"Our Dialogue" 6th Edition Rev

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When neither option is accepted, then that authority which stands as a barrier preventing people from choosing Islam must be destroyed. It is an authority that suppresses religious freedom. Therefore, it should be removed, and by war if necessary.

• Congregation: A duty on the Muslim Community

1. What are the rules for holding a congregational prayer? How do worshipers stand? What is the advantage of praying in a congregation? Is it compulsory to form a congregation?

2. I have noticed that most women either pray at home or do not pray at all. Is it obligatory for women to offer their five prayers in mosque as men?

1. To pray in a congregation i.e. with jama'ah is a distinctive aspect of Islamic worship. Many scholars consider that holding a congregational prayer and joining congregational prayers is compulsory for all Muslims. Allah says in the Qur'an; "Bow down with those who bow down." This is a clear reference to prayer. If it was not a duty, we would have been given a concession not to pray in congregation when we are in a state of fear. Allah, however, has changed the requirements of prayer in such state without canceling its congregational aspect.

It does not mean, that every Muslims must offer every single obligatory prayer in a congregation. It means that the holding of a congregational prayer is an obligation of the community and it is also obligatory on every individual to be keen in congregation prayer whenever possible. Such attendance is indeed a marking of strong faith. From the literature of early Islamic periods, we can conclude that a person was considered good if he regularly offered his obligatory prayer with the congregation in the mosque.

Moreover, offering a prayer in a congregation enhances our reward. The Prophet says that praying with the congregation earns 27 times the reward of the same prayer offered individually. Since every one of us is always in need of greater reward from Allah, we should be keen to offer our obligatory prayers in the mosque with the congregation. The Prophet also recommends us to offer obligatory prayers at home, so that our homes are not denied the blessings of prayer.

The minimum number of worshipers required for congregation is two, one of whom should be the imam. If there are only two worshipers, the imam stands a little ahead and the other person stands to his right. If there are more than two, then the imam stands on his own and the other worshipers, stand in a row, leaving a distance which is sufficient for them to do their prostration. If one row is complete and a second row is to be formed, it starts at the point exactly behind the imam and worshipers stand to the imam's right and left, in a balanced way. Every new line starts in the same way, right behind the imam. But it should have at least two people. If the last line is complete, the next one cannot be started by one person only. He either pulls one of the people in the last row back so that they could form a new line or he should wait until another person comes in to join the prayer. In a congregational prayer, the worshipers follow the imam without leaving any gap between his movement and theirs. When he gives the signal for the next movement, all worshipers follow suit. [Care must be taken not to advance your action in anticipation of that signal for the next movement].

2. Women are exempt from the requirement of attending congregational prayers in the mosque. This is due to the nature of their role in looking after young children and household duties. If they go to the mosque to attend prayers, they are welcome to do so. In a congregational prayer in a mosque, women stay in the rear forming their own ranks. They are, however, required to offer the same obligatory prayers in their respective time ranges. When a woman has her menstruation period, she is exempt from prayer. The same exemption applies to a woman in her postnatal period. It is this exemption that sometimes may give the impression that many women do not offer prayers. It is important, therefore, not to judge them on the basis of a casual impression. Many women attend to their religious duties with keenness and enthusiasm.

Perhaps I should also explain that while congregational prayer is a duty on the Muslim community, it is not obligatory on every single one of us to attend every single obligatory prayer in the mosque. Allah has given us a time range for each prayer and allowed us to pray individually because He knows that our circumstances may be difficult and we may not be able to attend congregational prayers all the time. Nevertheless we must be keen to pray with the congregation in the mosque as frequently as possible.

• Congregation: At home or office

I live with a group of my friends in a bachelor accommodation provided by our employers. When we first came, most of us used to miss some of our prayers. However, we are all praying regularly now. Sometimes we find it difficult to go to the mosque for congregational prayer and we offer prayer in congregation at home or in the office. Some people suggest that our prayer is invalid. Please comment.

It is definitely better if you offer your obligatory prayers with a congregation in a mosque. The Prophet states: "Prayer in congregation is rewarded 27 times more than the prayer of the individual." When the Prophet was asked about the best action a person can do, he answered: "To offer prayers when they fall due." Congregational prayers are offered in the mosque shortly after they are due, then prayer in the mosque with the congregation is far better than any other place.

However, every one of us works within the constraints of his own circumstances. Allah has not made it obligatory that we pray any prayer at any particular moment or in a particular place. He has given us a range of time for each prayer. The Prophet says: "The whole earth has been assigned to me as a place of worship and a source of purification." A Muslim may pray anywhere. When you offer your prayers at home, they are perfectly valid. If it so happens that two of you are at home or in the office and you want to offer your prayer, it is far better if you offer in congregation. What you should guard, however, is against substituting congregational prayer at home [or office] for prayer in the mosque. In that way you cut yourself from the local community. This will not do. Whenever you can attend the congregation at the mosque, you should do so. If you are praying at home, it is far better to pray in congregation than to pray alone.

