrib Prayer. The reason is that no prayer is valid after the Fajr or Asr Prayer (until the sun has risen or set) and the Maghrib Prayer having three rak'ahs cannot be counted as Nafl. For prayer offered in congregation by the person will have a novel status and not Fard, because he has already offered his Fard prayer individually.
5. If the person is offering a Fard Prayer and then finds that the same prayer is being held in congregation, he should abandon his prayer and join the congregation. If, however, it is the Fajr Prayer and he performed the sadjah of the second rak'ah (or in the case of other prayers the sadjah of the third rak'ah), he should complete his prayer independently. If at the end he finds that the congregational prayer is still in progress, he may join it provided it is the Zuhr or Isha Prayer only.
6. If a person had started a Nafl prayer and then finds a Fard congregational prayer due to begin, he should pronounce salutation after two rak'ahs and join the congregation.
7. If a person to started the first four Sunnat (compulsory) rak'ahs of the Zuhr or Friday prayer, and then finds the Imam standing up for the Fard congregational prayer, he should pronounce salutation after two rak'ahs and complete them after observing the Fard prayer in congregation.
8. As a rule, when the Imam has stood up for a Fard prayer, the Sunnat prayer should not be started, unless one is sure that no Fard rak'ah would be missed. However, in view of the great importance of the Sunnat rak'ahs of the Fajr prayer, one may offer them even if there is hope of gaining a single rak'ah of the Fard Prayer. If there is no such hope, one may abandon them.
9. If a Fard congregational Prayer is in progress, one may observe the Sunnat rak'ahs, if one so likes, in a place outside the mosque. If this is not possible, one may observe them in a corner of the mosque away from the congregation. If this is also not possible, then one should join the congregation instead, for it is undesirable to offer a prayer independently in a place where a congregational Fard Prayer is in progress.
10. If due to some reason one is late for a congregational prayer and has no hope of gaining the full prayer, one should straight away join the congregation. Even if the prayer has ended, one should hasten to the mosque because it is expected that Allah will not deprive such a one of the rewards and blessings of the congregational Prayer. The holy Prophet has said: "The person who performed his wudu well, then went to the mosque (with the intention of offering the prayer in congregation), and found the prayer to have been performed already, will still get the same rewards from Allah as those who attended and observed the prayer in congregation without any decrease in their rewards." (Abu Da'ud, Nasa'i)
11. The person who joins the Imam in the ruku position is deemed to have gained the rak'ah. If he joins late, he will have to complete the rak'ahs which he has missed independently.
12. For a congregational Prayer to be valid, there has to be at least one follower beside the Imam. In the Friday prayer, however, there should be at least two followers besides the Imam.
Regulations Concerning the Additional Service
If some people, who had missed a congregational Prayer, gather together and hold an additional service in the mosque, it will be perfectly in order, though in certain cases it is undesirable to do so.
1. There is absolutely no harm and after a regular service in the mosque, an additional service is held in the open or in a house by the people who have missed the first congregation.
2. It is permissible to hold an additional service in a mosque situated on the way, where no Imam and no Mu'azzin have been appointed and where there is no organized system of holding Congregational Prayer either.
3. An additional Congregational Service is permissible in case the first Congregational Service has not been held duly after pronouncing Azan and Iqamah in a sufficiently loud voice.
4. An additional congregational service is also permissible in case the first one is held by some people not belonging to the locality and having no concerned with the affairs and administration of the mosque.
5. The additional congregational service is by all means permissible with altered conditions, which means that the Imam should stand in a different place for the second service.(2) ('Ilm al-Fiqh)
6. In the absence of the above conditions and circumstances, it is undesirable to hold an additional congregational Service. If the congregational Prayer has already been duly held in the mosque of a locality after pronouncing Azan and Iqamah in a sufficiently loud voice, it will be absolutely undesirable for latecomers to hold an additional service in the same mosque, without altering the conditions.
2. According to Imam Abu Hanifah, the additional service remains no more undesirable if the conditions are altered. According to Traditions reported in Tirmidhi and Abu Da'ud, the holy Prophet saw a man offering his prayer alone and said, "Is there anyone here who can do good to this man?" Whereupon a person stood up and observed his prayer in company with that man. However, the holding of the additional service should not be allowed to become a regular feature in a mosque.