Praying in Congregation

Social training is one of the most important principles of Islam. And the first lesson for the Muslim starts with praying in congregation. This is the most important deed that strengthens the feeling of unity and togetherness within the society of Islam, which is itself based on the oneness of Allah. A place in which the prayer is prayed in congregation is a place in which the spirit and societal structure of Islam has begun to be perceived.

Islam commands the believers to live within a community, to help and support each other in all matters, and to struggle as if they are one rank together and united in the path of Allah. Almighty Allah states:

“Allah loves those who fight in His Way in ranks like well-built walls”.(As Saff, 61:4)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has said:

“…I desire that you be a community and that you avoid separation and division with an intensity. This is because Satan is with those who live on their own. But he stays far from people who live together even if they are only two (people). The person who wishes to be in the midst of Paradise should continue to pray in congregation…”(Tirmidhi, Fiten, 7/2165).

During each cycle of the prayer, we repeat the verse “You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek help”. (Fatiha, 1:4), thereby demonstrating to our Lord, at least 40 times a day, that we are part of a community.

The first thing that our Prophet did when he entered the cities of Quba and Madina was to build a mosque. He himself helped to build the mosque thereby laying the foundations of the brotherhood of Islam.

Our forefathers followed this practice of the Prophet. When they built cities they first of all built magnificent mosques at the centre and then developed the city around this mosque which acted as a circle of light.

Consequently to perform the prayer in congregation is most suited to the purpose of Islam and is a command of Allah.

The Prophet (pbuh) has said:

“Allah Most High is as pleased and happy with the Muslim who frequents the mosque for both remembrance and prayer as a family who is away from home would be pleased when their relatives return”. (Ibn-i Majah, Masajid, 19).

“Whoever befriends the mosque, Allah will befriend him”.(Suyuti, II, 143).

Shall I inform you how Allah Most High erases mistakes and how He raises one’s station? Taking ablution on a cold day, going to a congregation from a far-off place, and waiting in anticipation of the next prayer having just prayed the previous one. This is true devotion! This is true devotion! This is true devotion!” (Muwatta, Kasru”s Salat, 55).

Aisha  states:

“Whoever hears the call for prayer and does not go to the mosque, means that he neither desires good nor has no good been willed for him”. (Bayhaki, AS Sunan al Kubra, III, 57).

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) made no concessions for the one who was neglectful of praying in congregation. One day he said:

“Whoever hears the call to prayer and does not go to the mosque even though he has no excuse to prevent him, will not have his solitary prayer accepted (as a perfect prayer). The Blessed Companions asked him:

“(O Messenger of Allah) What is the excuse?”

The Prophet replied:

The fear of danger or sickness”. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 46/551).

To abandon praying in congregation will lead to the breaking up of the Islamic community. Almighty Allah condemns the one who splits the community as follows:

“As for those who divide up their religion and form into sects, you have nothing whatsoever to do with them”.(An’am 6:159)

Scenes of Virtue

Abu Hurayra  narrates:

“One time during an expedition, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stayed at a place between Dacnan and Usfan. The polytheists said:

“The Muslims have a prayer which is more precious to them than their own fathers and sons. This prayer is the afternoon prayer (asr). Prepare yourselves, and attack them all at once (while they are praying this prayer)”.

Upon this the angel Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah with the 102nd verse from Chapter Nisa which describes how to perform the congregational prayer during a battle. (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 4/21).

Thus even during war, whatever the conditions, it was not even conceivable for the Muslims to delay their prayer or to abandon praying it in congregation.

Jafar bin Amr, narrates an anecdote he heard from his father:

“I saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) cut off the forearm of a lamb and begin to eat it. At that point he was called to pray. He immediately rose, left the knife he was holding in his hand and without taking a fresh ablution, he stood to pray”. (Bukhari, Adhan, 43)

Allah Messenger was so sensitive about praying in congregation that he immediately abandoned his food and rose to pray at the first calling, which could well have been delayed until after he had eaten.