• Congregation: Friday sermon & the voluntary prayers

I have always understood that the reason that Friday prayer is only two rak'ahs is that the khutbah compensates for the other two which we normally offer in Dhuhr prayer. Some people suggest that it is strongly discouraged to offer voluntary prayer when the speech is being delivered. I have seen people continuing to offer such voluntary prayer when the sermon is in progress. Please comment.

I think it is wrong to relate the fact that Friday prayer consists of two rak'ahs only to the requirement of having a sermon before it. Otherwise, we would have to say that the sermon should be as long as or as short as the two rak'ahs, or the attendance of the whole sermon would be obligatory to everyone. As it is, Friday prayer is deemed to be offered correctly and in full if one misses the whole of the sermon, but attends the prayer itself. It is certainly most important to attend the sermon and to make sure that one arrives in the mosque early enough to listen to it in full. But that is not a condition for the validity and acceptability of the prayer itself. What we say is that Friday prayer is made in this fashion because God has willed it so. Besides, the sermon is meant to discuss matters of importance which are relevant to the life of the Muslim community, or to remind the worshippers of God and the day of judgment.

According to the Maliki school of thought, if a person arrives in the mosque when the sermon is in progress, the only option available to him is to sit down and listen. Other schools of thought make it permissible to offer two short rak'ahs in greeting to the mosque.

During the time of the Prophet, a man came into the mosque while the sermon was being delivered by the Prophet. He sat down to listen, but the Prophet interrupted the sermon to tell him to offer two short rak'ahs, and the man complied. The Maliki school of thought considers this a special case because the Prophet wanted to draw the attention of the community to the fact that the man was in a situation of extreme poverty. That would have ensured that he would receive some charitable donations, or sadaqah. Other scholars take it as an indication of permissibility.

• Congregation: Friday sermon in Arabic

It is a common belief among Muslims in a non-Arabic speaking country that the sermon given before Friday prayers must be in Arabic, saying that it is not permissible for any language other than Arabic to be used on the pulpit. What imams do, therefore, is to give a sermon in the local language prior to Friday prayer. When the time for Zuhr is called, this is concluded and the imam gives a short khutbah in Arabic. I shall be grateful for your comments .

Friday prayer is the one obligatory prayer which we must offer in congregation. It is offered at midday on Friday, and preceded by a sermon given by the imam. This sermon is meant to discuss the situation of the Muslim community and its problems. Moreover, its purpose is to make worshippers aware of their obligations towards their Lord and to remind them of the hereafter so that they may be more conscious of their duties. It has, therefore, a dual purpose; social and religious. It stands to reason, therefore, that it should be given in the language which is commonly understood by the worshippers.

When we say that something is forbidden or not permissible, we must have a basis for our statement. That evidence can only be a statement given in the Qur'an or by the Prophet. I can say without any fear of ever being contradicted that there is nothing in the Qur'an or in the Sunnah which states that to use any language other than Arabic on the pulpit or minbar, is forbidden. Whoever makes this assertion cannot substantiate his claim in any way. We have to remember here that there is no sanctity for any language as such. It is true that the Qur'an is in Arabic and the Hadith is also in Arabic. That does not make the Arabic language sacred. It has been honored by the fact that Allah has chosen it for His message, but to say that the words of the language have any sanctity is to make a wild claim.

Moreover, Allah tells us in the Qur'an that He sent messengers to different people. Every messenger addressed his people in their language. No one used a language which was not understood by his people. How can we expect, then, an imam to speak to a congre­gation of worshippers in a language which they do not understand?

If the congregation is composed largely of people who do not speak Arabic, then the imam must give the khutbah or sermon in the language which they speak. When he quotes from the Qur'an or the Hadith, he may give that quotation in Arabic and add its translation. Nothing more is required. The practice which you have mentioned has become widely common in certain parts in the Muslim world. There is no need or basis for it. I recognize, however, that it will be very difficult to change such a habit, unless knowledge of Islam in that part of the world spreads much more widely.

• Congregation: Joining it from the neighboring house

We live very close to a mosque and we can hear the Imam reciting the Qur'an and announcing every new action in the prayer. Is it acceptable that my wife joins the congregation staying at home?

