Answered by Shaykh Salman Younas
Question: Would it be permissible to not go to congregational prayers (including Friday prayer) due to the spread of disease such as Coronavirus. Likewise, if your mother wishes for you to not go to congregational prayers due to the worry of getting infected what should you do?
Answer: assalamu alaykum
The basis is that if there is reasonable fear of contracting this illness or spreading it in a specific location by going to such public gatherings, one must not go.
Given the current situation and guidelines provided by organisations like WHO (The World Health Organization), the approach being advised is, however, rightly one of excessive precaution. This means you should not go to the mosque (including Friday prayer) if:
(a) You have flu-like symptoms, even if minor,
(b) You have been around people who have flu-like symptoms, even if minor,
(c) You are in an area where the authorities have strongly advised against attending public gatherings, or have temporarily banned such gatherings [Note: In certain places, governments are very slow to respond and their information out-of-date or underestimates owing to a lack of sufficient testing and resources. All the while, confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to rise. One should always use his or her own independent and reasonable judgment and avoid public gatherings especially if there are signs of community spread of the virus in one’s area.]
(d) Reliable health experts in your locale have strongly advised the implementation of social distancing policies to curb the spread of the disease.
(e) You fit the description of those who the authorities have advised to enter self-isolation, such as people who have recently visited countries where the risk of coronavirus is high (China, Italy, Iran, Japan, etc.).
(f) You are an elderly person or someone with underlying health condition, especially if in an area where there are, or likely to be, cases of infection.
The need to avoid public gatherings, including the mosque, is even more pressing if one is in close contact with elderly people at home or elsewhere since they are particularly vulnerable to this disease, which spreads largely unnoticed. The responsibility of every individual Muslim is not simply to protect himself from harm, but also not being a cause of harm to others.
Therefore, it should be noted that while highly meritorious to pray in the mosque, the confirmed sunna for the general congregational prayers (besides the Friday prayer) is simply to pray in congregation – whether at home or elsewhere. Given current developments and the way events are unfolding, it would be firmly advised that one temporarily avoid attending the mosque for the general congregational prayers even in the absence of the conditions mentioned above.
As for Friday prayer, in the absence of the conditions mentioned above, it would remain ideal to attend. However, even here the potential for harm should be limited as much as possible. This means that women and children should be told to stay home as the Friday prayer is not obligatory upon them. Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions should also be advised the same. Mosques should put in place measures to keep their premises clean and prevent the spread of this disease. For some guidelines on this (specific to the UK), please see the guidance of the BBSI (British Board of Scholars & Imams) by following this link.
Update 1: In regard to point (e), if such a time arises where social distancing is seen as required by experts to curb the spread of this disease, which seems to be the case in many places now, the individual – even if otherwise healthy – should not attend large or concentrated gatherings and events at mosques. The community in this case is exempt from the Friday prayer and people should pray Dhuhr at home. Furthermore, taking into account expert advice and their responsibilities to congregants and the wider community, mosque committees should also seriously & quickly decide on implementing social distancing measures, which is increasingly the advice of numerous health and policy experts and should therefore be heeded. This may entail canceling or severely restricting prayer services for such a duration where the spread of coronavirus can be effectively limited. The exact duration and decisions concerning scaling up or down social distancing measures are best determined in consultation with relevant experts who understand evolving local situations.
[Shaykh] Salman Younas
Shaykh Salman Younas graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in Political Science and Religious Studies. After studying the Islamic sciences online and with local scholars in New York, Ustadh Salman moved to Amman where he spent five years studying Islamic law, legal methodology, belief, hadith methodology, logic, Arabic, and tafsir. He the went on to complete his PhD at the University of Oxford and continues his traditional studies with scholars in the United Kingdom.