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Aspects Of The Islamic Faith - 41: A Serious Threat To Absentees

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

The message of Islam dates back to the day when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began to receive divine revelations in 610 CE. At the time he lived in Makkah, a town in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula where Arabs observed a strict tribal system. Loyalty was first and foremost to the tribe. Whoever was cast away from his tribe could only lead the life of a pariah. Arabian tribes were often at war with one another. Vengeance killing was commonplace. A rigid system of slavery was in operation, and slaves had no rights whatsoever.

Prophet Muhammad preached a message that changed all that. It established a religion based on the doctrine of the absolute oneness of God and the equality of all mankind. It declared: “Mankind! We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most genuinely God-fearing.” (49: 13)

Such a social change could not be accomplished by merely stating principles. There had to be practical manifestations of people’s equality and the new bond of brotherhood that joins all believers. The most important of these is the congregational prayers, or salat Al-jamaah. Muslims stand in rows, shoulder to shoulder, allowing no gaps between them, moving together from one position to another, with nothing to distinguish anyone above anyone else. When the prayer is finished they greet each other, as brothers and sisters. They enquire after those who could not make the prayer. As they frequent their local mosques, they establish strong social bonds.

The congregational prayer became an established Islamic institution after the Prophet had moved to Madinah. There the Muslim community held the upper hand, but they were joined in the city by a Jewish community and Arab unbelievers. However, there were also some people who did not really accept the new faith but felt that it served their interest to claim that they believed in Islam. These were hypocrites. Nothing is more burdensome to a hypocrite than attending congregational prayers where he has to put up a face and attend to a particular duty. The two night prayers, Isha and Fajr, were especially hard to such hypocrites. Hence, they often absented themselves. The Prophet was aware of them.

One day, he issued a stern threat. Abu Hurayrah quotes the Prophet as saying: “By Him who holds my soul in His hand, I have thought of ordering that firewood should be gathered. I would then give instructions for the congregational prayer to be called. I would appoint someone to lead the prayer, while I would go to certain people and burn their houses. By God, had any of them learnt that he would find here some good food or a little worldly gain, he would not have missed Isha prayer.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

This hadith gives us a clear idea of the importance of the congregational prayer. It should be clear, however, that attending congregational prayers is not obligatory, but strongly recommended. The Prophet never put this idea into action, but the very fact that he stated it shows how serious is the persistent absence from congregational prayers. It is not up to any ruler to burn down the house of anyone for failing to attend the congregational prayer. It is clear that the Prophet was speaking of people who were absolutely hypocrite. No one other than the Prophet, who received divine revelations, can judge anyone as hypocrite.

 

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