Should mosques remain open for congregational prayer? Countering a poor fatwa

by admin
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To read a comprehensive article on the issue, click here.

Some friends sent me a fatwa that represents the position of major Deobandi figures in the Midlands and North, asking me to comment on it (given the serious nature of the affair). The fatwa is dangerous (especially where it encourages 60 year olds to attend congregational prayers) since it pertains to matters of life and death, as well as poorly reasoned. And this is not to mention that it’s predicated on folk religion – an outlook that represents a village mentality that takes God’s deen as magical or a superstitious way of thinking. Yes, the masājid’Allāh are safe spaces where believers congregate, but they’re not mystical buildings that keep out physical harms or devils, nor does a building become consecrated merely because we call it a name.

A mosque is an assigned place where believers gather, when and if they need to gather. And when it comes to prayer, the Prophet said: “The earth was made a masjid and purifying for my mission.” (al-Bukhārī) As long as it is clean, a believer connects to God anywhere. We really need to get that subservience to God will not collapse because some mosques in some parts of the world are temporarily closed.

None of the points mentioned in the fatwa are compelling. It is unworthy of consideration, and as I quickly pick apart each point, you’ll see how bad it is. As believers, we are called to employ our intellects and revelatory guidance. Unfortunately, this fatwa does neither soundly.

So these are the (fallacious) variables provided to argue mosques should remain open for congregational ṣalāh:

“1. The importance of Masjids and congregational Ṣalāh, as reflected from congregational Ṣalāh during war (Ṣalāt al-Khawf) and other ḥadīths.”

Firstly, the significance of attending mosques relates to normal times. When circumstances change, even for things such as heavy rain, the Prophet would tell people to pray at home (with the adhan altered accordingly). Secondly, congregational ṣalāh and attending mosques are two different things – people can pray with their families at home, and likewise ṣalāt al-Khawf was NOT offered in a mosque but between the military detachment itself, in the field. The examples cited are irrelevant to the point made about mosques, and especially in normal times.

“2. The protection of faith supersedes the protection of one’s self.”

Firstly, praying in a mosque is not “protecting the faith” – what does it say of a people who put the faith down to four walls and a carpet?! And if the faith depends on it, how are women and children so easily excluded by these people?! In the Makkan era, the Prophet had no such mosque per se (there was the home of al-Arqam), and that was when the faithful were solidly formed and cultivated. Never in the HISTORY of Islam has any sane jurist advised people to place their lives in danger just to make congregational ṣalāh in a mosque. Secondly, this butchery is a misapplication of the maqāsid (objectives of) al-sharī’ah. Given that praying in a mosque is not “protecting the faith”, the “priority” being spoken of doesn’t even apply here, nor, as I point out repeatedly, is anybody suggesting the complete abandonment of congregational prayer or the permanent closure of mosques.

“3. The Prophet’s practice of rushing to the Masjid during calamities.”

Yes, that’s because the calamity wasn’t in the mosque!! This statement absurdly suggests that the Prophet would’ve gone to the mosque seeking the virus and infers the ridiculous idea that the calamity (virus) is located somewhere outside the mosque – that the mosque is an infection-free zone! (I’m quite certain they’ll eventually mention the magic dust-like barakah argument.)

“4. A significant portion of the Ummah abandoning Ṣalāh particularly congregational Ṣalāh and other sins causing such epidemics. The Masjid and congregational Ṣalāh is partof the solution and not the problem.”

Firstly, yes, the Chinese and Italians’ abandonment of congregational ṣalāh caused the outbreak, and if you socially mix for rituals, we’ll all be saved! (Read: sarcasm – you literally could not make this stuff up!). Secondly, no one is calling for “abandoning” the jamā’ah, the discussion is about temporarily pausing congregational gatherings.

“5. Masjids remaining open when epidemics occurred during the era of the companions and thereafter.

6. Ḥadīths advising precautions during epidemics do not mention closing Masjids or stopping congregational Ṣalāh.”

