Short answer: There is a difference of opinion among the scholars. Skipping prayers is a very serious sin. But, Abu Hanifa says no, skipping prayers doesn’t automatically make you a non-Muslim unless you actually believe in your heart that prayer is not necessary or important. If you know it is required of you and choose not to pray, this just means you’re a Muslim who isn’t obeying Allah.
Asalaamu alaykum and thank you for this question, Fareed.
May Allah guide us all and make prayer the love of our hearts, not a burden to be checked off the to-do list of our days.
Dr. Shabir Ally: “Well… if one searches for proofs in terms of finding hadith on the question, one will find hadiths that do say that one who does not pray is essentially a non-believer.”
He took the view that mere neglect of prayer does not make one a disbeliever, but the the actual renunciation of prayer–or denouncing of prayer, or rejecting it theoretically–that would make the person a non-believer.
So why does he take that position?
Well, because there is a difference between the faith–which is seated in the heart; using traditional language, let’s say “in the mind”—and the action, which is performed by the body.
So you might be thinking something, but for some reason you’re not acting it out, but you’re still thinking it.
So this thinking or believing that there is no god but God—that is faith, that is the proclamation of our iman [faith].
That’s the kalima [statement] of Islam: “la ilaha il-Allah” [There is no god, but God].
So a person may actually believe that, but he doesn’t do anything about it. So he doesn’t have any actions to prove it, but he still has that belief.
The prayer is an action; He might omit the action, but still have the belief.
So, one might believe, “Yeah, prayer is a good thing and I ought to be doing the prayers, and it’s even commanded of me. But maybe I’m too lazy or whatever, or maybe God hasn’t given me the guidance, yet. For some reason, I’m not praying. Maybe one day I’ll wake up, smell the coffee, and start praying. But, I’m a bad Muslim.”
A person thinking like this still has that belief, but is not acting on it.
So, there’s a distinction, then, between the belief and the action, and that was the position of Imam Abu Hanifa: so long as a person has that belief—that prayer ought to be done—that person still is a believer.
But, if the person says, “No. What’s prayer? Prayer is no good. I shouldn’t be praying, nobody should be praying,” then that person, according to this interpretation, would also be classified as a non-believer: they’re not essentially convinced about the basic precepts of the faith.”
I hope that answered your question, and we emphasize that skipping prayers with no valid reason is a very, very serious sin.
Please don’t take this answer as an excuse to continue avoiding prayer. Repent and return to Allah, and may Allah make it easier for you.
Please check out more from Dr. Shabir Ally at QuranSpeaks.com