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ADMINISTRATION OF MUSLIM LAW ACT
(CHAPTER 3, SECTION 32)
FATWA COMMITTEE, ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE
The Fatwa Committee has weighed in on the issue of congregational Friday prayers given the context of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore on 23 March 2020, and 16 June 2020.
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
The Fatwa Committee has decided on the following:
1.Congregational prayers can be done while observing safe distancing between the imam and the congregants, and between the congregants in the same prayer row (ṣaf).
2. Friday prayers can be held more than once in the same mosque and can be carried out before the starting time of Zuhur if necessary.
3. Those who are vulnerable and are at a higher risk of contracting the virus, as well as those who are unable to secure a prayer slot at the mosque, are accorded with a rukhṣah (concession) to replace their Friday prayers with Zuhur prayers.
1. Based on the fatwa that was issued on 18 February 2020, congregational daily and Friday prayers in Singapore have been suspended since the closure of mosques, and for as long as the situation is unsafe for congregants due to the high probability of COVID-19 transmission. On 15 June 2020, the government announced that Singapore will enter Phase 2 of reopening which will allow the resumption of activities that were previously restricted as the situation continues to improve. Given this announcement, it is highly likely that congregational daily and Friday prayers will also be allowed to resume soon.
2. However, given that there are still new daily cases of COVID-19 infections and the risk of transmission at mosques remains a possibility, resumption of religious activities during Phase 2 must be done safely and gradually. This includes the resumption of congregational daily and Friday prayers. In order to reduce this risk, we must ensure that the necessary safe distancing measures are put in place and strictly complied with. In view of this, the Mosque and Community Development office in Muis has posed several religious queries which require the guidance of the Fatwa Committee:
i) How should congregational daily and Friday prayers be conducted in times of a virus outbreak?
ii) Given that there will be a severe limitation of space, what is the ruling for those who are unable to perform their Friday prayers due to this limitation?
3. In discussing the abovementioned questions, the Fatwa Committee had deliberated on the following:
i) How to perform congregational daily and Friday prayers safely during an outbreak;
ii) Who are those excused from the obligation of performing Friday prayers;
iii) How to accommodate more congregants given the space limitations.
4. When the respective authorities have decided that congregational prayers in mosques can be resumed, the Fatwa Committee is of the opinion that mosques must duly implement all the preventive measures (as issued by the Ministry of Health), such as ensuring safe distancing (minimum 1 metre) between congregants and observing the maximum number of people allowed for a congregation.
5. In implementing and abiding by these measures, we are doing our part to perform our religious duties safely and responsibly in order to prevent any COVID-19 outbreak in our mosques (Please refer to the fatwa decision on 23 March 2020). This will also ensure that our daily life and routines can return but with the necessary adjustments and adaptations. This is in line with the Islamic legal maxim, “Harm must be removed” (الضرر يزال).
6. One of the measures for the mosques to implement is as follows:
i) Observing Safe Distancing in Prayer Rows (Ṣufūf) During Congregational Prayers
In general, there are several hadiths that emphasize on the importance of straightening congregational rows and ensuring that there are no gaps between the congregants.1 However, this applies in normal circumstances. In the event of an emergency or extraordinary situation such as during an outbreak where a virus can be transmitted through close physical contact,2 it is necessary for congregants to observe safe distancing between themselves and those praying near them. This is in line with the higher objectives of Shari’ah, which is to protect the life and safety of humankind. In addition, within the al-Shafie school of thought, scholars like Imam al-Shirbini are of the opinion that straightening of rows with no gaps between congregants is not a condition for the validity of congregational prayers, but a recommended act (sunnah). Imam Al-Shirbini said:
Meaning: “It is recommended to fill up the congregational prayer rows (ṣufūf) and to not continue with a second prayer row until the first one is properly filled by allowing individuals to fill in the gaps. This practice is recommended and part of the sunnah, and is not a condition for the validity of prayers. The prayers of individuals who do not follow this practice are still deemed valid but are considered as discouraged (makrūh) acts.”3
In addition, Imam al-Ramli is of the opinion that gaps between congregants in the prayer row do not affect the validity of prayers. The congregational prayers are considered as valid so long as i) prayers are carried out within the mosque’s vicinity, ii) congregants are not standing in front of the imam, and iii) congregants are able to hear the imam’s recitations and are aware of his movements.4
Given the abovementioned opinions, the Fatwa Committee has decided that observing safe distancing when praying in congregation for the purpose of reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission does not invalidate the prayers, but in fact is a requirement. (Please refer to Annex A for an illustration of how the rows of prayer rows may be arranged when observing safe distancing).
7. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the capacity of mosques needs to be significantly reduced. As such, mosques are unable to accommodate the usual number of Friday congregants before the pandemic. The possibility of transmission is still likely, and those who are at higher risk of contracting the virus must be protected. The Fatwa Committee has deliberated on this, and is of the opinion that the obligation to perform Friday prayers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is tied to the following considerations:
i) The safety of each of the congregant attending the prayers;
ii) The prayer space is able to meet the requirements put in place to ensure public safety and well-being.
8. Given the abovementioned considerations, several groups are to be exempted from the obligation of performing the congregational Friday prayers:
i) The elderly;
ii) Those who have existing chronic conditions;
iii) Those who are worried that they might contract the virus and expose their family members to the possibility of contracting the virus too, especially those who are living with family members who are elderly, or have existing chronic conditions;
iv) Those who have tried booking for a slot to perform Friday prayers, but are unable to secure a place.
9. The groups mentioned above are considered as those who face impediments in performing Friday prayers, and are hence given the rukhṣah (concession) to not perform the prayers during this period. It is sufficient for them to pray Zuhur at home. This is as reported by Imam Al-Tabrani, that Ibn Mas’ud had said:
(وَمَنْ فَاتَتْهُ الرَّكْعَتَانِ فَليُصَلِّ أَرْبَعًا)
Meaning: “And for those who have missed the two rakaat prayers (Friday prayers), then he should pray 4 rakaat (Zuhur).”5
10. They may also listen to the khutbah which will be shown live online.
11. Due to the severe limitation of space in mosques nationwide during this period and the fact that we are not completely free from the virus outbreak as of yet, those who are not obliged to perform the Friday prayers according to the Shariah (for example children who have yet to reach puberty and women) are asked to perform Zuhur prayers at home instead.
12. Given the limited space available, alternative ways must be considered to allow for more congregants to perform the Friday congregational prayers. Some of the ways to do so are as follows:
i) To perform more than one Friday prayer session
The Fatwa Committee noted the different juristic opinions on the issue of performing more than one round of Friday prayers. Some jurists do not allow this because the original ruling is for it to be done only once at one designated mosque within a specific area as the intention is to gather all Muslims in one space.6
However, as the Muslim community grew, jurists at the time allowed for Friday prayers to be carried out in several places.7
In today’s context, several contemporary fatwa institutions such as the Dār al-Iftā’ in Egypt, and the European Council for Fatwa and Research, have allowed for several rounds of Friday prayers to be performed in the same mosque as long as the imam and the congregants performing the prayers are different for each round. This is in view of the space constraints often encountered by Muslims living in minority contexts.8
Noting the above, the Fatwa Committee is of the view that there is currently a need in Singapore for more than one round of Friday prayers in mosques to allow for more members of the community to participate in the Friday prayers, given the existing space constraints.
ii) To bring forward the performing of Friday prayers before zawāl
The Fatwa Committee has also deliberated if Friday prayers can be allowed to be done earlier than the original timing, if necessary.
In this regard, the Fatwa Committee examined several hadiths which showed that the Prophet s.a.w. conducted Friday prayers before zawāl i.e. before the sun passed the meridian or Zuhur:
كَانَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُصَلِّي الْجُمُعَةَ، ثُمَّ نَذْهَبُ إِلَى جِمَالِنَا فَنُرِيحُهَا حِينَ تَزُولُ الشَّمْسُ
Meaning: “The Prophet s,a.w. used to observe Friday prayer, and we then went (back) to our camels and gave them rest till the sun passed the meridian.” (Hadith narrated by Muslim).
In another hadith:
وَعَنْ سَلَمَةَ، قال: كُنَّا نُصَلِّي مَعَ رَسُولِ الله صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وَسَلَّمَ الجُمُعَةَ، ثُمَّ نَنْصَرِفُ وَلَيْسَ لِلْحِيطَانِ ظِلٌّ نَسْتَظِلُّ بِهِ
Meaning: “From Salamah r.a., he said: We used to offer Friday prayers with the Prophet s.a.w. and then depart at a time when the walls had no shade for us to take shelter in.” (Hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim).
For example, the Hanbali school of thought used the hadiths above to allow for Friday prayers to be performed before Zuhur.9In view of the current situation, the Fatwa Committee decided that such a practice can be adopted when necessary to allow for multiple sessions of Friday prayers to be conducted.10 Although this is something that has not been done in Singapore previously, and is not an opinion of the al-Shafie school of thought, this is an initiative that would allow for more members of the community to perform their obligatory Friday prayers in light of the current challenging situation in Singapore.
The Fatwa Committee would also like to advise that in addition to all these measures, each round of Friday prayers should take no more than 30 minutes in total (this is in line with current health advisories on the matter). After the completion of each round of Friday prayers, congregants must quickly disperse to give way to the next group to perform their prayers.
