Salah in Jama'ah
There is a difference of views among the fuqaha (jurists) on this point. According to a large body of blessed companions, their successors and of the jurists of the Ummah, it is necessary (wajib) to offer salah in congregation, and it is a sin to give up the Jamaah. Some of the blessed companions have gone to the length of holding that it is not permissible to offer salah all by oneself without a proper excuse allowed by the shariah.
A hadeeth reported by Abu Dawud (RA) says that for a man living near a mosque salah is permissible only in the mosque. According to another hadeeth reported from the blessed companion who was blind asked the Holy Prophet (SAW) for the permission to offer salah in his house, for there was no one take him to the mosque and to bring him back. The Holy Prophet (SAW) allowed him to do so, but as he was leaving, asked him if he could hear the call for the prayers in his house. He said that he could. The Holy Prophet (SAW) remarked: "In that case, you must come to the mosque." Another narration of the same hadith as reported by Abu Dawud adds that the Holy Prophet (SAW) said: "Then, I see no room for making a concession in your case." Similarly, al-Qurtubi cites a hadith from the blessed companion Ibn Abbas (RA) who reports that the Holy Prophet (SAW) once said: "The man who hears the call for prayers but does not go to the mosque for the Jamaah, has not offered his prayers at all, except that he should have some excuse." On the basis of such ahadeeth, companions like Abdullah ibn Masud (RA) and Abu Musa al-Ashari (RA) have ruled that if a man lives close enough to a mosque to hear the call for prayers and yet does not attend the jamaah without a valid excuse, his offering of the salah at home is not acceptable.
On the other hand, the majority of the blessed companions, their successors and later jurists hold that the jamaah is a Sunnah which has been particularly emphasised (Muakkadah), and that among the Sunnah of this kind it is, like the Sunnah offered in Fajr salah, the most emphasised so as to come very close to being necessary. On the bases of certain other verses and hadeeth narrations, they interpret the imperative in "bow down with those who bow" as intended for emphasis only. As for the ahadeeth which appear to be saying that it is just not permissible for those who live near a mosque to offer their salah at home, they say that these only mean that this is not the perfect way to offer prayers.
The most comprehensive explanation of the matter has been provided by the blessed companion Abdullah ibn Masud (RA), as reported by Imam Muslim: "The man who wishes to meet Allah (SWT) tomorrow (i.e. the Day of Judgment) as a true Muslim, should offer these five prayers regularly and steadfastly in a place where the call for the prayers is habitually made (i.e. a mosque), for Allah (SWT) has laid down for your Prophet certain ways of good guidance (Sunnan al-Huda), and offering the five prescribed prayers with the jamaah is one of them. If you offer one of these prayers at home," he added towards a man, "as he does, keeping away from the Jamah, you will have forsaken the Sunnah of your Prophet, and if you forsake the Sunnah of your Prophet, you will go astray. The man who performs the wudu or ablution and cleanses himself in the proper manner, and then goes to a mosque, for every step that he takes, Allah (SWT) forgives one of his sins, adds one good deed to his account and promotes him one rank higher. Our company was such that there was not a single man, except for people known for their hypocrisy who would offer their prayers at home away from jamaah, so much so that even when a man was ill or unable to walk, he was brought to the mosque with his hands resting on the shoulders of two men, and made to stand in the row of those who were praying.
The statement fully
brings out the great importance of the Jamaah, but at the same time defines its
exact position by including it among the "ways of good guidance" (Sunnan
al-Huda) which are, in the terminology of the Fuqaha (jurists), called Al-Sunan
al-Muakkadah (the Sunnah on which the greatest emphasis has been placed). Thus if a
man does not go to the mosque for Jamaah and offers salah at home without having
proper excuse like illness, his prayers will be valid, but he will have earned the
displeasure of Allah (SWT) for having given up a Sunnah which comes under the category of
Muakkadah. If neglecting the Jamaah becomes habitual for him, he will be committing
a grave sin. If all the people living in the vicinity of a mosque leave it deserted and
offer their prayers at home, they become, in the eyes of the shariah, liable to
punishment. Qadi Iyad says that if persuasion fails to mend such people, they must be
challenged by show of force. (Qurtubi)
FROM MEANING AND MESSAGES OF THE TRADITIONS
BY SHAYKH MOHAMMAD MANZOOR NOMANI (RA).