Islamic Laws

Congregational Prayer (salat al-jama‘ah)

By: Hojjat al-Islam Muhsin Qara’ati
The religion of Islam has a significant social dimension, and it has relied on and emphasized this dimension in many of its programs through the blessed effects of unity, solidarity and consistency.
The holding of the daily obligatory prayers in congregation is one of these programs.
In this chapter, we shall deal with the importance of congregational prayer {salat al-jama‘ah} and its various effects.
Importance of congregational prayer {salat al-jama‘ah}
Great rewards for congregational prayer have been mentioned in the hadiths, some of which have been cited below: The Messenger of Allah (S) is reported to have said: “The prayer of one who hears the adhan but does not participate in the congregational prayer of Muslims for no (justifiable) reason at all is worthless.”[1][542]
It is stated in a hadith that disparaging congregational prayer is tantamount to disparaging God.[1][543]
Constant participation in congregational prayer saves a person from becoming a hypocrite {munafiq}.[1][544] And there are rewards for every step taken toward congregational prayer and the mosque.[1][545]
The person who goes out of his house to participate in congregational prayer and waits in the mosque for it, gets the reward of a person who is engaged in prayer for the entire period.[1][546]
The more the people present in congregational prayer, the more its reward. This is a statement of the Messenger of Allah (S) who said: “That which is greater (in number) is more beloved by Allah.”[1][547]
There is an interesting hadith pertaining to the virtue of congregational prayer, a part of which has been mentioned in treatises on practical laws {risalah al-‘amaliyyah}. The following is a translation of the whole hadith: If there is one person {ma’mum} following the prayer leader {imam}, the reward of the prayer (compared to that which is done individually) is 150 times.
For two persons, the reward is 600 times.
For three, the reward is 1,200 times.
For four, the reward is 2,400 times.
For five, the reward is 4,800 times.
For six, the reward is 9,600 times.
For seven, the reward is 19,200 times.
For eight, the reward is 36,400 times.
If the followers and the prayer leader are 10 in all, the reward of the prayer is 72,800.
But if the number of the persons praying exceeds 10, nobody knows its reward except God.[1][548]
It is mentioned in another hadith that God and the angels love one who loves congregational prayer.[1][549]
During the time of the Prophet (S) whenever the number of participants in congregational prayer was less, he would search for and inquire about the condition of individuals, saying: “Participation in the dawn {subh} and night {‘isha} prayers is the most difficult of all things for hypocrites.”[1][550]
The Holy Qur’an has also mentioned laziness and languidness at the time of prayer as one of the descriptions of the hypocrites.[1][551] Waking up early and attending congregational morning prayer while coming from a reasonable distance during the cold or warm season is a sign of sincerity in faith and love of God.
Attendance in congregational prayer is not confined to only one place. Wherever the person may be, it is better for him to find the congregational prayer, participate therein and encourage others to do the same.
Concerning the importance of congregation {jama‘ah}, the Messenger of Allah (S) said: “A single prayer in congregation is better than forty years of prayer at home.” He was asked: “Is it one day of prayer?” He said: “No, it is a single prayer.”[1][552]
And the Prophet (S) also said: “The rows of congregational prayer are like rows of angels on the fourth level of heaven.”[1][553]
The first congregational prayer to be held was under the leadership {imamah} of the Messenger of Allah (S) and with the participation of Hadhrat ‘Ali (‘a) and Ja‘far at-Tayyar (brother of Hadhrat ‘Ali). When Abu Talib saw his son ‘Ali (‘a) standing behind the Prophet (S) in prayer, he said to his other son, Ja‘far: “Go, follow the Prophet.” This congregation of three persons was held after the revelation of the verse, “Fa’sda‘ bima tu’mar” which issued the order of openly propagating Islam.[1][554]
Effects of congregational prayer
In addition to the abundant rewards mentioned, observance of religious obligations in the form of congregation has also ample positive effects on the individual and collective life of the Muslim ummah. Some of these effects are mentioned below:

1. Spiritual effects
The greatest spiritual effect of congregational prayer is the divine rewards mentioned. It is narrated that one night, ‘Ali (‘a) was busy in worship till dawn. As dawn {subh} prayer arrived, he said the obligatory prayer individually and rested.