What scholars say about such questions as joining the congregation at a distance is that there should be an easy access for a person who joins his congregation to reach the imam. If it was his intention to go to the Imam then he should be able to walk to him without any serious barrier. They give the example of a congregation at one side of a river and a group of people on the other side. Can they join the same congregation? The answer is that if they joined the congregation, their prayer is valid, but it is not particularly encouraged to have such a congregation. It will probably be more appropriate for the people on the other side of the river to have a congregation of their own.

Inside your home, with probably staircases to go down and then go out of the building to reach the mosque, the impediments are more serious than that of a medium-size river. If a congregation is not advisable on both sides of such a river, it is more so for a person in his home joining the congregation in the mosque. Indeed, if we were to say that it is appropriate, then it would be appropriate for the whole neighborhood to join the congregation from within their homes. The Imam would then be offering the prayer with a fewer people in the mosque and with more people joining him in their flats and apartments in surrounding buildings. That is not the purpose of the congregational prayer. Congregational prayer serves a very important social purpose. It would be missed if people were to stay in their homes and join the congregation in their separate flats. The proper congregation is when they come to the mosque and join together. If women are keen to join the congregational prayer, they should also go to the mosque where a place should be provided for them. The Prophet says: "Do not prevent female servants of God from going to God's mosques."

• Congregation: Joining late

I went late into the mosque for Friday prayer. The congregation had started. I joined them, but I soon realized they had already finished the major part of the prayer. When I stand up for completing my prayer, how many rak'ahs should I offer?

When you join a congregation which has already started, a rak'ah is counted complete for you if you join before the imam stands up after bowing i.e. rukoo'. If you join immediately after rukoo', then that rak'ah is not counted for you. It is preferable, however, to join it even with the parts which will not be counted.

For joining Friday prayer with the imam, you must at least catch up with one full rak'ah of it. In other words, you must join before the imam has raised his head after rukoo' of the second rak'ah. If you join him after that, i.e. having missed both rak'ahs with him, then you offer four rak'ahs after he has finished. These four rak'ahs are counted as Dhuhr prayer, which becomes obligatory if you have missed Friday prayer.

• Congregation: Offering a missed prayer — the proper approach

If one has missed Asr prayer and joined the imam in the mosque for Maghrib prayers, how should he approach his prayers?

If you [offer your prayers regularly but] have missed Asr prayer for a legitimate reason, such as oversleeping or loss of consciousness, and you want to offer it with Maghrib, try to offer it before the iqamah for Maghrib is called. If it has already been called, then you have to join the congrega­tion and offer Asr. When the imam finishes Maghrib prayer, you rise up to add one Rak'ah to complete your prayer to four Rak'ahs, and then you offer Maghrib normally. It is not proper in such cases to start with Maghrib prayers and offer Asr afterwards. You have to offer prayers in their correct order.

• Congregation: When imam missed ablution

After completing the congregational prayer one evening, the imam stood up and announced that he had just remembered that he did not do his ablution. He told the congregation to repeat their prayers. This led to much confusion with some people arguing that their prayer was correct and valid. About half of the congregation repeated their prayer while the other half left. Who was right?

The imam need not have mentioned anything about his earlier forgetfulness. The prayer of the congregation is correct. Those who left the mosque without repeating it were correct, because their prayer was valid. Those who repeated the prayer, will, Allah willing, be rewarded for it as a voluntary prayer. It is needless to say that the imam himself must repeat his prayer.

It is reported that Umar ibn Al Khattab once lead the dawn prayer. After he left, he discovered the traces of a wet dream on his clothes. He took a shower and repeated his prayer, without ordering any one in the congregation to repeat their prayers. This incident is also reported of Uthman ibn Affan. When he discovered the traces, he said: "I have indeed grown old. I have indeed grown old." He meant that in his old age, he could not remember having had a wet dream. He repeated his prayer ordering no one to repeat theirs.

• Congregation: Who should lead the prayer?

What are the criteria to choose someone to lead a congregational prayer? If you enter a mosque and find that in the absence of the regular imam, someone is leading the prayer whom you know to be unsuitable, should you join them or not?

If a group of people is offering prayer together, they should choose someone from among them to lead the prayer. The one to be chosen is the one who recites the Qur'an best or the one who has learned more of the Qur'an by heart. If two people are of the same ability in this respect, then the elder of the two is to be chosen. No one may lead 'another in his own home' or place of authority without the latter's permission.

What this means is that if two or three people are offering prayer in the home of any one of them, then the house owner or occupier should lead the prayer, unless he permits one of them to lead. Moreover, it is the congregation who chooses the imam, not the imam who imposes himself on them.

From another point of view, it is permissible that a young boy leads a group of adults in prayer, and a blind man leads a group of people all of whom enjoy a good eyesight. There is nothing wrong if either the imam or the one being led by him offers his prayer seated for a good reason, nor with either of them having had dry ablution while the other having had normal ablution. Either the imam or the one following him may be a traveler or offering voluntary prayers while the other is resident or offering obligatory prayer. Again, the imam may be a person who has a lesser standing in society than the people being led by him. All such situations are acceptable.

