We praise Allaah for guiding you to the religion of Islam. This is a great blessing for which Allaah should be praised and thanked.
The Muslim has to understand that prayer is the greatest of the pillars of Islam, and that it is the thing which distinguishes a Muslim from a kaafir, as it says in the hadeeth of Jaabir (may Allaah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “Between a man and shirk and kufr there stands his giving up prayer.
Narrated by Muslim, 82.
The fuqaha’ (may Allaah have mercy on them) differed concerning the ruling on congregational prayers. There are a number of opinions, the most sound of which is that prayer in congregation in the mosque is obligatory and is what is indicated by the shar’i evidence.
This is the view of ‘Ata’ ibn Abi Rabaah, al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Awzaa’i and Abi Thawr, and of Imam Ahmad as it appears from some of his statements. This was also stated by al-Shaafa’i in Mukhtasar al-Muzni where he said: “With regard to praying in congregation, I do not allow a concession to anyone not to do it except one who has an excuse.” This was also the view favoured by Shaykh Ibn Baaz and Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on them).
With regard to the evidence that it is obligatory, it is as follows:
1 – Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“When you (O Messenger Muhammad) are among them, and lead them in As-Salaah (the prayer), let one party of them stand up [in Salaah (prayer)] with you taking their arms with them; when they finish their prostrations, let them take their positions in the rear and let the other party come up which have not yet prayed, and let them pray with you”
Ibn al-Mundhir said:
The fact that Allaah has commanded us to establish prayer in congregation even at times of fear indicates that doing so at times of security is even more obligatory.
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
There are several ways in which this verse may be taken as evidence:
Firstly, Allaah commands them to pray in congregation, then He repeats the command with regard to the second group, by saying “and let the other party come up which have not yet prayed, and let them pray with you”. This indicates that praying in congregation is obligatory on an individual basis, as Allaah did not excuse the second group because the first group had done it. If praying in congregation was Sunnah, the best excuse for not doing it would be the excuse of fear. If it were fard kafaayah (a communal obligation), it would no longer be obligatory after the first group had done it. So this verse proves that it is obligatory for each and every individual. So these are the three ways in which this verse proves it is obligatory: Allaah commands it once, then He commands it again, and He does not allow them a concession not to do it at times of fear.
Al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, p. 137, 138
2 – Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And perform As-Salaah (Iqaamat-as-Salaah), and give Zakaah, and bow down (or submit yourselves with obedience to Allaah) along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow)”
The way in which this verse may be taken as evidence is that here Allaah commanded them to bow, which refers to prayer. Prayer is described as rukoo’ (bowing) here because bowing is one of the pillars or essential parts of the prayer, and prayer is sometimes referred to by its pillars and obligatory components, as Allaah calls it sujood (prostration), Qur’aan and Tasbeeh (glorification of Allaah). And the phrase “along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow)” cannot mean anything other than doing it with a congregation of worshippers. This is what the word ma’a (with) means. Once this is understood, if a command mentions a particular manner or situation, then the one who is commanded to do it cannot obey the command properly unless he does it in the manner or situation mentioned. Some may argue that Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“O Maryam! Submit yourself with obedience to your Lord (Allaah, by worshipping none but Him Alone) and prostrate yourself, and bow down along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow down)”
[Aal ‘Imraan 3:43]
but this does not mean that women have to attend prayers in congregation. It was said that this verse does not imply that this is enjoined upon all women, rather this was something that applied only to Maryam, unlike the words “And perform As-Salaah (Iqaamat-as-Salaah), and give Zakaah, and bow down (or submit yourselves with obedience to Allaah) along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow)”. Maryam was a unique case, unlike other women, because her mother had vowed that she would be sacred to Allaah and devoted to His worship; she would stay in the place of worship and not leave it. So she was commanded to bow with the people in the place of worship. When Allaah chose her and purified her and chose her above all the women of the world, He commanded her to obey Him in ways that were unique to her and did not apply to other women. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And (remember) when the angels said: “O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allaah has chosen you, purified you (from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you above the women of the ‘Aalameen (mankind and jinn) (of her lifetime).”
43. O Mary! “Submit yourself with obedience to your Lord (Allaah, by worshipping none but Him Alone) and prostrate yourself, and bow down along with Ar-Raaki‘oon (those who bow down)”
[Aal ‘Imraan 3:42-43]
Some say that the fact that they were commanded to bow with those who bow does not indicate that it is obligatory to bow with them at the time when they are bowing, rather it indicates that one should do as they do, as in the verse (interpretation of the meaning):
“O you who believe! Fear Allaah, and be with those who are true (in words and deeds)”
They further argue that the word ma’a (with) means doing the same as they do, but it does not necessarily mean doing it at the same time. The answer is that in Arabic, the word ma’a means more than doing the same as someone else, rather it means doing it with them, especially in the case of prayer. If someone says “Go and pray with the congregation” or “I prayed with the congregation”, the only interpretation can be is that he went and joined them and prayed together with them.
al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, 139-141
3 – It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, I was thinking of ordering that wood be gathered, then I would have ordered that the call to prayer be given, then I would have told a man to lead the people in prayer, then I would have gone from behind and burned the houses of men who did not attend the (congregational) prayer down around them. By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if any one of them had known that he would get a bone covered with good meat or two sheep’s feet with meat in them, he would have turned up for the ‘Isha’ prayer.”
Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 618; Muslim, 651
It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The most burdensome prayers for the hypocrites are ‘Isha’ and Fajr. If they knew what (reward) is in them, they would come to them even if they had to crawl. I was thinking of ordering that the call to prayer be given, then I would tell a man to lead the people in prayer, and I would go out with men carrying bundles of wood to people who do not come to the prayers, and I would burn their houses with fire around them.”
Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 626; Muslim, 651
Ibn al-Mundhir said:
The fact that he was thinking of burning down the houses of people who stayed behind and did not attend the prayers is the clearest indication that it is obligatory to pray in congregation, because it would not have been permissible for the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) to burn down the houses of those who stayed behind if prayer in congregation was only something good but not obligatory.
This hadeeth indicates that prayer in congregation is an individual obligation, not a communal one, because if it was a communal obligation and some had done it, why would others have deserved the punishment? There is no punishment except for one who neglects an obligatory duty or does something that is haraam.
Subul al-Salaam, 2/18, 19
4 – It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah said: A blind man [Ibn Umm Maktoom] came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I have no one to lead me to the mosque,” and he asked the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) to grant him a concession allowing him to pray in his house, and he allowed him that. But when he turned away he said, “Can you hear the call to prayer?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “Then answer it.” According to a version narrated by Abu Dawood (552) and Ibn Maajah (792) he said: “I do not think there is any concession for you.”
Al-Nawawi said concerning this hadeeth: its isnaad is saheeh or hasan.
Ibn al-Mundhir said:
If there is no concession for a blind man, then it is more appropriate that there should be no concession for one who can see.
Ibn Qudaamah said:
If there is no concession for a blind man who had no one to lead him, it is more appropriate that there should be no concession for others.
5 – It was narrated that Ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: Whoever would like to meet Allaah tomorrow as a Muslim, let him regularly perform these prayers when the call for them is given, for they are among the ways of guidance. Allaah has prescribed for your Prophet ways of guidance, and if you pray in your homes, as this one who stays away from the prayers prays in his home, then you will have abandoned the way of your Prophet, and if you abandon the way of your Prophet you will go astray. There is no man who purifies himself and does it well, then he goes to one of these mosques, but for every step he takes, Allaah will record for him one hasanah (good deed) and will raise him thereby one degree in status, and will erase for him one sayi’ah (bad deed). I saw us (at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)) and no one stayed behind from these prayers except a hypocrite who was known for his hypocrisy. A man would come supported by two others so that he could stand in the row.
According to another version, he said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught us the ways of guidance, and told us that one of the way of guidance is to pray in the mosque when the call to prayer is given.
Narrated by Muslim, 654
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
What we may conclude from this is that he described staying away from the prayers as one of the signs of the hypocrites who are known for their hypocrisy. The signs of hypocrisy are not omitting mustahabb actions or doing makrooh things. Whoever seeks to learn the signs of hypocrisy according to the Sunnah will find that they are omitting obligatory actions or doing haraam things. This is supported by the fact that he said: “Whoever would like to meet Allaah tomorrow as a Muslim, let him regularly perform these prayers when the call for them is given”. And he described the one who stays away and offers the prayers at home as being one who has abandoned the Sunnah which is the path of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the laws that he prescribed for his ummah. What is meant is not the Sunnah which those who wish can do and those who do not wish can omit, because omitting that is not misguidance or a sign of hypocrisy – such as not praying Duha and qiyaam al-layl, or fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.
Al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, p. 146, 147
6 – The consensus of the Sahaabah
Ibn al-Qayyim said:
There was consensus among the Sahaabah and we will quote what they said:
We have mentioned the words of Ibn Mas’ood above: “I saw us (at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)) and no one stayed behind from these prayers except a hypocrite who was known for his hypocrisy.”
It was also narrated that Ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “Whoever hears the muezzin and does not respond with no excuse, his prayer is not valid.”
It was narrated that Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari said: “Whoever hears the muezzin and does not respond with no excuse, his prayer is not valid.”
It was narrated that ‘Ali said: “There is no prayer for a neighbour of the mosque except in the mosque.” It was said, “Who is the neighbour of the mosque?” He said, “Whoever can hear the muezzin.”
It was narrated that al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “Whoever hears the call to prayer and does not come, his prayer does not go beyond his head, except for one who has an excuse.”
It was narrated that ‘Ali (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “Whoever among the neighbours of the mosque hears the call to prayer, and he is in good health and does not have any excuse, his prayer is not valid.”
Al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha, p/ 153
There is a great deal of evidence, but what we have quoted above is sufficient. You can refer to the book by Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Salaah wa Hukm Taarikiha (Prayer and the Ruling on one who abandons it), which has a lot more information. Shaykh Ibn Baaz wrote a useful essay entitled Wujoob Ada’ al-Salaah fi Jamaa’ah (The obligation of offering prayers in congregation).
And Allaah knows best.