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Suspending Congregational Acts of Worship Because of the CoronaVirus

With Allah’s Name: The Merciful, The Mercy Giving

Over the last few days, several institutions and mosques asked me about suspending juma prayers due to the CoronaVirus. AMJA has an excellent paper written on the subject that offers clear advice. I encourage folks to read it. More importantly, however, I encourage people to stay in touch with their local public health providers, Imams, and fiqh councils.

That being said, I thought to share some justifications from religious texts and scholarly works for suspending large gatherings, Jumu’a, and even the congregational prayers, during this difficult time. This is no simple matter. Years ago, in Boston, we had to suspend Jumu’a because the state government asked us to. Decisions like this are sensitive, but I hope the logic of Islamic law on this issue is clear.

Suhaib Webb

A Foundational Principle

A primary principle of Islam is that “preventing harm takes precedent over the acquisition of benefits.” For that reason, alcohol and gambling are prohibited, even though Allāh recognizes their benefits:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا ۗ وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمُ الْآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَفَكَّرُونَ

“They ask you about alcohol and gambling. Reply that in both is a great sin, and a benefit for people, but the sin is greater.” (Quran 2:219)

The Books of Usūl al-Fiqh

In the books of Usul Al-fiqh (foundations of jurisprudence), we find dispensations for things when there is a threat to the health and well being of people:

Imām’ Izz al-Din ‘Abd al-Salām explained this dispensation when he wrote,

فصل في بيان تخفيفات الشرع، وهي أنواع: منها تخفيف الإسقاط: كإسقاط الجمعات والصوم والحج والعمرة بأعذار معروفات
The section on shari’a dispensations and their types. One is the dropping of an act, like congregational prayers, fasting, hajj, or ‘Umra due to a shari’a approved reason.” (Qawa’id al-Ahkam fi Masalih Al-Anam, Vol. 2, Pg. 9)

Thus, there are times when acts can be modified to prevent considerable, often public, harm.

Illness and the Threat of Illness

Ibn Rushd mentioned a consensus that Illness allowed people to miss congregational prayers:

أما المتفق عليهما: فالذكورة، والصحة، فلا تجب على امرأة، ولا على مريض باتفاق
What scholars agree on is that gender and health determine if a person should attend prayers. Thus the consensus is that Juma is not an obligation upon women and the sick.” (Bidaya al-Mujtahid wa Nahaya al-Muqtasid, Vol. 1, Pg. 224)

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم excused those who were sick from attending congregational prayers:

مَنْ سَمِعَ الْمُنَادِي فَلَمْ يَمْنَعْهُ مِنَ اتِّبَاعِهِ عُذْرٌ لَمْ تُقْبَلْ مِنْهُ تِلْكَ الصَّلاةُ الَّتِي صَلاهَا” قَالُوا: مَا عُذْرُهُ ؟ قَالَ: خَوْفٌ أَوْ مَرَضٌ
“Who hears the caller to prayer, but finds no excuse not to respond, his prayer that he prayers (alone) will not be accepted.” The companions asked, “What is an ‘excuse.'” He responded, “Fear or sickness.” (Al-Sunna al-Saghir, Hadith 241.)

Fear of Potential Harm is Recognized by Islam

An axiom states,
ما اقترب الشيء يعطى حكمه
When something is near to something, it is given the latter ruling.

الظن الغالب معتبر شرعاً
A strong assumption is considered in Shari’a.

I say that because the most excellent defense against this disease is social isolation. Public health experts in China, Italy, and other parts of the world discourage large gatherings, and as of now in Italy, the entire country is under quarantine. Thus, in this situation, legitimate fear of sickness, based on the opinions of experts, should be treated as sickness, especially with such a contagious virus. This is the advice of experts in the field. It’s a pandemic.

Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before congress,

“We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience as the NBA plays, so be it.”

Commands & Capacity

It is well known that the orders of Allah and His messenger are conditioned on ability.

Allah says,
فاتقوا الله ما استطعتم
“Be dutiful to Allah as best you can.” (Quran 64:16)

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

وَمَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِهِ فَأْتُوا مِنْهُ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ
“When I command you do do something, do it to your ability.” (Bukhari in his Sahih and Muslim)

A Mistaken Notion
I’ve heard some folks contend that this is “not a big deal; I’m young, and I’ll be fine.” While that may be true, the danger is that a person may be asymptomatic, but he may engage with or sit next to older people, or he may even infect a younger person who has elders at home. Our approach to this virus should not be rooted in selfishness. It is going to take us as a community to defeat it, inshallah.

If You’ve Tested Positive
First, lots of prayers and thoughts your way. I ask Allah to cure you and make this a means of your forgiveness. Second, it is not allowed for you to attend community events or congregational acts of worship.

The Fatwa Council of Iraq wrote,

“It is not allowed for a person who tests positive for the virus to attend public gatherings such as the Friday prayers and congregational prayers. He should pray at home on in isolation until he is cured.”

And, The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

لا يُورَدُ مُمْرِضٌ على مُصِحٍّ
A sick person should not mix with a healthy one. (Bukhari in his Sahih collection)

Inshallah, this pandemic will continue to grow, so I suggest suspending jumu’a and other large gatherings as well, especially if public health officials warn against them, and of course, if local governments request the same. This answer rests on the shoulders of those two entities, as well as local Imams, local fiqh councils and leadership. It is essential to engage them and heed their advice. My hope here was to show the leeway and mercy Islam provides in this situation.

Allah knows best,

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

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