The Shari’ah prescribed the observation of Salat in congregation for men who are capable, and warned against its abandonment. The Prophet ﷺ had wished to set fire to those who did not attend it, and he did not allow the blind to abandon it. The proofs for these are:
1- Allah’s statement concerning Salat while in fear (eg. on a battle field): “When you (O Muhammad) are among them and lead them in the prayer (Salat), let one party of them stand up (in Salat) with you” (An-Nisa: 102).
Therein, Allah, the Most High, decreed congregational Salat while in fear or on a journey; hence, congregational prayer during the period of safety and residency (not traveling) should be more mandatory.
2- The Hadeeth reported by Abu Hurayrah t, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The most burdensome of all Salat on the hypocrites is that of Fajr (Dawn prayer) and ‘Ishai (Night prayer). If they knew what is there in (reward), they would have attended it, even if they needed to crawl to it[ Crawl: Crawling on all fours to it.]. Indeed, I wished to order that Salat be called, then for it to be just about to be prayed, and then order a man to lead the people in prayer. Thereafter I would go with some men bearing fire-wood to those who did not observe Salat and burn their houses over them (while they are inside).” [ Agreed upon.]
The Prophet ﷺ would not have wished to incinerate those who did not join the congregation except if it is compulsory to pray in congregation, and would not have described them as hypocrites if (what they ignored) is not compulsory.
3- The hadeeth of the blind man who sought permission from the Prophet ﷺ to pray at home because he had no guide. However, the Prophet ﷺ said: “Do you hear the call to the Salat?” He replied: “Yes.” Thus the Prophet ﷺ said: “Then heed it.” [ Source: Muslim.]
4- It was authentically reported from Ibn Mas’ud t, who said: “Whoever wishes to meet Allah tomorrow as a Muslim should uphold (observe) those prayers (Salah) that they are being called to. Indeed, Allah has decreed on your Prophet ﷺ the “Sunanul huda” (the traditions of guidance) and they are part of the traditions of guidance. If you indeed pray in your houses as this truant (absentee) does, you would have ignored the Sunnah (traditions) of your Prophet ﷺ, and when you ignore the Sunnah of your Prophet, you are misguided. Furthermore there will be no man who seeks to purify himself and perfects the purification, then goes to a mosque among these mosques; except that Allah writes for him a reward with every step he takes, lifts him a rank higher and erases for him a misdeed. I have witnessed us (during our time with the Prophet), and no one used to ignore this (congregational prayer) except a hypocrite whose hypocrisy was glaring. Indeed a man would come (during this period) walking between (relying upon) two men, until he was made to stand in the row.” [ Source: Muslim.]
Wisdom behind Congregational Salat and its Merits in Islam
1- Knowing other brothers, loving each other for the sake of Allah and strengthening ties of love; without which, perfect faith would not have been easy to achieve. This is because, there is no path to faith and paradise except by loving for the sake of Allah.
2- Freedom from hypocrisy and the hell fire. This is for someone who meets the initiating Takbeer of every Salat for forty consecutive days. Anas , reported the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as saying: “Whosoever observes Salat for Allah for forty days in congregation, catching the first Takbeer, has gained two freedoms, both of which are written for him: freedom from hell and freedom from hypocrisy.” [ Source: Al-Bukhari.]
3- Facilitating the reunion of Muslims and bringing their hearts together in goodness and righteousness.
4- Solidarity among the Muslims and helping one another in issues affecting them.
5- Demonstrating the religious rites and its strength.
6- Unifying the hearts of the Muslims, as in the same row of Salat there is gathered the White, Black, Arabs, non-Arabs, old, young, rich and the poor, side by side, in a single mosque, behind one imam, at the same time, towards the same direction and with the same intention.
7- Infuriating the enemies of Allah. This is because the Muslims will not cease to be powerful and invulnerable as long as they uphold the observation of congregational Salat in the mosque.
8- Eradication of misdeeds, and rising in ranks. It was reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah t, who reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Should I direct you to that by which Allah eradicates sins and raises the levels?” They replied: “Yes, Oh Messenger of Allah.” Then the Prophet said: “Performing ablution when it is disliked, taking many steps to the mosques, and waiting for Salat one after the other. That is striving in the cause of Allah.” [ Source: Muslim.]
9- Observing Salat in congregation is better than observing it alone by twenty-seven degrees. On the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar t,, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Congregational Salah is better than that observed alone by twenty-seven degrees.” [ Source: Al-Bukhari.]
- Congregational Prayer (Salat ) at Home
It is not advised for any individual or congregation to observe Salat at home while a mosque is close to them. However if the Mosque is far away, and they did not hear the call to prayer, then there is no sin on them if they observe it in congregation at home.