***

Yazid bin Amir  narrates:

“I arrived next to Allah’s Messenger whilst he was praying. I sat down and did not join the congregation. When the Prophet turned around after the prayer he saw me sitting in the corner:

O Yazid! Are you not a Muslim?”

“Indeed I am o Messenger of Allah”. I said

“In that case what prevented you from joining in the congregation?” he asked.

“I thought that you would have already prayed the prayer so I prayed at home” I said. The Prophet then said:

“If perchance you come to the prayer and you see people praying, join them. If you have already performed your prayer then this will be accepted as supererogatory for you. The one you performed at home will be considered as obligatory”.(Abu Dawud, Salat, 56/577).

***

Even during the sickness of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), which was to be the cause of his death, one of the most important matters he was careful about was praying in congregation. According to Anas  it was only during the last three days of his illness that the Prophet was unable to join the congregation for prayer. (Bukhari, Athan, 46).

Aisha  said:

“During the time when the Prophet was intensely sick he asked:

“Have my Companions prayed?”

“No, o Messenger of Allah, they are waiting for you” I said

“In that case prepare some water for me” he said. I took him some water and he washed himself. When he tried to get up he fainted. He gained consciousness a little while later and asked once more:

“Have my Companions prayed?”

“No, o Messenger of Allah, they are waiting for you” we said.

“In that, case prepare some water for me” he said. I brought him some water and he washed. When he tried to get up he fainted. A little while later he regained consciousness.

This occurred again a few times. Meanwhile the people in the mosque were waiting for the Prophet so they could pray the ‘isha (nighttime) prayer. Then the Messenger of Allah sent word to Abu Bakr for him to lead the prayer. Abu Bakr  was a very tender-hearted man so he said to Omar :

“O Omar, could you lead the prayer?” Omar could not accept his offer and responded:

“You are more worthy of this”. Abu Bakr  led the prayers during that time. Later on when the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was feeling a little better he went to the mosque for the noon prayer, holding onto the arms of two men.  (I can still see him in front of me, his blessed feet dragging along the floor because of his lack of strength when he walked)[1].

At that time, Abu Bakr  was leading the prayer. When he saw that the Prophet had arrived he wanted to move back. However the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) signalled to him not to move from his spot. Then he came and sat next to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr followed the Blessed Prophet, while the people followed Abu Bakr, and thereby completed their prayer (Bukhari, Athan, 51).

***

Anas  narrates:

“One time Abu Bakr was praying. It was a Monday and we were aligned in neat rows. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) raised the curtain of his room and began to watch us. He was standing. His face was radiant. Then he smiled and his blessed teeth could be seen. When we saw the Blessed Prophet we were so happy that we were about to leave the prayer. Abu Bakr  began to move back to enter the row behind him thinking that the Messenger of Allah would join the prayer. However the Prophet indicated to him to complete the prayer and closed his curtain. That was the last day that we saw him and the day he passed on to the world of eternity”. (Bukhari, Athan, 46)

The Messenger of Allah was delighted that he had left behind a community that stood in neat rows to pray, like a building strengthened with lead and which continued to pray in congregation. When he watched them, his blessed face was smiling. This smile that lit up the entire universe was a source of hope for the blessed Companions, (but they had to accept that) he had finally turned, with peace of mind, towards Allah and was waiting for the moment of reunion.

The last words of the Blessed Messenger (pbuh) during his death were:

Your prayer! Your prayer! Be especially careful about your prayer. And fear Allah about what is under your control”. (Abu Dawud, Adab,m 123-4/ 5156; Ibn-i Majah, Wasaya, 1).

***

Jabir bin Abdullah  narrates:

“The neighbourhood of my tribe, Bani Salim, was rather far from the mosque. There were some vacant sites around the Prophet’s mosque so we wanted to sell our house and move closer to the mosque. At that time the following verse was revealed:

“We bring the dead to life and We record what they send ahead and what they leave behind. We have listed everything in a clear register”. (Yasin 36:12)

When he heard of our intention, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to us:

“I hear that you wish to move closer to the mosque, is this true?” They said:

“Yes, o Messenger of Allah. We truly wish for this”.

