Abandoning the Sunnah

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Following the mass deprivation of liberty enacted by the government in March 2020, places of congregational worship including mosques have been closed.  As some of the broader draconian restrictions are beginning to slightly ease, a notable question has arisen concerning the manner in which government ministers will ‘allow’ places of worship to open.  Within the order of priorities, religious establishments are considered in the eyes of decision makers to be of little or no priority.

At the time of writing, it doesn’t appear that restrictions on congregational worship are to be fully reversed.  Rather, what seems to be proposed is that there will be an ‘allowance’ for ‘private worship.’  Presently, if a mosque were to organise Friday congregational prayers, this would still seem to be ‘unlawful’ in light of the current regulations that have been imposed.

Twins of evil

Discussion in some quarters has turned to how mosques will eventually operate congregational prayers, including Friday prayers.  What is being touted, is pressure to conform to the totalitarian twins of evil – ‘masking’ and ‘social distancing.’  The inference being, though not expressly said, is that by government order, based upon no credible scientific data or health requirements, the rows of prayer are to be scattered, attendees muzzled and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) abandoned.

Introducing such a requirement, mandatory or otherwise, for attendance at a congregational prayer, is totally without legal precedent.  In Islam, this would properly be judged to be an innovation (bid’ah).  The well-established Prophetic Sunnah cannot be overridden in this manner.  That is not within the broad terms outlined in the Qur’ān of following and obeying the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).  Rather, it is introducing something without legal precedent; an innovation, and all innovations are misguidance, ultimately ending in the fire of hell.

أخبرنا عتبة بن عبد الله قال أنبأنا بن المبارك عن سفيان عن جعفر بن محمد عن أبيه عن جابر بن عبد الله قال كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول في خطبته يحمد الله ويثني عليه بما هو أهله، ثم يقول من يهده الله فلا مضل له ومن يضلله فلا هادي له. إن أصدق الحديث كتاب الله، وأحسن الهدي هدي محمد، وشر الأمور محدثاتها، وكل محدثة بدعة، وكل بدعة ضلالة، وكل ضلالة في النار

‘Utbah ibn Abdullah reported to us he said Ibn Mubārak reports from Sufyān from Ja’far ibn Muḥammad from his father from Jābir ibn Abdullah, he said: In his Khuṭbah the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) used to praise Allah as He deserves to be praised, then he would say: Whomsoever Allah guides, none can lead him astray, and whomsoever Allah sends astray, none can guide. The truest of word is the book of Allah and best of guidance is the guidance of Muḥammad. The worst of things are those that are the newly invented; every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the fire. [Sunan al-Nasā’i]

Regrettably, there are some who will be eager to follow the government diktat without question.  Others have sought to highlight views from the legal schools purportedly showing that the establishment of correct rows is not strictly a condition for the congressional prayer to be valid.  Yet this line of argumentation fundamentally misses the point altogether.  The issue at stake is – can the well-established Sunnah be altogether supplanted, reformulated or even overridden based on the whim of a government diktat?

There is also a clear logical inconsistency at play.  Increasingly it is becoming widely acknowledged that the virus was present in England as early as Dec-2019.  From that time, all the way to the imposed mass deprivation of liberty order by the government in late Mar-2020, people were going about their lives without the necessity of being masked or kept apart.  And yet, this was in the build-up to the peak of the virus.  Why now, when the epidemic is broadly over, are such sinister measures being pushed?  Some have retorted with the government mantra of a mythical second wave, others using merely irrational fear.  Yet no empirical evidence substantiates this.  In fact, as we have been sharing via our social media platforms, an increasingly number of internationally renowned scientists and experts are openly disputing such points.

No openings for the devil

Every Muslim intimately knows the character and form of how the congregational prayer should convene.  It is worth outlining some of the vast underpinning textual evidence that forms the basis for this.  This will not only reinforce just how well this is established, but also illuminate the Prophetic warnings against not doing so.

