Answered by Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra
I often find myself in a traveling group of Muslims (relatives) who prefer/encourage us to read salah alone (when a salah is due) rather than in a congregation, if a local imam is not available – I have been pushing us to select an imam and do congregational salah. Still, when done, some prefer to read again alone in case it isn’t accepted. Can you please advise re correct course of action here and the conditions which the imam must meet?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate.
Praying in the congregation is an emphasized sunna for males and preferably should not be left except for some valid excuse. While it is good that you pushed for this, make sure this is done with wisdom and humility so as not to have the opposite effect than intended.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The prayer in congregation is superior to the prayer performed individually by twenty-seven degrees.” [Bukhari]
The imam, or one leading the prayer, can be any Muslim male who has reached puberty, is of sound mental faculties, can recite the minimal amount of Qur’an needed, and is free from excuses that prevent them from praying a valid prayer for themselves or others. Therefore, most normal Muslim men who know how to pray can validly lead a congregation as the imam. [Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah]
While praying separately is valid, it would be far more rewarding and superior to pray in a congregation, even outside the mosque while traveling or without a local imam or scholar leading you. You should still encourage your relatives to pray together and allow those who wish to repeat, can do so, and you need not criticize their decision.
Perhaps some people think that if the imam does not have specific religious qualifications or characteristics (beard, dress, etc.), they may feel it superior to pray individually. However, this is not necessarily correct, but it would be hard to change this mentality sometimes. One way to encourage a congregation is to allow those very people who object to lead the prayer because they do not doubt their own prayer’s validity. At least they and you would have gotten the reward of praying in a congregation.
[Shaykh] Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Abdul Rahim Reasat
Shaykh Abdullah Misra was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. His family hails from India, and he was raised in the Hindu tradition. He embraced Islam in 2001 while at the University of Toronto, from where he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration. He then traveled overseas in 2005 to study the Arabic language and Islamic sciences in Tarim, Yemen, for some time, as well as Darul Uloom in Trinidad, West Indies. He spent 12 years in Amman, Jordan, where he focused on Islamic Law, Theology, Hadith Sciences, Prophetic Biography, and Islamic Spirituality while also working at the Qasid Arabic Institute as Director of Programs. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (Alimiyya, Darul Uloom) and authorization in the six authentic books of Hadith and is currently pursuing specialized training in issuing Islamic legal verdicts (ifta’). He holds a certificate in Counselling and often works with new Muslims and those struggling with religious OCD. He is an instructor and researcher in Sacred Law and Theology with the SeekersGuidance The Global Islamic Seminary. Currently, He resides in the Greater Toronto Area with his wife and children. His personal interests include Indian history, comparative religion, English singing, and poetry.