The institution of congregational Prayer is a unique informal plan for the religious instruction of Muslims and offers them a wonderful opportunity to come in to contact with one another and know about each-other’s welfare regularly. The atmosphere of worship, devoutness and repentance that pervades the mosques and the effect it produces in the hearts, the bestowal of Divine favours that takes place when the hearts of the bondsmen of different religious and spiritual levels turn in unison towards the Lord, and the company of the angels with which the devotees are blessed in congregational Salah, as a number of the Traditions tell, are, again, the singular advantages of the system of congregation.
1. Abdullah bin Masud related to us, he said that, “I have seen ourselves (i.e., the Muslims) in the state that he who did not offer up Namaz in congregation was either a mere Hypocrite whose Hypocrisy was not hidden from anyone or a poor, sick invalid who could not come to the mosque owing to illness), and even some sick people came to the mosque, supported by two men., and joined the congregation”… After it, Abdullah bin Masud said that “the Apostle of God has imparted to us the knowledge of Sunan-i-Huda (i.e., of the things of faith and Shariat on which our guidance and felicity are dependent or with which I they are related) and one of these Sunan-i-Huda is the offering up of Namaz in congregation in a mosque where Azan is given.”
In another version of the same Tradition Abdullah bin Masud is stated to have said: “O Muslims! God has prescribed Sunan-i-Huda for your Prophet (i.e., enjoined upon him acts that are capable of taking one to the place of propinquity and good pleasure of the Lord) and to offer up the five daily prayers in congregation in the mosque is one of them. You will forsake the way of the Prophet if you will start saying Namaz at home and away from the congregation like this man (the reference is to some particular person who lived in those days), and if you forsook the way of the Prophet, be sure you will forsake the path of Guidance and fall in the abyss of destruction.” – Muslim
In it we are told by an illustrious Companion of the Prophet, Hazrat Abdullah bin Masud, that offering of all the five daily prayers in congregation is among the Prophet’s teachings that are popularly known as Sunan-i-Huda. In other words, it is a part of his more important precepts with which the guidance of the Ummat is closely connected. Hazrat Abdullah bin Masud, further, tells that to omit the congregation and say Namaz at home is to stray away from the path of the Prophet, and that during the earliest days of Islam which was the finest imaginable phase of the Ummat, everyone except the sick and the Hypocrites offered Namaz in congregation and even the invalids came to, the mosque, supported by others, to participate in the service.
It is clear from the above Tradition that in the opinion of Hazrat Abdullah bin Masud and the general body of the Companions the position of congregation is similar to that of an obligatory duty. Thus, those who draw the inference from the term, Sunan-i-Huda, that according to the jurisprudential usage congregation is no more than a Sunnat have, perhaps, not kept the whole of Abdullah bin Masud’s narrative in mind.
2. It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “No Namaz is more heavy on the Hypocrites than Fajr and Isha, and if they knew what reward was on them, and what blessings, they would join them even if they had to drag themselves on their knees (i. e., they would come to the mosque crawling along the ground if they could not walk due to illness). I, sometimes, feel like telling the Muezzin to say the Iqamat, and, then, appointing someone to lead the service in my place, took the torch in my hand and set fire to the houses of the people who did not come out of their homes for joining the congregation even after hearing the Azan.” – Bukhari and Muslim
An equally awe-inspiring Tradition has been quoted in Ibn Maja, on the authority of Hazrat Usama. It reads: “People must give up the habit of staying away from congregation otherwise I shall burn down their houses.”
Whether the willful defaulters of congregation against whom the Prophet has expressed such a strong indignation be the Hypocrites of belief or action, this warning is about the act of omitting the congregation. This has led some authorities of old, including Imam Ahmad Hanbal, to believe that it is obligatory for an able-bodied person to say the Namaz in congregation. In other words, as the offering up of Namaz is a religious duty so, also, is the offering up of it in congregation and he who neglects congregation, neglects a fundamental religious obligation. But the doctors of the Hanafi school have, after examining the relevant Traditions, concluded that it belongs to the class of Wajib (meaning a thing requisite or proper to be done) not Farz, and the remark of the Prophet (saws) contained in the above narrative is in the nature of a warning and admonition.