13. The Fatwa Committee would like to remind that the fatwas issued are part of the effort to guide and facilitate the religious life of our Singapore Muslim community based on the principles of Shari’ah, in context of the COVID-19 situation. Each and every one of us is responsible to protect the safety and well-being of fellow congregants and the general public. The Fatwa Committee therefore urges everyone to continue observing the safe measures put in place as advised by the health and medical experts while we worship in mosques. This includes performing ablution (wudhu) at home to minimise risk of exposure to the virus through the water that has been used by someone who is infected, wearing face mask, bringing one’s own prayer mat, not having physical contact with other congregants, digitally checking in and out of the mosque, not loitering around the mosque and attending the Friday prayer on time.
14. These measures are necessary and the Muslim community must continue to remain patient and thankful for the gift of being able to return to our mosques. Let us maintain good and exemplary conduct even if we are not able to perform congregational prayers at the mosques due to space constraints
15. May Allah s.w.t. continue to bless us with safety and wellness. May He also grant our country and the rest of the world a solution for all our challenges, Amin.
والله ولي التوفيق، وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه وسلم.
DR NAZIRUDIN MOHD NASIR
CHAIRMAN, FATWA (LEGAL) COMMITTEE
MUFTI OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE
ANNEX A – EXAMPLE OF SAF ARRANGEMENT FOR CONGREGATIONAL/FRIDAY PRAYERS DURING VIRUS OUTBREAK
1 In the hadith narrated by Anas bin Malik: The Prophet s.a.w. said:
سَوُّوا صُفُوفَكُمْ، فَإِنَّ تَسْوِيَةَ الصُّفُوفِ مِنْ إِقَامَةِ الصَّلاَةِ
Meaning: "Straighten your rows as the straightening of rows is part of prayer." (Hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim).
And in another hadith narrated by Ibn Umar r.a., that the Prophet s.a.w. had said:
أَقِيْمُوا الصُّفُوفَ، وَحَاذًوا بَيْنَ المَنَاكِبِ، وَسَدُّوا الخَلَلَ، وَلِينُوا بِأَيْدِي إِخْوَانِكُمْ، وَلَا تذَرُوا فَرُجَاتٍ لِلْشَيْطَانِ، وَمَن وَصَلَ صَفًّا وَصَلَهُ الله، وَمَنْ قَطَعَ صَفًّا قَطَعَهُ الله
Meaning: "Arrange the rows in order, stand shoulder to shoulder, close the gaps, be accommodating to your brothers, and do not leave gaps for Satan. Whoever joins up a row, he will be joined to Allah (i.e. to the Mercy of Allah); and whoever cuts off a row, he will be cut off from Allah (i.e. from His Mercy)." (Hadith narrated by Abu Dawud).
2 The COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through particles when an infected person sneezes or coughs. If the particles are exposed to a surface, and the surface is touched by another person, he or she may become infected if he or she subsequently touches the nose or the eyes, without washing his/her hands.
3 Al-Khaṭῑb al-Shirbῑnῑ, Mughnῑ al-Muḥtāj, vol 1, p. 493.
4Al-Ramlī, Asnā al-Maṭālib, vol 1, pp. 223-224.
5 Al-Ṭabranī, al-Mu’jam al-Kabīr, vol 9, pp. 358.
6 Al-Nawawī, Al-Majmū’, vol 4, p. 456; Please also see, Al-Mufliḥ, Al-Mubdi’, vol 2, pp. 151-152.
7 Al-Nawawī, Al-Majmū’, vol 4, pp. 585-586; Please also see, al-Shirbīnī, Mughnī al-Muhtāj, vol 1, pp. 543-544; Ibn ‘Ᾱbidīn, Rad al-Muḥtār, vol 2, pp. 144-145; al-Mardawī, Al-Inṣāf, vol 2, pp. 400-401.
8 Dār al-Iftā’ al-Miṣriyyah, “Ta’adad al-Jumu’ah fī al-Masjid al-Wāḥid li Ḍarūrah Ḍayq al-Makān,”, https://www.dar-alifta.org/AR/ViewFatwa.aspx?ID=12249, 7 August 2001; Please also see, Al-Majlis al-Urūbī li al-Iftā’ wa al-Buḥūth, “Ḥawl Tikrār Iqāmah al-Jumu’ah fī al-Masjid al-Wāḥid li ‘Udhur”, https://www.e-cfr.org/blog/2018/11/07/تكرار-إقامة-الجمعة-المسجد-الواحد/, November 2018.
9 Ibn Qudāmah, Al-Mughnī, Vol. 2, p. 264; Please also see, Al-Mardawī, Al-Inṣāf, vol 5, pp. 185-190.
10 This decision is to be made by the respective mosques. Each mosque must assess the number of rounds required to accommodate their regular Friday congregants.