How bad is it to neglect a prayer?

The prayer, a blessing and path to salvation for those who maintain it, but a burden for those neglectful of it.

This article will best be understood by students of Islamic knowledge and knowledgeable laity, although I hope and pray that the benefit will reach those in need. Feel free to comment and discuss the arguments presented. Also, comment on some of the reasons that Muslims, ethnic or converted, do not pray, or share some stories of what made you or someone you know return to prayer–chicken soup for the Muslim soul. Otherwise, this post is mostly fiqh-centered, and for that, it could be relatively dry for most.

As for me personally, I struggled to keep up with praying when I first accepted Islam. More than two years passed before I really started making it a habit. I enjoyed the prayer, but overall, I knew so little about Islam, feeling in the dark no matter what I read or listened to, so my spiritual energy was low. When I complained to our local imam about this, he asked me, “What do you know about Tawhid?” I told him that I was given this book Kitab al-Tawhid when I accepted Islam, and although I read it, I really didn’t understand it. He told me, read it again. So I did, and I read it a third time. And then it clicked, and it changed my life forever. It made me want to be a worshiper of Allah, and fulfill Allah’s command to pray, for my own benefit and to keep a true connection with Allah.

That’s my story. What’s yours? Share in the comments. But until then…

The position that leaving off prayer, no matter how many for however long, is not apostasy, is the position of the three most prevalent schools of Sunni fiqh, the Hanafis, Malikis and Shafi`is. It is also an opinion once held by Imam Ahmad. However, the Malikis and Shafi`is still believe that whoever abandons the prayer and refuses to pray is eligible for capitol punishment, while the Hanafis limit their punishment to imprisonment—all this of course is in a perfectly sound Islamic nation that has earned its legitimacy from Muslim scholars worldwide. So while those imams and their schools do not deem such an individual as an apostate, it has always been considered an extremely serious matter in our inherited fiqh legacy.

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abdul-Rahman al-Awza`i (d. 157) and most of the scholars of hadeeth, like Isḥāq ibn Rahweih (d. 238) preserved the opinion that abandoning prayer is apostasy. Scholars of this opinion then differed as to how many prayers a person need leave off before they are deemed an apostate—is one prayer sufficient, or two or three or four, for example? For them, years away from prayer is years away from Islam. Months away from prayer is months away from Islam. And a day of neglected prayer is a day as an atheist, more or less. That is as far as the worldly ruling of such an individual is concerned. As for their judgment with Allah in the Hereafter, then it is with Allah in the Hereafter, although they are treated in this world as a disbeliever, without shared inheritance with the believers, and without the marital privileges of the believers nor with the funeral or burial privileges of the believers. They are, for all intents and purposes, an unbelieving heathen and infidel, a kāfir.

My intention with this article is not to move people to judgments, not upon themselves nor friends, family or acquaintances—I hardly see the benefit of calling anyone a kafir—but rather move people to worship, directly or indirectly, since that is the purpose of creation.

Even though this is a minority opinion among jurists ever since the medieval period, it is the most textually supported, which leaves me, as a student of Islam who seeks to follow the scriptures wherever they direct me, especially in issues of worship and their rulings, no choice but to follow this opinion, that willful abandonment of prayer is major disbelief.

Here are some of the evidences,

{وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا ۗ وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ مَن يَتَّبِعُ الرَّسُولَ مِمَّن يَنقَلِبُ عَلَىٰ عَقِبَيْهِ ۚ وَإِن كَانَتْ لَكَبِيرَةً إِلَّا عَلَى الَّذِينَ هَدَى اللَّـهُ ۗ وَمَا كَانَ اللَّـهُ لِيُضِيعَ إِيمَانَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِالنَّاسِ لَرَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ} ﴿١٤٣﴾ سورة البقرة

