The Islamic Ruling on Following the Imām’s Prayer Virtually Through a “Live Broadcast” in Light of the Covid-19 Crisis
A paper presented by:
|Ahmad ibn Samih Abdel-Wahāb||PhD in Fiqh, Islamic University of Madinah|
|Sājid Umar||PhD in Comparative Fiqh & Judiciary, Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University|
|Tāhir Wyatt||PhD in Islamic Creed, Islamic University of Madinah|
|Ahmed Khāter||MA in Islamic Law and Legal Theory and PhD Candidate in Islamic Law and Legal Theory, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley|
|Joe Bradford||MA in Fiqh, Islamic University of Madinah|
This paper explores the issue of following an Imām in prayer through live
broadcast, whether over radio or internet, and whether this issue is
acceptable according to the principles of Islamic law encapsulated in the four
canonical schools of jurisprudence. Does the distance and separation inherent
to following a prayer over live broadcast affect the validity of that prayer?
While the issue of live broadcast was not addressed in earlier works, scholars
of the four canonical schools of Islamic law have agreed that a person
following the Imām from far distances (miles away without continuous rows)
with the presence of obstacles between them is invalid. This ruling by classical scholars
was extended to broadcasts over radio, and then the internet; a list of the
respective scholars and Fiqh councils upholding this ruling is provided. The
evidences that substantiate this position are laid out, from both revelation
and rationale, showing that allowing “virtual prayers” and the like violate the
form of the congregational prayer, the dispensations for abandoning it, and
the spiritual and communal objectives of each. A survey of the classical texts
reiterating these conclusions is then provided, from the Hanafi, Māliki, Shāfi’ ī ,
and Hanbali schools. Lastly, common misconceptions are addressed and
advice to Masjid Administrations and the Muslims in general is offered
regarding this issue.
Table of contents:
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
ِAll praise is due to Allah, and may His praise, peace, and blessings be upon His Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, his family, his Companions, and his followers until the Day of Judgment.
In light of the current lockdowns due to the Covid-19 crisis, some people are asking about the ruling on following their local Imām virtually (live-stream) in prayer, whether it’s for the Friday prayer, any of the five congregational prayers, or Tarawīh in Ramadan. Some people have started promoting this idea, and some masjid administrations are considering it for their masjid.
In this paper, we will discuss the ruling with regards to this matter in some detail.
2. What is intended when we say praying virtually with an Imām?
What we are discussing here is an Imām and a few people praying in the masjid (or any other location), and people in that same city (or outside of that same city), who share the same time zone, following that Imām through live video or audio streaming. They might follow
the Imām virtually on their own, or line-up with others within the same
household. The house of the person is far from the Imām being followed, such that the one following cannot naturally see the Imām or hear him, or naturally see those behind him, or naturally hear the one echoing the Imām’s takbīrs (e.g. via the masjid’s inhouse speaker system).
The scholars of the four Canonical Schools of Islamic law have agreed that praying from such far distances behind an Imām is invalid:
According to all the legal schools of Fiqh in Islam, praying with an Imām virtually in such a way would be invalid. Such a far distance breaching the space between the Imām and the one following him invalidates the prayer, and this is the view of all four canonical schools of Islamic law: the Hanafis, Mālikis, Shāfi’ī’s, and Hanbalis.1
This standard has also been applied by modern day fiqh councils, fatwa committees, and various scholars around the world with regards to the issue of following an Imām through live radio or TV broadcast (and similar); they held it to be invalid. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the boards and individuals who held this opinion:
3. Fatāwā stating the invalidity of an online congregation in light of the COVID-19 crisis have been passed by:
- The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America.
Their fatwa specifically discussed the ruling in the light of the Covid crisis and how praying in such a way is invalid, for Friday prayers, Tarawīh prayers, and other prayers.2
- The European Council for Fatwa and Research.
Their fatwa specifically discussed the ruling in the light of the Covid crisis and how praying in such a way is invalid for any prayer: Friday prayers, congregational prayers, Tarawīh, Eid prayers, and funeral prayer.3
- The Australian Fatwa Council.4
- Mufti Taqi Usmāni.5
- Shaykh Mahfouzh ibn Muhammad Mustafa Al-Ansāri, Ash-Shinqīti.6
- Shaykh Mawlood As-Sarīri.7
- Dr. Mustapha Benhamza.8
- Dr. Sa’d ibn Nāsir Ash-Shithri.9
- Dr. Abdullah Al-Mutlaq.10
4. Fatāwā stating that praying with the Imām via the radio, television, or live broadcast is invalid in general have been passed by:
- The Egyptian Fatwa Committee (Dar Al-Iftaa’ Al-Misriyya):
- The Standing Committee for Fatwa and Research in Saudi Arabia (Signed by Shaykhs: Abdul-Azīz ibn Bāz, Abdur-Razzāq Afīfi, Abdullah ibn Ghudayyān, Abdullah ibn Qu’ood)14
- Shaykh Abdul-Azīz ibn Bāz15
- Shaykh Muhammad ibn Salih Al-Uthaymīn16
- Shaykh Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al-Mukhtār Ash-Shinqīti17
- Shaykh Sālih Al-Fawzān18
- Shaykh Abdullah ibn ‘Aqīl Al-Hanbali19
- Shaykh Muhammad Nāsir-ud-dīn Al-Albāni20
5. The evidence that the scholars used to substantiate their stance for not allowing congregational prayers through live broadcasts are as follows:
- The prayer is an act of worship, and acts of worship are tawqīfi (they are only established based on textual evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah or rulings derived from them as per the directives of Jurisprudence Methodology). Praying virtually, where one would not be able to hear or see the Imām or those behind him in the physical (unvirtual) sense, is an innovation in the religion, and contradicts the way the congregation has been legislated and conducted since the time of the Prophet ﷺ, praise and peace be upon him, until this day and age.