This fiqh approach (manhaj al-istidlal) is symptomatic of what’s going wrong with Muslims across the board. Rather than analyse reasons and motives, they literally and quite absurdly seek an imprint of the past. The mosques were left open because social distancing within the area was purposeless. In those times, social distancing (as the famous hadith on plague shows) was implemented amongst regions, because that’s where it was useful. Yes, if everyone in your area had coronavirus or the majority would inevitably be afflicted with it then closing mosques would be quite pointless. But we are in the early stages of transmission and the strategy is one of stopping the spread of the virus within an area. The shar’ī reason (illah) behind the hukm for impeding transmission stands applicable in ANY context, whether it’s a region, locality or area. What the fatwa calls for is to remove the precaution and undermine containment. Well done, gentlemen.

“7. The differentiation between an individual decision not to attend a Masjid and a collective decision to close a Masjid for congregational ṣalāh. (It is worth noting if Eid occurs on a Friday, according to ḥanbalīs, Jumuʿah Ṣalāh is not necessary on individuals, however, Jumuʿah Ṣalāh must be established in the Masjids, as outlined in an earlier answer).”

Firstly, they cite a “differentiation” when they’ve been unable to distinguish these in every point so far! Secondly, the “differentiation” is irrelevant, closing the mosque is a leadership decision that’s about preventing harm. Ironically, there is somewhat of a precedence to close access to a mosque to prevent harms, and it’s in the (questionably attributed) narration which many Deobandi religious leaders depend on to ban women from mosques, where Umar b. al-Khattāb allegedly prevented women from mosques between prayers due to their behaviour. Yes, he didn’t ban them from the congregational ṣalāh itself, but that’s simply because people don’t misbehave whilst in prayer. But where there was harm, the leadership call was made to prevent access.

Thirdly, they invoke a point regarding the Ḥanbalīs in normal times. Yet, and far more relevantly, al-Mardāwi in his opus al-Insāf (a mainstay for the Ḥanbalī school) wrote, ‘and it is permitted without argument for the sickly to temporarily abandon the congregational prayer and Friday prayer, and likewise it is also permitted to temporarily abandon the two out of fear of contracting sickness.’ Now with this reasoning, if the mosque becomes a site where a serious illness threatens congregants, logically the Ḥanbalīs would advocate the mosque to temporarily close its gates, based on the principle of mafhum al-awlā, or ‘greater inference’.

“8. The continued running of schools notwithstanding the huge risks and the duration of time (6-8 hours) spent therein.”

Firstly, we now have an acknowledgement that social mixing is a “huge risk” but only in relation to the hours they spend together. To speak of a situation without understanding it, is perverse. Going back to the Ḥanbalīs, the scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim wrote that neither a scholar nor a judge can issue a fatwa in truth unless he understands two things, the first of which is “the context with an analytical cognisance, and deriving the reality of what’s happening through operative variables, indicative factors and inferential signs until he comprehensively knows the situation.” Transmission doesn’t require hours – coughing, sneezing, or transmission by touching one’s orifices (which can take a few seconds) suffices. Secondly, the continued running of schools has little to do with mosque leaders, it’s not in their remit to close down schools. What others do is irrelevant to the responsibilities of Muslim leaders. Thirdly, mosque attendance for adults is not analogous with children at school very simply because the risks (predicated on age groups) are not the same. The most vulnerable attend mosques, whilst the least vulnerable attend schools.

“9. The limited 5-10 minutes duration of congregational Ṣalāh.”

SO? A man sneezing or coughing next to you is enough to contract the virus. Again, with such close contact 10 minutes is far more than enough. Furthermore, congregations are notoriously bad for such hygiene. People cough, splutter, and sneeze openly in ṣalāh, often because they’ve been misinformed by the same type of clerics that conscious movement invalidates prayer. So given the context, the point doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence.

“10. The ground reality of Muslims continuing to attend weddings, functions, shopping centres, and other public and private places and spending much more time than the time spent in congregational Ṣalāh.”