Then the blessed Prophet said:

O Bani Salim! Remain where you are and receive a reward for each step you take in coming to the mosque. Yes, remain where you are; and let there be a reward written for every step you take in coming to the mosque”. (Muslim, Masajid, 280, 281; Tirmidhi, Tafsiru’l Qur’an, 36/1).

***

Abdullah bin Ummi Maktum  once asked the Prophet:

“O Messenger of Allah, the poisonous insects and wild animals of Madina are many. (I fear the harm that may come to me from these animals. Is there then a licence for me to stay in my home and pray rather than coming to the mosque?”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) replied:

Can you hear the words: “hayya ala’s-salah” (come to the prayer) and “hayya ala’l falah” (come to success)? If so, you should come to the mosque”. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 46/553).

Thus whatever the circumstances, the Prophet placed great importance on participation in the congregation even if one has to make a great effort.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to warn people to come to the congregation in various ways. Ubayy bin Ka’b  narrates:

“One day the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) led the dawn prayer and said:

“Did such and such come for the prayer?”

“No, he did not” we replied

“Did such and such come?” he asked

“No, he did not” we replied. Upon this he said:

It is these two prayers (the dawn and the night time prayer) that are the hardest on the hypocrites. If you knew how much reward and merit there was in these, you would get down on your knees and crawl to join the congregation. The first row is like a row of angels. If you knew the virtue within it, you would race each other to pray in that row. A person’s prayer prayed together with another person is much more bountiful and has more reward than a prayer performed alone. A prayer with two people is more bountiful and superior than a prayer with one other person. However great the number of people praying, the more Allah Most High is pleased”. (Abu Dawud, Salat, 47/554; Nasai, Imamet, 45)

***

Abdullah bin Mas’ud  has the following to say:

“By Allah I have never seen a person, other than a hypocrite whose hypocrisy was known by all, who neglected his prayer. I swear by Allah that a (sick) man would be brought to the prayer even though he was teetering on two feet,  held between two men and would be placed in the row amongst those two men as support”. (Muslim, Masajid, 256-257)

***

One day when Abdullah bin Omar  was walking in the marketplace, the time for prayer came. He saw the Muslims closing their shops and stalls as soon as they heard the call to prayer, and heading for the mosque. Seeing this he said:

“These are they who Allah Most High has praised in the following way:

“There are men who proclaim His glory morning and evening, not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah and the establishment of salat and the payment of zakat; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil”.(An Nur, 24:37)   (Ibn-i Kathir, Tafsir, III, 306; Haysami, VII, 83).

***

Shifa bint-i Abdillah  narrates:

“One day Omar bin Khattab  came to see us. When he saw two members of our family sleeping he asked:

“What is wrong with these men that they did not join me in the congregation?”

“O Commander of the Believers! They prayed together with everyone in the evening – this event took place during the month of Ramadhan – and they continued to pray until the morning. After that they prayed the dawn prayer and went to bed” I said. Omar responded as follows:

“To pray the dawn prayer in congregation is more pleasing to me than praying until morning”. [2]

***

One time Othman bin Affan had gone to the night time prayer. When he saw that the congregation was sparse he lay down at the back of the mosque and waited for more people to arrive.

At that point Ibn-i Abi Amre arrived and sat down next to Othman. Othman asked him who he was. He introduced himself.