Thus We have made you [true Muslims], a just and the best community, that you will be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger will be a witness over you. And We made the prayer direction (towards Jerusalem) which you used to face, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels. Indeed it was heavy except for those whom Allah guided. And Allah would never allow your faith to be lost (i.e. your prayers offered towards Jerusalem). Truly, Allah is full of kindness, the Most Merciful towards mankind.” [2:143]

Al-Baqarah was one of the first chapters to have been revealed in Medinah. Scholars agree that what is meant by “And Allah would not allow your faith to go to waste” is referring to the prayer. Some of the companions wondered, since the prayer direction was changed, did that mean that the previous prayer direction was a mistake, and that they had been worshiping wrong. Allah corrected this misunderstanding. But the point here is that prayer and faith being used interchangeably only makes sense if we recognize that true Islamic faith is always accompanied by minimal distinguishing Islamic action, namely, the prayer.

And then later in the Medina period, Surah al-Tawbah was revealed, and the famous ayah of the sword,…

{فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الْأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ وَاقْعُدُوا لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ ۚ فَإِن تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّوا سَبِيلَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ} ﴿٥﴾ سورة التوبة

So when the Sacred Months have passed, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and perform the prayers, and give the obligatory charity, then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [9:5]

This ayah makes the sanctity of a convert tied to their keeping with the prayer, and acknowledging the rights of the struggling classes to their zakāt. Similarly, a few āyāt later, the same meaning is repeated,

{فَإِن تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ ۗ وَنُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ} ﴿١١﴾ سورة التوبة

But if they repent, perform the prayers and give zakāt, then they are your brethren in religion. And We explain the signs in detail for a people who know.” [9:11]

The meaning that those two ayat indicate are further strengthened by the Prophet’s words, narrated from Buraidah:

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ بُرَيْدَةَ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، قال: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ: إِنَّ الْعَهْدَ الَّذِي بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَهُمُ الصَّلَاةُ، فَمَنْ تَرَكَهَا فَقَدْ كَفَرَ”

“Truly, the Covenant that separates us from them is the Ṣalāt; so whoever leaves it off has disbelieved.”

And Jabir related from the Prophet…

عَنْ جَابِرٍ، قَالَ: سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ ﷺ يَقُولُ: “بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَبَيْنَ الشِّرْكِ وَالْكُفْرِ تَرْكُ الصَّلاةِ”

“Between a person, and polytheism and disbelief is the abandonment of prayer.”

And the Prophet ﷺ advised his companions saying:

عَنْ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ ، أَنّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ﷺ، قَالَ: “سَتَكُونُ أُمَرَاءُ فَتَعْرِفُونَ وَتُنْكِرُونَ، فَمَنْ عَرَفَ بَرِئَ وَمَنْ أَنْكَرَ سَلِمَ وَلَكِنْ مَنْ رَضِيَ”، وَتَابَعَ ، قَالُوا : أَفَلَا نُقَاتِلُهُمْ ، قَالَ : لَا مَا صَلَّوْا

“There will be emirs from whom you will approve of some of their actions and disapprove of others. So whoever approves their good is innocent, and whoever rebukes their evil is safe, but not those who are totally pleased.” Some of the companions asked, “Shall we not fight those leaders?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Not as long as they continue praying.” For an alternative translation

And some of the companions advised one another with narrations,

عَنْ جُنَادَةَ بْنِ أَبِي أُمَيَّة ، قَالَ : دَخَلْنَا عَلَى عُبَادَةَ بْنِ الصَّامِتِ وَهُوَ مَرِيضٌ ، فَقُلْنَا حَدِّثْنَا، أَصْلَحَكَ اللَّهُ بِحَدِيثٍ يَنْفَعُ اللَّهُ بِهِ، سَمِعْتَهُ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ﷺ فَقَالَ: دَعَانَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ﷺ، فَبَايَعْنَاهُ، فَكَانَ فِيمَا أَخَذَ عَلَيْنَا، “أَنْ بَايَعَنَا عَلَى السَّمْعِ وَالطَّاعَةِ فِي مَنْشَطِنَا وَمَكْرَهِنَا، وَعُسْرِنَا وَيُسْرِنَا، وَأَثَرَةٍ عَلَيْنَا، وَأَنْ لَا نُنَازِعَ الْأَمْرَ أَهْلَهُ، قَالَ: إِلَّا أَنْ تَرَوْا كُفْرًا بَوَاحًا عِنْدَكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ فِيهِ بُرْهَانٌ

