Obligation on men to pray in congregation

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It is commonly observed that the masajid are overcrowded in Ramadan and empty in other months. This means that many people do not offer salah in Jamaat other than in Ramadan. When in fact, if a man stays in neighborhood of a masjid, his prayer is not valid if he prays at home without a genuine reason. This view is proven from Qur’an, Sunnah, belief of Sahaba and opinions of scholars. Few evidences are as follows:

1 – First Evidence: From Qur’an.

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“When you (O Messenger Muhammad) are among them, and lead them in As-Salaah (the prayer), let one party of them stand up [in Salaah (prayer)] with you taking their arms with them; when they finish their prostrations, let them take their positions in the rear and let the other party come up which have not yet prayed, and let them pray with you”
[Surah an-Nisa’ 4:102] 

Ibn al-Qayyim said:

There are several ways in which this verse may be taken as evidence:

Firstly, Allaah commands them to pray in congregation, then He repeats the command with regard to the second group, by saying “and let the other party come up which have not yet prayed, and let them pray with you”. This indicates that praying in congregation is obligatory on an individual basis, as Allaah did not excuse the second group because the first group had done it. If praying in congregation was Sunnah, the best excuse for not doing it would be the excuse of fear. If it were fard kafaayah (a communal obligation), it would no longer be obligatory after the first group had done it. So this verse proves that it is obligatory for each and every individual. So these are the three ways in which this verse proves it is obligatory: Allaah commands it once, then He commands it again, and He does not allow them a concession not to do it at times of fear.

See Al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, p. 137, 138

2 – Second Evidence: From Qur’an.

Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“And perform As-Salaah (Iqaamat-as-Salaah), and give Zakaah, and bow down (or submit yourselves with obedience to Allaah) along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow)”
[Surah al-Baqarah 2:43] 

The way in which this verse may be taken as evidence is that here Allaah commanded them to bow, which refers to prayer. Prayer is described as rukoo’ (bowing) here because bowing is one of the pillars or essential parts of the prayer, and prayer is sometimes referred to by its pillars and obligatory components, as Allaah calls it sujood (prostration), Qur’aan and Tasbeeh (glorification of Allaah). And the phrase “along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow)” cannot mean anything other than doing it with a congregation of worshippers. This is what the word ma’a (with) means. Once this is understood, it must be realized that if a command mentions a particular manner or situation, then the one who is commanded to do it cannot obey the command properly unless he does it in the manner or situation mentioned, and the situation demands praying in Jamaat.

Some people argue that the word ma’a (with) means doing the same as they do, but it does not necessarily mean doing it at the same time. The answer is that in Arabic, the word ma’a means more than doing the same as someone else, rather it means doing it with them, especially in the case of prayer. If someone says “Go and pray ma’a (with) the congregation” or “I prayed ma’a (with) the congregation”, the only interpretation can be is that he went and joined them and prayed together with them. See al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, 139-141

3 – Third Evidence: From Hadith.

It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (radhi Allahu anhu) that

The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The most burdensome prayers for the hypocrites are ‘Isha’ and Fajr.  If they knew what (reward) is in them, they would come to them even if they had to crawl. I was thinking of ordering that the call to prayer be given, then I would tell a man to lead the people in prayer, and I would go out with men carrying bundles of wood to people who do not come to the prayers, and I would burn their houses with fire around them.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 626; Muslim, 651)

Al-San’aani said:

This hadeeth indicates that prayer in congregation is an individual obligation, not a communal one, because if it was a communal obligation and some had done it, why would others have deserved the punishment? There is no punishment except for one who neglects an obligatory duty or does something that is haraam.

See Subul al-Salaam, 2/18, 19

4 – Fourth Evidence: From Hadith.

