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Explanation by the Fatwa Committee on the Fatwa Friday Prayer Before Zawal[1] During the COVID-19 Pandemic Period

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الحمد لله رب العالمين ، والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وإمام المتقين نبينا محمد وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين.  اللهم أرنا الحق حقا وارزقنا اتباعه، وأرنا الباطل باطلا وارزقنا اجتنابه  وبعد.

Background

On 16 June 2020, the Singapore Fatwa Committee decided that the Friday prayers could be observed before zawal if necessary in the ongoing pandemic. This is based on (1) the need to complete several Friday prayer sessions safely and responsibly when zohor time is late, in order to enable more people to observe Friday prayers, and (2) the religious justifications that support the observation of Friday prayers before zawal.    

2 Recently, there has been confusion and anxiety regarding this fatwa, as it is considered contrary to the opinion of the Jumhur Ulama (majority scholars), particularly the al-Shafi’i school of thought that Friday prayer before zawal is invalid. Although the fatwa has clarified the religious basis and arguments,[2] the Fatwa Committee would like to emphasize further the position of the fatwa as well as the process of istinbat (inference) of ruling in dealing with new and complex issues. This explanation is intended for the community who are facing a pandemic, to continue performing the Friday prayer with the confidence that it remains valid and does not violate Islamic law.

Islamic Legal approach to new issues

3 The COVID-19 situation is something that has never been experienced before. The rapid spread of epidemics globally has affected all aspects of our lives. As such, it has raised many new problems that had not been thought of or discussed by scholars of the past. These include the issue of prolonged mosque closures, observing safe distancing between congregants in the same prayer row (saf), praying with masks, online payment of zakat, postponement of Hajj and Umrah, as well as how to organize and manage the limited spaces for Friday prayers through multiple sessions and advance bookings.

4 In all these new problems, Ulul-Amri (the authority) and the ulama (scholars) bear a heavy responsibility to lead the society with wisdom and seek solutions through the process of independent reasoning (ijtihad). Scholars of tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis) have discussed the meaning of Ulul-Amri in Surah Al-Nisa’ verse 59[3] that they are the ulama or knowledgeable leaders (ahl al-'ilm wa al-fiqh) who understand the religion and are able to guide the ummah in explaining religious issues carefully and responsibly. [4]

5 In this regard, scholars have used the hadith of the Prophet s.a.w. when the Prophet sent the companion Mu’adh ibn Jabal r.a. to Yemen, on exercising the ijtihad (independent reasoning). When asked by the Messenger of Allah s.a.w. "How will you judge when the occasion of deciding a case arises?” Mu'adh replied: "I shall judge in accordance with Allah's Book." The Prophet s.a.w then said: "(What will you do) if you do not find any guidance in Allah's Book?" Mu'adh replied: "I shall act in accordance with the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah s.a.w." The Prophet then said: " (What will you do) if you do not find any guidance within my Sunnah?", Mu'adh replied, "I shall do my best to reason independently (ijtihad) and not deviate." (Hadith narrated by Abu Daud).

6 The new problems that arise in this current pandemic require the ijtihad of ulama and Ulul-Amri so that the community can continue to practise and observe the religious teachings safely and responsibly. For this purpose, the Fatwa Committee has considered every problem that arises based on the following principles:

    1. Taking into account the reality of life: It takes into account the complexity of the pandemic as well as the religious needs of the community[5] and accept the rules/restrictions set (such as safe distancing) because this will preserve the safety of the community and control the spread of the virus. The responsibility of the Fatwa Committee is to perform ijtihad and provide solutions for the community to continue its religious life in the best way possible.
    2. Taking into account the Islamic scholarly tradition: As much as possible, fatwas are based on opinions found in the Islamic scholarly tradition. Taking into account the needs of the realities of life and the preservation of the Maqasid Syari'ah (principles and higher purposes of Shari’ah/Religion), a Mufti who issues a fatwa is allowed to follow the opinions of other mazhabs or schools of thought, even if the situation is not dire. This is known as al-Ikhtiyār al-Fiqhi.[6]
    3. Taking into account the aspect of taysir: Taysir (facilitation) in the fatwa aims to safeguard the maṣāliḥ (welfare) of individuals as well as the general public. As discussed by scholars, there are various situations in which maṣāliḥ played an important role in performing tarjīh (preponderance) between several Nuṣūṣ Juz’iyyah (texts on branches of religious arguments).[7]

