Jama’ah Salah (Prayer in Congregation)

Jama’ah means community and gathering, coming together.

Prayer in congregation is the salah that Muslims perform together following the imam, the person in front of them.

Five daily prayers, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and known as “the pillar of the religion”, need to be performed collectively due to the importance that Islam gives to jama’ah.

Performing salah in congregation is definite by the Holy Book, Sunnah and Ijma (Consensus). Allah Ta’ala adressed our Prophet as follows: “When thou (O Messenger) art with them, and standest to lead them in prayer, let one party of them stand up (in prayer) with thee taking their arms with them.” (an-Nisa, 4/102) The Prophet (s.a.w.) explains the virtue of jama’ah salah as follows: “The salah performed in congregation is twenty-seven times more virtuous than the salah performed individually.” (Bukhari, Adhan 30; Salat 87; Muslim, Masajid 245; Abu Dawud, Salat 48; Tirmidhi, Salah 47). In another narration, this virtue is mentioned as twenty-five times. (Ibn Majah, Masajid, 16). The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) also said,

“If one performs wudu properly, goes to the mosque just for salah,  he/she ascends one degree and one of his sins is deleted for every step and  he/she takes until he/she arrives the mosque.” (Abu Dawud, Salah, 8)

At least two people are necessary for prayer in congregation. And this is formed by a person along with the imam. We understand this from the following hadith of the Prophet (s.a.w.): “Two or more people are  jama’ah” (Bukhari, Adhan 30)

One of those two people must be the imam and the other must follow him for prayer in congregation. It does not matter whether the person following the imam is a man, woman or sane child. For, our Prophet (s.a.w.) called those two people as jama’ah. A mad person and a child who is not sane are not accepted as part of jama’ah. For, they are not responsible for performing salah and they are regarded as almost absent. (al-Qasani, Badaiu's-Sanayi, Beirut 1394/1974, I, 156)

Five daily salahs and the sunnahs like tarawih and kusuf can be performed both in congregation and individually. However, it is necessary for the Friday prayer and eid prayers to be performed in congregation. For, one of the conditions of the validity of those salahs are congregation.

One person is enough along with the imam is enough for the eid prayer. As for the Friday prayer, this number cannot be fewer than two people except the imam.

It is permissible for women to perform prayers in congregation among themselves but this is makruh. If they do so, the woman who is the imam stands in the middle of the first line. (al-Marghinani, ibid, I, 56)

It is makruh for young women to go to jama’ah salah performed with men (if it causes mischief). However, there is no objection for old women. (al-Marghinani, ibid, I, 57)

If only two people perform salah in congregation, the person following the imam needs to stand on the right side of the imam. If there are two people following the imam,  he stands in front of them. If there is a man and a woman following the imam, the man stands on the right of the imam and the woman stands behind the imam at the back. If there are two men and a woman, the men stand behind the imam and the woman stands behind these men. It is not permissible for men to follow a woman or a child, and to perform salah behind them. (Marghinani, I, 56)

The arrangement of straight and close rows (ranks) and standing shoulder shoulders to shoulder  in prayers in congregation is an issue that our Prophet (s.a.w.) gave great importance to.  Therefore, the imam must check the lines before starting salah.

The imam must lead the salah in a moderate time. It is not convenient to weary the jama’ah by lengthening the salah  or to hurry by making the salah shorter. However, if a certain jama’ah wants  the salah to be prolonged, it is not wrong to prolong the salah.
If there are women and little children in the jama’ah salah, men stand in the first line(s); women stand behind them and at the back the children line up. It invalidates the salah of a male imam if a woman who follows the imam stands next to the imam without a curtain etc between them. (al-Marghinani, ibid, I, 57)

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) mentioned the virtue of the jama’ah salah on various occasions; plenty of hadiths were heard from him on that issue. Some of these are as follows:

“A salah performed in congregation is twenty or more times virtuous than as a salah performed at home or at the market individually.” (Ibn Majah, Masajid, 16)

“A salah performed in congregation is twenty-seven times more virtuous than a salah performed individually.” (Bukhari, Adhan 29; Salat 87; Muslim, Masajid 249; al-Muwatta, Jamaaa, 1; Ibn Majah, Masajid, 16).