- The congregational prayer in Islam follows a specific form defined in the Sunnah. This form necessitates the following:
A) That the Imām and those following him gather together in one place, at one time.
B) That the people following the Imām know what the Imām is doing so that they are able to follow him.
Earlier, it was mentioned that the forms of acts of worship must strictly follow what is established by evidence in the Qur’an and Sunnah and the rulings that the scholars derived from them. In terms of the congregational prayer; what proves that the format of the congregation is an act of worship and a revealed ritual, and not something purely based on logical deduction, are the many specific rules the Prophet ﷺ set for the congregation which include:
- The male following the Imām should pray to his right, and not his left, or in front of him.
- A group of males should pray behind the Imām.
- The first rows should be filled before the second rows.
- The rows should be straightened, and the gaps between the people should be filled.
- The rows closest to the Imām are the best.
- There is 27 times more reward for praying in a congregation.
- There is a reward for each step of walking to the masjid.
- Praying in Al-Masjid Al-Haram is better than one-hundred thousand prayers elsewhere, except the Prophet’s Mosque, for praying in it is more virtuous than praying one-thousand prayers elsewhere.
- The Prophet ﷺ forbade a man from praying in a row by himself, and ordered him to repeat his prayer. So, if the Prophet ﷺ forbade a man to pray in the same area of the congregation by himself in his own row, because he was not with the congregation, then the prayer of the one praying in a completely remote area is more worthy of being forbidden.
- The reports excusing a person from attending the physical congregation in the masjid show that being in the congregation is intended in Islam for someone who does not have an excuse.21
- The narrations from the companions of the Prophet ﷺabout physical attendance of the congregational prayer are clear in this matter, unless there is an excuse.
- Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “Whoever hears the call to prayer and does not answer, doesn’t want good nor was it intended for him.”22
- Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Whoever hears the call to prayer and does not answer it, his prayer does not ascend beyond his head, unless he has an excuse [not to attend].23
- Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) also said, “There is no prayer for the neighbor of the mosque except *inside* the mosque.”24
These narrations and others like them are clear that the Companions understood that attending a congregation meant physical presence within a designated area and with a group of people, not merely being present with them in meaning.
To allow congregations electronically – without being present physically with a group of people- is in effect an invalidation of the dispensations given by the Prophet ﷺ for the sick, and the legal principle states “It is impermissible to derive from a text something which invalidates it.”
- If the original ruling cannot be applied due to a need or dire necessity, the Islamic Fiqh maxim states, that one must follow its substitute.25 Here the one who cannot congregate in a masjid or public area, can pray at home in his own congregation, or by himself. If one cannot pray the Friday prayer in the masjid or a public area, the substitute is to pray four rak’ahs (units) of the Dhuhr prayer at home.
- If there is fear for one’s self or others due to the congregational prayer, such as the case of Covid-19, the obligation or Sunnah of congregation is waived.
- Following the Imām from home virtually goes against all the fiqh schools which stipulated conditions which ensure that:
A) the Imām and followers congregate in one place or are in close proximity to one another, and
B) the congregation is not broken by any major physical barriers. The details of all schools are mentioned in the next section.
6. The majority of scholars say it is invalid to pray in front of the Imām. When praying virtually, many of the followers’ prayers would be invalid due to their homes being in front of the position of the Imām.
7. If we were to assume, for the sake of argument, that we can allow a virtual congregational prayer, it would either be allowed in all cases, or only during dire necessity such as the crisis at hand. It cannot be allowed for both.
- a) As for the latter; it would be counted as invalid from a fiqh perspective, because not being able to pray in the masjid due to the current circumstances does not necessitate a threat to the preservation of one’s religion, life, or wealth. Furthermore, dire necessity does not allow for the creation of a new ruling when the original ruling has an Islamically established alternative (substitute). The Fiqh principle states, “If the default ruling is not possible, one goes to its substitute.”26
- 1.With regards to the Friday prayer, Dhuhr prayer is legislated as its substitute when it cannot be attended.
- 2.With regards to the congregational prayers in the masjid; the substitute would be in the form of praying the five obligatory prayers, as well as the night prayers during Ramadan at home, individually or in congregation with the members of the household.
- b) As for the former (i.e saying that it is allowed in all cases), then this goes against the scholarly consensus due to the evidence mentioned in this section. In fact, if it was something permitted, the scholars would have permitted everyone to virtually follow the Imām in the Haram of Makkah from anywhere in the same time zone, especially given the virtues of worshipping in the sacred lands, and the different circumstances, financial and physical, which cause in different estimates a case of ‘need’. The reality, however, is that no scholar has allowed the observance of the prayer in this way, nor would that person be counted as having prayed with the congregation of the Haram.
8. Allowing virtual congregations may lead to people abandoning attendance of actual, physical congregations especially in the age of unregulated fatwas. The least that could be said is that some people will become lax about doing so. Consequently, it can be fathomed that the holistic benefits for praying in congregation will be lost, such as love, unity, brotherhood/sisterhood, and cooperation, which are qualities that truly flourish through physical interaction.
6. The conditions for a congregation according the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence: Hanafi, Māliki, Shāfi’ī, and Hanbali schools:
Each School of Fiqh through rigorous study and consideration has derived from the sources of Islam factors which have to be met before the term ‘congregation’ in terms of worship can be applied in a qualified way to a gathering.
The Hanafi School:27
The following conditions for Iqtidaa’ (following an Imām) are mentioned by the Hanafi school:
- The person following the Imām cannot pray in front of the Imām.28
- There can be no row of women that come between the row of men and the Imām (the details of this can be seen in their books of Fiqh)
- A river that has boats passing through it cannot come between the Imām and those following him.