Junadah said: We visited `Ubadah while he was sick, and we said, “Tell us something you heard straight from the Prophet, may Allah heal you with a word that Allah may bring benefit by. So `Ubadah said, “The Prophet ﷺ called us, so we responded and gave our pledge to him. And from the provisions we agreed upon were to listen and obey, while we were energetic and while we were lethargic, in hard times and good, even when they would be unfair against us, but not to revoke the rule from those in command, and he ﷺ made exception: Unless you see clear open disbelief, from which you then have a Proof from Allah.

By considering these last two narrations, knowing that the Prophet ﷺ would not contradict himself when advising his companions on matters of the future, what it comes down to is that giving up prayer is equal to clear obvious blatant disbelief. Some other āyāt and aḥādīth mentioned above simply say disbelief in a way that one could claim that it was rhetorical or metaphorical and not literal. But these two narrations suggest that not only is this disbelief, but it is flagrant disbelief without any doubt in it, and the kind of disbelief that would merit even violent change of government if other conditions were met.1)Conditions not worth mentioning here. It is sufficient to know that I generally do not approve of any calls to use force against any recognized government or administration in power in any region of the earth today.

Note that Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Marwazi (d. 294 ah) is the publisher of the book Ta`ẓīm Qadr al-Ṣalāt gathering all the narrations of the Salaf regarding prayer’s importance, and it is from that source that nearly all these narrations can be found.

The companions carried on this understanding,

عن المسور بن مخرمة أنه دخل مع ابن عباس على عمر حين طعن فقال ابن عباس يا أمير المؤمنين الصلاة فقال: أجل أصلي: إنه لا حظ في الإسلام لمن أضاع الصلاة.

When `Umar was stabbed, leading to his death, ibn al-`Abbaas came to him to remind him of the prayer, and he respond, “Indeed, I’m [still] praying, for there is no portion of Islam for anyone who wastes the prayer.” Other narrations say that he said this when he asked to make sure the rest of the Muslims finished the fajr prayer, since he was stabbed during prayer. Then he was told that Abdul-Rahman ibn `Auf stepped forward and led them for that prayer.

Many scholars cited this narration as evidence to a consensus among the companions,

عن عبدالله بن شقيق قال: كان أصحاب رسول الله ﷺ لا يرون شيئا من الأعمال تركه كفرا غير الصلاة

Abdullah ibn Shaqeeq al-Uqaili said: The Prophet’s companions did not see abandoning anything of the actions as being disbelief other than prayer.

This could also be understood as “if they even saw it as disbelief” like “if any of the companions saw abandoning an action as disbelief, then they did not see it for anything other than the prayer.” However, that becomes problematic if we consider narrations of Umar requesting jizyah from those who opted out of performing hajj—if such narrations are authentic—then it suggests that Abdullah really meant, “the companions did not agree that leaving off any action was disbelief except prayer.” In that case, it would be a statement of consensus.

The first one to actually claim consensus was a follower, from the second generation, Ayyoub al-Sikhtiyani (d. 131):

أيوب السختياني قال: ترك الصلاة كفر لا يختلف فيه

“No difference regarding it” could be interpreted as being something there is no hesitation in or a statement of consensus, and that’s more likely.

قال الإمام محمد بن نصر: سمعت إسحاق يقول: قد صح عن رسول الله ﷺ أن تارك الصلاة كافر، وكذلك كان رأي أهل العلم من لدن النبي ﷺ إلى يومنا هذا أن تارك الصلاة عمدا من غير عذر حتى يذهب وقتها كافر.