“How much do you know of the Qur’an? He asked. After replying to this Othman said:

“O son of my brother! I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say:

“The one who prays the night time prayer with the people (in congregation) is like the one who has spent half the night in prayer. The one who prays the dawn prayer in congregation is like one who has spent the whole night in prayer”. (Muwatta, Salatu’l Camaa’ 7; Muslim, Masajid, 260)

***

Thabit bin Hajjaj narrates a hadith which reflects the attitude towards those who did not participate in the congregational (prayer):

“Omar bin Khattab  once came to the mosque for prayer. He turned towards the people, ordered the caller to prayer to read the call to prayer, and stood up saying:

“We will not wait for anyone to pray”. After he had performed the prayer he turned to the congregation and said:
“What is wrong with certain people that they refrain from praying in congregation and thereby make others refrain as well. By Allah it occurred to me to send some men to them to catch them and bring them here and warn them to join the prayer. (Abdurrazzak, 1, 519).

***

Ummu-d Darda  narrates:

“Abu-d Darda  once came to me angrily. I asked him:

“What is it that has angered you?”. He gave the following response:

“By Allah I know of nothing of the community of Muhammed (pbuh) other than they’re praying in congregation. (Why are these people behaving neglectfully towards the prayer?) (Bukhari, Athan, 31)

***

Whenever Abdullah bin Omar  missed a congregational prayer he would occupy himself with worship until the next prayer. In fact this rule of his applied to the night time prayer as well. That is, in such a situation he would worship until the morning. (Ibn-i Hajar, Isabe, II, 349).

***

Harith bin Hassan  one of the blessed Companions, was recently married. At that time it was the custom for a man who was newlywed to not leave the house for several days, so he did not go to the dawn prayer. However Harith attended the dawn prayer after the night he got married. He was asked by some:

“You were married last night, how can you have left your house already?” His response to them was:

“By Allah! How ruinous is a wife that would prevent me from praying the dawn prayer in congregation”. (Haysami, II, 41).

***

Ibn-i Jurayj, once asked Ata’ (q.s) who was from amongst the famous scholars from the tabieen:

“If someone is praying the obligatory prayer in his home and he hears (either of) the two calls to prayer, is he required to leave his prayer and go to the mosque?”

“If he is hopeful that he will be able to catch some part of the obligatory prayer, yes he is” Ata answered.

“What if I hear the second call to prayer, do I have to come to the mosque like I would if I heard the first call?” Ata answered ‘yes’ to this question. (Abdurrazzak, I, 514).

Likewise Ibn-i Omar (may Allah be pleased with) had once prayed two of the four cycles of an obligatory prayer in his home when he heard the second call to prayer and so he immediately went to the mosque (Abdurrazzak, I, 514-515).

***

Amir bin Abdullah was on his death bed. His breaths were numbered and those around him were crying. When he heard the evening call to prayer he said to those around him:

“Lift me up”.

“What’s the matter, where to?” they asked.

“To the mosque” he said. Those around him asked in surprise:

“In this state?”

With great fortitude, he said:

“Subhanallah! (Glory be to Allah!). Should I hear the call to prayer and not answer the call? Is this possible? Lift me up!”

“He went to the mosque accompanied by those close to him and after praying one cycle with the imam, he passed away while he was in prostration”.

What a beautiful manifestation of the hadith,However you live that is how you shall die?” By the grace of almighty Allah, a servant who had placed so much importance throughout his life on praying in congregation took his last breath while in prostration.

***

Ata bin Thabit (q.s) narrates:

“We heard that one of the friends of Allah, Abdullah-i Sulami was sick. We thought that we should go and visit him. They told us that he was staying at the mosque. We thought this a little strange. For him to live in the mosque when he had a bed at home appeared a little strange to us. When we went to the mosque we found him praying. When we saw that he was having trouble breathing we were afraid and said:

“O Shaykh! Would not you be more comfortable if you were home in bed?”

He gave the following reply:

“According to a hadith that reached me, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) informed us that praying in congregation is better. I would wish that my soul be taken while I am praying at the mosque”.

