Ustadh Tabraze Azam reminds us of the honor Allah has bestowed upon the mosque as a place of worship and the importance of right conduct in it.
The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said:
The most beloved of places to Allah are the mosques. (Muslim)
Indeed, the greatest of places on the face of the earth in the sight of Allah Most High is the mosque. What does it mean for a place to beloved to Allah? It means that He inscribes tremendous good for the people therein. And why are they beloved? Because they are places where the most supreme form of worship occurs, namely, scores of believing men and women planting their faces humbly in the ground before their All-Powerful Lord.
In another hadith, the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, stated that the meadows of Paradise are the mosques themselves because they are the places where sincere, worshipful devotion occurs – the kind of devotion which leads to ultimate felicity.
The Centrality of the Mosque
The centrality of the mosque to everyday life for a Muslim can be ascertained from one of the first matters the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, engaged in upon reaching Madina, specifically, the founding and subsequent building of Masjid Quba’, and thereafter his own mosque, Allah bless him and give him peace.
The mosque, then, should be a beacon of light for the community: a haven in times of religious and worldly need, a shelter and refuge for the underprivileged and needy, a gathering-place for worship and devotion, a means of strengthening community ties and a place to beseech and long for the Divine.
As we continue to strive to put Allah first in our lives and become people grounded in Islam, inwardly and outwardly, we turn now to the proper manners and sunnas of the mosque. If we cannot make Islam work fully elsewhere just yet, then at the very least we can certainly strive our utmost in the place most beloved to Him.
There are a number of matters here which are worth highlighting, and accordingly, this first post will outline the first set of issues and a subsequent post will discuss the remainder.
The Prayer of Greeting the Mosque
In reality, this is a prayer of greeting the Lord of the mosque, and not merely the mosque itself, as places themselves aren’t greeted. The point is that you pray in the mosque in order to fulfill this right (haqq). The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “If you enter a mosque, then don’t sit until you have prayed two cycles.” (Bukhari)
Accordingly, any prayer prayed, whether specifically intended as the Prayer of Greeting the Mosque (tahiyyat al-masjid), a sunna prayer associated with the obligatory prayers, or even the obligatory, prescribed prayer itself, would fulfill this sunna. But remember that you cannot pray it during sunrise, midday and sunset, nor can you pray it after the obligatory dawn (fajr) or the mid-afternoon (‘asr) prayers.
If you enter the mosque, practically speaking, right before the midday (zuhr) or sunset (maghrib) prayers, you should instead recite some forms of remembrances (adhkar), such as glorification (tasbih), praise (tahmid) and utterances affirming the oneness of Allah Most High (tahlil). By the blessing (baraka) of such words and utterances, and the Grace of Allah Most High, you will attain the reward of the prayer and much more.
As an aside, note that the manner of greeting the Mosque of the Sacred Precinct (masjid al-haram) is to perform seven circuits of circumambulation (tawaf) around the Ka‘ba for the upon whom this is due or intends to perform it. This is a ruling specific to this blessed mosque partly because one of the greatest acts of worship a visitor can do there is the circumambulation.
The Sunna of I’tikaf
From the established sunna practices of our religion is to remain in the mosque for the spiritual retreat (i’tikaf). The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) would engage in this personal act of devotion yearly in the month of Ramadan. What the scholars have deduced is that this is an emphasised sunna (sunna mu’akkada) upon each and every community, namely, that they ensure there is at least one person performing the sunna spiritual retreat (i’tikaf) in the month of Ramadan.
The scholars explain that spiritual retreats can occur any time you enter the mosque. By merely intending it, you can obtain the reward for the retreat by merely being present in the mosque. This is a greater reward and station than someone who enters with the sole intention of prayer because you are engaged in a greater number of acts of devotion in every moment.
While in the retreat, the reward of all your acts of devotion are multiplied. Women can attain the same reward by intending the retreat as they enter their prayer areas at home- needless to say, they also attain the reward upon entry into a mosque.
Joining Congregations and Second Congregations
The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, informed us regarding something of the meritorious nature of the prayer of those who join the imam at the opening takbir when he said that they will be written as those saved from the Fire of Hell. (Tirmidhi) If you join within the first cycle, yet after this point, it is effectively as if you caught the imam at the beginning. Joining after the opening takbir entails that the imam may have begun reciting, and as such, you would avoid reciting the opening invocation (thana’) as the duty when the imam is reciting aloud is to listen, and when quietly, to remain silent.
Next, you are only considered to have caught the cycle (rak’a) if you catch the imam whilst he is in the bowing position. In this, you can use your reasonable judgement to determine whether or not he was still minimally bowing – namely, closer to bowing than standing – when you joined him in the prayer. Thereafter, you would make up the cycles you missed after the imam’s final and closing salams, beginning with the opening invocation (thana’) just as you would normally begin a prayer.
As for formal second congregations, these are generally considered to be unwise, wrong and disliked. Rather, you would pray individually if you missed the congregational prayer. However, other scholars maintained that a second congregation is in fact acceptable if it is performed distinctly from the first, such as by praying away from the main prayer niche (mihrab) and without a call to prayer (adhan) and the like.
Similarly, you should use your common sense in deciding where to pray and how loud to pray. If there are other events occurring in the mosque at the same time, you should be courteous and respectful, given that you were late, and pray in lowered tones in a corner or outside the main hall.
Praying the Sunna Prayers
Usually, what is superior is to pray the sunna prayers before their respective obligatory, prescribed prayers at home. Excuses such as greater focus and less distraction may entail praying them in the mosque. In doing so, it is important to remember that if the imam has begun the congregational prayer, you should forfeit the sunna to join the congregation.
After the congregational prayer, you may make up the sunna of the midday (zuhr) prayer alone. The dawn (fajr) and midday (zuhr) prayers are the only times in which there is an emphasised sunna prayer before the obligatory prayer (‘asr and ‘isha have a recommended sunna respectively). Sunnas, generally speaking, aren’t made up except in exceptional circumstances.
The exception to the rule above is the sunna prayer connected to the obligatory dawn (fajr) prayer. In such a case, you would pray the sunna prayer, despite the ongoing congregation, as long as you will be able to catch the congregation before the imam says the closing salams. There is, however, an important, oft-forgotten sunna here, namely, that you should ensure to pray this prayer in a somewhat secluded spot, well away from the congregation itself.
There is a strong emphasis on unity and the mere resemblance of disunity (even though the person is doing something tremendous) is wrong, so much so, that if you cannot find an appropriate place to pray, the jurists informed us that the sunna prayer should be left altogether. Warding off harm takes precedence over the attainment of benefits, and this is something that we would all do well to take some time to consider.
We ask Allah Most High to grant us true openings and foresight by which we can perceive what will ultimately benefit us in this life and the next, and the ability to sincerely work righteous deeds in seeking Him, the Lord of Mercy, alone.
And Allah alone gives success.
In this series of articles and podcasts, Ustadh Tabraze Azam discusses the meaning of adab and what it means for a Muslim to do things in the right way.