Congregational prayer is a feature of Islamic worship to which much importance is attached. In addition to the fulfillment of the duty God requires all Muslims to fulfill, it has a social role, cementing the feelings of unity within the Muslim community. It brings people into the local mosque where they join in a simple exercise of devotion, addressing God directly, reading His revealed words, declaring their submission to Him alone, acknowledging Him as the Master, Creator, Owner, and Controller of the universe and everything in it. They realize that He sees them at every moment and listens to their prayers and supplication. He grants them all that they pray to Him for. Thus, their unity is established on the basis of a bond of faith that is far stronger than any other tie.

The Arabic term denoting prayers, salat, is derived from the same root as silah, which means tie, bond, or means of communication. Hence, scholars often describe Islamic prayer as a bond between man and God. We feel this tie as we address God, appeal for His forgiveness of our sins, and request His mercy and help. We expect His reward, feeling that it comes as we go about, conducting our life affairs and seeking His guidance.

Yet there is more to prayer than this, as the following Hadith suggests. Abu Hurayrah quotes the Prophet as saying: “Different angels come and join you during the night and during the day. They congregate at Fajr and Asr prayers. Then those who were with you during the night ascend to heaven where God, who knows best, asks them: in what condition you have left My servants? They answer: We have left them praying, and we had arrived among them as they were praying. [Related by al-Bukhari].

This Hadith tells us that these two congregational prayers are joined by angels. We know that angels witness all our prayers, but these two are given more emphasis because of their timing. Fajr is offered between dawn and sunrise, while Asr has a time range extending from mid-afternoon to sunset. This means that they require more effort to attend to on time because we need to rise from sleep in order to attend to Fajr prayer while, generally speaking, Asr prayer becomes due when we are either fully engaged with our work or relaxing after a hard-working day. Hence there is more emphasis on attending to these two prayers.

The Hadith tells us that angels join us in two shifts, starting with these two prayers. Those who are with us during the day begin their shift at Fajr prayer and offer it with us. They continue until they have offered the Asr prayer when they ascend to heaven. The other group start with Asr prayer and continue until they have prayed Fajr with us. Thus, both groups of angels attend both prayers and pray for the forgiveness of our sins. As each group ascends God asks them how they have left us. He certainly knows better, but He wants their testimony so that He increases the reward He grants for such prayers.

It should be noted that in their answer, the angels reverse the time order. Had they followed the proper sequence of events, they would have said: Your servants were praying when we joined them and they were praying just before we left them. They, however, mention the state at their departure first, because God’s question is: In what condition you have left My servants? The angels give a direct answer, replying to the point of the question first.

There can be no stronger encouragement to attend these congregational prayers than the fact that the angels are in attendance, praying for our benefit.

Adil Salahi | Arab News