- A road that has vehicles which pass through it cannot come in between the Imām and those following him. It becomes invalid if the area required for two rows of people praying (from that road) comes between the Imām and his followers. The official fatwa is based on this opinion (Al-Muftaa bihi). However, if the rows of the congregation continue onto the road, then the presence of the road will not affect the validity of the congregation.
- A large wall cannot come between the Imām and those following him, such that it causes those praying behind the wall to not clearly distinguish the movements of the Imām.
a) If that wall does not prevent them from knowing the movements of the Imām, since they can either hear or see the Imām or those behind him, even if the wall prevents one from accessing the place of the Imām, then it is valid to follow him.
b) Based on this, following an Imām from places which are connected to Al-Masjid Al-Harām and its doors, and are outside of it, is valid if the movements of the Imām are clear to them through hearing or seeing, and the only barrier is that wall.
c) Likewise, if one prays on the roof of his house which is connected to the masjid, or in his house which is connected to the masjid and between it and the masjid is one wall, following the Imām who is in the masjid, and he can hear the takbīr of the Imām or the one reciting the takbīr loudly behind the Imām, then his prayer is valid.
d) The one praying on the roof is allowed to pray behind the Imām praying inside the same house, as long as he knows the Imām’s movements.
- It is also a condition that the Imam cannot lead while riding, while the one following is walking, or for the Imām to be on one animal leading while the one following is on another animal, because they are in two different places. If he follows the Imām on the same animal, his prayer is valid, since they are in the same place.
- It is also a condition that the Imām is not on one boat while the one following him is on another boat which is not connected to the Imām’s, because that is like praying on two different animals, which is praying in two different places, and that is invalid. If the two boats are connected to each other, it is allowed to follow him, because it’s as if they are praying in one place (i.e. when the two boats are connected, it is as if they are praying together on one boat, or in the same place).
- It is also a condition that a large empty space equivalent to two rows or more does not come between the Imām and the congregation, as well as between the individual rows of the congregation, irrespective of whether the prayer is taking place in an open space outside the masjid, or inside a very large masjid29, such as Masjid alQuds.
Based on the above, the Hanafi school would consider it invalid to follow an Imām who is far through a live broadcast. This is because:
- They are praying in two different locations that are not physically connected. Ibn Abideen states, “Different locations (of the Imam and the follower) invalidates the prayer behind the Imam, even if the movements of the Imam are known”.30
- There are many roads, walls, and obstacles between them and the Imām.
- Furthermore, the virtual prayer of those who are in front of the imām (i.e. their homes are in front of the mosque) would be invalid since the Hanafis require that the ones following the Imām cannot be in front of him.
The Māliki school:
The Māliki school is the most flexible of the four schools regarding the rules of following the Imām. We will look at all the relevant issues the Mālikis discuss that pertain to the issue at hand, and at the end, we will discuss the ruling of praying a “virtual congregation” according to their school:
Praying in front of the Imām:
– The Mālikis are the only school that allows praying in front of the Imām, even though it is disliked. They say it is disliked but permitted to pray in front of the Imām, unless there’s a necessity, in which case it would not be disliked.31
– Imām Mālik said as reported in Al-Mudawwana: “Whoever prays in a house in front of the Qiblah following the prayer of the Imām, can hear the takbīr of the Imām, prays along with his prayer, bows after he bows, and prostrates after he prostrates, then his prayer is complete, even if he is in front of the Imām.” He said: “I do not like for him to do this.”32
– Note: Here, Imām Malik allows it if they can hear the Imām’s takbīr and know when he bows and prostrates, so that they can follow him properly. The Mālikis mentioned another case that is allowed, which is if they can hear the one making the takbīr behind the Imām.
– Ibn Al-Qāsim then said: “Mālik said, ‘It has been narrated to me that in the past, [the residents of] a house owned by the family of Umar ibn Al-Khattāb, which is in front of the Qiblah (of the masjid), used to pray following the prayer of the Imām while they were in the house.’ Mālik said: ‘I do not like for anyone to do this, but whoever does it, it is valid.’33
The Mālikis mentioned that the main condition for following the Imām is to know his movements in one of the four following ways:34
1. To see the Imām
2. To see those praying behind the Imām
3. To hear the Imām’s takbīr
4. To hear the takbīr of the one making takbīr out loud behind the Imām
Even if the one following the Imām is in a house neighboring the masjid, as long as he knows the movements of the Imām in one of the previous four ways, it is valid.