وقال ابن رجب: (وكثير من علماء أهل الحديث يرى تكفير تارك الصلاة، وحكاه إسحاق بن راهويه إجماعا منهم حتى إنه جعل قول من قال: لا يكفر بترك هذه الأركان مع الإقرار بها من أقوال المرجئة، وكذلك قال سفيان بن عيينة…)

Al-Marwazi said: I heard Ishaq said: it has reached us authentically that the Prophet ﷺ said that the one who leaves off praying is a disbeliever, and that was the opinion of the people of knowledge from the time of the Prophet ﷺ up till this day, that the one who leaves off a prayer, intentionally, without any excuse,2)For example, those not accountable, or menstruating women, or the forgetful, etc. until its window of time has passed, is a disbeliever.

Ibnul-Qayyim(d. 751) said,

ومن العجب أن يقع الشك في كفر من أصر على تركها ودعي إلى فعلها على رؤوس الملأ وهو يرى بارقة السيف على رأسه، ويُشد للقتل، وعصبت عيناه، وقيل له: تصلي وإلا قتلناك، فيقول: اقتلوني ولا أصلي أبدا. ومن لا يكفر تارك الصلاة يقول: هذا مؤمن مسلم، يغسّل ويصلى عليه ويدفن في مقابر المسلمين

“What is really astonishing is that there exists some doubt in the disbelief of one who perpetually refuses to pray, even when called to pray in front of audiences and leaders, and he sees the gleam of the sword above his head, and he’s being held down and then blindfolded for decapitation and told: pray or else, and he says: kill me for I will never pray! So the one who does not say leaving prayer is disbelief claims this individual is a believing Muslim, to be bathed, prayed over and buried with the rest of the Muslims.”

وقال علي بن الحسن بن شقيق: سمعت عبد الله بن المبارك يقول: من قال إني لا أصلي المكتوبة اليوم فهو أكفر من حمار.

Ali ibn al-Hasan ibn Shaqiq said: I heard Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (d. 181) saying, “whoever says I’m not praying the obligatory prayer today is more disbelieving than a donkey.”

وقال يحيى بن معين: قيل لعبد الله بن المبارك إن هؤلاء يقولون من لم يصم ولم يصل بعد أن يقر به فهو مؤمن مستكمل الإيمان, فقال عبد الله: لا نقول نحن ما يقول هؤلاء من ترك الصلاة متعمدا من غير علة حتى أدخل وقتا في وقت فهو كافر.

Yahya bn. Ma`in said: it was said to Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, “these people say that whoever doesn’t fast or pray after acknowledging it is still a complete believer.” Ibn al-Mubarak said, “We don’t say what they say; rather, whoever leaves off prayer intentionally without any reason until its time meets the time of another prayer then they are a disbeliever.”

Interesting to note is that scholars of the salaf made little distinction between leaving off the prayer entirely without intention to make it up as opposed praying it later, hours later or days later or years later. The only difference seemed to be considering the one who delays lazily temporarily—like a few hours—as remaining a Muslim–according to some.

أَنَّ عُمَرَ بْنَ عَبْدِ الْعَزِيزِ قَالَ: سَمِعْت اللَّهَ تَعَالَى ذَكَرَ أَقْوَامًا فَعَابَهُمْ فَقَالَ: {أَضَاعُوا الصَّلاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا} [مريم: 59] وَلَمْ تَكُنْ إضَاعَتُهُمْ إيَّاهَا، أَنْ تَرَكُوهَا؛ وَلَوْ تَرَكُوهَا لَكَانُوا بِتَرْكِهَا كُفَّارًا، وَلَكِنْ أَخَّرُوهَا عَنْ وَقْتِهَا.

