Translated by Mufti A.H Elias and edited by Bilal Ali
What is the esteemed opinion of the respected scholars on the now customary gathering of people in the masjids on the nights of the two Eids, the 15th of Sha‘ban, the last ten nights of Ramadan and other auspicious nights, to recite the noble Quran, perform dhikr, etc…? Some masjids even make special arrangements for the delivering of lectures on these nights. What is the legal status of these actions?
There are three scenarios regarding the performance of acts of worship in the masjids on these nights:
1) When people come to the masjid informally without any special arrangement and engage in tilawah, dhikr, etc. This is permissible, but it is more meritorious and rewarding to perform nafl salat and tilawah at home. In fact, there is even more reward to perform these acts of worship at home than in the Masjid Haram (Makkah Mukarramah) and in the Masjid Nabawi (upon him blessings and peace). In this regard, it is stated in a hadith from Zayd bin Thabit (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said, ‘The (nafl) salat of a person in his home is more rewarding than his salat in my (this) masjid, except the obligatory prayers.’” (Abu Dawud)
It is also reported from him that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said, ‘The best salat is the salat of a man in his home except the obligatory prayers.” (narrated by all five except Ibn Majah –Nayl al-Awtar)
2) When special arrangements are made for coming to the masjid. This is an innovation. The reason for this is that when special arrangements are made for coming to the masjid for nafl salat, it implies a greater reward for its performance, and this is tantamount to altering the Shari‘ah. This is in clear conflict to the blessed words of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) who clearly stated that there is greater reward in performing nafl salat at home as opposed to the masjid.
3) When special arrangements are made on the auspicious nights, where people gather at the masjids to either perform extra nafl salat or attend a lecture. These are also reprehensible innovations. The gravity and evil of this innovation is even greater than the previous one. The first evil was outlined above. The second evil is that nafl acts of worship are executed in congregational form, which is prohibited in the Shari‘ah.
Some people complain that there are too many distractions at home, where the children make noise, etc… and this prevents proper devotion and concentration. This, however, is a satanic deception. The actual import of khushu‘ (concentration) is to execute the act of worship in accordance with the Sunnah. When an act of worship is carried out in accordance with the Sunnah, then proper devotion and concentration should also be accomplished. If the act is carried out contrary to the Sunnah, then regardless of what concentration there is, it will not be regarded as proper khushu‘. It is worth considering that our beloved Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) performed his tahajjud and other nafl prayers with great diligence and consistency at home, and he also regarded this performance at the home to be more meritorious than in a masjid. Today, we say that we cannot find concentration and devotion at home! It is reported in the hadith that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) used to perform his nafl salat in his room, whilst Sayyidatuna ‘A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) had her feet stretched out beside him. When he (upon him blessings and peace) would perform sajdah, he would (inadvertently) touch her feet (due to lack of space) where after she would move it aside. When the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) would stand up for the second raka‘ah, then ‘A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) would once again stretch out her feet. The nights were dark; there was no lamp, the room was so small that if one person was lying down, there was barely space for another to perform sajdah comfortably. The masjid was so close to this room, that as soon as one stepped out of the room, one would be stepping into the masjid. Then also, we are referring here to none other than the Masjid Nabawi (upon him blessings and peace), whose great virtue is well-known. Notwithstanding this, the blessed action of our great Benefactor (upon him blessings and peace), was that he preferred to perform his nafl salat in his room instead of the masjid (owing to the greater virtue of performing nafl at home).
Besides this, people aver that if salat is performed in isolation at home, then sleep overcomes one faster than if it were performed in the masjid in congregation or if one is listening to some lecture in the masjid. In this congregational form, they say, there is greater chance of engaging in many forms of worship with more ease than doing so at home, where one will barely be able to achieve even half of what can be executed at the masjid.
Understand well! The objective of worship does not lie in its quantity. The entire reward and objective of worship is based on its manner of fulfilment. Thus, a little worship which is carried out in accordance to the Sunnah is countless times more beneficial and rewarding than that which is done contrary to the Sunnah, and the Sunnah method is to, as long as one’s disposition (health, alertness, etc…) allows, engage in nafl worship, and as soon as one becomes tired and sleepy, then rest should be taken. In this regard it is reported in a hadith that Sayyiduna Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reports that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) once entered the masjid and found a rope tied between two pillars. He asked, “What is (the meaning of) this?” The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) replied, “This is for Zaynab. When she gets tired (whilst performing nafl salat), she leans on it and it give her support.” He said, “Untie it! You should perform (nafl) salat whilst alert, and when you get tired or sleepy, then take rest.” In another hadith it is stated, “Then you should sit down.” [Muslim]
It is also reported from Sayyidatuna ‘A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that she said, “The Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) once came to me whilst there was some lady with me. He asked, ‘Who is this?’ I replied, ‘This lady does not sleep; she (continuously) performs salat.’ He said, ‘That much (worship) is binding upon you which you are able to carry out. By Allah, He does not tire when you tire, and the best (path in) the religion for you is that upon which you are constant.’” It is reported in another hadith from ‘A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), “Take from acts of worship that which you are able to carry out. I swear in the name of Allah, Allah does not get tired when you get tired.’” [Bukhari, Muslim]
And Allah Almighty knows best.
See Ahsan al-Fatawa, vol. 1. pg. 371-373.