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (radhi Allahu anhu) said:

A blind man [Ibn Umm Maktoom] came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I have no one to lead me to the mosque,” and he asked the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) to grant him a concession allowing him to pray in his house, and he allowed him that. But when he turned away he said, “Can you hear the call to prayer?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then answer it.” According to a version narrated by Abu Dawood (552) and Ibn Maajah (792) he said: “I do not think there is any concession for you.” (Al-Nawawi said concerning this hadeeth: its isnaad is saheeh or hasan). See Al-Majmoo’, 4/164

Ibn Qudaamah said:

If there is no concession for a blind man who had no one to lead him, it is more appropriate that there should be no concession for others.

See Al-Mughni, 2/3

 5 – Fifth Evidence: From Hadith.

It was narrated that Ibn Mas’ood (radhi Allahu anhu) said:

Whoever would like to meet Allaah tomorrow as a Muslim, let him regularly perform these prayers when the call for them is given, for they are among the ways of guidance. Allaah has prescribed for your Prophet ways of guidance, and if you pray in your homes, as this one who stays away from the prayers prays in his home, then you will have abandoned the way of your Prophet, and if you abandon the way of your Prophet you will go astray. There is no man who purifies himself and does it well, then he goes to one of these mosques, but for every step he takes, Allaah will record for him one hasanah (good deed) and will raise him thereby one degree in status, and will erase for him one sayi’ah (bad deed). I saw us (at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)) and no one stayed behind from these prayers except a hypocrite who was known for his hypocrisy. A man would come supported by two others so that he could stand in the row. 

According to another version, he said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught us the ways of guidance, and told us that one of the way of guidance is to pray in the mosque when the call to prayer is given. (Narrated by Muslim, 654)

Ibn al-Qayyim said:

What we may conclude from this is that he described staying away from the prayers as one of the signs of the hypocrites who are known for their hypocrisy. The signs of hypocrisy is not that they omit sunnah or commit makrooh things. The signs of people of hypocrisy is actually that they are omitting obligatory actions or doing haraam things. This is supported by the fact that he said: “Whoever would like to meet Allaah tomorrow as a Muslim, let him regularly perform these prayers when the call for them is given”. And he described the one who stays away and offers the prayers at home as being one who has abandoned the Sunnah which is the path of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the laws that he prescribed for his ummah. What is meant is not the Sunnah which those who wish can do and those who do not wish can omit, because omitting that is not misguidance or a sign of hypocrisy – such as not praying Duha and qiyaam al-layl, or fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.

See Al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, p. 146, 147

6 – Sixth Evidence: Ijmaa (The consensus of the Sahaabah)

Ibn al-Qayyim said:  There was consensus among the Sahaabah (on this issue). See quotes below.

  • Ibn Mas’ood (ra) said: “I saw us (at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)) and no one stayed behind from these prayers except a hypocrite who was known for his hypocrisy.” And “Whoever hears the muezzin and does not respond with no excuse, his prayer is not valid.” 
  • Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari (ra) said: “Whoever hears the muezzin and does not respond with no excuse, his prayer is not valid.” 
  • ‘Ali (ra) said: “There is no prayer for a neighbour of the mosque except in the mosque.” It was said, “Who is the neighbour of the mosque?” He said, “Whoever can hear the muezzin.”
  • Al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali (ra) said: “Whoever hears the call to prayer and does not come, his prayer does not go beyond his head, except for one who has an excuse.”
  • ‘Ali (ra) said: “Whoever among the neighbours of the mosque hears the call to prayer, and he is in good health and does not have any excuse, his prayer is not valid.”

See Al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, p/ 153

There is a great deal of evidence, but what we have quoted above is sufficient. You can refer to the book by Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha (Prayer and the Ruling on one who abandons it), which has a lot more information. Shaykh Ibn Baaz wrote a useful essay entitled Wujoob Ada’ al-Salaah fi Jamaa’ah (The obligation of offering prayers in congregation).

And Allaah knows best.

(Source: Translated and adapted from http://islamqa.info/ar/8918.)