Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
During the last ten days of Ramadan, a local mosque is doing qiyam al-layl after the tarawih prayers, and I would like to join. Can Hanafis pray in jama’ah for nawafil prayers? I was told that they cannot – that congregation is only for Fard prayers and Tarawih.
The general ruling, as Imam al-Shurunbulali and Ibn Abidin both mention, is that it is disliked (makruh) to pray non-obligatory prayers in congregation, unless it is a small congregation, defined as 2 or 3 people, and not made a habit.
Ibn Abidin’s position, in his Hashiya, confirmed by his son Ala’ al-Din Abidin in the latter’s Hadiyya al-Ala’iyya, is that this is somewhat disliked (makruh tanzihan). One should still avoid it, because a somewhat disliked matter is something Allah Most High dislikes and asked His servants not to do, though He will not punish them if they do it. Some other major Hanafis, however, held that praying non-obligatory prayers in congregation is prohibitively disliked (makruh tahriman), so we should be even more cautious.
HOWEVER, some major Damascene Hanafi ulema DO pray in congregation on the special nights of the year, using the argument that though this may be somewhat disliked IN OF ITSELF, this dislikedness is lifted by the greater general benefit (maslaha) of gathering people together who otherwise may not engage themselves in worship, and add that this has been proven to be a means for many to come back to the worship of their Lord. It should be noted that this is the inherited practice of the lands of al-Sham since the times of the early Muslims (the Salaf), and has been differed upon since.
And Allah knows best.