As the Messenger of Allah (S) did not see him in the congregation for the dawn prayer, he went to his house. Hadhrat Fatimah (‘a) said that ‘Ali’s (‘a) night vigil was the reason for his failure to attend the congregational dawn prayer. The Prophet (S) said that the reward not earned by ‘Ali (‘a) for not attending the congregational dawn prayer is more than the reward for the whole night of worship.[1][555]
The Messenger of Allah (S) has said: “If I pray the dawn prayer in congregation, it is more lovable for me than night vigil and worship till morning.”[1][556]
It is for these merits and rewards that if the number of persons praying exceeds 10, the reward of one rak‘ah cannot be written by the angels if all the skies were sheets of paper, the seas pens, and the trees ink.[1][557]

2. Social effects
Congregational prayer is a prelude to unity among the ranks, closeness of hearts, and promotion of the spirit of brotherhood. It is a kind of informal attendance check, and the best way of identifying individuals.
Congregational prayer is the largest, purest and most economical gatherings in the world. It is a sort of free-of-charge meeting, familiarity with each other’s problems, and a platform for social cooperation among Muslims.

3. Political effects
Congregational prayer is a symbol of the power of Muslims, closeness of hearts and their solidarity in their unity of purpose.
It eliminates discord, strikes fear in the hearts of enemies, upsets hypocrites, and is a thorn in the eyes of the malevolent.
Congregational prayer is a demonstration of presence on the scene, and the link between the Imam and the ummah.

4. Moral and educational effects
In congregational prayer, individuals stand in a single row, setting aside all distinctions of position, race, language, wealth, etc. Purity and sincerity of affection toward fellow human beings is aroused. Meeting one another in rows of worship, makes believers experience a sense of belonging that engenders courage, power and hope.
Congregational prayer creates a sense of order and discipline, alignment, and time-consciousness.
It effaces the spirit of individualism, schism and isolation, while engendering a sense of struggle against arrogance and selfishness.
Congregational prayer teaches unity of expression, direction, objective, and leadership. And since the most pious, meritorious and knowledgeable person must be the one to lead the congregation, it is a kind of training and promotion of knowledge, piety and justice.
Congregational prayer gets rid of rancor, resentments and suspicions between individuals and elevates the level of knowledge, servitude and humility among those praying.
It is because of all these effects that congregational prayer has been much enjoined. Even when a blind man requested exemption from going to the mosque, the Prophet (S) said to him: “Tie a rope from your house to the mosque and with its help you will arrive at the mosque (and return home afterward).”[1][558] The Messenger of Allah (S) did not even permit blind men to abandon congregational prayer.[1][559]
On the contrary, the harsh treatment of those who do not give importance to congregational prayer is another sign of its importance.
It is stated in the hadiths that one should not give a woman in marriage to such people[1][560] nor introduce them to any body.[1][561]
The leader of congregational prayer
In congregational prayer, the person standing in front, leading the people is called the imam. Some also call him the ‘leader’. In the sociopolitical system of Islam, the one who is in charge of leading a group must possess a set of virtues and merits so that his merits also serve as an inspiration to others. In congregational prayer, the imam must be above the rest in knowledge, action, piety, and justness.
We read in hadiths: “Place in front the most virtuous among you”[1][562] and “the best among you” and follow him.[1][563]
There are a lot of hadiths in this regard some of which are quoted below: The leader of the congregation must be one whose faith and commitment the people trust.[1][564]
Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) said: “The imam of the congregation is one who leads you toward God. So, be aware of whom you are following.”[1][565]
Abu Dharr al-Ghaffari said: “Your imam is your intercessor {shafi‘} on the Day of Resurrection. So, do not let your intercessor be among the ignorant and transgressing.”[1][566]
Following unknown individuals and those who have extreme views with respect to religion or Imamate has been forbidden.[1][567] Individuals in society who have received lashes for committing an open sin, or are illegitimate children cannot become an imam of the congregation.[1][568]
The imam of the congregation must be accepted by people; otherwise, the prayer will not be accepted by God.[1][569]
On the exegesis {tafsir} of this noble verse,
خُذُواْ زِينَتَكُمْ عِنْدَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ

“Look to your adornment at every place of worship,”[1][570]
Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) said: “The adornment of a place of worship {masjid} is the worthy leader of the congregation.”[1][571]
Of course, wearing clean clothes, and applying perfume are also mentioned in some traditions as “the adornment of the place of worship”.
Imam al-Baqir (‘a) said: “The imam of the congregation must be from among the learned scholars.”[1][572]
The Messenger of Allah (S) said: “Anyone who stands in prayer behind a learned imam is like standing behind me and Hadhrat Ibrahim in prayer.”[1][573]
The imam of the congregation must take into account the weakest one among the congregation and he must not conduct a lengthy prayer.[1][574]
From this set of hadiths, the sensitive position of the leader of congregational prayer can be realized.