Yes, which people ALSO shouldn’t do. What kind of reasoning is this, “because people are doing the wrong thing elsewhere, they ought to do it here as well”? Or is this simply a fatalistic fatwa: “there’s no point socially isolating because people are transmitting it anyway”? Leaders of their communities ought to be setting out responsible behaviour that speaks to the public good, not resigning themselves to irresponsible actions, and then further encouraging it!

Now some will inevitably say that I’m being harsh, but this is not unnecessary savagery. Social respect does not pertain to respecting such shoddy “scholarship”. I sympathise with the unease some might feel, but this is one of those circumstances which legitimately calls for it – believers ought to hold such fatwas in absolute contempt and ridicule.

To be clear, there will be a lot of discussion on this topic, and as the ground continues to shift, there’ll be a lot of legitimate points raised on both sides. But the contruction of this fatwa, the arguments it rests on, and the general method of reasoning (along with choice of sources) speaks to a religious culture that evidences how the uninformed articulation of al-Islām in the UK has not only been absolutely inane and contrary to what God wants, it has caused various types of harm. Generally, such ways of thinking has instigated dissonance, doubt, ethno-cultural hegemony, mockery, and unfavourable outcomes across the board. (Please note that many Deobandi-seminarians disagree with the fatwa and have made it clear. All are not the same and shouldn’t unfairly be treated as such.)

To end, I’ll keep with the theme of the Ḥanbalīs, where the Ḥanbalī philosopher Ibn al-Qayyim put it quite relevantly:

“Whoever gives fatwas to the people merely from what has been related in books differing from the customs, habits, era, social/political circumstances and contextual variables, misguides others and is himself misguided. His injury to the faith is greater than that of a doctor who treats patients inconsiderate of their different customs, habits, era, circumstances and contextual variables, merely seeking to reflect what is in the general books of medicine. Such a doctor is an ignoramus, and such a mufti too is an ignoramus; both are the most harmful they could possibly be to the people’s religion and their bodies – may God help us!”

Amen.

22 comments

Umar March 17, 2020 - 6:31 pm

Thanks for keeping sane.

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Umar March 17, 2020 - 6:32 pm

Thanks for keeping me sane.

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Saleem Abdul Hamid March 17, 2020 - 6:51 pm

Instead of blowing so much hot air all the time about things you haven’t the slightest clue about, why not devote your time to actually studying iftaa from a master and building the capability in yourself to speak with authority?

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A March 17, 2020 - 7:11 pm

What a load of waffle! No justifiable reason of closing mosques all together. Do some studying of proper fiqh before secularising your mind.

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Umer Siddique March 18, 2020 - 6:20 am

You may criticise the tone. But you have assumed that he has not studied fiqh/does not know principle of iftaa. On the other hand you have not addressed the points he raised.

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Naveed March 17, 2020 - 7:18 pm

I didnt find any public health medicine in this
It iftaa
Its disappointing that non muftis who have studied public health medicine and infectious diseases are attacking muftis on the internet
Whilst themselves presenting arguments which
Are even inferior….
Not saying i back the deobandi fatwa but these critics are cheap shots

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Mohammed Patel March 17, 2020 - 8:42 pm

To all those attacking Sheikh Nizami for being rational,

1. Neither of you have offered any reasonable arguments for keeping Masjids open.
2. What do you have to say of the 243 cases of Corona infections from a SINGLE masjid gathering in Malaysia this last Sunday 15th March?

He is not advocating for neglecting your fardh salaat, just the congregational salaah at the masjid, and that too TEMPORARILY. For safety. It really is common sense.

There is a clip from a South African Mufti, Mufti AK. I am shocked at his reasoning who also feels that Masjids should remain open. Thinking of sending him a link to this article.

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Dale March 18, 2020 - 6:06 pm

This was a gathering attended by 16000 people. Please offer context.