Establishing straight rows in congregational prayer, shoulder-to-shoulder, is overwhelmingly apparent in the Prophetic Sunnah.  The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) himself taught the noble companions the form and character of prayer.  In turn they transmitted that, verbally and in practice, being carried down the ages for over 1400 years across the globe.  In al-Jāmi al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣr, Bukhāri cites the following famous tradition:

حدثنا عمرو بن خالد قال حدثنا زهير عن حميد عن أنس عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال أقيموا صفوفكم فإني أراكم من وراء ظهري وكان أحدنا يلزق منكبه بمنكب صاحبه وقدمه بقدمه‏

‘Amr ibn Khālid narrated to us Zuhayr narrated to us from Ḥumayd from Anas from the Prophet peace be upon him, he said: Straighten your rows for I see you from behind my back. Anas added: Everyone used to put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion and his foot with the foot of his companion.

Another renowned tradition cited in Bukhāri is from the channel of Abdar-Razzāq:

حدثنا عبد الله بن محمد قال حدثنا عبد الرزاق قال أخبرنا معمر عن همام عن أبي هريرة عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال وأقيموا الصف في الصلاة، فإن إقامة الصف من حسن الصلاة

Abdullah ibn Muḥammad narrated to us he said Abdar-Razzāq narrated to us he said Ma’mar reported to us from Hammām from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet peace be upon him that he said: Straighten the rows for the prayer, as the straightening of the rows is amongst those things which make your prayer correct.

Muslim records similarly in his Ṣaḥīḥ, again through this channel.  He also brings forth several other authentic traditions, narrated from different channels by other companions, amongst them:

حدثنا محمد بن المثنى وابن بشار قالا حدثنا محمد بن جعفر حدثنا شعبة قال سمعت قتادة يحدث عن أنس بن مالك قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم سووا صفوفكم فإن تسوية الصف من تمام الصلاة

Muḥammad ibn al-Muthana and Ibn Bashār narrated to us they said Muḥammad ibn Ja’far narrated to us Shu’ba narrated to us he said I heard Qatādah narrate from Anas ibn Mālik, he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: Straighten your rows for the straightening of the rows is part of perfecting the prayer.

حدثنا موسى بن إسماعيل حدثنا حماد، عن سماك بن حرب قال سمعت النعمان بن بشير يقول كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يسوينا في الصفوف كما يقوم القدح حتى إذا ظن أن قد أخذنا ذلك عنه وفقهنا أقبل ذات يوم بوجهه إذا رجل منتبذ بصدره فقال لتسون صفوفكم أو ليخالفن الله بين وجوهكم

Musa ibn Ismā’il narrated to us Ḥammād narrated to us from Simmāk ibn Ḥarb he said I heard al-Nu’mān ibn Bashir saying the Prophet peace be upon him used to straighten us in the rows of prayer as the arrow is straightened, until he thought that we had learned it from him and understood it. One day he turned towards us, and put our shoulders in order saying: Do not be irregular. And he would say: Allah and his Angels bless those who near the first rows

حدثنا أبو بكر بن أبي شيبة حدثنا عبد الله بن إدريس وأبو معاوية ووكيع عن الأعمش عن عمارة بن عمير التيمي عن أبي معمر عن أبي مسعود قال كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يمسح مناكبنا في الصلاة ويقول استووا ولا تختلفوا فتختلف قلوبكم ليلني منكم أولو الأحلام والنهى ثم الذين يلونهم ثم الذين يلونهم قال أبو مسعود فأنتم اليوم أشد اختلافا

Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shayba narrated to us Abdullah ibn Idris, Abu Mu’āwiya and Waki’ narrated to us from al-‘Amash from Umāra ibn Umayr al-Taymi from Abu Ma’mar from Abu Mas’ud he said the Messenger of Allah peace he upon him used to touch our shoulders in prayer and say: Keep straight, don’t be irregular, for there would be dissension in your hearts. Let those of you who are sedate and prudent be near me, then those who are next to them, then those who are next to them. Abu Mas’ud said: Now-a-days there is much dissension amongst you.