Selection of congregational prayer leader
Superiority and preeminent virtue compared to the rest is a requisite for the leader of the congregation. If there is more than one person worthy to be followed, the traditions mention some conditions which teach us to incline toward certain values to choose the best. Among these conditions are the following:
1. The one whose pronunciation and recital is better;
2. The one who is foremost in the migration {hijrah};
3. The one who has more knowledge of religion and is more learned;
4. The one who is older;
5. The one who is more familiar with the Qur’an;
6. The one who is more handsome and good-looking.[1][575]
7. The host has precedence over the guest in leading the congregation; and.
8. The permanent imam of the congregation has precedence over the one who is new to the mosque.
Among the merits, the issue of being more knowledgeable has been given the most emphasis. This state of being learned and knowledgeable is a condition and advantage in all cases pertaining to leadership and headship.
It is stated in a hadith, thus: “If someone is assuming the post of leadership in a congregation in which there is a person more knowledgeable than him, that congregation till the Day of Resurrection will be in a state of downfall and disgrace.”
Of course, as stated in a hadith earlier, the imam of the congregation must be accepted by the people. This acceptability is acquired through knowledge, purity, justness, humility, and good manners.
It must not be forgotten that sometimes, with the aim of striking a blow to Islam and the ‘ulama’, the enemies and hypocrites try to tarnish the image of a congregational leader through rumor, calumny and lies in order to isolate him. The vigilance of the people is the antidote to this satanic plot. One must not stand in a congregational prayer behind a person who has lost his popularity through transgression, sin and bad manners, but behind a person whose popularity might have diminished through the evil plots of enemies!
Justness of congregational prayer leader
Justness is an important condition for the congregational prayer leader.
Justness has been defined in the books on jurisprudence. Imam Khomeini (may his soul be sanctified), who is one of the distinguished jurists {fuqaha}, says: “To be just {‘adil} is an inner state of being that keeps the person away from committing major sins, and the repetition and persistence in the commission of minor sins.”[1][576]
Purity, piety and avoidance of sin are among the signs of justness. In view of the importance of this characteristic in the Islamic system, Islamic jurisprudence, and the Constitution, the possession of this merit is a requisite for the high-ranking officials and holders of sensitive posts. Besides, important works of the country and affairs of the people must be undertaken by just individuals.
Let us draw our attention to some of the cases in which justness is a requisite: In devotional matters, congregational prayer leader must be just.
In politico-religious affairs, such as Friday congregational prayer, the person who delivers the sermon {khutbah} and lead the prayer must be just.
In politico-legal issues, such as representation in the Majlis (Parliament) and the enactment of laws, the opinion of just jurists under the rubric of “Council of Guardians” {shura-ye negahban} is indispensable.
In legal questions, the granting and acceptance of rights must be done with the testimony of just individuals.
In penal issues, the implementation of Islamic hudud[1][577] and punishment of the iniquitous and guilty is possible if just individuals bear witness to their offences and crimes.
In economic matters, the public treasury must be in the hands of just individuals.
In socio-cultural affairs, the dissemination and airing of news must be done by just people, and the news spread by a transgressor {fasiq} should not be trusted, unless due investigation and inquiry has been carried out.
In military issues, the commander-in-chief must have leadership qualities, a requisite of which is justness.
Therefore, to be just is one of the key pillars of the political system in Islam. It is indispensable in the designation of social responsibilities, and the management of life’s affairs.
Means of recognizing justness
It is true that being just and avoiding sin are personal to individuals and inner qualities of character, but it is possible to detect these virtues through outward signs in the life and actions of individuals. The traditions point out some criteria, the existence of which makes a person worthy of being regarded as just.
Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) was asked, “Who is just {‘adil}?” He said: “It is he who keeps his eyes away from those who are not mahram {individuals whom he could marry}, his tongue from sin, and his hands from inequity.”[1][578]
In a hadith, the Messenger of Allah (S) describes a just and generous person in this manner: “He who does not commit inequity with people in his dealings, does not tell lies in his speech, and does not break his promises, is among those whose piety is perfect and whose sense of justice is manifest.”[1][579]
Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) was asked: “How can we identify the just person?” He said: “The just person is he who is modest and chaste; who does not draw himself toward sin in eating, speech and carnal desire; who shuns major sins such as adultery {zina}, usury {riba}, intoxicants, fleeing from jihad (which have all been explicitly forbidden by the Qur’an); and who does not desist from attending the congregation of Muslims except under justifiable circumstances. Such a person is just and it is unlawful for people to question his shortcomings and to malign him.”[1][580]
We read in another hadith, thus: “Be optimistic about the person who performs his five daily obligatory prayers in congregation and accept his testimony.”[1][581]
Perhaps, what the jurists are expressing as the “outward goodness” with respect to justness is that his presence in ceremonies and congregations of Muslims and his absence from centers of corruption and indecency persuade people to trust him, and in this manner he is recognized as a just and good person.
