The Accessible Conspectus: Congregational Prayer

This post is part of a series of posts aimed at making The Ultimate Conspectus accessible to readers who have never read fiqh before.

2.5 Congregational Prayer

The textual foundation for praying in a congregation comes from the Quran and Sunnah. Allah Most High says, “And when you are among them and lead them in prayer…,” [Q4:102]. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Prayer in congregation is twenty-seven times superior to prayer offered by an individual.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Congregational prayer of the five obligatory daily prayers is an emphasized sunnah [mu’akkadah]. This is one opinion in the school, and it is the one advocated by Imām al-Rāfiʿī. Imam al-Nawawī says that the stronger opinion is that it is a community obligation. According to this stronger opinion, the obligation is to establish praying the five obligatory prayers in a congregation and doing so in a way that is public. If a group of individuals has done this, the obligation falls from the rest of the community.

Women are never required to pray in a congregation, though it is recommended for them to do so. Women attended congregational prayers during the time of the Prophet ﷺ. He ﷺ allowed them to attend the mosque and expressly forbade barring them.

It is not a requirement that the congregational prayer be performed in a mosque. It can be held in a house, office, or public place.

The minimum congregation size is two individuals.

Something to keep in mind is that attending the Friday Prayer is a personal obligation for males. (This will come in section 2.7.1.)

When praying in congregation, the followers must intend to follow, but it is not required that the imam intend to lead. If the imam leads and forgets to make the intention, their prayer is valid but his has the reward of an individual. (However, this intention is required when leading Friday Prayer.)

It is permissible and valid for someone who is free to be led by a slave, and for one who is mature to pray behind an adolescent. It is not valid for a male to be led by a female, nor for one who reads Al-Fātiḥah correctly to be led by someone who does not. Additionally, someone who reads Al-Fātiḥah incorrectly cannot pray behind someone else who also reads it incorrectly but makes a different mistake.

Learning to recite Quran is a personal obligation. Since reciting Al-Fātiḥah is an integral and essential element of prayer, you need to make sure that you read it correctly.

Wherever one prays in a mosque behind the imam while aware of the imam’s prayer, the prayer suffices, provided one does not advance closer to the direction of prayer than his imam. One is aware of the imam’s prayer if they can hear or see him, or one of the rows praying behind him.

We look at the heels of the feet to see whether one person is standing before another. So we look to them to determine whether a follower has advanced before his imam, and when straightening the prayer lines.

Being aware of the imam’s prayer and advancing before the imam can be problems in structures that have been converted into mosques.

If the imam prays inside a mosque and the follower prays behind and close outside, it is permissible, provided that the follower is aware of the imam’s prayer and there is no barrier between them. What is meant by close here is approximately 144m or 472ft. When the imam is inside the mosque and a person is following from outside the mosque, then “close” is with respect to the back of the mosque (not the imam inside the mosque). If the imam and his followers are outside, then “close” is with respect to the distance in between the individual rows of prayer.

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