These traditions clearly show the solid textual basis for how the prayer in congregation is to be conveyed, with the notable feature of the rows organised, straight and attendees arranged shoulder-to-shoulder.  Other authentic traditions report the warnings the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) specifically gave about not adhering to this.  In his collection of Sunan, Tirmidhi records the following tradition that he states is authentic:

حدثنا قتيبة حدثنا أبو عوانة عن سماك بن حرب عن النعمان بن بشير قال كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يسوي صفوفنا فخرج يوما فرأى رجلا خارجا صدره عن القوم فقال لتسون صفوفكم أو ليخالفن الله بين وجوهكم

Qutayba narrated to us Abu ‘Awānah narrated to us from Simmāk ibn Ḥarb from al-Nu’mān ibn Bashir he said the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him would straighten our lines. One day he came out and saw a man whose chest was protruding from the people, so he said: You must straighten your lines, or Allah will cause disagreement to occur among your faces.

More explicit censure is to be found in several other authentic traditions, such as those recorded in the Sunan of Abu Dāwud, namely:

حدثنا مسلم بن إبراهيم حدثنا أبان عن قتادة عن أنس بن مالك عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال رصوا صفوفكم وقاربوا بينها وحاذوا بالأعناق فوالذي نفسي بيده إني لأرى الشيطان يدخل من خلل الصف كأنها الحذف

Muslim ibn Ibrāhim narrated to us Abbān narrated to us from Qatādah from Anas ibn Mālik from the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him, he said: Stand close together in your rows, bring them near one another, and stand neck to neck.  By him in whose hand my soul is, I see the devil coming in through openings in the row just like a small black sheep.

حدثنا عيسى بن إبراهيم الغافقي حدثنا ابن وهب، ح وحدثنا قتيبة بن سعيد حدثنا الليث وحديث ابن وهب أتم – عن معاوية بن صالح، عن أبي الزاهرية، عن كثير بن مرة، عن عبد الله بن عمر قال قتيبة عن أبي الزاهرية عن أبي شجرة، لم يذكر ابن عمر أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال أقيموا الصفوف وحاذوا بين المناكب وسدوا الخلل ولينوا بأيدي إخوانكم لم يقل عيسى‏ بأيدي إخوانكم ولا تذروا فرجات للشيطان ومن وصل صفا وصله الله ومن قطع صفا قطعه الله

Esa ibn Ibrāhim al-Ghāfiqi narrated to us Ibn Wahb narrated to us, awala, Qutayba ibn Sa’eed narrated to us al-Layth narrated to us, and the adith of Ibn Wahb is more complete, from Mu’āwiya ibn Salih from Abu al-Zāhriyya from Kathir ibn Murra from Abdullah ibn Umar; Qutayba said from Abu al-Zāhriyya from Abu Shajara without mentioning Ibn Umar, that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said:

Set the rows in order, stand shoulder to shoulder, close the gaps, be pliant in the hands of your brethren, and do not leave openings for the devil. If anyone joins up a row, Allah will join him up, but if anyone breaks a row, Allah will cut him off.

Illness and hygiene standards

Temporarily quarantining the sick so as not to mingle amongst the healthy is a matter that is well known across societies down the ages.  Quarantining entire populations of the healthy is a matter that is novel, one that is not scientifically, ethically or even legally agreed upon. Precedent though does exist in the reported Sunnah to excuse one from attendance at the mosque for a compulsory prayer if one is genuinely ill.  Whether that illness is from a bad strain of the flu, norovirus, sickness bugs or even SARS-Cov-2 (aka Coronavirus).  In the Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim the following tradition is reported, narrated on the authority of Abu Musa:

حدثنا أبو بكر بن إسحاق الفقيه ثنا عبيد بن محمد العجلي حدثني العباس بن عبد العظيم العنبري حدثني إسحاق بن منصور ثنا هريم بن سفيان عن إبراهيم بن محمد بن المنتشر عن قيس بن مسلم عن طارق بن شهاب عن أبي موسى عن النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم قال الجمعة حق واجب على كل مسلم في جماعة إلا أربعة عبد مملوك أو امرأة أو صبي أو مريض

Abu Bakr ibn Isḥāq al-Faqihi narrated to us Ubayd ibn Muḥammad al-‘Ijli narrated to us al-‘Abbās ibn Abdul-‘Azeem al-Anbāri narrated to me Isḥāq ibn Mansur narrated to us Huraym ibn Sufyān narrated to us from Ibrāhim ibn Muḥammad al-Muntashir from Qays ibn Muslim from Ṭāriq ibn Shihāb from Abu Musa, from the Prophet peace be upon him he said: The Friday prayer in congregation is a necessary duty for every Muslim, with four exceptions; a slave, a woman, a boy, and the sick.

