If we knew about the excellence of congregational prayers and the benefits it brings to us and our community we would rush to pray all of our prayers in the Masjid. Praying together increases the bonds of brotherhood by meeting and greeting on a regular basis, provides the means of knowing the needs or conditions of our neighbors, and uplifts our soul by seeing other people who are performing ibada. Imagine a person who prays all of his salat in his home, and he rarely goes out except to work. How then shall his neighbors know he is sick -so that they can visit him; in need of support – so that they can offer help; in need of friendship- so that they can increase their bonds of caring… Secondly, praying in congregation improves our behavior, increases us in knowledge and also faith when we stay for short lectures or group discussions which invariably occur after prayers.
By joining congregational prayers we confirm our presence in the community, become aware of possible activities which our families may enjoy, or provide the community with our own skills and knowledge. Recently, while looking for a home to purchase, my son made a comment about the house we had just seen, “one of the best selling points of the house is that is is close to a nice masjid.” I quickly agreed happy that he had thought of this. Instead of being happy with my comment my children laughed because they meant literally the selling points of THE HOUSE; however, isn’t location a selling point? I ask that God create or increase the desire among the Muslims to attend masjid for all of their fard prayers especially fajr and isha.
Additionally, let us not forget some hadith about sunna prayers:
1. Zaid bin Thabit (May Allah be pleased with him)reported: The Prophet (PBUH) said, “O people! perform your (voluntary) Salat (prayers) in your homes because the best Salat of a man is the one he performs at home, except the obligatory Salat.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. This hadith shows us that we should offer our fard salat in the masjid and sunna prayers in the home. This is done for a few reasons; to bless our homes by praying within them, to be an example to the rest of our household to offer salat, and also to prevent our hearts from showing off .
2. Ibn `Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Observe part of the [Nawafil (voluntary)] Salat (prayers) in your homes. Do not turn your homes into graves.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Our homes become as dark graves with no plans of worship and the light which is brought by ibada as well as the blessings upon the home and those who pray within.
Finally, “The distinguishing factor between kufr and Imaan is the deliberate neglect of Salaat.” (Muslim) Let us be of those who pray on its time with khushoo (calm focus).
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 unless one has to do so on the account of a genuine reason. The Qur’an says:
“…and bend down in ruku with those who bend down in ruku.” [Al-Baqarah 2:43]
Arguing from this verse, the commentators are generally of the view that prayer has to be offered collectively. The importance of the congregational prayer in Islam is so great that the Muslims have been enjoined to observe it 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 salah (in a state of war), let a party 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 salah, say it with you and they too, should be on guard and keep their weapons with them.” [An-Nisaa 4:102]
The Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, also has greatly stressed the offering of prayer in congregation and described its unique merit and excellence. For instance, he said:
“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 had missed them even if they had to come to the masjid on their knees.” Then he said, “I wish I should tell a Mua’dhin to pronounce the iqamah and appoint someone as Imam in my place, and I should myself go and set fire to the houses of those who do not come out even after hearing the adhan. (Bukhari, Muslim).
“Offering the prayer in congregation carries 27 times greater reward than offering it alone individually.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
According to Sayyidna Anas, Radi-Allahu anhu, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “The person who offers his prayers continuously for 40 days without missing the first takbeer, is granted a two-fold immunity by Allah: immunity from Hell-fire and immunity from hypocrisy. (Tirmidhi)
According to Sayyidna Abdullah bin Masoud, Radi-Allahu anhu, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “O Muslims! Allah has prescribed paths of right guidance for you among which is the offering of the daily prayers in congregation in the masjid, which is the offering of the daily prayers in congregation in the masjid; if you start saying your prayers individually at home, as so-and-so does, you will be forsaking the Sunnah of your Prophet, and if you forsake the Sunnah of your Prophet, you will certainly be going astray.” (Muslim)
According to Ubayy bin Ka’ab, Radi-Allahu anhu, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “If the people come to know of the great rewards and benefits of the congregational prayer, they would never stay back but would rush to the masjid for it. The first row merits the highest reward. Two persons praying together merit greater reward than the same praying individually, the rule being that the bigger the congregation the higher its worth in the Sight of Allah.” (Abu Dawud)
“Give good news to those who go to the masjid 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)
Sayyidna Usman, Radi-Allahu anhu, has reported that he heard the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, say: “The person who observes the Isha prayer in congregation, will have the reward and blessings of staying up half the night in prayer, and the one who observes the Fajr prayer in congregation will have the reward and blessings of staying up the whole night in prayer.” (Tirmidhi)
Regulations for Making Rows
Utmost care has to be exercised to keep the rows straight and balanced. The Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, 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)
The front rows should be filled and completed first. The followers should stand behind the Imam in a balanced way, equally on the right and left, keeping him in the middle in front.
If there is a single follower, he should stand on the right of the Imam with his heels a little behind the Imam. It is undesirable for a single follower to stand behind the Imam in a separate row.
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.
If at the beginning of the prayer, there is only one follower and later on one or more follower joins in, they should either pull the first follower back in the row, or the Imam should step forward and let the followers make a row behind him.
If the front rows are complete, and there is no room for a late comer, he should avoid standing alone behind, but should pull a person back from the front row and make a separate row at the back.
If there is room for a late comer to stand in the front row, it is undesirable for him to stand alone at the back.
If a person who has offered a fard prayer alone, finds that the same fard prayer is being offered collectively, 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 and Maghrib having 3 rak’ahs cannot be counted as a nafl prayer, for the prayer offered in congregation by the person will have nafl status and not fard, because he has all ready offered his fard prayer individually.
If a person is offering a fard prayer and than finds the same prayer being held in congregation, he should abandon his prayer and join the congregation. If, however, it is the Fajr prayer and he has performed the sajdah of the second rak’ah, or in case of other prayers the sajdah 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.
If a person had started a nafl prayer and than finds a fard congregational prayer due to begin, he should pronounce salutation after two rak’ahs and join the congregation.
If a person has started the first four sunnah 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.
When Imam has stood up for a fard prayer, the sunnah prayer should not be started. However, in view of the great importance of the sunnah rak’ahs of the Fajr prayer, one may offer them even if there is a hope of gaining a single rak’ah of the fard prayer.
If a fard congregational prayer is in progress, one may observe the sunnah rak’ah, if one so likes, in a place outside the masjid; if this is not possible, one may observe them in a corner of the masjid, away from the congregation; if this is also not possible, the one should join the congregation instead, for it is undesirable to offer a prayer independently in a place here a congregational fard prayer is in progress.
If due to some reason, one is late for a congregational prayer and has no hope of gaining the prayer, one should hasten to the masjid because it is expected that Allah will not deprive rewards and blessings of congregational prayer. Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, has said: “The person who preformed his wudu well, then went to the masjid, and found the prayer to have been preformed already, he will get the same reward from Allah as those who were tended as observed the prayer in congregation without any decrease in there rewards.”
The person who joins the Imam in the ruku position is deemed to have gained that rak’ah; if he joins later, he will have to complete the rak’ahs that he has missed, independently.
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 beside the Imam.