By Yasir Anjola Quadri
As-salām Alaikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatuh!
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, mosques have been shut down forcing us to pray at home with our families. It affected adversely the last Tarāwih prayer as well as Eidul-Fitr prayer. The closure was not limited to Nigeria. The whole world including Makkah and Madinah were affected. It is apt to mention that the closure affects all religious houses and large social gatherings.
The ban on Congregational prayer in mosques and churches was however lifted on the second of June, 2020 in many States with guidelines including observance of social distancing of one metre while the congregation should not be more than fifty people. This is fundamentally opposed to the concept of Congregational Salāt, where the congregants are expected to stand shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe and body to body, demonstrating unity of purpose, togetherness, and oneness of the Ummah before Allah without leaving any gap for Shaytan to come in between the worshippers.
In point of fact, before COVID-19, after Iqāmah, an Imam leading a Congregational Salāt would instruct the congregants to close up any gap within the rows on the basis that standing properly without leaving any gap in between, is part of completeness of Salāt. In other words, if there is space in between the congregants, their Salāt is not properly performed because it is not complete, Shaytan has been allowed to come in between the worshippers.
It was reported from Anas b. Mālik, RA, that the Prophet, _saaws_, said: ” Arrange your rows properly. Surely proper arrangement of rows is part of completeness of Salāt. Bukhārī and Muslim reported the hadith. Some scholars including Ibn ‘Uthaymī are of the view that Taswiyatus-Sufūf is obligatory, not just a Sunnah, while Ibn Taymiyyah declared whoever did not implement it a sinner.
Looking at how Congregational Salāt is performed now are days in mosques does not portray compliance to the instruction given by the Prophet, _saaws_. It does not depict a Muslim Congregational Salāt. It appears like a scattered people doing acrobatic display. It may be argued that Necessity ( _Darūriyyah_ ) is responsible for the new scene.
If we agree that it is COVID-19 that is responsible for the manner of praying in a scattered form, the question to ask is : what does the Prophet, _saaws_, say we should do in case of epidemic, pandemic, heavy rain, storm, flood, etc, ? He says we should pray at home. We have been praying at home since March and our prayer has always been accepted.
It is true that Congregational Salāt attracts greater reward about 27 times more than a Salāt observed as an individual. The truth is that we have not missed the great reward because we have been observing Salāt at home in congregation with our families. Why should we be clamouring for congregational Salāt in mosques if we will end up praying in unacceptable manner by the Sharī’ah?
There is no social distancing in Islam with regard to congregational Salāt. I am of the view that we should not be in a hurry to open the mosques for congregational Salāt and end up praying in unacceptable manner by Allah. Muslims don’t stand before Allah in a scattered manner. Angels stand before Allah in properly arranged rows (Q78:38, 18:48 & 89:22).
There is another suggestion that “prayers should be shortened to minimize contact between worshippers”. It was also said that short verses only should be recited in Salāt in order not to keep people in the mosques for a long time. That, too, is laying a wrong precedent because it may be taken by ignorant people as the norm. We are allowed to recite whatever is convenient for us, not necessarily very short portions of the Qur’an.
Worst still, _Khutbah_ on Fridays has been suggested to be delivered within ten minutes. Soon, someone will dictate to us what to say on the _Minbar_ . If we don’t have time for Allah, we don’t have business coming to the mosque. There is no mockery in Islamic worship. Salāt is not performed in a hurry but in a state of comportment and solemnity. Things must be done properly in order to have the desired positive result.
Another condition given is that ablution should be performed at home , not in the mosque. What happens when my ablution is spoilt and it is time to commence congregational Salat?
The purpose of coming to the mosque is defeated.
Another condition is that handwashing materials must be provided in each mosque. I cannot perform ablution in the mosque but I can wash my hand in the same mosque. What a contradiction!
Experts on public health have not observed downward trend in the number of people afflicted by COVID-19. The clamouring for the opening of religious places is not even from the health workers who are in the best position to advise on when to open the places. Daily report released by the experts is not encouraging. The figures keep skyrocketing. 11,166 confirmed cases have been reported as at today. The figure was 2,371 on the 5th of May, and 232 only on the 5th of April, 2020.
People are just in a hurry to get the mosques opened as if their Salāt at home is not accepted by Allah. We should remember that if any COVID-19 victim joins in congregational Salāt in a mosque and spreads the virus among other Muslims, no one should blame Allah but ourselves for being inpatient. We are urged by Allah to guard ourselves against the _fitnah_ (affliction, trial, etc., ) which affects not in particular only those of us who do wrong, Q8:25 . Q2:195 inter alia says: “…. and do not throw yourselves into destruction.” It will consume everybody.
Individual Muslim is responsible for his safety and survival from this disease. We must avoid crowd and restrict our movements as well as control movements into our homes.
COVID-19 is contagious. It will continue to spread as long as social distancing is not observed. We should allow our _du’ā_ ‘ to be answered by Allah by working towards its realisation. We pray for the eradication of COVID-19. We should do things that will contain and destroy it.
Prof. Quadri writes from Ilorin