On 17 March 2020, the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (Awqaf) ordered the closure of mosques and the suspension of congregations for prayers on to avoid gatherings in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
According to the ministry, this comes ‘in accordance with maqāṣid al-sharīʿa’ (the objectives of sharia) whose prime concern is the ‘protection of life and protection of society against harm’.
However, the call to prayer, known as the athan, continues to call out to remind people to pray – but at their homes. The athan is the Islamic call to prayer, recited by the muezzin (the man who calls muslims to prayer from the minaret of a mosque and leads the prayer) at prescribed times of the day. The root of the word is ‘adhina‘, meaning ‘to listen, to hear, be informed about’. Another derivative of this word is ‘udhun‘, meaning ‘ear’.
During the athan (also spelled as adhan or azan), to each direction, the muezzin calls out:
‘Allah is most great. I testify that there is no God but Allah. I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah. Come to prayer.’
However, now with the closure of the mosques, the muezzin would say:
‘Allah is most great. I testify that there is no God but Allah. I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah. Pray at your homes.’
So instead, the athan directs Muslims to pray at home instead of going to the mosque to pray.
Are Muslims obligated to pray at the mosque?
Muslims are obligated to pray five times a day. These prayers are called salat and they are as follows:
- Fajr – the dawn prayer. It is two rakat salat.
- Dhuhr – the noon prayer. It is four rakat salat.
- Asr – the afternoon prayer. It is four rakat salat.
- Maghrib – the sunset prayer. It is three rakat salat.
- ‘Isha – the night or evening prayer.
*Rakat: Consists of the prescribed movements and words followed by Muslims while offering prayers to Allah. It also refers to a single unit of Islamic prayers.
However, Muslims are not obligated to pray at the mosque. In fact, most of the prayers are practiced at home.
The only prayer that Muslims are obligated to pray at the mosque is Salat al Juma’a (the Friday prayer) – and only men are obligated to do so. Led by the Imam in the mosque, Salat al Juma’a is performed in a total six rakats (four rakat sunnah, two rakat fard). The khutbah (sermon) is a feature particular to the Friday service.
In Muslim countries, Muslims are not permitted to pray Salat al Juma’a at their home even in these circumstances. On Fridays, Muslim should perform the regular four rakat of dhuhr prayer. They can pray dhuhr in congregation, if they want.
In non-Muslim countries, it is permitted to pray Salat al Juma’a at any place even if only four Muslim men gather, provided any other Muslim is permitted to join them. If there are less than four people, or if the place has restricted entry (like a person’s home where only the family members are allowed), then they should perform the regular four rakat of dhuhr prayer instead.
Mosques will reopen as soon as the threat of COVID-19 pandemic is gone.
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