Congregational prayer (Arabic: صلاة الجماعة) a prayer which is held in congregation. Congregational prayer is among the important acts of worship in Islam. In congregation prayer, whoever stands in the front and is followed by the people, is called "Imam" (someone who leads the prayer) and the one following him is called "Ma'mum", literally the one who is led.
Some narrations imply that Islamic prayer was legislated originally as a congregational worship. The Prophet (s) and Imam 'Ali (a) performed the first congregational prayer.
According to Shi'a view, participation in congregational prayer is recommended and only performing daily prayers, ayat prayer, Eid prayers, funeral prayer, and Friday prayer are valid to be performed in congregational form. Sunni schools have disagreements with Shi'a in this regard.
According to Qur'an, Allah has ordered twice to pray congregationally, also in narrations along with strong recommendation, numerous impacts and consequences have been mentioned; such as:
- release of hypocrisy
- pleasure of God and the angels
- forgiveness of sins
- easing the hardships of the hereafter
- entering Heaven
- acceptance of other prayers
- receiving intercession
On the other hand, leaving congregational prayer without a valid excuse has been considered one reason why prayer is not granted, also downgrading has been paralleled with downgrading God.
The more people participate in congregational prayer, the more they please God and the more the reward shall be. One follower will make the merit of congregational prayer 150 times more than individual prayer, and two will make it 600 times more, and if they exceeded 9, no one knows its reward except God.
In some traditions, a single congregational prayer is counted as more than 40 years of individual prayer in house. In another narration, the merit of praying behind an 'alim (knowledgeable person) has been equated to the one behind the Prophet (s). The Prophet (s) said, "whoever goes toward a mosque, for every step, one thousand good deeds will be written in his record, and he will be raised one thousand levels, and if he dies in this condition, God will order seventy thousand angels to visit him in his grave, accompanying him in his loneliness, until he is resurrected from his grave."
Since the beginning, the Prophet (a) performed his prayers in congregation. In early Islam, congregational prayer was led by the Prophet (a), and Imam Ali (a) was the only male follower. Then, Ja'far al-Tayyar (Imam Ali's (a) brother) joined them by order of Abu Talib (Imam Ali's (a) father). Lady Khadija (a) was the first woman participating in congregational prayer.
Congregational prayer is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran; yet, faqihs believe the Qur'an has enjoined to perform congregational prayer in the verse, "And maintain the prayer, and give the zakat, and bow along with those who bow [in prayer]."
Participation of Lady Mary (a) in congregational prayer is mentioned in the Qur'an.
The first congregational prayer in Islam was held by the Prophet (s) as the Imam of congregational prayer (leader of congregational prayer), and participation of Ali (a) and Lady Khadija (a). Afterwards Ja'far al-Tayyar (Imam Ali's brother) joined them by the order of Abu Talib (a) (Imam Ali's father).
Shi'a jurists' hold it that congregational prayer is highly recommended, but Hanbalis and some of Hanafis jurists say it is obligatory per person (wajib 'ayni) but not a condition for the validity of the prayers; and a group of Shafi'is says it is "wajib kifa'i" (obligatory for all while as long as the duty for the fulfillment of a social need exists) for men who are not traveling.
According to Shia faqihs performing recommended prayers is not permissible, except Istisqa' prayer (prayer for rain). Yet, some of Shi'a jurists believe that prayer of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are recommended in the time of occultation. Majority of Shia faqihs believe that eid prayers-either recommended or obligatory-must be performed congregationally.
Most Sunni jurists allow performing every recommended prayer congregationally, including tarawih prayers. However, Malikis and Hanafis believe that performing some recommended prayers (other than what is performed in the month of Ramadan) and Ayat prayer congregationally is makruh (reprehensible). On the other hand, Shi'a jurists count tarawih prayers as bid'a (innovation in the religion).
All Muslims agree that the Friday prayer is not valid if it is not performed congregationally.
How it is preformed
There is almost the same way of performing a congregational prayer in all Islamic sects. Imam of congregational prayer (who leads the prayer) recites Qur'an 1 (sura al-Fatiha) and a sura in the two first rak'as on behalf of the people following him in prayer, though the people behind him recite other parts quietly, while following the imam in prayer moves and actions.
A "ma'mum" (follower in prayer) must not do the prayer acts ahead of the imam, although it does not invalidate his prayer in the view of the majority of Shi'a and some Sunni scholars. Some jurists believe that following the imam in prayer acts is the condition of the validity of the prayer. Still, others believe it is the condition of its recognition as a congregational prayer.
There are specific principles in both Shi'a and Sunni schools of thought, for the validity of a congregational prayer, such as:
- Presence of at least two persons, one of which leads the prayer; however this ruling is a little different in Friday prayer and Eid prayer.
- Similarity between the kinds of prayer imam and ma'mum perform in respect to being recommended or obligatory (when a recommended prayer could be performed congregationally).
- Followers must not stand ahead of an imam.
- There must be no obstacle preventing followers from observing the imam, between the first line and the imam.
- Lines of congregational prayer must be connected.
- The location of the imam must not be higher than that of the followers; therefore, mihrabs (the place where imam stands) are usually built lower than the mosque's floor.
Qualifications of the Imam
Imam is the one standing in the front and leads the congregational prayer. In the socio-political system of Islam, whoever leads a group of people must have certain virtues and traits to inspire others. Likewise, the Imam in congregational prayer should be just and have a correct recitation. 
Moreover in hadiths, some attributes are mentioned for the meritorious Imam of congregational prayer such as being superior to other people in terms of knowledge and piety, trustworthy, and be counted as an adornment of the mosque.
Shi'a jurists emphasized on the qualification of Adala (being just) so much that they explicitly said: the prayer behind an unjust Imam is invalid.
Jurists from all the Islamic sects believe unanimously that a woman cannot lead a congregational prayer if there is a man among followers; however, some Shi'a jurists allow it only if the followers are all female.
Many manners for congregational prayer have been mentioned in narrations; some of which are:
- Trying to stand in the first line (it is said that it has the reward of jihad)
- Paying attention to your own prayer and not be distracted by others' prayer or actions
- Act in accord with imam and not mess up the order of prayer
- Wearing best clothes and perfume
- Not disturbing other people who are in lines
- Not having bad breath so that people get annoyed
- Not bothering others by reciting loudly
- Greeting other people and asking about the ones who are absent.
- The imam should care about the followers' situation.
The great emphasis on congregational prayer in Islam indicates its great impact and result on Muslims' spiritual and social life. Some of the most important impacts are: manifestation and publicizing the Islam and ikhlas (loyalty to God), showing the greatness of the religion, stoking fear in the heart of enemies and peace in believers', developing and deepening the prayer culture in the community, boosting the spirit of unity and empathy, removing the authoritarian and solitary spirit, cooperating and solving others' problems, companionship with righteous people, learning knowledge, piety, justice, and principles, etc.
Important congregational prayers
The congregational prayers that are held in al-Masjid al-Haram and al-Masjid al-Nabawi are considered to be the most important congregational prayers which have been performed by Muslims from various countries and different sects over centuries. They always were a platform for unity and solidarity among the Muslims.
Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita' represented Iraqi scholars in "Quds Islamic Congress". His personality caused him to lead the congregational prayer in Masjid al-Aqsa, in which thousands of Muslims including scholars from various Islamic sects attending the congress, participated.
This event is important because at that time Shi'a could not even perform prayer in a mosque in Beirut without taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation), but after his journey, everything changed and Shi'a was treated like other Islamic sects.
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