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Muhammad abiodun s March 18, 2020 - 8:55 am

😀Ya ma’asharal Muslimuun(O Muslims)!!!When giving your opinion, do so with respect. Don’t ridicule or insult anyone.
We are all humans and what we desire most is self respect and recognition from those around us no matter how little. So when trying to oppose another’s idea, it should be done with respect, no matter how obvious the defects or absurdity of such idea may seem( to us especially). That is the prophet’s standard. Replying a fellow Muslim like you with goodness and humility.
The reason the ummah is in such state is due to our lack of character and manner of correction. As a result every exposition of opinion or fatwa is like a tirade in a heated quarrel.This is not good.
We are Muslims and we should respectfully give out our opinions without being disrespectful or arrogant( gamqun-naas, looking down on others).
The cause of our opinions sounding like tirades in heated quarrel is because we (being humans) deem our opinions as absolute. Where another’s opinions conflict with ours, we should simply let them know our take, try to convince them and make them see reason with wisdom and respect. The prophet(SAW) spoke to the hearts of men as well as their minds/intellect/conscience. In correcting a person one should not be lost in his own superior sense of logic, and now forget the heart/ego/dignity of his fellow human brother( Muslim at that).
The points of this article is clear, I agree with it one hundred percent.Although, Its tone can be better and more respectful. This shouldn’t be a “counter” as indicated in the topic, we shouldn’t make pitches against one another , because what we feel at the end of the day when such is done is this feeling of self-satisfaction of being “right” or “winning the argument” or “serving the opponent” of course this is due to Shaytaan, but if we do not purify our intentions(to finding the truth of any matter or to better the state of the Ummah and uphold the Quran and Sunnah) this disunity will continue. It might have been better if the wordings was something like “al kashf”(clarification) not al-radd (countering) these are nuances that disunites us and pitch us against our own selves.

The same goes for we Muslims in our daily lives when there is difference in opinion or when we interact with non-Muslims(and being human nature, we try to prove that we are better than they are, because we are Muslims). Islam belongs to Allah(we don’t own it)and he blesses whomever he wills with it. So in representing Islam anywhere we are, we should also keep in mind that Islam is not ours’ but God’s.

The truth of any matter, or the wisdom we exercise is not ours, but Allah’s rahma(mercy) and Hidayah(guidance). He bestows it upon whom he wills. In gratitude for this we as Muslims should try to make sure that we share this rahma in humblesness because it wasn’t by our ability we got that hidayah, but rather by Allah’s rahma.
Make Allah unite the Muslim Ummah, and May He put to failure the plan of any persons who intend to cause disunity and sow discord among this Ummah. And May he make us better Muslims and beacons of guidance to others. Ameen.

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Sufian March 18, 2020 - 10:34 am

Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday (March 17) that mosques would no longer accept worshippers for the customary five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer, in exceptional measures intended to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Prayers will continue only at the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, the holiest places in Islam, state news agency SPA reported, citing a decision from the Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom’s highest religious body.

– Jordan, Kuwait, UAE are amongst other countries do the same

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Amin March 18, 2020 - 6:32 pm

Assalamalkum

Why not contact the mufti’s themselves who have penned the fatwa their conclusions. How many years of experience do they hold teaching Islamic sciences and to what level?

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A March 18, 2020 - 6:36 pm

So shaykh nizami, will you stop going to shop at Tesco’s and Asda and tell others not to? Just as people need bodily provisions and the government has not advised to, five minutes praying at masjids will potentially kill you? The snide remarks you have made towards scholars isn’t befitting for any student of knowledge.

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Irfan Jalal March 19, 2020 - 5:41 am

Salaam and greetings, very informative and fruitful, protection of life is one of the higher objectives of Islamic law. Congregation prayers should be paused before thiny change drastically.

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A March 19, 2020 - 11:07 am

I think I’ll listen to Mufti Taqi Usmani who has a higher authority and better adaab on how to articulate their views. Mufti Taqi Saab is advising to limit salah to fard only and shortening not cancelling juma khutba to 2/3 minutes.

