The Benefits of Praying in Congregation
It would strike me during prayer.
Taraweeh prayer to be exact.
I would be standing amongst my sisters on the rooftop of what was colloquially referred to as the “White Mosque” (I’m sure you can guess why it was named so) about an hour and a half after iftar. The sweetest of breezes would softly ruffle our abayas and skirts as we stood shoulder to shoulder, heel to heel, praying before our Lord together: the epitome of amity and solidarity.
The imam’s melodious voice would drift through the speakers, and every so often one could hear the muffled sobs of one of the sisters or someone blowing her nose into a tissue. And when the imam started crying during recitation- well, no one even bothered trying to hold back their emotions then.
It always struck me at that moment. The peacefulness that accompanied standing in prayer in Ramadan was unparalleled, but that was not solely what brought on the feeling of immense harmony and unity with the women around me. It was the feeling that I was a part of something far bigger than myself, like taking a step back from the life I was so absorbed in, taking a step back for one moment and realizing that I am only one star in a brilliant galaxy of shining lights.
At that moment I always felt this sense of awe I could never hope to capture at any other time in my life. I was among a horde of people I did not know –most of whom I would never know personally- and yet I felt unshakeably connected to them for that one, infinitesimal moment in time. In that shortest instant, my heart would swell and ceaselessly overflow with love for my brothers and sisters, and when the imam would make heartfelt dua to Allah to ease the sufferings of my brothers and sisters around the world, with tears rolling down the cheek of every woman on the roof, I was sure this was one of the few moments in our lives when we were truly and completely in sync and our hearts were genuinely sincere.
[pullquote_right]I am only one star in a brilliant galaxy of shining lights.[/pullquote_right]
It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences one could never hope to understand unless he or she was there to experience it firsthand.
Salah is undeniably a very personal experience -as conversing with your Lord and opening your heart to Him could only ever be excruciatingly personal- but at times it has the power to tie us all together and be stupendously gathering on its pull on our souls.
In hindsight, I believe the feeling gripping me to be one unique to praying in congregation. There is something special about worshipping as a group that one cannot always find in praying alone. As a group you are a part of something bigger than yourself, something larger than life that consumes you wholly and powerfully. In a group you feel that your actions are undeniably right and that your way of life is unmistakeably true because of that something that awakens inside of you and recognizes the beauty of your worship. In congregation, I like to think that I feel a minute fraction of the brotherhood the Companions (RA) felt during the early days of Islam.
And yet thinking about the early days of Islam, one cannot help but admire the strength and tenacity of the early Muslims. The breadth of responsibility placed on the shoulders of our beloved Prophet was not a light one: to convey the truth of Islam to all was an arduous task- and one that necessitated the collaboration of the believers and their undying unity.
And unity is something stressed heavily by our Prophet (SAW).
So what does the concept of unity have to do with salah? If salah is our personal relationship with our Lord, how can it add to the unity of the believers?[pullquote_left]If salah is our personal relationship with our Lord, how can it add to the unity of the believers?[/pullquote_left]
In the Qur’an, Allah addresses the People of the Book (namely, the Jews and Christians) directly when calling them to worship Allah. He (SWT) reminds them of His favours upon them and tells them to fulfill their covenant with Him- their promise to believe in and support the Messenger He sent to them, to establish the prayer, to pay the zakat and to give in the way of Allah. Then Allah commands the Children of Israel to bow down with those who bow down in worship.[box_light]“O Children of Israel! Call to mind the special favour which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill your Covenant with Me and I shall surely fulfill My Covenant with you, and fear none but Me.” [Baqarah: 40][/box_light] [box_light]“And be steadfast in prayer: give Zakat, and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship).” [Baqarah: 43][/box_light]
What could be the importance of bowing down with those who bow down? What could be the significance of the Jews and Christians praying in congregation with the Prophet (SAW) and his companions if they were to accept Islam?
The importance would be unity.
In praying together -and not separately- the believers would gather together, bow down, prostrate and worship Allah as one group, together fulfilling the commandments of Allah. All those who professed the oneness of Allah and their support for the Messenger of Allah (SAW) –despite their skin color, amount of wealth, or status- would gather and worship and the act would unite them together for their common goal: spreading the message of Islam to the world.
Through the prayer in congregation, the Muslims were united.
Furthermore, our Prophet (SAW) states the importance of praying in congregation in various ahadith: some of which point to the unification of the believers during salah as adding to their bond of brotherhood. For example, the structure of the believers during salah is of the utmost importance. The Prophet (SAW) urged us to straighten the rows of the prayer and to leave no spaces between one another.[quote]An-Nu’man bin Bashir reported that the Messenger of Allah said, “Straighten your rows; otherwise, Allah will create dissension among you.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim][/quote]
The commentary of this hadith states that Allah will create dissension rather than unity, weakness rather than strength and power, and that the Muslims will then be overwhelmed with the fear and terror of their enemies. This strikingly illuminates the point that the prayer in congregation and the straight rows of the Muslims during the prayer have the power to unite the believers and strengthen their bond of brotherhood, creating an incomparable force of power.
But unity is not the only benefit in praying the salah in congregation. Allah also rewards the believers who stand together in congregation with twenty-seven times¹ the reward of praying alone. The benefit of praying in congregation for the isha and fajr prayers also brings forth myriad rewards: the believer receives the reward of standing half a night in prayer, and a full night in prayer, respectively² .
The blessings Allah (SWT) has been placed in the congregation are indescribable.
There is also another reason for standing in straight rows during the congregation. Many have attested to the fact that praying in congregation adds to one’s concentration and focus. Many times before the prayer start we are urged by the imam and those around us to stand heel to heel, shoulder to shoulder, and to keep our lines straight. The benefit is that when we place our feet together, we leave no space for shaytan to come between us and distract us from our salah, so when standing in congregation, we are less liable to fall victim to the whispers of shaytan. Therefore, our focus is renewed and we can concentrate on our Meeting with Allah (SWT).
Ibn ‘Umar (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Arrange the rows in order, stand shoulder to shoulder, close the gaps, be accommodating to your brothers, and do not leave gaps for Satan. Whoever joins up a row, he will be joined to Allah (ie., to the Mercy of Allah); and whoever cuts off a row, he will be cut off from Allah (., from His Mercy).” [Abu Dawud]
The salah in congregation is an absolutely beautiful and wondrous aspect of our faith. Through it we stand with other people who carry in their hearts the banner of truth and righteousness; we stand with people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities and we acknowledge the common bond that binds us together stronger than blood ever could: our acknowledgment and worship of the One True Lord Who created us and to Whom we will surely return.
Our salah is a time for worship, for unity, and for brotherhood. It is a time to reap the rewards placed in it by our Lord, and to truly feel deep in our hearts the truth, righteousness and dignity in our placing our foreheads on the ground, as one entity, before Allah (SWT).
It is a time to forge a bond with our brothers and sisters, and to strengthen our bond to Allah.
It is incomparable to anything else we can ever do in our lives, and made even more special when we do it together.
¹[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Halla is an avid reader with a passion for justice, writing and Islam who believes that all the bad in the world is countered by great people with great minds and stupendously great actions. She lives in Toronto, Canada where she hopes to change the world around her by starting with herself.