Why we shouldn’t combine Salat: Answers to three excuses

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Rizwan Khan, Missionary, Texas, USA

When we combine Salat and we know it’s wrong, it is not so bad because at least we know we shouldn’t be combining the prayers. But when we believe it is permissible to regularly combine Salat, and we justify it to ourselves with excuses, it’s a different problem. Weakness in practice takes time to work on, but weakness in doctrine must be corrected immediately because it becomes a means of misguidance. 

Photo courtesy of Suhaib Ahmad

There are three main justifications I have heard for regularly combining prayers.

1. The “prayers will be combined for him” hadith

Some quote the Holy Prophetsa when he prophesied about the Promised Messiahas, “Tujma‘u lahus-Salah” – “Prayers will be combined for him”; therefore they deem it permissible, as members of the community of the Promised Messiahas, to always combine prayers in fulfilment of this prophecy.

This reasoning contradicts the way in which the Promised Messiahas explained and acted on this prophecy himself. The fulfilment of this prophecy happened in late 1900 and early 1901, when, for a period of several months, prayers were regularly combined in the mosque under the instructions of the Promised Messiahas

Explaining the combining of prayers, the Promised Messiahas said:

“This has been happening because of my illness and extremely busy schedule in writing the commentary of Surah al-Fatihah. In the combining of these prayers, the hadith of, ‘Tujma‘u lahus-Salah’, meaning, ‘Prayers will be combined for him’, is being fulfilled […] On the days that I am unable to come to the masjid because of severe illness, prayers are not combined. From the words of this hadith we find that, out of love, the Holy Prophetsa said that this would be done for his sake.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 1, p. 446)

Even during the time of the fulfilment of this hadith, the Companionsra of the Promised Messiahas were not permitted to combine prayers in his absence. What position are we in to try and use this hadith as a justification for combining our prayers?

During a question and answer session, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh gave the following reply to someone who suggested that prayers should be combined because of the prophecy “prayers will be combined for him”. Huzoorrh said:

“No, you don’t have to find excuses there. That was the Promised Messiah’s time and he mentioned it very categorically that this is applying particularly to the Promised Messiahas.”(Question and answer session, 14 June 1986, www.askislam.org/practices/praying/question_915.html)

During the days when prayers were being combined, the Promised Messiahas said:

“A newcomer might suspect that we combine prayers out of laziness, the way some dissidents combine prayers as soon as it rains a little bit or if they have to go to court. They consider combining prayers without rain or any excuse to be permissible. 

“I say truly that we have no need to get involved in these arguments or justifications, nor do we want to, because I naturally prefer to observe prayer at its time, and the observance of prayer at its fixed hours is very dear to me. In fact, even in heavy rain, I desire that prayers be observed at their time […] I am combining prayers during these days with the guidance, inspiration and revelation of Allah Almighty.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 2, p. 45)

Observing prayers separately was such a regular practice throughout the life of the Promised Messiahas that when the prayers were combined for a few months, a companion became concerned that people may raise objections. On this, the Promised Messiahas expressed displeasure and explained that the prayers were being combined for a particular reason. (Fiqh-ul-Masih, p. 128)

Combining prayers was only done for several months during the time of the Promised Messiahas and this was done only for him in fulfilment of the hadith, “Prayers will be combined for him”. Otherwise, the regular practice of the Promised Messiahas was observing prayers separately. 

To use this hadith or the name of the Promised Messiahas as an excuse for combining prayers is incorrect.

2. Northern areas 

Some say that in northern areas, since the days in winter are short and the days in summer are long, Zuhr and Asr should be combined when there is not much time between them, and Maghrib and Isha should be combined when Isha time is too late. 

This reason is based on a guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa that is sometimes misunderstood and misapplied. In Islamabad, Huzooraa combines Zuhr and Asr for about two months in the winter and Maghrib and Isha for about two months in the summer, and he has permitted countries that are also in northern areas to follow this practice.

The question is, what are the northern areas to which this permission applies? When we think of London, England and its climate, we may imagine it being further south than it actually is. Toronto and Montreal, Canada have a more frigid winter than London but they are much closer to the equator. London’s distance from the equator is on the latitudinal point of 51.5° N. For perspective, Calgary, Canada lies at 51.1° N, being slightly south of London and having a few more minutes of daylight.

When we look at different cities in the United States, we can get a better estimate of whether they are in northern areas in relation to the rest of the world. Washington DC lies at 38.9° N, which is just south of Madrid, Spain and Ankara, Turkey. Houston, Texas lies at 29.8° N. This latitudinal line runs through North Africa, northern Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Houston lies just south of Qadian, India. The amount of daily daylight in Houston is slightly more than what the Promised Messiahas had in Qadian.

If we feel that Isha is too late in the summer or that Zuhr and Asr are too close in the winter, remember that these are the times of prayers as they are meant to be in most of the world.

“Verily Prayer is enjoined on the believers [to be performed] at fixed hours.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.104)

Out of convenience, if we choose to define “northern areas” by a definition that ends up including the majority of the world, it is incorrect. 

Huzooraa said, “[…] prayers should be observed at their appointed times as Allah Almighty has commanded that they be observed, unless one is a traveller or there is another legitimate need. For example, these days, in some cities, the sun sets at 9:15, or 9:30, or in some places at 9:45, so the prayers of Maghrib and Isha are led while being combined. However, when the times change, then they should be observed at their times.” (Friday Sermon, 24 June 2005)

3. Everybody is together 

Some say that since they are unable to make it back to the mosque for the next prayer, they should combine them so that more people can join in the blessings of congregational prayers.