Regarding just women, Imam al-Baqir (‘a) says: “The fact that she observes the Islamic dress code {hijab} and belongs to a respectable family, obeys her husband, and shuns unscrupulous acts and unpleasant gestures shows that she is just {‘adil}.”[1][582]
In some traditions, transgressors {fasiqun} are identified as those who receive lashes in public because of their open abominable sins, or those who are known among the people for their wickedness and impiety, or those who are suspected of something bad.[1][583]
Of course, the justness of a person does not mean that he never commits sin throughout his life because this quality is only true with respect to the prophets {anbiya’} and infallible saints {awliya’} (‘a), but the fact that he has not been seen committing major sins is enough to regard him as just.
The fact should not remain unsaid that if a person does not consider himself just and even declares so to the people, but the people recognize him as just and pious, he can be the leader of congregational prayers and the people can follow him. If the people are inclined to follow him he must not refuse.[1][584]
If after the congregational prayer, it becomes known that the imam of the congregation is not a just person, the prayers performed by following him in the congregation are valid and there is no need to repeat them.[1][585]
Why some people do not participate in congregational prayers?
Notwithstanding all those rewards and effects of congregational prayer, some people are deprived of this great blessing. It is regrettable to observe that they do not give importance and pay heed to it. Even those who are in the neighborhood of a mosque do not attend the congregation of Muslims. Sometimes, lamentably and painfully, the mosques are empty.
There are various reasons why people do not participate in congregational prayers. Some are really excused and their reasons are justifiable, but in most cases, invalid excuses are presented. A survey of such reasons and excuses is presented: Some people are unaware of the rewards for attending congregational prayer.
On account of the unpleasant behavior of some worshippers in the mosque, some people do not give importance to congregational prayer.
There are some who take the bad behavior of the congregational prayer leader as the reason for not attending, considering it as contrary to the quality of justness required for an imam.
Some people refrain from participating in congregational prayer because of the difference of their political views with that of the imam on certain subjects, figures, etc.
Some individuals are deprived of great rewards for attending the congregational prayer owing to their socio-economic preoccupations and daily undertakings.
Some are discouraged because of the lukewarm treatment of the people in the mosque, and thus, they no longer go there.
There are those who associate the shortcomings of the imam’s kith and kin to him and thus, they do not accept him as imam.
Some people regard their participation in congregational prayer as contributing to the increasing popularity of the imam and thus, they refrain from doing so without substantiating the unjustness of the imam.
Out of arrogance, there are people who are not willing to participate in congregational prayer under the leadership of a young or poor person in spite of his being sincere, committed and meritorious.
There are also those who are lazy and self-indulgent, and in the acts of worship they are languid and indolent. They treat congregational prayer as a ‘burden’ instead of an ‘obligation’ and they seldom desist other works to join other Muslims in prayer.
Some individuals avoid the mosque because of the longevity of congregational prayer.
Some do not participate in congregational prayer because they do not like the guardians or caretakers of the mosque.
These are just some of the reasons why some people do not participate in congregational prayer.
As you must have observed, most of these reasons are unjustifiable excuses.
If the religious awareness and growth of people reaches the point where they set aside the abovementioned factors; and with sincerity and solidarity, sit together in well-ordered lines; pay attention to the great rewards of congregation; do not regard the imam’s bad gesture as inconsistent with his justness; not associate the sins of his relatives with him; and take into account the abundant blessings and positive effects of this “religious gathering”, a flourishing of the mosques will be observed, and the ‘thinness’ of congregational prayers will vanish.
Of course, the intellectual and moral competence of the imam, the warm and educational atmosphere of mosques, the worthy and respectful behavior with congregational prayer participants, particularly the youngsters and adolescents, could play an important role in attracting them to the mosque—the Muslims’ center of spirituality and unity. The involvement of the cultural, propagational, and educational officials of the country is also crucial in this context.
If coaches, teachers and parents themselves participate in congregational prayers, pray in the presence of their pupils and children, or go to the mosques, they will serve as an inspiration for them.
If only schools were built near the mosques, it would facilitate the pupils’ participation in congregational prayers.
