In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
The unprecedented situation of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic demands that we follow some stringent measures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. Hence, offering congregational prayer with the 6 feet distance mandated by health authorities is valid because of the necessity.
Offering congregational prayer with the 6 feet distance mandated by health authorities to avoid Coronavirus (COVID-19) is valid because of the necessity. Offering prayer this way is not allowed under the normal circumstances where one can afford to stand shoulder to shoulder.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The Imam (prayer leader) is appointed for the people to follow (in prayer). So, do not separate yourself from him in observing the different postures; instead, when he bows down, you should also bow down. When he says, “Allah hears the one who praises Him”, you should say: Our Lord, to You belongs all praise.” When the Imam prostrates, you should also prostrate after him. If he prays sitting, you also should pray sitting. And form lines correctly in prayer, for setting up proper lines is part of the excellence of Prayer.” (Al-Bukhari)
On closer reflection of the Prophet’s statement, we learn two important points. First, it makes it explicitly clear that the Imam is to be followed in prayer. Therefore, the validity of the congregational Prayer depends on one’s ability to follow the Imam. That is the most crucial point to consider. So, it cannot be compromised at all.
Therefore, we cannot allow for congregational prayer unless the followers can see, or hear or discern the different postures of the Imam.
Second, after having stated this, the Prophet next emphasizes the importance of forming correct lines. Although essential, nevertheless is not of the same level of importance as the ability to follow the Imam. For he followed it with the comment, “It is part of the excellence of prayer.”
The scholars have deduced from the statement of the Prophet that while forming proper lines cannot be considered an essential integral for the validity of congregational Prayer; hence the prayer is still valid, even if someone does not adhere to it.
It is the view of the majority of scholars. It is also the position of the four schools.
We can seek further support for the above conclusion from the practice of the companions as well. It is reported that the Companions often followed the Imam while entering the apartments of the Prophet’s wives.
We also learn that prominent companions such as Anas and Ibn Abbas used to pray following the Imam of the Haram while they were in the rooms or halls separate from the msoque. They allowed for such relaxations for necessity or hardship due to overcrowding and other factors.
Coming to present times, scholars have allowed the guests in the hotels facing the Haram to follow the Imam; they also pray in the Clock Tower, which is further away and not in any way connected with the lines of the Haram.
Such lenient rulings are based on the principle: in case of hardship, the rigors of the law are relaxed.
Also, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah convincingly argues by using various precedents and examples that when a particular condition or aspect of an act of worship cannot be fulfilled for a valid reason, the worship can still be valid without it.
Finally, the unprecedented situation of COVID-19 demands that we follow some stringent measures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. Hence we ought to comply with them for the benefit of protecting the health of the worshippers.
Protecting the health and preventing harm are essential considerations in Shariah.
Therefore, there is no reason for us to question the validity of congregational prayers conducted even we have relaxed the rules of forming the lines. It is a concession due to an extreme situation and only as long as the stringent condition remains.
Almighty Allah knows best.