Umar ibn `Abdil-`Azeez (d. 101) said: I heard Allah chastise some people “They wasted their prayers and followed their lusts so shall be thrown in Hell” [19:59] but their wasting of the prayer was not leaving it off, for if they left off praying, they would be disbelievers, but rather, they delayed the prayer until after its time.

Thus, many early scholars recognized the Islam of those who prayed late, even beyond its time, as was reported by some Umayyad leaders, but gave no such allowance for those who let the prayer go completely without intention to pray.

With this much clear evidence suggesting that prayer is a differentiator between Islam and complete absence of Islam, and agreement over its interpretation from multiple imams of the companions and their students and followers, it leaves us wondering why Imams Abu Hanifah, Malik and al-Shafi`I did not see it that way or did not know of the reported consensus.

As for consensus, it was not a topic properly explored until al-Shafi`I. Students of the Maliki school will be hard-pressed to ever find any mention of global universal consensus from the Imam’s lips or writings. And the consensus of the companions was a difficult issue to ascertain and proclaim at that time since no single individual had all their narrations—perhaps al-Shafi`I being the closest. Plus by al-Shafi`is time, other opinions existed, namely from the Murji’ah, who were Abu Hanifah’s teachers, and those affected by them, like Abu Hanifah, who fundamentally denied that actions were a requirement of faith. In Sharh al-Umdah, ibn Taymiyyah discusses many issues of consensus between the companions that other later imams were unaware of and differed. Most consensus of the companions are speculative and not definitive.

And ironically, some scholars claimed an opposing consensus existed, that leaving prayer was never apostatic. Most ironic is this is mentioned by some of the Hanabilah, who cited a speculative practical consensus [إجماع عملي] based on the inexistence of any qāḍī that ever ordered a person’s execution for apostasy by avoidance of prayer. As for ibnul-Qayyim’s vivid depiction quoted above, it is theoretical and rhetorical, meant to show how depraved the other position actually is. However, leaving prayer is typically not a charge one would expect to be raised to a judge to investigate and rule over. It is more of an issue that masjid imams and callers would be asked to admonish people over and incite them towards good action, since it is not tied to the rights of other humans.

But perhaps the main reason the other imams chose a lighter Hereafter ruling is that other narrations exist implying the possibility of eventually entering Paradise for those who did not strictly preserve their prayers. If leaving the prayer was major disbelief, that would be impossible.

Among those hadeeth, a narration from `Ubaadah,

عَنْ عُبَادَةَ بْنِ الصَّامِتِ قَالَ: سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ﷺ يَقُولُ: “خَمْسُ صَلَوَاتٍ كَتَبَهُنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَى عِبَادِهِ مَنْ جَاءَ بِهِنَّ تَامَّاتٍ [لَمْ يُضَيِّعْ مِنْهُنَّ شَيْئًا اسْتِخْفَافًا بِحَقِّهِنَّ] فَإِنَّ لَهُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَهْدًا أَنْ يُدْخِلَهُ الْجَنَّةَ، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَأْتِ بِهِنَّ تَامَّاتٍ فَلَيْسَ لَهُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَهْدٌ، إِنْ شَاءَ عَذَّبَهُ، وَإِنْ شَاءَ غَفَرَ لَهُ.”

“Five prayers Allah has written over His slaves: whoever comes with them completely [variation: has not wasted anything of them in belittlement of their right] then they have a covenant with Allah to enter them into Paradise. And whoever does not come with them completely has no covenant. If Allah Wills, He will punish him, and if He wills, He will forgive him.”

