Congregational prayer: its importance and status
In addition to the honor God has granted Muslims through prayers, he has given them the honor of Congregational prayer. Congregational prayer is a duty for Muslims that Allah and his prophet (php) have made clear.
Congregational prayer: its importance and status
Muslims are agreed that offering the five obligatory prayers in mosques is one of the best acts undertaken in obedience to Allah. Allah has given the Muslim community the opportunity to meet at certain times, such as the five daily prayers, the Friday prayer, the prayer on the two Eid days, and the prayer when there is an eclipse. These are great meetings and they serve the interests of the Muslim community, as people meet and discuss their affairs, as well as the affairs of other Muslim communities.
‘O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.’
The Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed the Muslims to attend congregational prayers at all time, explaining that it earns much greater reward.
‘Prayer in a congregation is 27 grades better than praying alone.’
Related by al-Bukhari, hadith Nos. 645 and 646; Muslim, hadith No. 650
:He also said
‘When a person prays in congregation his prayer gives him a reward which is 25 times the reward of his prayer at home or at his place in the market. This is so because when he performs the ablution at home, then goes out to the mosque for no reason other than attending the prayer, he is given a grade and forgiven a sin for every step he makes. When he is actually engaged in prayer, the angels bless him as long as he is at his place of worship.’
Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 647
Status: Congregational prayer is a duty for Muslim men, and this is clear in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
:Allah says in the Qur’an
‘When you are with the believers and about to lead them in prayer, let one group of them stand up with you.’
The formula, ‘let a group of them stand [in prayer] with you’ is expressed in the Arabic text in the imperative form, and this form clearly indicates obligation. It is true that this verse refers to a situation when the Muslim community is in a state of fear, as in a situation where an enemy force may attack them. Needless to say, the order applies even more clearly in a state of peace.
The evidence from the Sunnah is found in the hadith
:reported by Abu Hurayrah
‘Allah’s messenger said: “The prayers found too hard by the hypocrites are 'Isha’ and Fajr. Had they known how much goodness they bring, they would have come crawling to join them, even though they would have to crawl. I have even thought of ordering the prayer to be held and ordering one of you to lead the prayer, then I would go with some men carrying bundles of firewood. We would go to some people who abstain from coming to prayer and I would burn their homes.’
Related by al-Bukhari, hadith No. 644; Muslim, hadith No. 651
The hadith clearly indicates that the congregational prayer is a duty, because:
1) the Prophet (peace be upon him) described those who do not attend it as ‘hypocrites’, but a person who does not perform a Sunnah, or a recommended practice, is never considered hypocrite. This means that they have abstained from a duty.
2) The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that he had thought of punishing them severely for staying away from the congregational prayer. Punishment is only inflicted for failing to do a duty. What stopped him from acting on this idea was that punishment by fire is only inflicted by Allah. Some scholars also say what stopped him from punishing them in this way was the fact that there were women and children in those homes, and these are not required to attend congregational prayers.
Another report mentions that a blind man asked the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) permission to offer his prayers at home. The Prophet asked him whether he could hear the adhan when he was at home. He affirmed that he could.
:The Prophet (peace be upon him) said
‘You have to respond. I cannot find any excuse for you.’
Related by Muslim, hadith No. 653
:The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said
‘Whoever hears the call must respond; his prayer away (from the mosque) is invalid unless he has a good reason.’
Related by Abu Dawud, hadith 551; Ibn Majah, hadith No. 793; al-Hakim, vol. 1, p. 245
:Ibn Mas'ud said
‘There we were, and only a person who was well known as a hypocrite would stay away (from the congregational prayers).’
Related by Muslim, hadith No. 654
Congregational prayer is a duty that is applicable to men, but not to women or children who have not yet attained puberty. In reference to women,
:the Prophet (peace be upon him) said
‘Their homes are better for them.’
Related by Abu Dawud, hadith No. 567; Ahmad, hadith No. 2/76; al-Hakim, vol. 1, p. 209
However, there is no reason to prevent women from attending congregational prayers at the mosque, provided they go out properly dressed, fearing nothing. It is correct to say that attending congregational prayers at the mosque is binding on those to whom it applies. For a person who does not attend the congregational prayer, choosing instead to offer his prayers alone, his prayer is valid but he incurs the sin of failing to do a duty if he were in the vicinity of a masjid.
The person to lead the congregational prayer in the mosque is the regular imam, or the one who knows the Qur’an best. It is acceptable that a young person or a blind man should lead the prayer. It is permissible for a person offering an obligatory prayer to lead another offering a voluntary prayer, or the reverse. Likewise, a traveller may lead the prayer, with residents behind him, or a resident leads with travellers behind him. A person who performed the normal ablution may lead the one who had only dry ablution, or the reverse. An imam may lead the prayer even when there are in the congregation one or more people who are better qualified to lead it.
It is preferable when there is a group of women offering a prayer that one of them should lead the prayer.
'A’ishah used to lead a group of women in prayer, standing among them in the first row. Umm Salamah also used to do the same. The Prophet (peace be upon him) appointed Waraqah to do the adhan for her, and ordered her to lead the members of her household in obligatory prayers. However, if a man leads the prayer when there are only women in the congregation, this is acceptable.