For example, Imam Bajuri al-Shafi’i allowed the public to conform (taqlid) to the opinion of the Maliki school in the chapter on Taharah (cleanliness) because he knew that the Shafi’i school was quite strict regarding the status of the purity of water. [8]

Furthermore, Ibn ‘Abidin states in Uqūd Rasm al-Muftī that a Mufti can issue a fatwa based on a weak opinion if there is a need to provide a solution for the difficulties faced by the mukallaf (a person obligated by Islamic law to discharge a religious duty). [9]

The method of fiqh also provides guidance that the decisions made by the leader are tied in achieving the welfare of the public. (tasarruf al-imam manut bi al-maslahah).[10]

7 The findings of medical science as well as the advice of the health authorities in the country clearly emphasize that we are still in a very challenging situation, a situation that is still uncertain globally. As a result, there are still many restrictions on congregational worship. This means that there is a need for exceptions to the normal rulings, rukhṣah (concession) as well as efforts and initiatives to help the community in performing their religious duties. As has been outlined by scholars, among them Shaykh Wahbah Al-Zuhaili, that widespread affliction (al-‘usr, ‘umum al-balwā) from which it is difficult for a person to avoid, is considered as an emergency (darurah) in Islam.[11]

8 Here, we need to appreciate the nature of the Shari’ah that is broad, open and full of blessings that will help Muslims rise above the test. Past scholars such as Imam Al-Shatibi, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah and Imam Waliyyullah Al-Dahlawi have all explained the meaning and purpose of the Shari’ah and its laws, which is to bring convenience and not hardship. Therefore, when faced with complex and difficult crises and issues, fatwas need to consider (i) views from various mazhabs and scholars, past and contemporary; (ii) study religious texts carefully and acknowledge the different interpretations; (iii) understand the context and issues faced; (iv) the practical aspects in the implementation of an activity, and (v) examine carefully the impact of a law or opinion on the community. This is the responsibility of the fatwa committee which should not be limited only to the citation of the views of the scholars that are available in the Islamic scholarly tradition (turath) or in fiqh books. In fact, it is a negligence and betrayal of trust for a fatwa when it merely cites a view of the past scholars without making effort to find a way out that can be implemented well and safely, especially in an atmosphere of pandemic anxiety.

9 Our religious practice today has been able to develop well because the fatwa institution as well as the Muslim community of Singapore are able to appreciate the principles of the religion as well as accept the diversity of religious opinions as a sign of the blessings of Allah s.w.t. This is also Singapore’s way of dealing with new issues, as stipulated in the Administration of Islamic Law Act (AMLA) that the Fatwa Committee may consider the opinions of mazhabs other than the al-Shafi’i if those opinions run counter to the public interest [section 33 ( 1) and 33 (2)]. Because of that, some of our practices today are not tied to the fiqh view in a particular mazhab because of the changes in the circumstances and situation of our community. Restricting opinions to only one mazhab can create difficulties. Among such practices are paying zakat fitrah with money according to the value of rice (fatwa 1995), [12] using hibah ruqba (fatwa 2008), [13] and Istibdal wakaf (fatwa 1997). [14]

10 At the same time, we should also note that although an opinion or a substantive law is not taken directly from the al-Shafi'i school, the fatwa is still guided by the fundamentals and principles adopted by Imam al-Shafi'i himself, such as making maslahat or public interest (istislah) as one of the basis of legal inference (istinbat). [15] Muslim scholars also acknowledge the context of their community's life in issuing opinions and laws. This should give us guidance that in adhering to a mazhab, we need to carefully understand the methodology and approach of the scholars of the mazhab, not just the substantive laws of fiqh that they have discussed and written.

The issue of Friday Prayers in the context of a pandemic

11 When mosques reopen, and congregational and Friday prayers are held, precautionary measures must be adhered to in organizing all religious activities, including limiting public participation. This is part of our efforts to worship safely and responsibly so that mosques do not become a hotbed of the COVID-19 virus. It is also to ensure that our daily lives can continue, with adjustments implemented according to the needs and circumstances, in accordance with the Islamic legal maxim, harm must be removed” (al-darar yuzal ).[16] 

12 As the time of zohor in Singapore (when the sun has passed its zenith i.e., the time of zawal) varies throughout the year and is sometimes late, the Fatwa Committee considered several solutions to provide more space and opportunities for prayer to the community in a safe and responsible manner. Among the suggestions that have been considered is to shorten the sermon and prayers but observe Friday prayers after zohor as usual. However, based on feedback from many mosque management and officials, shortening the time for the first session and the transition period to the second session can create the risk of errors or negligence in following all SMM (Safe Management Measures). This can pose a greater danger in the process of managing Friday prayers as there will be a possibility of cross-infections in mosques which will cause a new wave. This should be avoided at all costs because we are still in a pandemic. Therefore, the Fatwa Committee deliberated the option of Friday prayers being performed earlier as a solution when the time of zohor becomes very late.

