As opposed to other religions, Islam does not advocate complete social isolation as a means to enlightenment. Perhaps it is the most social religion out there. Muslims men are supposed to meet each other at least five times a day for daily salawaat, weekly for Jumma, annually for the Eidain and they gather from all over the world for at least once in a lifetime of every capable practicing Muslim during the Hajj. This does not mean that a Muslim does not have private time for contemplation. A wise Muslim, uses his pre-dawn hours in worshiping alone and reflecting on various aspects of his affairs as he pleads for divine help in all matters.
Despite common misconception, it is important to point out that praying in congregation is not optional for men. A Muslim man should strive his utmost to make sure that all his daily prayers are offered in order of priority in a nearby masjid or muslllah or in any other form of congregation at home, on the road, in the mall, etc. During the Prophet’s (SWAS) lifetime, all Muslims used to pray in the masjid - even the hypocrites. Sickness was not accepted as an excuse to come to the masjid. A sick man was often brought to the masjid held by two men on either sides. Even blindness was no excuse for missing congregational prayers at the masjid. At the same time, Islam is practical and provides flexibility for genuinely natural excuses. It is recommended that a Muslim, eats before praying if he is hungry and food is being served, as not doing so would divert his attention from the congregational prayers. Similarly he must answer the call of nature first and then attend congregational prayers. If the first congregation is missed for any reason, he can pray in subsequent congregations. During travel, four unit of prayers are shortened to two units and he can combine the noon and afternoon prayers as well as the sunset and night prayers if he so desires. There is a special way of praying when one is under attack (salaatul khawf) while ensuring everyone’s protection. If one has already prayed, one is rewarded if one repeats one’s prayer by accompanying another Muslim who has not yet prayed and is seeking a congregation to pray with. One should pray alone in the exceptional circumstance when there is nobody else to pray with.
The Prophet’s (SWAS) masjid was not just a place for offering prayers. It was a community center where meetings were held, strategy was discussed, people were educated, prisoners of war were kept, poor were housed, booty was distributed, delegations were received, from where emissaries were sent, etc. Those calling for the revival of the Ummah must start by re-establishing the proper roles of their neighborhood masajids. Establishing regular salawaat there is just the first step and not an end in itself.
By visiting one’s neighborhood masjid often one gets to come in regular contact with Muslims from all walks of life – young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, countrymen and foreigners, scholars and the illiterate, etc. There are immense lessons in interacting with the same group on a regular basis over a prolonged period of time. One gets to understand their issues, problems, their habits, their desires, their goals, their way of thinking, etc. It is said that one learns Islam not by reading books, but by interacting and observing the scholars. Thus associating with those who are more pious that oneself who regularly pray in the masjid, will over time have a very great impact upon one’s understanding and practice of Islam, while gently receiving feedback for any incorrect practice. For the same reason, masajid are great places to regularly bring one’s children who tend to absorb whatever they experience from a young age.
A Muslim’s primary jamaat is formed of the people who regularly pray at his neighborhood masjid. There are so many Muslims who live in a country, yet have primary allegiance to a jamaat on the other side of the world. They have little knowledge of their host societies and the issues there. Most Islamic groups differ in their methodologies even if they all claim to be following the Quran and the Sunnah. Their ideology and methodology are derived from the interpretation of their founder’s perspective on how the Quran and Sunnah should be implemented in today’s world. Due to human deficiency, the ideology is specific to a particular geographic and historic context. It is dependent on their intellectual maturity and understanding, which will always be less than that of the Prophet (SWAS) and the Sahaba’s (RA). Thus we find one group emphasizing dawah, another spreading knowledge, another struggling to revive the khilafa, another emphasizing adopting the Sunnah, another following the salaf, others calling for jihad and qital, etc. While the common man is entangled in fiqhi issues without understanding of the essence of the faith.
Each group is like a blind man examining an elephant. One feels its trunk and says that an elephant is like a pipe. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a rope. Another feel its feet and says that an elephant is like columns. Another feels its ears and says that an elephant is like a cloth. Another feels its teeth and says that an elephant is like a spear. Yet another feels its sides and declares that an elephant is like a hairy wall. In this analogy, the blind men are the intellectual founders of all present jamaats and the elephant is Islam. Their ideology pales in comparison of the holistic vision of Muhammad (SWAS) who was able to see the whole elephant for what it is. It is our duty to follow the Prophet (SWAS) as faithfully as possible by espousing his vision of Islam. By joining a modern group one automatically put limits on that vision. One gives up the essential personal duty for deep contemplation to the ameers of the jamaat we choose to follow. Joining a jamaat makes one give up holistic study from the sources of Islam and limit it to the jamaat’s literature. One tends to study the specific curriculum designed by its education department. One repeatedly emphasizes the verses and hadiths cited by their literature to justify their methodology, etc. The alternative is to re-establish the jammats of our respective local masajid.
Islam emphasizes social interaction and makes it incumbent to constantly interact with the righteous Muslims while establishing prayer in the neighborhood masjid. There are many benefits of interacting with such people including personal and children’s tarbiyya. We should have primary allegiance to our neighborhood jamaats rather than following the various modern groups from other parts of the globe. By doing so we can continue to benefit from group interaction while continuously striving to develop our personal visions.