Then they differed regarding the one making takbīr behind the Imām in a loud voice. Is he an agent (wakīl) of the Imām, or just someone that notifies others what the Imām is doing. According to the first opinion, the one echoing the Imām must fulfill all the conditions of an Imām (He must be a male, adult, sane Muslim in a state of purity). According to the second, the one repeating the takbīr behind the Imām does not need to fulfill the conditions of an Imām, so it can be a female, a child, a non-Muslim, or a person who is not in a state of purity.35
Praying on the mountain of Abu Qubays near Al-Masjid Al-Harām:
There is a mountain called Abu Qubays36 close to Al-Masjid Al-Haram that overlooks the Ka’bah. It is disliked in the Māliki math’hab to pray on it following the Imām in the Ka’bah, because it is very far from the Imām. So a person will find it difficult to know the Imām’s movements. If one is on top of that mountain, and is able to know the Imām’s movements through vision or hearing, it would be permitted (but disliked). If one cannot know the Imam’s movements, then it is invalid37. Ibn Al-Qassim was asked about praying on this mountain following the Imām in Al-Masjid Al-Harām. He said, “I didn’t hear anything about this from Malik. But I do not like this.”38
Praying on two different boats:
It is allowed for a person who is on one boat to follow the Imām on another boat, if they are close together, such that they can hear his takbīrs or hear the one reciting the takbīr loudly after him, or if they can see his movements or the movements of those praying behind him on his boat. It is preferred for the Imām to be in the boat closest to the Qiblah (so that they pray behind him). This type of congregation is allowed whether the boats are docked or moving together, because the default is that they will remain together and will not be separated by wind or any other reason. If something does separate them, they choose an Imām on their boat to continue leading them, or each person continues the prayer by himself.39
Ibn Al-Qasim reports in Al-Mudawwana, “Regarding a group of people on [different] boats following from their boat the prayer of an Imām on another boat, Malik said, ‘If the boats are close to one another, there is no problem in this.‘40
Praying with a small river or a small road between the Imām and the one following:
Ibn Al-Qasim reports in Al-Mudawwanah, “We asked Malik about the small river between the Imām and a group of people who are following the prayer of the Imām. He said, ‘There is no problem in this if the river is small.‘41
The Mālikis allow the one following the Imām to be separated from the Imām with a small river or a small road. The road is considered “small” if the one following the Imām can naturally see him, or those praying with him, or can naturally hear his takbīrs or the one reciting the takbīr after him. If the road or river is too large such that they cannot see or hear as previously described, then it is not allowed and invalid42.
Shaykh Ali Al-‘Adwai Al-Māliki43 said, “Therefore, if the separation [between the Imām and those following him] is with a large [river or road], then this is not allowed. Some of the commentators have explicitly mentioned this.”44
Shaykh Muhamamd ‘Illīsh, the Shaykh of the Mālikis and the Mufti of Egypt of his time45, said, “It is allowed for the follower to be separated from his Imām with a small river, which does not prevent hearing the statements of the Imām or his followers or seeing the actions of the Imām or the actions of his followers. The (qualifier) ‘small’ implies that it is not allowed to be separated by a large river which prevents what has been previously mentioned. ‘Or a road’ that is small, likewise [i.e. it takes the same exact ruling as the river].’46
Shaykh Ad-Dusuqi states, “As for separation by a large river, which is the one that prevents from hearing the Imām or those following him, or seeing the actions (movements) of either of them, then this is not allowed.”47
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Muhammad Sālim Al-Majlisi Ash-Shinqīti says in Lawāmi’ Ad-Durar, his extensive commentary of Mukhtasar Khalīl, “It is allowed for the followers to be separated from the Imām with a small river such that they can hear his statements or those repeating after him, or see the actions of either of them. Separation with a large river is not allowed. Its definition is understood from the definition of the small (river). Imām Abu Hanifa disallowed any separation. The proof against him is that the wives of the Prophet ﷺ used to pray in their chambers following his ﷺ prayer. Ash-Shāfi’ī limited the (width) of the river to be three-hundred dhirā’ (approximately 150 meters), between him (the person following) and the lines (in front of him) or the Imām.”48
The statement of Ibn Bashir49: Separation of lines has only been permitted if the places are in close proximity to one another:
The great Māliki scholar Ibn Bashir says in At-Tanbīh, “He (Imām Mālik) disliked in Al-Kitāb (i.e. The Book Al-Mudawwanah) praying in front of the Imām in a private house (i.e. which is not open to the public). He allowed it in a house behind the (direction) of the Qiblah if there are windows through which they can see the actions of the Imām. In this (type of prayer), there is a separation of the lines, and it has been permitted if the two places are close to one another, such as a small river or road.“50
The statement of Ash’hab (d. 204 AH): A very wide road separating the follower from the Imām, such that he is not considered to be with the Imām, renders the prayer invalid:
Ibn Abi Zayd says, “In Al-Majmoo’ah, Ibn Al-Qāsim reports that Mālik said, “There is no problem if there is a small river or road between the people and their Imām. Ash-hab said, ‘Unless there is a very wide road (separating them),such that he seems not to be with the Imām. Such a person’s prayer is invalid, unless there are people in the street following the Imām’s prayer with continuous lines, then such a person’s prayer is complete (and valid).’51
This statement of Ash-hab further emphasizes the point that distance and proximity matter in the madhhab of Imām Mālik. It shows that the person following the Imām should be close enough to him and those behind him such that he could be reasonably considered part of the congregation. If the distance between him and the last rows of the congregation is so vast that he would not appear to be with the congregation, his prayer is invalid according to Ash’hab.52
The Fatwa of the contemporary Māliki scholar, Shaykh Mahfouzh ibn Muhammad Al-Mustafa Al-Ansari, regarding following an Imām online due to the Covid Crisis:
The respected Mālik scholar in Madina, Shaykh Mahfouzh ibn Muhammad Mustafa Al-Ansari was asked53, “Is it allowed, according to the Mālik school to pray with a live online broadcast, if a person is in his house and following a masjid that is far from him but in the same city, such that he wouldn’t naturally be able to hear the takbīrs, even with the masjid’s broadcasting system, or see any of those behind the Imām?” He replied: “It is invalid! If a person is not in the masjid, there can only be a small barrier such as a small river or road that does not prevent the follower from seeing the Imām or those behind him, or hearing the Imām or the one repeating the takbīr out loud behind him. If a person has roads or buildings between him and the Imām and those behind him such that they would not be able to physically see or hear the Imām or those behind him, then he is too far from the congregation, and the prayer is invalid.”
Conclusion regarding the Mālik Madhhab:
From the previous rules explained according to the Māliki school, it becomes evident that:
– A person following the Imām has to be physically close enough to naturally see or hear the Imām or those praying with him.
– Only small separations are allowed between the Imām and those following him, and not large ones that would prevent natural seeing or hearing.