13 In deliberating this issue, the Fatwa Committee took into account religious texts as a guide. At the same time the Fatwa Committee acknowledges that the past scholars used to discuss the issue of Friday prayer time in a normal situation, and not during a pandemic. The fatwa must take into account the limitations of the prayer place, the existence of multiple sessions, the need to make registration, cleaning the prayer room and so on. This is a new issue that we are facing, which the scholars of the past did not face. However, with full appreciation and humility, the Fatwa Committee found that the Prophet s.a.w, his companions, and the earlier generations (salaf and tabi'in) used to practise Friday prayers before zawal, based on the interpretation of some ulama and renowned jurists, including the most authoritative (muktamad) opinion in the Hanbali mazhab. This is also the mazhab of the companions such as Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Ibn Mas'ud, Jabir, Sa'id, Mu’awiyah and others. Among the tabi'in there are also those who agree with this opinion, such as Muhammad bin Amr, Mujahid, 'Ata', Abdullah bin Saidan,[17] Sa’id bin Suwayd,[18] Abdullah bin Salamah[19] and others.[20] Even the view of performing Friday prayers outside the time of zohor is not a new view. The Maliki mazhab permits the observation of Friday prayers until before sunset (before maghrib time). [21]

14 Imam al-Syawkani when discussing the differences in the narration of hadith regarding the matter, said:

“Keep in mind that there are some authentic hadith that confirm the Friday prayer at the time of Zawal, such as the hadith of Salamah bin al-Akwa 'in the book of al-Sahihain ... and some other hadith, there is confirmation that the Friday prayer took place before the time of Zawal , like the hadith of Sahl bin Saad in al-Sahihain and others ... and these hadiths show that the time for performing Friday prayers is when zawal occurs and also before zawal, [hence] there is no need to interpret some of it. And it has happened among some of the companions, the observation of Friday prayers before zawal as we have explained in the book Sharh al-Muntaqa, and this shows that the matter has been accepted by them and has happened.”[22]

15 Based on the discussion of scholars, this issue is a matter of khilafiyah (differing views), in which there are different opinions on it. In fact, there are many examples where the Prophet s.a.w. accepted the differences of opinions of the companions, among them in the battle of al-Ahzab, where there were companions who performed their asr prayers while on their way to the village of Bani Qurayzah, while the Prophet s.a.w. instructed that asr prayers to be completed after they reached the village. The Prophet s.a.w did not blame the actions of the companions.[23]

16 The scholars also taught us that the difference of opinion in our religion is a form of mercy, not a calamity or a disobedience. It allows us to take another opinion when dealing with difficult situations to ensure that we find a way out of hardship and when in need. Similar opinions have been adopted by contemporary scholars when providing guidance to Muslims in facing specific situations, especially in western countries that require them to perform Friday prayers before zohor time, such as due to work (lunch time) and so on. [24]

17 The need in Singapore in today’s situation is very clear, as mentioned in the fatwa text, “Although this is something that has never been done in Singapore, and not a view within the mazhab of al-Shafi’i, it is an initiative and part of our efforts to enable more people to perform their Friday prayers due to the challenging situation facing Singaporean Muslims at the moment.” MUIS has also considered other approaches, such as starting Friday as usual (after zohor time) but shortening the sermon as well as Friday prayers. However, as already explained, sufficient time is required to ensure a safe transition period, in order to follow all Safe Management Measures (SMM). Alhamdulillah, the community thus far has welcomed the efforts carried out by MUIS, as the first session for Friday prayers is always full. However, when zohor time becomes earlier, the Friday prayer session will be refined to suit the prayer time as the fatwa will only be implemented during a pandemic and when zuhur time is late.

