Circumstantial Observance of Jum’ah Service at Home: Islamic or Aberrant?

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By Al-Haafiz Abdurrofeeq Alaka

With the declaration of the COVID-19 as a global health emergency and, subsequently, a pandemic, certain measures have been put in place by relevant government authorities to curb further spread of the virus and restore global health. Of these is the total, but temporary, closure of all religious places which has denied Muslims the freedom to converge for daily Congregational and Jum’ah prayers.

In line with this directive, Muslim faithful have been urged to observe these prayers in congregation at home with their families. However, some Islamic scholars have come out to prohibit Jum’ah prayers at home during this trying period, claiming that the conditions for such prayers cannot be met when observed at home, hence Zuhr prayer should be observed instead. This short piece seeks to look into the juristic validity or otherwise of this claim.

CONDITIONS (SHURŪT) OF JUM’AH PRAYER

The jurists have categorized the conditions of Jum’ah prayer into two major categories; shurūtus sihha i.e. conditions that validate the prayer, and shurūtul wujūb i.e. conditions that make it binding on one to observe the prayer.

Shurūt Wujūb

These can be summarized as:

1) Maturity i.e. not compulsory on infants.

2) Male i.e. not compulsory on females.

3) Freedom i.e. not compulsory on slaves.

4) Residency i.e. not compulsory on a traveler.

5) Sound health i.e. a sick person is excused.

Of these five categories of people who are exempted from Jum’ah, only four found mentioning in the traditions of the Holy Prophet S.A.W. In a tradition reported by Tariq bn Shihāb, the Holy Prophet says:

الجمعة حق واجب على كل مسلم في جماعة إلا أربعة: عبد مملوك أو امرأة أو صبي أو مريض.(أحمد وأبو داود)

“Jum’ah prayer is compulsory on every Muslim in congregation except for four people: a slave, a woman, an infant or a sick person.” (Abu Dawud and Musnad Ahmad)

The condition of residency was included by the Jurists because the Holy Prophet observed Zuhr instead of Jum’ah on the day of Arafah during his farewell pilgrimage. However, in order to maintain brevity within the scope of our subject matter, I would not like to delve into a detailed discussion on whether or not this is enough as an evidence.

Shurūtus Sihhah

As stated above, these refers to those conditions that authenticate the prayer. These conditions are subdivided into two: muttafakun alayhaa (the ones unanimously agreed upon) and mukhtalafun fiihaa (the ones susceptible to different opinions). Falling under the former we have:

1) Dukhūlul waqt i.e. it can’t be observed at other times except the time of Zuhr.

2) Congregation: Cannot be observed individually as seen in the hadith above.

3) Two khutbah (sermons) must be delivered.

As for the latter, we have:

1) The minimum number of worshipers. The Maliki school prescribes 12 people excluding the Imam, the Imaamiyyah (Shi’a) stipulates 4 excluding the Imam, the Shafi’ and Hambali go for 40 with the Imam while Hanafi says 5 or 7. (Al Fiqh alal madhaahibil Khamsa, pg 120).

2) The place of worship. The Maliki school of thought believes that the Jum’ah prayer could only be said in a built central mosque of a town or village. As for the other three major schools, it could be said in camp tents, deserts, open places etc., as long as people agree to converge there for that purpose.

For the sake of brevity, I will take a pause on this and go to other related issues. It should however be noted that there are more controversial issues among the Jurists with respect to Jum’ah service.

Jum’ah at Home: The Conditions

Very recently, I stumbled upon certain verdicts given by different scholars regarding the observance of Jum’ah prayer at home during this trying period of COVID-19. To them, such a circumstantial practice is prohibited and only Zuhr prayer should be observed instead. After critically digesting their ‘purported evidence’, I became very certain that their verdict had no prophetic backing, as there is no direct injunction to that effect from Allah nor His Messenger (saw). In such cases, it might be wrong to force one’s opinion on other people.

When we ponder over the differences in the opinions of scholars on the minimum number of worshipers for a Jum’ah service, a question that comes to mind is: what exactly did the Prophet (saw) say? The answer is not farfetched; as it is explicitly expressed in the Hadith quoted earlier in the following words: Fī Jamā’atin” i.e in congregation. A congregation according to the Prophet starts with two. So, two people can observe Jum’ah if they cannot join other Muslims for any reason best known to them and God. Conspicuously, the overwhelming COVID-19 circumstance has necessitated restriction of movement and social gathering. Hence, people cannot go out; and consequently, a family of two and above, therefore, falls within the prescription of the Prophet.

Another evidence those scholars have put forward is the fact that the Jum’ah could only be said in a central mosque. While we do not encourage people to observe it in all local mosques or homes at the time when there is no crisis, we, however, must maintain that their stance has no backing from the Prophet (saw), hence cannot be binding on Muslim public. We have already seen in the foregoing analysis that all, but one, of the major schools of thought agree that the Jum’ah prayer could be said in places other than the mosques in accordance with the prevailing circumstances.

Having said this, it becomes apparent that the conditions on which the arguments of these scholars were based are not a direct instruction of the Holy Prophet, but their Ijtihaad (exercise of one’s jurisprudential opinion in accordance with one’s understanding of the religion). Thus, while it is not bad for them to do that since the Hadith and the Holy Qur’an are silent on such details, it is, however, quite wrong to force people to accept such judgements by making them binding.

If, in the light of the term ‘Jum’ah’, it is expected that there must be a convergence, which is however impossible in the current circumstances, and therefore suspended, it should be borne in mind that the term ‘Jamā’ah’ implies the same thing, as it also comes from the same root. In fact, it is compulsory for a man to observe daily prayers in congregation with fellow men in the mosque and not optional. So, if he is allowed to stay at home and lead his family in those prayers, WHY NOT IN THE CASE OF JUM’AH?

Conclusion.

The question of offering Jum’ah prayers at home has only emerged a topic of discussion in recent times when social distancing has become the order of the day. If not for this emergency, nobody would want to resort to such practice. Hence, these scholars should therefore try to understand it from this angle. No doubt that the Jum’ah prayer is expected to be observed in a large congregation as the term implies, but in exceptional cases like the one on ground when such could not be achieved, one cannot prohibit people from observing it at home with their families without a direct injunction from Allah or His Prophet.

On a final note, I urge us to ponder on the following tradition.

فما بال أقوام يشترطون شروطاً ليست في كتاب الله! ما كان من شرط ليس في كتاب الله عز وجل فهو باطل، وإن كان مائة شرط، كتاب الله أحق وشرط الله أوثق” (متفق عليه من حديث عائشة)

“Why is it that some people give some conditions that cannot be found in the book of Allah. Whatever condition that could not be found in the book of Allah is null even if they are hundred. The book of Allah is the most truthful and Allah’s condition is more binding”(Bukhari and Muslim, reported by Aisha)

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