– The default ruling is to be physically connected to the Imām, through continuous rows. Imām Malik only made the previously mentioned exceptions based on the cases he saw from the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions, which were still in line with the spirit of the congregation by
A) being in close proximity to the Imām
B) and being able to naturally follow the movements of the imām. This point is emphasized by Imām Ibn Bashir, when he says, “In this (type of prayer), there is a separation of the lines, and it has been permitted if the two places are close to one another, such as a small river or road.”
– The previous statement of Al-Majlisi states that Imām Abu Hanifah did not allow any separation. Imām Ash-Shāfi’ī made the separation limited to 300 dhirā‘s. The Mālikis, allowed a small separation that allows seeing/hearing the Imām or those with him due to the reports of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ praying from their homes following the Prophet ﷺ.
– With that said, following the Imām through an online broadcast from a distance that would not allow a person to naturally see or hear the Imām or the one making takbīr behind him goes against the conditions the Māliki scholars have placed for a valid congregation.
The Shāfi’ī School:
According to the Shāfi’ī’s, the prayer of anyone who prays in front of
the Imām is invalid, however observing the prayer in a manner
directly parallel to the Imām is permitted54.
As a general rule according to the Shāfi’ī’s, the Imām and the one
following him must be considered physically congregated in the same
general area so that the sentiment of the congregational prayer, mutual
love, and cooperation can be manifested.55
In addition, the Shāfi’ī’s mention three scenarios regarding the
stipulations of following an Imām, as follows:
The first scenario: If both the Imām and the one following him are in
the masjid and/or it’s courtyard56, the following two conditions apply:
1. The one following the Imām must be aware of the transitional
movements of the Imām by either seeing him directly, or those
behind him, or hearing him or the one repeating the takbīrs
2. There cannot be a barrier, such as a wall, a sealed door58 or room between the Imam and the one following him which
prevents him from reaching the Imām from within the masjid or its courtyard, without having to exit the masjid or its courtyard
to be able to do so.
- If however, there is a barrier with an opening, such as an open
door, between the Imam and one the following him, which allows
for the one following him to reach him without existing the masjid
or its courtyard; then observing the congregational prayer in this
manner is considered permissible, irrespective of them having to
walk in different directions or having to turn their backs to the
Qiblah in order to reach the place of the Imām.
If both of these conditions are fulfilled, following the Imām in
prayer is considered correct, even if there exists a large gap
between the Imām and the one following him, due to the masjid
being considered one place that has been designated for the
congregational prayer. Thus, anyone in the masjid following the
Imām is considered to be part of the congregation.59
The second scenario: If both the Imām and the one following are
outside the masjid.
The third scenario: if the person following the Imām is outside the
masjid and the Imām is inside the masjid, or vice versa.
For these last two cases, four stipulations are listed, as follows:
1. The one following the Imām must know the transitional movements of the Imām by either seeing him directly, or those behind him, or hearing the takbīrs of the Imām, or the one repeating the takbīrs behind him60, as would be the case if they were both in the masjid.
2. There is no barrier which prevents the one following the Imām
from either directly seeing the Imām, or seeing those who can
see the Imām.
3. There must be the possibility for the one following the Imām to
be able to reach the Imām without having to turn their back to
the direction of the Qiblah61. However, needing to turn right or left in order to reach the Imām is permissible62.
- The one following must be within approximately 300 dhirā’
(roughly 150 meters) of the masjid or the last row praying
outside the masjid. Hence, there can be no more than 300
dhirā’ between each row or individuals from all directions. If
the distance exceeds that, the prayer is considered invalid for
those standing beyond the allowed distance; since they
would be considered to be disconnected from the
congregation due to being too far away from it.
Importantly, a separation created by a large road or river does not affect
the validity of the congregation, as long as all of the previous stated
conditions are fulfilled.
Based on the above mentioned conditions, following the Imām from
home via a live broadcast would be invalid according to the Shāfi’ī school
a. The person following would not be considered to be
physically congregated in the same general area, and as a
result the objectives of the congregational prayer are not
established or manifested.
b. The person following would be doing so beyond the allowed
distance of 300 dhirā’s (approx. 150 meters).
c. There are barriers preventing the person following in this
manner from reaching the Imām.
d. The person following cannot directly see the Imām or those
praying behind the Imām.
e. In addition; It is possible for the person following to be
situated in front of the Imām. This would be another reason
for the prayer to be invalid within the math-hab.
The Hanbali School:
According to the Hanbali school, the prayer of anyone who prays in front of the Imām is invalid.63
Also, the prayer of any man who prays in a row by himself is invalid. The Hanbali madhhab is the only one that holds this view.64
They mention two cases related to the stipulations of following an Imām:
Case one: Both the Imām and those following him are in the masjid.
In such a case the prayer is valid as long as they can hear the Imām’s takbīrs, even if they are far from the Imām, or cannot see him or the lines behind him. This is because they are in the same place which was built for the congregational prayer.65
Case two: They are both outside the masjid, or the Imām is in the masjid and the one following the Imām is outside the masjid.
In this case, the one following must be able to physically see the Imām or those praying behind the Imām. If he can hear the takbīrs of the Imām but cannot see anyone praying behind the Imām, the prayer is considered invalid because the distance from the congregation is considered too far.
Beyond being able to see the Imām or the rows behind him, the Hanbali school also stipulates that there be nothing that “interrupts” the congregation. For example, if the rows are separated by a road66 or river, or the imām is on one boat and those following him are on another, the prayer is deemed invalid – even if the rows behind the Imām can be seen – due to the interruption.67
Based on the above mentioned conditions, following the Imām from home through a live broadcast would be invalid according to the Hanbali school, because:
- the one “following” the Imām is too far to see any rows behind the Imām
- There are many barriers that come between him and the Imām
- If the one following is praying in front of the Imām that would be another reason for the prayer to be invalid.