Advice of the Fatwa Committee

18 The Fatwa Committee advises the Muslim community of Singapore to be understanding and be open-minded in accepting differences of opinions, and at the same time, appreciate the wide scope of the Shari’ah as well as the blessings of Allah s.w.t. that is embedded within the diversity of opinions of the scholars. In a complex yet challenging situation, we must remain focused on our goals and objectives, helping the community continue to live and practice the teachings of Islam. This requires ijtihad which is sometimes misunderstood by some people as negligence when the opinions presented are not in line with their views. However, this is the responsibility of the Fatwa Committee. We bear this trust and will be questioned before Allah s.w.t. As long as there is proof and religious basis to support the fatwa, we hope for the community's confidence in Allah’s acceptance of a practice especially when He sees the seriousness and desire of the community to be a good ummah despite the trials and challenges. Alhamdulillah, such is the vastness of the Shari’ah, that more Muslims in Singapore are able to perform Friday prayers even in a pandemic. Wallahu a’lam bissawab.

Chairman, Fatwa Committee: Ustaz Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir

Members of the Fatwa Committee: Ustaz Ali bin Hj Mohd
Ustaz Fathurrahman Hj Dawoed
Ustaz Mohd Hasbi Hassan
Ustazah Dr. Rohana Ithnin

Deputy Muftis: Ustaz Mohd Murat Md Aris
Ustaz Dr. Mohammad Hannan Hassan

Date: 8 April 2021


[1] Zawal means when the sun has passed its zenith

[2] https://www.muis.gov.sg/officeofthemufti/Fatwa/Malay-Fatwa-on-Friday-Prayers-during-COVID-19, were discussed on 23 March 2020 and 16 June 2020. The Fatwa on observing Friday prayers before zawal specifically was decided on 16 Jun 2020.

[3] Allah s.w.t. says in the Qur’an:

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَطِيعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن تَنَٰزَعْتُمْ فِى شَىْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْأَخِرِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا

Meaning: “O you who have faith, follow Allah and His Messenger: doing what they instruct and staying away from what they prohibit, and follow those in authority, as long as they do not instruct you to do wrong. If you disagree about something, then refer it to Allah’s revelation and the traditions of His Prophet (peace be upon him), if you have faith in Allah and the Last Day. Referring to the revelation and the traditions is better than continuing in your disagreements and in giving mere opinions, and will bring about the best result for you.

[4] Refer to the opinions of the scholars of salaf seperti Mujahid, Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Ata’, Al-Hasan, Abu al-‘Aliyah and others. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, j. 2, page. 304.

[5] Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah in his book Tanbīh al-Marāji’ stressed that understanding the Wāqi’, or current reality and context, is an essential basis for the issuance of Fatwas. It is not enough to just identify ‘illahs (operative causes), because without taking into consideration the background and current context, the fatwa issued can be erroneous. Please refer: Bin Bayyah, Tanbīḥ al-Marāji’, p. 21; Alī Juma’ah, Tārīkh usūl al-Fiqh, p. 132.

[6] Ikhtiyar Fiqhiy according to Shaykh Yusuf al-Qardawi: is to choose one of the opinions of the scholars of the past in Fatwā and Qadhā’ by using the method of Tarjīh (preponderance). Please refer to: Yūsūf al-Qarḍāwī, Al-Ijtihād fī al-Sharī’ah al-Islāmiyyah, page. 115.

[7] Bin Bayyah, Maqāṣid al-Mu’āmalāt wa Marāṣid al-Wāqi’āt, page. 129.

[8] Al-Bājūrī, Ḥāshiyah al-Bājūrī, j. 1, page. 195.

[9] Ibn Ābidīn, Sharah Uqūd Rasm al-Muftī, page. 87. See also Bin Bayyah, Maqāṣid al-Muāmalāt wa Marāṣid al-Wāqi’āt, page. 129.

[10] Al-Suyūṭī, al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓā’ir fī Qawāid wa Furū Fiqh al-Shāfiiyyah, page.121.

[11] Wahbah Al-Zuhailī, Naẓariyyah Al-Ḍarūrah Al-Sharī’yyah, page. 123.

[12] MUIS, Kumpulan Fatwa, j. 3, page. 39-41.

[13] Fatwa Joint tenancy, 3 April 2008.

[14] MUIS, Kumpulan Fatwa, j. 3, page. 20.

[15] Al-Zuḥaylī views that although the school of al-Mālikiyyah is known as the school that considers al-maṣāliḥ al-mursalah, all four schools of fiqh actually consider al-maṣāliḥ al-mursalah but through different terms. Imam al-Shāfiʿī extended the use of the term qiyās to include some features (al-waṣaf) which although were not stated by nuṣūṣ (religious texts) but sharaʿ recognizes its type (jinsihi) in general. Please see: Wahbah Al-Zuḥaylī, Uṣūl al-Fiqh, 2: 47-63; Wahbah al-Zuḥaylī, Fiqh al-Taʿlīl wa Fiqh al-Maqāṣid- Fiqh al-Wāqiʿ fī Ḍaw’ Maqāṣid al-Sharīʿah, in Wahbah al-Zuḥaylī, Qaḍāyā al-Fiqh wa al-Fikr al-Muā‘ṣir,j. 3: 129.

