Allah says in the Holy Quran, "Maintain with care the prayers." (2:238)
There is no doubt about the importance of prayers in Islam. Prayer is the pillar of the religion. Prayer is the first thing we will be questioned about on the Day of Judgment. But like many other things in life, there are different degrees of prayers.
The first thing to notice is that prayer is an act. The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) says, "Allah loves if anyone does an act to perfect it." (Mizan Al-Hikma)
The way of perfecting our prayer is dependent upon a number of things which are mostly on the individual level. However, Islam gave us a great opportunity to take our prayers much further. Islam invited us to pray in congregation.
The Prophet says, "He who walks to the mosque for congregational prayers will have seventy thousand good deeds for every step he makes, and he will be raised a similar amount of degrees, and if he dies, Allah will send seventy thousand angels to visit him in his grave, to give him good tidings, to please him in his loneliness, and seek God's forgiveness for him on his behalf." (Wasa'il al-Shia)
The above narration shows that Allah is emphasizing the importance of walking towards congregational prayers. But if walking towards has this much blessings and rewards, what does the actual prayer have in store for the believers? Consider the following narration:
The Prophet asked the angel Gabriel, "O' Gabriel, what in store for my nation in congregational prayers?"
Gabriel replied, "O Muhammad:
- If there were two people (praying in congregation), Allah will give each one of them for every unit the reward of 150 prayers.
- If there were three people, Allah will give each one of them for every unit the reward of 600 prayers.
- If there were nine people, Allah will give each one of them for every unit the reward of 36,400 prayers.
- If there were 10 people, Allah will give each one of them for every unit the reward of 72,800 prayers.
- And if there are more than 10, if the skies are books, the seas are ink, the trees are pens, and the humans, jinns, and angels are writers, they will not be able to write the reward for a single unit." (Al-Urwat Al-Wuthqa)
And there is so much more to congregational prayers and its rewards that is far beyond the scope of this article. In a nutshell, one will have to pray anyway, so why not with that same prayer, obtain a manifold of good deeds.
But congregational prayer goes beyond just rewards and bounties. Remember, one of the main goals of Islam is to build a strong and foundational community. Allah says, "Indeed, Allah loves those who struggle in His cause in a row as though they are a [single] structure joined firmly." (61:4)
And as Muslims, everything we do needs to be in the way of Allah.
When the members of a community gather at least once every day to pray to Allah together, they are living up to the idea of one unit.
In fact, it can be a bone-chilling view to see hundreds or thousands of people gathered in one spot, standing together, bowing together, and prostrating together. The view is aesthetic. The scene is artistic. And it is very inspiring seeing how these people who come from different backgrounds gather to fulfill their religious duty together. If unity in Islam can be seen in one thing, it surely starts from congregational prayers.
Organizations today raise the flag of human rights and equality all over the world. Any type of racism or discrimination is frowned upon in most of the world. But here we have Islam, over 1400 years ago, emphasizing the importance of equality through congregational prayers. The rich sits next to the poor. The white prays next to the black. It does not matter whether the person lives in the castle or on the streets, congregational prayers looks at all equally.
This call for equality and unison helps build a cohesive community in which everyone respects the other.
Humans are social by nature. If we examine our lives, we find that we like to hang out with family or friends. We plan gatherings, and sometimes these gatherings are pretty much regular.
Islam, through congregational prayers, has established a schedule on its own for members of the community to meet. At least once a day, we can meet friends and family when we go to pray. One can socialize afterwards because everyone is right there.
Congregational prayer offers the ground to make new friends and contacts. Those who have problems can seek help from fellow brothers. All of a sudden, the whole community that barely interacts is now well connected on a daily basis. The Muslim community in this way lives up to Allah's description, "The believers are but brothers." (49:10)
And we are gaining this great opportunity every day as part of what we will end up doing anyway – prayer.
From Congregation to Nation
So here we have an act that will raise us on an individual level, giving us tidings and rewards for doing what we are bound to do anyway. But this act also builds a strongly bonded community. When proper prayers are established in congregation, we are enforcing morality and ethics. After all, Allah says, "Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing." (29:45) We are also enforcing cohesion and unity among the different members.
Putting all that together, we can see that praying in congregation goes beyond limits in order to create a nation. We see a nation that follows the way of Allah and the teachings of the Prophet and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all). We see a nation that is struggling for the cause of Allah as one unit. We see a nation that is ready to rise and defend the principles that Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) was martyred for. And most importantly, we see a nation that is paving the road for Allah's representative on Earth, Imam Mahdi, to arrive and lead it towards victory in this life and the Hereafter.