If you come to the mosque and you find that the congregation is being led by someone whose conduct leaves something to be desired, you should join the prayer because it remains valid. It is much better that you show that you are one of the group than to pray alone. Moreover, if you had offered your obligatory prayer and went into a mosque or joined some people in a certain place and you found the people were about to offer the same obligatory prayer you have offered, you should join them. You must not appear to be isolating yourself from a congregation. Such a situation is liable to raise questions about your decision.

• Congregation: Women leading

On what conditions can a woman lead a congregational prayer?

A woman may lead a group of women in a congregational prayer in the same way as a man does. When she does, she simply stands in the middle of the line, not ahead of it. She recites loudly in Fajr, Maghrib and Isha and quietly in Dhuhr and Asr in the normal way. When the congregation is formed of women only, then it is highly preferable that a woman leads the prayer rather than a man, unless the man's wife or a close relative such as his mother or sister or daughter is in the congregation. If no such relative is among the worshipers and he heads the prayer, the prayer is valid, although he is the less preferable choice to lead it.

• Contractual obligations — infringement of

An employee has signed a contract which specifies that he would not work for any other company or firm, but he nevertheless does other work, such as giving private lessons, or working in a supermarket. Is he breaking any Islamic principle by doing so? What if his employer learns of this and does not question him on it?

The Prophet, peace be upon him, makes it clear that “Muslims abide by the conditions to which they commit themselves.” Hence when one has accepted a condition, one should fulfill it.

Having said that, I should explain that sometimes there are conditions added to contracts in order to satisfy certain general standards [to cater for certain eventualities.] In practice these may not apply in many cases. The employer may not even bother about it. In this case, all that the employee needs to do is to ascertain whether it is a substantive condition or not. Asking the employer and explaining the circumstances of his other work can do this. If there is no objection, he can go ahead and do the additional work. On the other hand, if the employer feels that the quality of his employees’ work would suffer [or if there is a conflict of interest] and that the employee must abide by that condition, then he should either ask for an exemption or take some other step to fulfill his commitments.

• Copyrights and wrongs

How far is it permissible to obtain unauthorized copies of written material on Islam including books, tapes, videos and computer programs? Should not the propaganda of Islam be made easy by the distribution of such material. For example, I have a set of cassette tapes of the Qur'an in Arabic, with translation in English which is also covered by copyright laws. Is it unacceptable if I copy these tapes to give to others who are either unable to purchase them or cannot afford the price?

Indeed the propaganda of Islam should be made easy. But then, this has to be within Islamic rules. Islam does not allow that the propaganda or the efforts of others be taken away from them or be exploited without their consent. In order to explain this problem we should first ask ourselves why do authors, tape produces and computer program devisors resort to register their copyrights. The fact is that some unscrupulous people are always too ready to make pirate copies of these and sell them at a profit of which they give no share to the author. What someone has produced after putting a great deal of effort is thus used to bring financial gains to others who do not even bother to ask his permission. When you knowingly buy a pirate copy, then you are aiding such people whose piracy is certainly forbidden. To be an accessory to piracy is also censurable.

There is a difference, however, between someone who produces a pirate book or markets pirate tapes and programs and someone who gives his copy to another in the sort of circumstances which you have mentioned. When you buy a book, neither the seller nor the publisher nor the author makes it a condition of the deal that you are the only one to read that copy. Therefore, when you lend it to someone else to read, you are not depriving anyone of earning any profit. It could be said, that had you not lent your friend your book, he would have bought a copy himself. The likelihood is that he might just as well not have bothered.

Similarly, when you lend your cassette tape to your friend to copy it, knowing that he either would not have bought it or could not afford to buy it, then you are not violating the terms of your purchase. There is no restriction on how many people can use those tapes when you buy them.

However, if you know that your friend who has borrowed it from you will make so many copies of it and offer them for sale or make profit out of them, then you are helping him in producing pirate copies. Therefore, when you lend your copy to him, you have to be sure that he copies it for private use only.

• Corrupt set-up: Following bad example in bribery & corruption

In our part of the world there is so much corruption that it is practically impossible for anyone to get even what one is clearly entitled to without bribing the officials. This goes on all the time among the non-Muslim majority. The Muslim minority has always refrained from such practices. This has led to their deprivation. They are seldom able to rise in government hierarchy and they are economically underprivileged. Would it be permissible for Muslims in these circumstances to do like others in order to improve their status? [On the other hand, we see even the Muslim majority indulging in such practices.]

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