***

Muhammad bin Sammad was a very worshipful individual. He was very sensitive when it came to the issue of praying in congregation. He says:

“I perform my prayers in congregation. For forty years I have never once missed the opening takbir of the prayer. Only once when I was busy with my mother’s funeral did I fail to reach the first cycle of a prayer. I performed this prayer 25 times in the hope that I would get the reward of the congregational prayer. That night in my dream it was said to me:

“O Muhammad! You have prayed your prayer 25 times, however how are you going to make up for the angels saying amen in the congregational prayer?” (Kandevli, Fazail’i A’mal, pg 275).

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) once said:

When the imam finishes reading the Fatiha let the congregation say ‘amen’. Because if this word of the congregation coincides with the ‘amen’ of those in the heavens, then the entirety of that person’s past minor sins will be forgiven”. (Bukhari, Athan, 113).

***

According to the narrations, on the Day of Judgement Allah Most High will ask:

“Where are my neighbours?

The angels will ask:

“Who could be a neighbour to you o Lord?”

Allah Most High will say:

“Those who render my mosques prosperous (that is those who continue to pray in congregation)”. (Ali al Muttaki, VII, 578/20339).

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) states:

The mosque is the home of all of those who are pious. Allah Most High has promised those who make their homes mosques, comfort, mercy and passing over the Bridge of Sirat and into paradise, and gaining Allah’s pleasure” [3]

***

One of the first Ottoman historians, Asik Pashazade, once said:

“This family of Othman comes from a noble lineage. There has never appeared from them an unlawful act. They avoided with their utmost all behaviour and deeds which the scholars deemed to be sinful”

Their above-mentioned behaviour must be the reason that the Shaykhu’l Islam, Molla Fenari, had the courage to refuse the witnessing of Yildirm Bayazit in court because he did not (pray) in congregation. In reply to the Sultan who asked him the reason he said quite openly:

“My Sultan! I do not see you in the congregation. Whereas, since you are the guide of this nation, you should be in the first row. In other words, you should be a person of righteous deeds… If you do not join the congregation you will be a bad example for your people, which will prevent you from being accepted as a witness…”

After this event, and in another report as gratitude for the victory at Nigbolu, Yildirim Bayazid had the famous Ulu Mosque of Bursa built and prayed there in congregation five times a day.

***

In short, praying in congregation is a manifestation of the fidelity of one’s faith. Likewise the Prophet (pbuh) said:

If you see a person regularly praying at the mosque then you can be a witness for his faith” and then he read the following verse:

“The mosques of Allah should only be frequented by those who have faith in Allah and the Last Day and establish salat and pay zakat, and fear no one but Allah. They are the ones most likely to be guided”(Tawba, 9:18)(Tirmidhi, Iman, 8/2617)

The friends of Allah have stated the principal benefits of praying in congregation at the mosque five times a day:

Benefitting from the prosperity and bounty that Allah bestowed upon the mosques and the strengthening of social consciousness in the heart of the believer;

Performing the prayer at the most acceptable of times, that is, at the first instant;

Being subject to the supplication, seeking forgiveness for and witnessing of the angels;

Being distant from Satan;

Attaining to a great reward by being present for the opening takbir;

Becoming purified of ostentation in one’s deeds;

Benefiting from the supplication and remembrance done in community;

Ensuring the continuity of relations amongst the Muslims;

Helping each other in matters of obedience and worship;

Becoming acquainted with and learning the rules of recitation (of the Qur’an) in the prayers that are read out loud;

Performing the prayer with perfection and in  a peaceful manner;

As can be seen praying in congregation has many benefits. This is the reason that Allah Most High and His Beloved Prophet persistently ordered the believers to pray in the mosques and to continue praying in congregation.

[1].     Bukhari, Athan, 67

[2].     Abdurrazak, al Musannaf, Beirut 1970, I, 526;  Muwatta, Salatu”l Jamaa, 7

[3].     Taberani, Al Mu’jemu’l abir, tah. Hamdi Abdulmecid as Salafi, Beirut, Daru Ihyai’t turasi’l Arabi, VI, 254/6143; Ali  al Muttaki, VII, 580/20349