For several years now, many studious Imāms in London have been addressing matters of personal hygiene during the Friday sermon to their respective congregations. Indeed, there is no reason why this should not continue. Such advice has often focused upon: a) staying away from the mosque if one is ill, b) hand washing, particularly during ablution and c) if sneezing or coughing, to cover one’s mouth/nose with a tissue and disposing of it.  Such measures in no way sit at odds with the Prophetic Sunnah or general Islamic guidelines.  In fact, many would readily acknowledge these hygiene standards as being good practice to follow.

Clear warnings

Allah has set forth in numerous verses the mandatory requirement of following the Prophet (peace be upon him).  In some verses, that obedience is linked directly to obedience to Allah himself.  Other verses show it being linked to attaining the mercy of Allah.

مَّن يُطِعِ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللَّهَ وَمَن تَوَلَّىٰ فَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا

Whoever obeys the Messenger he indeed obeys Allah, and whoever turns back, We have not sent you as a keeper over them [4: 80]

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ

And We did not send any Messenger but that he should be obeyed by Allah’s permission [4: 64]

وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

And keep up prayer and pay zakāt and obey the Messenger so that mercy may be shown to you [24: 56]

Abandoning the Prophetic Sunnah also carries with it the curse of Allah and the Prophets.  The authentic tradition outlining this is to be found in many collections, such as in the Sunan of Tirmidhi and the Mustadrak of al-Ḥākim.  The wording reported in Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān is:

أخبرنا الحسن بن سفيان قال حدثنا قتيبة بن سعيد قال حدثنا عبد الرحمن بن أبي الموال عن عبيد الله بن عبد الرحمن بن موهب عن عمرة عن عائشة أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال ستة لعنتهم ولعنهم الله وكل نبي مجاب الزائد في كتاب الله والمكذب بقدر الله والمسلط بالجبروت ليذل بذلك من أعز الله وليعز به من أذل الله والمستحل لحرم الله والمستحل من عترتي ما حرم الله والتارك لسنتي

Al-Ḥasan ibn Sufyān reported to us he said Qutayba ibn Sa’eed narrated to us he said Abdur-Raḥman ibn Abi al-Muwāl narrated to us from ‘Ubaydallah ibn Abdur-Raḥman ibn Mawhab from ‘Umara from ‘Aisha that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: Six bear the curse of Allah and every Prophet upon them (they are) who adds anything to the book of Allah, who denies the qadr of Allah; who rules tyrannically in humiliating whomever Allah has honoured, who considers what Allah has prohibited to be lawful, who deems it lawful to treat my family in ways Allah forbids and the abandoner of my Sunnah.

After commenting upon the authenticity of this tradition, Professor al-Mas’ari writes in Volume 1 of  Kitāb ut-Tawḥeed: The Basis of Islam and the Reality of Monotheism:  “The ḥadith is a decisive proof which establishes that abandoning the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is amongst the most grievous of sins. It is on par with adding to the book of Allah and declaring lawful what Allah has prohibited (istiḥlāl).  Such matters are in opposition to Islam, ‘Imān and Tawḥeed.”  The warnings are stark.  These should jolt the conscience of every individual who declares belief in Allah, his noble Messengers (peace be upon them) and the final day of reckoning to come.

May Allah grant us all the strength, presence of mind and fortitude, like the noble companions, to speak the truth wherever we are and not fear the blame of the blamers.  And we humbly ask Allah to guide us all, to preserve and increase our love for the mercy sent to mankind, the Prophet Muḥammad (peace be upon him), by ardently clinging steadfast to his Sunnah.

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