- If a man is praying in a row by himself, that would be another reason for his prayer to be invalid.
Based on the above, a virtual congregational prayer over the internet does not meet the conditions for the congregational prayer as laid down by the four legal fiqh schools.
Conclusion regarding the four schools of Fiqh:
Based on this detailed analysis of the conditions and rules of congregation in the four schools of Fiqh, it becomes clear that none of the schools would validate praying via a live broadcast and consider a congregation to have
7. Common misconceptions:
1) Some may say: all that matters is that one can know what the Imām is doing, and this can be done by following him over the internet.
Regarding this, the scholars have said that this is not the only thing that matters in a congregation. Rather, the essence of a congregation is for the Imām and those following him to be together in one location. This is clearly proven in the Sunnah and is the linguistic meaning of a Jama’ah (congregation).
2) Some have asserted that the Māliki madhhab would allow such a virtual congregation. Regarding this, the texts of the madhhab, as listed above, prove this not to be the case.
3) Some have said that a virtual congregational prayer would be permissible according to Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. This, however, is based on a misunderstanding of one of his quotes. Here is what Ibn Taymiyyah actually said: “If there is a barrier between the Imām and the one following him, whether he is inside the masjid or outside, then:
- If the rows are continuous, this is allowed by agreement of the scholars.
- If there is a road passing by them, or a river through which ships run through, then there are two known opinions, and they are two opinions reported from Ahmad: The first is it is not allowed, like the opinion of Abu Hanifah. And the second is that it is allowed, like the opinion of Ash-Shāfi’ī.
- However, if there is a barrier which prevents them from seeing (the Imām or those behind him), and having access (to walk to the Imām due to closed doors, etc.) then there are several opinions regarding this in the madhab of Imām Ahmad and others. Some said it is allowed. Some said it is not allowed. Some said it is allowed in the masjid and nowhere else. Some said, it is allowed due to necessity, and is not allowed without a necessity. There is no doubt that it is allowed due to necessity, mutlaqan (i.e. in the masjid and outside the masjid); such as if the doors of the masjid are closed, or the quarter in which the Imām is praying is closed, and so forth. If seeing the Imām (or those behind him) is a condition, it would be waived due to necessity, as previously mentioned. It was previously mentioned that the obligations of the prayer and the congregation are waived due to a valid excuse…”68
To understand this statement, we must also understand that Shaykh Al-Islam considers the continuation of rows to be a condition for the congregation69. Therefore, his quote above means that if the doors of the masjid are closed and they cannot see the Imām and those behind him as a result, the prayer would be permissible due to a necessity, as long as those outside the Masjid can hear the Imām’s takbīrs.
4) Some said: scholars have allowed praying in the rooms of hotels overlooking the haram of Makkah, which would necessitate the permissibility of virtual congregations?
Regarding this, the scholars who allowed it did so based on the fact that:
- The worshippers are still in the same vicinity, as the rows from the masjid continue all the way up to the mentioned hotels, thus ensuring that the congregation is not interrupted.
- The worshippers in the hotel can see the rows of worshippers behind the Imām through the windows overlooking the Haram and its courtyard.
In light of the above, we see that this is different from someone praying miles away through a live stream, as they are completely detached from the actual physical congregation, and are joining in from an entirely different location. This goes against the essence of the congregational prayer and the aims of the congregational prayer in Islam, as previously mentioned.
5) Some have said: The shutting down of masjids due to the Covid-19 crisis is a necessity or a dire necessity, which should allow virtual congregations, because what is prohibited in Islam can become permissible due to a necessity.
The response to this is that there is no real necessity to allow this in Islamic law. Necessity is of two types.
The first is a dharōrah which is a dire necessity that poses a threat to a person’s life, limbs, essential wealth, and so forth. A dharōrah allows what is prohibited if there is no other choice or substitute. An example of this is if someone is about to starve to death, and he only can find pig meat to stay alive. He would be allowed to eat from it due to this dire necessity just to save his life.
The second type of necessity is a hājah, which is a necessity that is less serious than the first type. It causes a person extreme hardship, but does not pose any serious threat on one’s life, health, or wealth. This type of necessity warrants some concessions in Islamic law to remove the hardship, granted there are no other plausible choices. An example of this is travel. Usually, it causes a person hardship. This is why Islamic law allows a person who travels not to fast in Ramadān, and allows them to make it up later.
The shutting down of masjids or preventing the congregational prayers does not pose any threat, harm, or hardship on the people praying at home. Therefore, there is no hājah or dharōrah, which calls for any concessions or calls for allowing something that is normally prohibited and invalid.
Rather, they have a substitute for the Friday prayer, which is the Dhuhr prayer. They have a substitute for the congregational prayers that are usually prayed in the masjid, which is to pray them at home with their families. The Fiqh maxim states, “If the default ruling is not possible, one goes to its substitute.”70
Advice to the Masjid Administrations and to the Muslims in general:
- Leave what is doubtful- The greatest act of worship in Islam after the testimony of faith is the prayer. One must ensure that it is performed correctly. One should stay away from any doubtful matters that could make their prayers invalid. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The permissible is clear and the forbidden is clear, and between them are gray areas.” Praying behind a virtual Imām is clearly forbidden according to the four madhhabs and has been declared invalid by all the contemporary Fiqh councils. Considering it to be from the “gray areas” is actually a stretch. Even if there are other opinions floating around, stick to what the overwhelming majority of scholars are saying. The Prophet ﷺ told us that avoiding the gray areas is safer for one’s religion.
- Masjid administrations should focus on teaching their congregation how to pray at home in an effective manner in light of current circumstances, and hold Qur’an classes and prayer workshops with their community members.
