A Little Courtesy Towards Fellow Worshippers
How many times have you been to the local mosque for Jumu’ah and have had to play the ‘territorial game’ with your fellow worshippers? To be frank, some of us have experienced the battle for prayer space during Eid, Taraweeh and especially Jumu’ah since it isevery week. Often there is confusion as to how one needs to behave towards others especially towards fellow worshippers in the mosque.
It is frustrating to find yourself squashed during prayer and you may even try to show your grievance by spreading your arms more than needed in sujood to get the attention of the individuals. This may not even occur during prayer but rather before prayer, when someone is late and think it is perfectly ok for them to come and sit so close that they are almost on your lap! Or even worse, when they actually take your place and you end up ‘Saff-less’.
This is the perspective of the one who is already in the mosque on time. But what about the thoughts of the individuals, who for some reason find themselves arriving late and have no choice but to find any space they can so they can pray. Such individuals find themselves to be the target of scornful and judgmental looks from those around them. So really, everyone is a victim and culprit. Keeping the above in mind, let us bring our attention to the Qur’anic verse;
“O’ You who believe, if you are told to make room for one another in your assemblies, then do so, and Allah will make room for you, and if you are told to rise up, do so: Allah will raise up, by many degrees, those of you who believe and those who have been given knowledge: He is fully aware of what you do.” (Qur’an, 58:11)
In this verse Allah provides the guidelines and etiquettes for communal gatherings. Although these verses are related to a specific incident that took place their application can equally be applied today for it is generic.
Commentators of the Qur’an have generally mentioned that a few companions of the Prophet (SAW) who had participated in the battle of Badr arrived at a gathering of the Prophet (SAW) and could not find any space in the gathering and so they remained outside. To honour them, the Prophet (SAW) ordered the believers to make space for their brothers as Allah will make space for them and raise them in ranks.
The Qur’an mentions two things, firstly, one should make room for the latecomers by making space as much as they can and secondly, to rise when ordered and give the latecomers space.
In other words, the first instruction is to spread out and make room however there is no specific detail as to whether there was any reluctance from certain individuals which may have prompted the second part of the verse, to rise up and give space. It may be that the Prophet (SAW) ordered certain individuals to move away elsewhere due to their reluctance in making space for the newcomers but generally it is understood through traditions that it is improper to ask someone for their seat.
However, let us look at this from a more practical scenario such as in the mosque. By the guidelines provided in the verse it can easily be understood that we should welcome worshippers by making space for them. The reality is, everybody at the mosque is here to pray and fulfil their obligation to Allah. Nobody’s obligation is any less in the eyes of Allah, once we get past that we will have a more accommodating attitude towards others. If there is space in our hearts then Allah will certainly make space in His house.
However, one must also realise that the Prophet (SAW) has mentioned that it is not permissible for any man to sit between two people except with their permission. (Tirmidhi)
In another hadith which has also been reported by Imam Tirmidhi, Jabir Bin-Samarah (RA) said: ‘Whenever we came to the gathering of the Prophet (SAW), we would sit down at the end of the assembly.’ Both hadith mention the etiquettes of joining a gathering and they can also be applied to what has been discussed here.
In short, individuals that are joining the congregation should not attempt to squeeze between people if there is no clear space as this is against Islamic etiquettes and against the Sunnah. Instead they should sit in the first available space that is found as implied in the hadith above. Upon reconciling the two narrations the Islamic ruling becomes clear- newcomers should not cause inconvenience to those who are already seated by sitting in-between them or by asking them to move. But at the same time, those who are already present should make space for the newcomers rather than disregard them as this would also go against the teachings of Islam.