Although this narration in general is authentic, other versions of the text give more detail, and added detail from trustworthy narrators is accepted, and that detail confirms present suspicions in the language of what I quoted above…

عَنِ ابْنِ مُحَيْرِيزٍ، قَالَ  جَاءَ رَجُلٌ إِلَى عُبَادَةَ بْنِ الصَّامِتِ، فَقَالَ: يَا أَبَا الْوَلِيدِ، إِنِّي سَمِعْتُ أَبَا مُحَمَّدٍ الأَنْصَارِيَّ، يَقُولُ: الْوِتْرُ وَاجِبٌ. فَقَالَ عُبَادَةُ :كَذَبَ أَبُو مُحَمَّدٍ، سمعت رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ﷺ يَقُولُ: خَمْسُ صَلَوَاتٍ افْتَرَضَهُنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَى عِبَادِهِ ، فَمَنْ جَاءَ بِهِنَّ وَقَدْ أَكْمَلَهُنَّ وَلَمْ يَنْتَقِصْهُنَّ اسْتِخْفَافًا بِحَقِّهِنَّ ، كَانَ لَهُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَهْدٌ أَنْ يُدْخِلَهُ الْجَنَّةَ ، وَمَنْ جَاءَ بِهِنَّ وَقَدِ انْتَقَصَهُنَّ اسْتِخْفَافًا بِحَقِّهِنَّ لَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عَهْدٌ ، إِنْ شَاءَ عَذَّبَهُ ، وَإِنْ شَاءَ رَحِمَهُ ” . قَالَ أَبُو حَاتِمٍ : قَوْلُ عُبَادَةَ : كَذَبَ أَبُو مُحَمَّدٍ ، يُرِيدُ بِهِ أَخْطَأَ . وَكَذَلِكَ قَوْلُ عَائِشَةَ ، حَيْثُ قَالَتْ لأَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ . وَهَذِهِ لَفْظَةٌ مُسْتَعْمَلَةٌ لأَهْلِ الْحِجَازِ إِذَا أَخْطَأَ أَحَدُهُمْ يُقَالُ لَهُ : كَذَبَ ، وَاللَّهُ جَلَّ وَعَلا نَزَّهَ أَقْدَارَ أَصْحَابِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنْ إِلْزَاقِ الْقَدْحِ بِهِمْ

This narration from ibn Hibbaan in his sahih confirms that even the one who is under Allah’s discretion still prayed five times a day, but their sin was doing so sloppily, not on time, avoiding congregation, etc.

So this hadeeth does not suffice as decisive evidence that leaving prayer is mere sin.

They also suggested that the “disbelief” mentioned in the previous texts is merely a rhetorical device and not meant to convey a ruling—which is ironic since the context of many of those verses and narrations are critical for understanding rulings, like the verses in al-Tawbah. However, an important distinction that we consistently notice when “kufr” and “shirk” are used by the Prophet ﷺ is that when he intends lesser non-apostatic kufr, then he uses the indefinite version (kufr), but when he intends greater apostatic disbelief, he makes it definite, like in these narrations (al-kufr).

But the greatest evidences suggesting that prayer is not required are the famous hadeeth of the card narrated by  ibn `Amr and also the narrations that mention Allah entering people into Paradise who “never did any good”.

As for the narrations mentioning individuals who “never did any good” then this must be understood and qualified by other more explicit narrations that say that the angels only remove from the Fire those with the mark of prostration on their foreheads. In other words, to ever have any hope of escaping the Fire and entering Paradise, you have to keep the prayer. Some of those narrations even mention that among them is the last individual to ever escape the Fire.

حَتَّى إِذَا أَرَادَ رَحْمَةَ مَنْ أَرَادَ مِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ، أَمَرَ الْمَلائِكَةَ أَنْ يُخْرِجُوا مَنْ كَانَ يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ، فَيُخْرِجُونَهُمْ، وَيَعْرِفُونَهُمْ بِآثَارِ السُّجُودِ، وَحَرَّمَ اللَّهُ عَلَى النَّارِ أَنْ تَأْكُلَ أَثَرَ السُّجُودِ، … ثُمَّ يَفْرُغُ اللَّهُ مِنَ الْقَضَاءِ بَيْنَ الْعِبَادِ، وَيَبْقَى رَجُلٌ بَيْنَ الْجَنَّةِ وَالنَّارِ، وَهُوَ آخِرُ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ دُخُولا

“…until He wants to give Mercy to whomever He wills of the people of the Fire, He would command the angels to remove whoever worshiped Allah. So they would remove them, and know them by their sign of prostration on their heads, for Allah has forbidden the Fire from eating the mark of prostration,… so then Allah would finish with the judgment between His slaves and there would remain one person between Paradise and Hell, and he would be the last to ever enter Paradise.”

