QUESTION: Because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, many local and state governments have ordered people to stay in their houses, self-quarantine, practice social distancing, and not gather in clusters of ten or more, for fear of spreading the virus. In some cases such as Saudi Arabia, entire countries have been ordered to close all masaajid for prayer of any kind including salatul Jum’ah. In the United States, many, if not most masaajid are closed for the daily and Jum’ah prayers. Some masaajid in the United have begun to stream Jum’ah services over the internet and people who are affected by the advisory to stay at home, are participating in these online streams as congregants and praying behind the Imam over the internet. Some Muslims have started to criticize this practice and say that it is prohibited or that the prayer is not valid. Can you give us some guidance on this matter according to the Quran and the sunnah and our religious laws (fiqh) as Muslims?
ANSWER: Al-humdu lillahi Rabbil aalameen. The idea that’s it’s haram/prohibited to pray a streaming Jum’ah salat behind an Imam in special circumstances is unfounded. The salat and salatul Jum’ah, like other acts of worship has rules of wujoob, and rules of sunnan. The first rule of Jum’ah is that you pray it, not that you don’t pray it. “O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew.” 62:9 al-Jum’ah. Seeing the imam in person is not a condition (shart), wujoob (incumbent) o If you can hear the Imams voice, you can pray behind him. People prayed behind the Prophet (SAWS) during the farewell hajj and they could not see him, nor hear his voice. Deeds are according to intention, and fiqh is according to daleel and circumstance. If you can hear the imam and share the same time zone and have the intention of following the imam in the same Jum’ah prayer (during the duration of the viral pandemic) then such is permissible and the prayer is valid. However if the masjid is reachable there is nothing preventing (no health restriction, fear or cessation of physical attendance to the masjid), then the normal pre-pandemic rules still apply. This is only in the case of daroora (necessity) or special circumstance, I this case, a viral pandemic. .
What is a rukhsa? Plural; (rukhas)
Rukhsa is a sharia (Islamic law) terminology meaning dispensation or facilitation of something. In the Arabic language, the word rukhsa (plural rukhas) means making easy or to facilitate. Dispensations are exceptions to the rule or an allowance to alter a procedure or modality of worship because of circumstance. Worship in Islam is strictly regulated by religious texts (Quran and sunna), and by the eventualies and conclusions of sacred law (fiqh) also known as Islamic jurisprudence. This is especially true with respect to the salat, as in the hadith; “pray as you have seen me pray“. Rukhsa allows one to alter the modality or procedure of worship owing to mitigating circumstances.
For example, salatul Thuhr (the midday prayer) is four rak’aats. However, if one is travelling, they are allowed to pray two rak’aats instead of four rak’aats; this is a rukhsa. Another example is fasting during the month of Ramadan. If a person is sick on any given day during Ramadan, or travelling, then they are allowed to break or suspend their fast and make it up at a later date. “And whoever is sick or travelling, then make it up on later days“, 2:185 al-Baqarah. Another example is performing tayammum (dry ablution) in the absence of water; “If you are sick or traveling or one comes from relieving himself and cannot find water, then (perform) tayammam from pure dirt” 5:43 al-Maa’ida
Understanding The Islamic Ruling Allowing Following and Praying Behind the Imam over the Internet
Note: The current COVID-19 pandemic is a particular circumstance affecting movement, health, safety, congregational worship, continuity of the Friday prayer, and even freedom of the world at large. No one denies that. The ruling here is a provisional ruling based upon this circumstance only. and not a general ruling for all times, when there is no such emergency.
Listening to the Jum’ah khutba and the salat over the internet and praying behind the Imam through streaming is permissible during this pandemic according to the allowances of the sharia and the foundations of ease and facilitation according to the law. There is no contention amongst contemporary scholars of Islam regarding internet streaming of salaatul Jum’ah accross the internet. The contention seems however by some to be whether or not salaatul Jum’ah by a long distance congregant participating through he internet, is valid. The answer as we have stated, is that such prayers are valid and can serve as an alternative to physical attendance of Jum’ah during the length of this current crisis.
It would take an overabundance amount of proofs to invalidate such prayers in light of our current circumstances and in light of the prevailing legal axiom in Islamic law to make things easy on the believers within the boundaries set scriptural law. “Allah wishes ease for you and does not wish difficulty for you“, 2:185 al-Baqara.
The same rukhsa (dispensation) principle that allows the legitimate cessation of Jum’ah or opting out because of the coronavirus, is the same principle that allows Jum’ah prayer through streaming. It would be implausible to dispense with Jum’ah because of the virus by use of a rukhsa (dispensation) but disallow Jum’ah in altered fashion because of the same virus by using a rukhsa. That is not the way sharia law works.
You can’t use medical technology as a reason to legitimately stay home from Jum’ah despite it being an obligation, and then disallow internet technology as a means to fulfill the religious obligation that has been disbanded because you were forced to stay home in the first place, or in times of dire necessity.
The prevailing principle in fiqh is that if an action of worship cannot be completed fully, then partial completion is allowable in extenuating circumstances. This is based upon the verse; “And what I have commanded you to do, do of it what you are able”, [Muslim]. Physical connection to the congregation is full completion of all tenants since closing gaps in the rank is waajib. However, when that is not possible due to particular sharia supported circumstance, prayer while disconnected from the physical rank is permissible.
People prayed behind the Prophet (SAWS) during the farewell hajj and they could not see him, nor hear his voice. Deeds are according to intention, and fiqh is according to daleel (proof) and circumstance. Seeing the Imam in person is not a condition of performing salatul Jum’ah behind an Imam. People perform salaatul Jum’ah at the Holy Sanctuaries (Mecca and Madinah) outside of the physical sight of the imam all the time without any objections from our scholars. additionally, people perform salaatul Jum’ah in Egypt and other places where there are thousands of worshippers for blocks around the Masjid and the Imam is blocked by buildings , streets, cars and even traffic at time, and their prayers are held to be valid without question, and this is without a state of emergency.
The purpose and value of using a rukhsa
One of the objectives of using a rukhsa is ease for the Muslim and so that the worship of Allah is not forgone, curtailed, suspended or eliminated because of circumstances. For example, in the current crisis, some masaajid have eliminated Jum’ah completely, which in accordance with he allowances of Islamic law, it would have been prudent to provide alternatives to physical attendance at Jum’ah by use of rukhsa. This point was missed by many Imams and scholars.
Another objective of the rukhsa, is that it is considered divine charity (sadaqa) from Allah sub’haanahu w ta’ala. In the hadith of Yahya ibn Umaiyya, the Prophet (SAWS) characterized the rukhsa as “Sadaqa that Allah spends upon you, therefore accept His charity” [Muslim]. This provisional ruling should serve as clarification until the circumstances change. If you accept that there is an emergency, then you must also accept the plausibility of contingency, and Allah knows best.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, Associate Imam Toledo Masjid al-Islam, Toledo Ohio. email@example.com.
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