[16] Al-Suyūṭī, al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓā’ir fī Qawā‘id wa Furū‘ Fiqh al-Shāfi‘iyyah, page. 83.

[17] According to Ibn Sa'ad, Abdullah ibn Sayidan was a companion. Al-Qushairi said: He met the Prophet s.a.w., thus he was a companion. Although al-Bukhari did not accept his narration and most of those who did not accept Ibn Sayidan's narration actually followed Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Ahmad accepted Ibn Sayidan's narration, as did Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Ibn Hibban and even al-Ajli. Therefore, this narration is an authentic and accepted narration. Please sea: Al-Qushairi, Tārīkh al-Riqqah; Ibn Rajab, Fatḥ al-Bārī, j. 5, page. 416; Abu Al-Khaṭṭāb al-Kaludhānī, al-Intiṣār fī al-Masā’il al-Kibār, j. 2, page. 581; Ibn Ḥibbān, Kitāb al-Thiqāt, j. 2, page. 273; Al-Ajlī, Kitāb al-Thiqāt, 258.

[18] There is a difference between an individual named Sa’ed bin Suwaid who narrated hadith/athar from Saidina Mu’awiyah, and Saeed bin Suwaid al-Kalbi. Saeed bin Suwaid is thiqqah (reliable) according to Ibn Hibban and al-Hakim. Please see: Ibn Ḥajar, al-Lisān, j. 4, page. 36; Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī, Ta’jīl al-Manfa’ah, j. 1, page. 583; Ibn Ḥibbān, Kitāb al-Thiqāt, j. 2, page. 170.

[19] There are some scholars who accept his narration, such as al-Ajli, Ibn Abi Shaibah, Ibn Hibban, al-Hakim. Imam Ahmad used his narration in providing his proofs (hujjah), and once quoted the "ijma" that came from him. Ibn Hajar said he was “Saduq” (trustworthy), although there were differences in his memorizations. Please see: Ibn Ḥajar, Taqrīb al-Tahdhīb, j. 2, page. 217; Ibn Ḥibbān, Kitāb al-Thiqāt, j. 2, page. 257; Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī, Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb, j. 4, page. 155; Ibn al-Mulqin, al-Badr al-Munīr, j. 2, page. 554; Ibn Qudāmah, al-Mughnī, j. 2, page. 211; Ibn Qudāmah, al-Kāfī, j. 1, page. 324; Al-Ajlī, Kitāb al-Thiqāt, page. 258.

[20] See al-Mughni by Ibn Qudamah and Musannaf Ibn Abi Syaibah.

[21] Al-Qarrafi, al-Zakhirah, 2/232 and 331.

[22] Al-Syaukani, al-Sayl al-Jarar, 181.

[23] Nabi s.a.w. said:

لَا يُصَلِّيَنَّ أَحَدٌ العَصْرَ إِلَّا فِي بَنِي قُرَيْظَةَ فَأَدْرَكَ بَعْضَهُمُ العَصْرُ فِي الطَّرِيقِ، فَقَالَ بَعْضُهُمْ: لاَ نُصَلِّي حَتَّى نَأْتِيَهَا، وَقَالَ بَعْضُهُمْ: بَلْ نُصَلِّي، لَمْ يُرَدْ مِنَّا ذَلِكَ، فَذُكِرَ لِلنَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَلَمْ يُعَنِّفْ وَاحِدًا مِنْهُمْ

Which means: "Let not one of you pray asar except when he arrives at Bani Quraizah ". Ibn Umar r.a. said: "Then came the time when some of them were on their way. Some of them said, "Do not pray until we reach Bani Quraizah". Although, others said, "In fact, we will perform the prayer because the Prophet s.a.w. did not mean it." Thus, the Prophet s.a.w. was informed of the incident and he s.a.w. does not condemn any of them." (Hadith narrated by al-Bukhari).

[24] European Council for Fatwa and Research, Performing Friday prayer before Dhuhr (zawāl) or after the entry or Asr, https://www.e-cfr.org/blog/2017/11/04/3rd-ordinary-session-european-council-fatwa-research-cologne-germany/