So when we combine the narrations, we understand that “not doing any good” means the evils they committed were so great that they overshadowed their good deeds and made them worthless, like the oppressors who have their ḥasanāt taken by their victims; or for example those who did lots of great deeds, were Muslims, but showed off and had poor intention. Or for example, alcoholic Muslims, racist Muslims, promiscuous Muslims, etc., that committed great sins of the heart, tongue and body that made their prayers worthless, but still of enough value to save them from eternal damnation. They performed their prayers and paid their debt of worldly time to Allah for them, but the prayers were not accepted like the prayers of those who have a covenant with Allah to enter them into the Paradise for it. So truly, “never did any good” is the real rhetorical device in all these narrations, meaning, they rarely did anything that was 100% good, free from blemish, other than simply be a practicing Muslim. To say otherwise would be to find fault in Allah’s Wisdom and Judgment, allowing Paradise for the most horrid samplings of mankind’s bloody history.

As for the hadeeth of the card [حديث البطاقة] there’s nothing to say that the individual wasn’t a person who accepted Islam, repenting on their death bed and died shortly thereafter, as happens and would make perfect sense. Or, he prayed, but his prayers were not accepted due to drinking or other deeds that prevent prayer from being accepted for a time period, but he was a strong believer in al-Tawhid.

Note that Imams Malik and al-Shafi`i considered leaving off prayer a sufficient reason to warrant lethal ḥadd punishment based on this hadeeth which mimicks the wording of the ayat of al-Tawbah–making it seem strange that the two imams would stop short of declaring it apostatic, which was what ibnul-Qayyim was criticizing. For references of their positions, and Abu Hanifah’s, see here. Abu Hanifah disagreed, citing the general forbiddance of encroaching upon a Muslim’s right to live. ibn Qudaamah (d. 620) also cited the narrations regarding the virtues of laa ilaaha illa Allah, and their sufficiency in saving a person from the Fire if said with certainty, whole-heartedness, truth, knowledge, and love. Although critics are quick to retort, if they say la ilaaha illa Allah fulfilling those conditions, then surely they would be praying. However, I don’t think that is necessarily true, if misconceptions exist regarding the prayer’s importance and status in Islam.

Nonetheless, I believe very strongly, without any doubt in my heart, that willful abandonment of prayer when it is obligatory is not only a major sin but a subtle act of apostasy. The only issue afterwards is, since it is a point of dispute among medieval scholars up until modern times, is whether each and every specific individual, by name, who leaves off the prayer like that, is a disbeliever or not. This, I don’t believe and I do not see many positive results coming from making such a declaration. Everyone has their reasons, whether it is truly blameworthy like utter disdain for Islamic prayer, irrational spite for one’s parents who order them, or appalling laziness, lack of peer support, or a misconception about the importance of prayer and its timings. My goal with this article is to move people to action, not to judgment. And that desire for action should pave the way for the next article insha’Allah, what to do regarding previously neglected prayers.

References   [ + ]

1. Conditions not worth mentioning here. It is sufficient to know that I generally do not approve of any calls to use force against any recognized government or administration in power in any region of the earth today.
2. For example, those not accountable, or menstruating women, or the forgetful, etc.
About Chris

Chris, aka AbdulHaqq, is from central Illinois and accepted Islam in 2001 at age 17. He studied Arabic and Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia from 2007-13 and most recently earned a master’s in Islamic Law from Malaysia. He is married with children.

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