Traveler’s prayer
Prayer is a very important obligatory act, the performance of which can never be suspended by a person—even while traveling, in sickness, on the battlefield, on the verge of drowning, etc. Of course, according to particular circumstances, prayer will assume different forms, but it will always be obligatory on man.
While traveling, the Muslim must be heedful of his prayers. Whether in a train or bus, in cold or warm weather, having ample time or in a hurry, he should not treat prayer as insignificant and forget to perform it. When the bus or train stops for prayer or food, one must not miss the opportunity of offering his prayer. And if the vehicle does not stop, he needs to request the driver to stop for a short while.
Conditions for shortened {qasr} prayer
Throughout his journey, the traveler {musafir} has to shorten {qasr} his four-rak‘ah prayers, subject to the following eight conditions:[1][586]
First: His travel must not be less than eight farsakhs[1][587] as defined by religious law.
Second: He should intend at the time of the commencement of the journey, to cover a distance of (at least) eight farsakhs.
Third: He should not change his mind (of covering the abovementioned distance) while on his way.
Fourth: He does not intend to pass through his home town and stay there, or to stay at some place for 10 days or more, before he reaches a distance of eight farsakhs.
Fifth: He should not travel for haram activity and his travel must not be for the commission of sin.
Sixth: He should not be a nomad, who roam about in the deserts (and temporarily stay at places where they find food for themselves, and fodder and water for their animals, and again proceed to some other place after a few days halt).
Seventh: His profession should not be traveling (that is, his work involves traveling; or that traveling is the means of his subsistence, like the camel rider, driver, herdsman, and sailor).
Eighth: He should reach the limit of tarakhkhus,[1][588] that is, at a point beyond which traveling begins.
Ten days of stay
If a person intends to stay for 10 days or more at a certain place while traveling, he should perform his prayers in full (not shortened).
If his true intention is to stay for less than 10 days, he cannot outwardly intend for 10 days of stay and thus pray in full.
If prior to the passing of 10 days, the person changes his mind for some reasons and decides to return home, he should pray in full during the remaining days of his travel.
If a person reaches his hometown {watan} during his journey, and makes a stopover there, he should offer full prayers as long as he stays there, unless he changes his place of residence and has no intention to return to his hometown.
The person’s place of birth is his original hometown {watan} unless he migrates from there. The other place chosen by the person to stay permanently is regarded as his adopted hometown. If a person is living in two places, both places are considered as his watan. So long as the person has no intention of staying permanently in a certain place other than his hometown, that place cannot be treated as his watan unless, without the intention of staying there, the people consider it as his hometown, because of his long stay.
Anyone whose profession is traveling (such as drivers, pilots, etc.) or whose occupation is related to traveling, and as such is always traveling, he should perform his prayers in full.[1][589]
A traveler can offer either shortened or full prayers in four places:
(1) Masjid al- Haram (in Makkah);
(2) Masjid an-Nabi (in Medina);
(3) Masjid al-Kufah (in Kufah, Iraq); and
(4) The shrine of the Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a), and the mosque attached to it (in Karbala’, Iraq).[1][590]
In these places, in order to obtain more bounties, a traveler can offer his prayers in full.
Compensatory {qadha} prayer
Prayer is among the duties of man toward his Creator and to offer so is incumbent upon the obliged person. A person, who does not offer his obligatory prayer on its prescribed time for any of the following reasons; such as forgetfulness, unconsciousness, intoxication, the lack of opportunity, being under compulsion, out of heedlessness, committing sin, is offered, but later discovered that it was invalid {batil}, must offer compensatory {qadha} prayer.
Of course, the ladies who have to miss the daily prayers, or any other obligatory prayers, due to haydh[1][591] or nifas,[1][592] do not need to offer any qadha for them.
Anyone who has to offer qadha prayer should not abandon it totally though it is not obligatory to offer it immediately.
So long as man is alive, though he is excused from offering his prayers, another person cannot offer them afterward as qadha.
Qada prayer may be performed in congregation and it is not necessary for the participants in the congregation to say qadha prayer for an identical prayer. For example, one may say qadha prayer for the dawn {subh} prayer in the congregation for maghrib and ‘isha’ prayers, or vice versa.
The prayer that has not been offered in the past, should be performed in qadha in the same manner in terms of the number of rak‘ahs. For example, a person who is traveling should offer the qadha for a four-rak‘ah prayer in full. And if while traveling, a person misses his noon {zuhr} prayer, in his hometown he should offer its qadha in a shortened manner, i.e. in two rak‘ahs instead of four.

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