“If people knew the virtue of the night and morning salahs, they would come to the mosque even by crawling.” (Ibn Majah, Masajid, 18)

“A person who performs the night salah in congregation, he/she will be regarded as if he/she has spent the half of the night worshipping. A person who performs the night and morning salahs in congregation, he/she will be regarded as if he/she has spent the whole night worshipping. (Abu Dawud, as-Salah, 45)

On the one hand, the Prophet (s.a.w) encouraged jama’ah salah, on the other hand, he criticized the ones who leave jama’ah as follows:

“I swear by Allah that I wish in my heart that I shall order people to perform salah and they shall carry out this; after that, I shall order a man to lead people to perform the salah. After this order, I shall take some men with loads of wood to the ones who have not come to the congregation and burn their houses while they are in them.” (al-Muwatta', Jama'ah 3; Ibn Majah, Masajid, 17)

“I swear that some people will either abondon leaving jama’ah or Allah will seal their hearts. After that, they will surely be heedless people. (Ibn Majah, Masajid, 17) 

Salah has been performed in congregation since the times of our Prophet (s.a.w.) up to now because of this significant virtue; and the mosques built for this purpose have been social institutions along with the other functions they carry out. Salah in congregation is sunnah al-muakkada according to Hanafi madhhab;  it is fard al-kifaya - sunnah al-muakkada- according to Shafi’i madhhab; according to Maliki madhhab, it is sunnah al-muakkada- fard al-kifaya; it is fard al-’ayn according to Hanbali madhhab and Dawud az-Zahiri. (Tajrid as-Sarih Translation, II, 604).

It is necessary for a person who wants to join a prayer in congregation to have the strength to perform salah with others, not to be naked and to be muqim (a resident). If someone becomes the imam for his wife and his children at home, he can obtain the virtue of jama’ah and gain thawab. However, it gains him more thawabs to perform salah in congregation in a mosque. If salah in congregation is not performed openly anywhere, performing salah performed at homes and at shops without an announcement, will not save people from the responsibility of jama’ah. Firstly, it is necessary to invite the people of a town who do not perform salah in congregation to form a congregation with the adhan. In a community in which Islam dominates, if the Muslims do not come to the congregation after this invitation, it is necessary to resort to violence to force them to join the congregation. It is better to perform salah in a mosque that has more people in congregation. However, if the imam is from ahl al-bid’ah, that is, if there is a situation showing his fisq (disobedience to Allah) but not his kufr (unbelief), then it is better to perform salah in a mosque that has fewer people in congregation. There are some excuses that prevent going to the mosque to perform salah in congregation. In fiqh, they are called “Excuses that make it permissible not to go to the mosque to perform prayers”. These excuses are as follows:

- To be so ill as not to be able to walk, to be paralyzed, to be old, to be blind, to have an amputated arm or leg.

Apart from these, people’s legitimate, important excuses concerning their conditions can make it permissible not to go to the mosque like a person who must stay with an ill person at home.  The person whom the congregation follows in prayer is called the imam; his duty is calledhis duty is called imamah; following the imam is called iqtida; those who follow the imam are called muqtadis; the straight line formed by muqtadis is called saff.  When the congregation follows the imam, they have to make the movements after the imam. For example, they follow the imam while bowing down, standing up from ruku, prostrating, etc. Even if there is one person apart from the imam, salah can be performed in congregation.

Undoubtedly, a salah in congregation is superior in terms of thawab to a salah performed individually.  Some of the merits of salah in congregation are getting the Muslims together and inspring them the spirit of unity. It is possible to list these merits as follows:

1- Going to the mosque before the time of salah,

2- Revealing the indications of Islam,

3- Infuriating Satan by getting together to worship and by cooperating,

4- Refreshing of those who are lazy about worshipping, 

5- Being away from the attribute of hypocrisy and from having bad thoughts about others,

6- Neighbors' getting close to each other,

7- Meeting of the people of neighborhood at the times of salah,

8- Setting an example of the unity and cooperation that must exist among the Muslims and strengthening it. (Ibn Majah Translation and Explanation, II, 632

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