Many masājid that I have been to have canceled their congregational prayers amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. There are still some masājid who are allowing congregational prayers, but are mandating a meter’s distance in between the worshippers. Is such a practice allowed in Islām and would the prayer affected in its validity?
In the Name of God, Most Merciful, Most Kind
Jazāk Allāh Khayr/ Thank you for contacting Mathābah with your query.
This is indeed a very confusing time. We should try our best to do good according to our humble capacities to please our Maker, through bringing balance and to evade confusions.
May Allāh, the Almighty bring about quick relief for humanity in our current global crisis.
Islām has emphasized communal unity since day one of its establishment; among family members, in our social context and even in our ritual worship. Ittīṣāl al-ṣufūf (joining in rows) for prayer is a pristine image of such unity and it is a practice highly emphasized by the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him).
Here are some examples wherein the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) emphatically encourages believers to not deviate in their ṣufūf (prayer rows).
عن أنس رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم قال سوُّوا صُفوفكم فإنَّ تسوية الصف من إقامة الصلاة
On the authority of Anas (may Allāh be pleased with him), the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) is reported to have said, “Straighten your rows, for indeed, straightening your rows is a part of establishing the prayer”. – (Bukhārī 690)
عن البراء بن عازب رضي الله عنه قال كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم يتخلَّل الصفَّ مِن ناحية إلى ناحية يَمسح صدورنا ومناكبنا ويقول لا تَختلفوا فتختلف قلوبكم
Barā’ bin ‘Āzib (may Allāh be pleased with him) says, “The Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) would walk in between the rows from one side to another, wiping our chests and shoulders [to ensure that we are standing straight] while exclaiming, “Do not disunite in your rows, for such will create differences among your hearts.” – (Abū Dāwūd 664)
عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم إنَّ الله وملائكته يُصلُّون على الذين يَصِلون الصفوف ومن سدَّ فرجة رفعه الله بها درجة
On the authority of ‘Āyeshah (may Allāh be pleased with her), “The Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) said, “Indeed, Allāh sends His mercy and the angels supplicate upon those who join their rows. Therefore, whomsoever will fill in an empty gap [in their rows], Allāh will increase them in status.” – (Ibn Mājāh 995)
One must keep in mind that such instructions were uttered by our beloved Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) under normal circumstances.
One should also keep in mind that iqāmah al-ṣufūf (establishing the rows) is not a condition for deeming the ṣalāh itself valid. What this implies is that even if for some irrational reasoning, the congregation decides to perform the congregational prayers separately in their rows [leaving spaces]; their prayers will still be valid, albeit disliked [on the basis of opposing prophetic recommendations].
According to the Jamhūr (majority) of islamic scholars, establishing unity and togetherness in the rows is an emphasized sunnah and not a compulsion.
Based on the juristic principles جلب المصالح ودفع المفاسد of evading harm, if muslim scholars advise congregations amidst COVID-19, in light of the social distancing guidelines [as per the recommendations of health practitioners] to distance themselves in their rows; in-shā-Allāh, we are hopeful that such ijtihād (legal reasoning and deductions) will be rewarded by Allāh and the ṣalāh will be accepted, without deficiency.
Allāh Knows Best