This reason assumes that a particular mosque is the only place where congregational prayers can be observed. 

Contrary to this, the Holy Prophetsa said:

“The entire earth has been made for me a mosque and a means of purity”(Sahih al-Bukhari)

In commentary of this hadith, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra wrote: 

“As a result of this, a Muslim can offer prayers anywhere as and when the time for his prayer comes, and he does not require a special place for worship like the followers of other faiths. This was necessary in order to facilitate the extensive campaign of the Muslims to carry the message of Islam all over the world.” (Forty Gems of Beauty, p. 30)

It was inevitable that we as Muslims would spread out throughout the world, and a mosque would not be available in every neighbourhood as there is in Muslim countries. When we are close enough to the mosque, then it is obligatory on us to pray there. If we live at a distance from the mosque where we are unable to return for the next prayer, then our home becomes our mosque. The prayer that we observe at home carries the same reward as prayer at the mosque because we had the intention of observing congregational prayer at the mosque but we were genuinely unable to.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh said the following, while in Germany:

“Some people have the misconception that until eight to 10 people gather, congregational prayer cannot happen […] The Holy Prophetsa said that if a mosque is available, then it is obligatory for you to reach the mosque. However, if a mosque is not available, he gave his people the glad tiding that the entire world has been made a mosque for him […] Therefore, Allah the Almighty granted this ease to the Holy Prophetsa and his followers; they do not need a special place of worship. 

“Wherever they are, when the time of prayer arrives, they can observe their prayer there and that place will become a mosque for them. Thus, the problem of it being necessary to reach a mosque is solved, and no one can make the excuse that they do not have time and are unable to make it to the mosque because of circumstances.

“As for finding people to pray with, the Holy Prophetsa also resolved this once and for all. 

“When a companion saw that the Holy Prophetsa placed great emphasis on congregational prayers, he said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I am a shepherd and spend most of my time grazing animals in the wilderness and it often happens that no one is there and I am deprived of congregational prayers. What should I do?’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Whenever the time of prayer arrives, call the Azan. If a traveller passing by at a distance hears your voice, then Allah the Almighty will put it in his heart to come and join you in prayer. If there is no traveller and no one hears you, then Allah Almighty will cause angels to descend from the Heavens who will line up behind you for prayer, and in this way you will have observed congregational prayer […]

“Thus, if Jamaat members see themselves as helpless in these countries, then they can observe congregational prayers by themselves. They should say takbir and observe prayer in the way that congregational prayer is observed.” (Friday Sermon, 20 August 1982, Khutbat-e-Tahir, Vol. 1, pp. 120-121)

When people say that we should combine prayers because there is a large number of people in the mosque, it assumes that no one is praying in their homes; it assumes that blessings are tied to the number of people in a congregation. 

There is no basis for believing that there are special blessings in the quantity of a congregation, for it is the quality that matters. Our reward for prayer does not depend on how many people happen to walk through the door that day. Blessings are in observing prayers in obedience to the commandments of Allah the Almighty and according to the example of the Holy Prophetsa, the Promised Messiahas and the Khulafa. If we cannot go to the mosque, then prayer should be observed in congregation at home, or if an Ahmadi lives in our neighbourhood, we can observe prayer together with them.

In Washington DC, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa advised Ahmadis, saying:

“Wherever it is not possible to go to the mosque, a few Ahmadis living close by should organise to get together in one home to offer prayers in congregation. And those Ahmadis living in isolated areas should make arrangements within the household to offer prayers in congregation with family members.” (Friday Sermon, 22 June 2012)

If we observe Zuhr at the mosque and everyone lives within a distance where they will be back at home during the time of Asr, then there is no reason to combine prayers. To say that prayers should be combined at Zuhr because fewer people come at the time at Asr is no valid excuse. 

In many mosques in the world, the attendance at Zuhr is more than it is at Asr. Asr is a prayer that is often neglected, which is why many commentators have opined that when the Holy Quran reminds us not to miss “Salat-ul-Wusta”, it refers to Asr prayer. If we combine prayers because not as many people come for Asr, then every masjid in the world should be combining prayers at Zuhr so that more people are able to take part in congregational Asr prayer at the mosque. 

The correct approach Islam has taught is that if a person cannot make it back for the next prayer, they should observe it in congregation at home at its fixed time and they will be rewarded for their intentions. 

Islam has given us flexibility in deciding exceptional cases on when to combine prayers, but it has not given us flexibility to change principles. The principle Islam has taught is that the five prayers are to be observed at their appointed times, and as an exception we can combine prayers if there is a need. 

Those needs are described in the guidance of the Holy Prophetsa, the Promised Messiahas and Khulafa. If we start making up our own reasons to combine prayers, it disregards the basis of jurisprudence and the doctrines of Islam. 

In this day and age, if Salat is to be combined, it is either the jurisdiction of the Khalifatul Masih to decide or for his general guideline in particular circumstances to be followed. 

If we are weak in practice, then we should gradually work to improve ourselves. If we are weak in doctrine, it should immediately be corrected before it becomes a means of misguidance for others.

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