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Shafique meah March 19, 2020 - 7:12 pm

alhamdulillah it is a very difficult situation wherein in the moment but as Allah is with us all the time it is a test for us us2 believe in our creator there was many sayings of the prophet when mosque starts closing not a good sign for human race in China when the virus broke out Chinese government open them all the mosques off for the Muslims then they realise this was from allah himself everybody who went to the mosque did not get affected

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Muhammad March 19, 2020 - 11:36 pm

Yet another lgbt scholar. You might not have legalized lgbt filth (yet), but you sure as hell share with them the same Usool.

“Whatever befalls you of calamities (torments,
disasters), is due to what YOUR hands have earned, although Allah overlooks much.” (Surah Shura)

May Allah strike you with what you deserve

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Abraham Mohamed March 20, 2020 - 4:01 pm

An excellent breakdown both from a shar’i and medical perspective. Glad someone isn’t blindly following an ineffective government and doesn’t want potential blood on their hands. Temporary closure right decision. May Allah bless you shaykh, amin.

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Abd al Wahid March 21, 2020 - 12:33 am

Alhamduilliah, for sound reasoning of Shaykh Nizami. It is shocking that some mosques are still open in the UK. With all due respect for older scholars. I respect them but completely disagree with them in this issue. Many scholars around the world agree with Shaykh Nazim view such as the scholarly authorities of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Indonesia. All from a range of schools. My disagreement is not a lack of respect of them .But if senior scholars who have know understanding of how exponential phenomena work, then unfortunately their fatwa is lacking especially understating what needs to be done to reduce the threat. As for other comments who are ridiculing the Shaykh’s efforts to save lives. Your arguments are very emotional and not scholarly. May Allah increase your knowledge and your Adab.

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YK21 March 21, 2020 - 4:02 pm

All of you claim to have some sort of knowledge in deen. This maybe true and I ask Allah blesses you further.

But your manners stink.

Have differences of opinion. This is healthy. But to ridicule, mock and to even go as far as saying that Sheikh Nizami represents the LGBT – hang your head in shame and go wash your mouth with soap. Who are you to judge??? This article is a difference of opinion and a critical discourse based on Sheikh Nizamis evidence.

And please… don’t refer to yourself as the inheritor of Nabi SAW. Because quiet clearly, most of those that have left comments aren’t. You lack the fundamental trait of our Navi and have no akhlaq whatsoever.

You guys are everything that is wrong with this ummah

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Ibn Adam March 21, 2020 - 5:06 pm

You have missed the point of why the author has included reading Salah in the battlefield. Nabi s.a.w and the Sahabah had enough intellect and reasoning to understand that sending portions of the army to perform Salah with congregation will increase the fatality rate amongst Muslims yet Nabi s.a.w still ordered. It doesn’t take advanced scientific hypotheses, theories and studies to be conjugated and conducted or to be to understand that removing parts of your army from the battlefield will increase the risk of losing the battle and will result in a higher rate of injuries and casualties.

Stop being an overly professional, posh nincompoop and attempting to please the British public with your “westernness” and “moderness”. The UK government has not recommended a blanket closure of Masaajid and we shouldn’t too. There are ways in which we can provide a solution to the problem instead of publishing sarcastic, childish, immature, emotional and narcissistic articles that don’t lend a hand to the dire situation the Ummah is in. An example of a solution is a Masjid in Yorkshire which hosted 8 Jumuahs across 2 locations. Each congregation was limited to 100 participants (MashaAllah, they’re following the relevant UK government’s guidance to the letter – bet your happy now!) and each participant would have an empty space and all four sides (can they have double western coconut brownie points for following the guidance twice?).

Apologies for being childish with the character attacks but what goes around comes around. Just because somebody doesn’t have the same opinion as yourself, you launch character attacks and call them insane, irrational and illogical. Just keep in mind what you have posted under the about, this website, changes section. Part of the learning journey is to be respectful of others views, especially when such views have substantial evidence and tomorrow this opinion may become your own opinion.

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Ashraf Nazim. March 27, 2020 - 7:22 pm

Mr.Nizami.
You don’t have a valid argument.You were only trying to ridicule using logic.

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