- Opening the door for following the congregational prayer virtually has the potential to lead to a lot of harm in the future. It will be a door that will never easily be closed again, especially given how unregulated matters pertaining to Islamic verdicts are today in countries whereby Muslims live as a minority. Many people will use this “opinion” whenever they see fit.71
- There are some reputable scholars who have opined that following a virtual imām may be valid under certain circumstances. While those scholars retain their due respect, their opinion in this matter is shādh (anomalous). The overwhelming majority of scholars have rejected this statement and give it no weight, and have warned the ummah from what is tantamount to religious innovation. However, we distinguish between the invalidity of an opinion and the honor of the one who held it in general, as is the case with any anomalous opinions that may come from a person of knowledge.
- For Masjids that are facing financial difficulties, it is advised that an effective effort is enacted focussing on the establishment of endowments (Awqāf) that can look after the Masjid and its processes, as well as its wider activities and services towards the community in a substantial and pragmatic manner for the long term.
We ask Allah to grant us all beneficial knowledge and righteous actions that will bring us closer to Him. We ask Allah to remove this hardship and pandemic from us, to shower us with His mercy, and to protect us from His anger and punishment.
Allah knows best, and may His praise, peace and blessings be upon His Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and all of his family, Companions, and followers until the Day of Judgment.
- Each of the four canonical Fiqh Schools have their own specifics in terms of the distance that
would invalidate one’s following of the Imām.
- The fatwa by Mufti Taqi was sent as a voice message to Shaykh Javaid Iqbal from Birmingham (Imām, and teacher at Madinatul Uloom al-Islamiyyah, Kidderminster.), and was translated from Urdu to English by Shaykh Javaid and then sent to Dr. Ahmad ibn Samih Abdel-Wahab. The fatwa will be available online in audio and in written form. The fatwa states the following: “According to me, there is no basis for online Jumu’ah or online Tarawih. Such a salah will not be valid. Neither will Jumu’ah salah nor Tarawih salah be valid if a person performs it in this manner. This is because it is necessary for the validity of following (iqtida) of the Imām that the followers be behind the Imām and that they be in such proximity [to the Imām] that they can actually be considered followers. Thus, to say salah will be valid through this online method is incorrect. “The Imam has been appointed to be followed.” Included in this is for the follower (muqtadi) to be behind the Imām and to be following him. Following an Imām with such a large gap in between has no evidence to support it from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Also, when the sacred law (Shari’ah) has ordered that Zuhr salah be performed if Jumu’ah has been missed, Zuhr salah should be performed. The real objective is to execute the command of Allah and to follow His order. Fulfilling one’s desire is not part of the religion (din), i.e., [to say] it is our desire to perform Jumu’ah and Tarawih, and so this is how we are going to do it. Thus, this is not correct. According to me, it is totally impermissible. May Allah Most High grant us correct, sound understanding.”
- A recognised Māliki scholar. His fatwa was given to Dr. Ahmad ibn Samih Abdel-Wahab, over the phone, and will be stated shortly.
- Fatāwa Dar Al-Iftaa’ Al-Misriyya, vol. 1, p. 25, answered by Shaykh Hasanayn Muhammad Makhloof
- Fatāwa Dar Al-Iftaa’ Al-Misriyya, vol. 1, p. 68, answered by Shaykh Muhammad Khatir
- Fatāwa Dar Al-Iftaa’ Al-Misriyya, vol. 1, p. 84, answered by Shaykh Jad Al-Haqq Ali Jad Al-Haqq
- Fatāwa Al-Lajna Ad-Da’ima, vol. 8, p. 26, no. (1759), signed by Ibn Baz, Abdullah Al-Ghudayyan, Abdur-Razaq Al-Afifi, Abdullah ibn Qu’ood.
- https://binbaz.org.sa/fatwas/27920/%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D9%84% D8%A7%D8%A9-%D8%AE%D9%84%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B0%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8 %B9
- Ash-Sharh Al-Mumti, vol. 4, p. 299-300, Fatāwa Arkan Al-Islam, p. 387, 388.
- Sharh Zaad Al-Mustaqni’, 62/11 (shamela): https://app.turath.io/book/7696?page=1196
- Al-Muntaqa min Fatāwa Al-Fawzan, 65/25, no (50)
- Fatāwa Ash-Shaykh Abdullah ibn Aqīl, vol. 1, p. 192.
- Al-Awsat fi al-Sunan, 4/134
- Al-Awsat fi al-Sunan (4/135).
- Al-Awsat fi al-Sunan (4/135).
- Al-Awsat fi al-Sunan (4/135), (Al-Muhallā (4/195). This narration was considered authentic by Sh. Ahmed Shakir.
- Al-Qaw ā ’id Al-Fiqhiyya wa tatb ī q ā tuha fil math ā hib Al-Arba’ah, 1/518
- Al-Qaw ā ’id Al-Fiqhiyya wa tatb ī q ā tuha fil math ā hib Al-Arba’ah, 1/518
- Summarized from Maraqi Al-Falah, p. 111, ad-Dur – al-Mukhtār 1/584 – 588), Radd alMuhtār ‘alā ad-Dur al-Mukhtār 1/585-589.
- See: Al-Mabsoot, p. 43.
- As for masjids that are not very large, then a large space between the Imam and the congregation, or between the rows of the congregation does not invalidate the prayer behind the Imam. See: Radd Al-Muhtar, 1/585
- Radd Al-Muhtar, 1/588
- See: Minah Al-Jaleel, 1/365.
- See: Minah Al-Jaleel, 1/376.
- See: Minah Al-Jaleel, 1/376.
- The Mountain of As-Safā used to be attached to its base
- Mawahib Al-Jaleel, 2/107.
- Al-Mudawwana, 1/175.
- See: At-Taj wal-Ikleel, 2/450, Minah Al-Jaleel 1/374, Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer ma’a Hashiyat Ad-Dusuqi, 1/336, Lawaami’ Ad-Durar 2/495
- Al-Mudawwana, 1/175.
- Al-Mudawwana, 1/176.
- Sharh Al-Kharaashi, 2/36, Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer, 1/336.
- A recognised and respected Māliki scholar and jurist who died in 1189 AH
- Hashiyat Al-‘Adawai ‘ala Sharh Al-Kharaashi 2/36
- In the year 1270 AH, he was the head of the Māliki Mashyakha and the Mufti of Egypt.
- Minah Al-Jalīl, 1/375.
- Hashiyat Ad-Dusuqi ‘ala Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer, 1/336.
- Lawāmi’ Ad-Durar, 2/496
- He is Abu At-Tahir Ibrahim ibn Abdus-Samad ibn Bashir At-Tanookhi Al-Mahdawi. A respected Māliki scholar who died after the year 536 AH.
- At-Tanbīh ‘alaa Mabaadi’ At-Tawjīh, 1/435.قال ابن بشير: كره في الكتاب الصلاة بين يدي الإمام في دور محجورة ، وأجازه إن كان في دور دبر القبلة إذا كانت هناك كوى ينظرون منها إلى أفعال الإمام. وفي هذا تفرقة الصفوف. وقد أجيزت إذا تقارب الموضعان نحوه كالنهر والطريق الصغير
- An-Nawādir Waz-Ziyādāt, 1/295-296.
- This is the opinion of Imām Ash-hab. We previously mentioned though that the official Māliki opinion is that if the person following can naturally hear or see the Imām or those behind him, then he is close enough. If he cannot then he is too far. Both opinions emphasize that distance matters when it comes to the validity of the congregation
- The questioner was Dr. Ahmad ibn Samih Abdel-Wahab, on 20/8/1441 AH, 13/4/2020 AD.
- See al-Minhāj, pg. 121.
- Al-Imām Al-Khatīb ash-Shirbīni mentioned in Mughnī al-Muhtāj (1/494-495) that if this was not a condition, and the person sufficed with merely knowing the transitional movements of the Imam, the command to “rush” to prayer and the call to the congregation would become obsolete. A person could merely pray in their respective market, shop, or house following the Imam’s prayer in the masjid just by knowing his transitional movements.
- See Mugnī al-Muhtāj 1/495.
- See al-Minhāj pg. 122.
- As for a closed door, or a locked door that can be unlocked and opened, then it takes the same ruling as an open door if it’s in the masjid or it’s courtyard.
- See Mughni al-Muhtaaj, 1/495
- See al-Minhaaj, pg. 122.
- Therefore, if there is a barrier which prevents the one following the Imām from reaching him entirely, or causes a person attempting to reach him to turn their back towards the qiblah, the congregation would not be considered valid.
- See Nihāyatul al-Muhtāj ma’a Hāshiyah Ash-Shubramulsi, 2/205.
- Ar-Rawd Al-Murbi’, p. 135.
- Ar-Rawd Al-Murbi’, p. 136.
- See: Al-Iqnaa’, 1/266, ِAr-Rawd Al-Murbi’, p. 136-137
- The Hanbalis have specific details regarding the “interruption of a congregation by a road”. This is because they consider praying on a road or pathway in general to be invalid. What is intended are pathways, streets and areas in which people commonly traverse across. A prayer in such areas is considered invalid, irrespective of whether people are traversing across areas or not. There are two hadeeths narrated with regards to this matter which forbid this, but their chains have weakness. See: Irwa’ Al-Ghaleel , no. 287, and Al-Majmu’, 3/162. There is an exception to this rule however, and this is with regards to prayers in which the actual congregation tends to get very large and as a result will naturally extend onto these streets and pathways. In such cases, the prayer will be considered valid, due to necessity. Examples of prayers in which this exception is applied are the Friday prayer, the Eid prayer, the funeral prayer, the eclipse prayer, and the prayer for rain. See: Kash-sh ā f Al-Qin ā ‘, 1/295-296. Based on the above: The prayer of a person who is separated from the Imām due to the presence of a street is only valid if the following two conditions are met: 1- There is a continuity of the rows up till the street. 2- There is a need for this exception due to overcrowding. If one of these two conditions is not met, the prayer would be considered invalid. This is because the street is not a place for prayer, and such a hindrance between the rows of the congregation would be similar to other hindrances, such as rivers, which prevent the continuity of the congregation. See: Kash-sh ā f Al-Qin ā ‘,1/492.
- See: Al-Iqnaa’, 1/266, ِAr-Rawd Al-Murbi’, p. 136-137
- Al-Fatāwa Al-Kubra, vol. 2, p. 333.
- See: Al-Insāf 4/446, Majmoo’ Al-Fataāwa, 22/263
- Al-Qawā’id Al-Fiqhiyya wa Tatbeeqātuha fil math ā hib Al-Arba’ah, 1/518.
- This is further clarified by AMJA (Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America) in its Fatwa when it stated: “Furthermore, if we permit virtual congregational prayers through broadcast at this time, it will be used as a pretext to continue permitting these forms of prayer even after this pandemic ends. People will choose to attend Jumu‘ah and other congregational prayers through broadcast in their places of residence and/or work, thereby resulting in a failure to fulfill the intent of the Legislator (Allah) in congregating the Muslims in the houses that He has permitted to be raised so that His Name be mentioned therein (i.e., the mosques).” https://www.amjaonline.org/fatwa/en/87755/taraweeh-prayers-in-the-midst-of-the-covid-19coronav irus-pandemic