Omitting Prayer Intentionally is a Greater Sin
By: Ayatullah Abdul Husayn Dastaghaib Shirazi
The greater sin is to omit prayer intentionally. The traditions of Imam Taqi (a.s.), Imam Riďa (a.s.) Imam Mūsa Kadhim (a.s.) and Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) (mentioned in Abdul Azīm’s Sahifa) support this view. This fact is also confirmed by the tradition of Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.). In Islam prayer is an obligatory duty which has to be performed without fail. Anyone who does not offer prayer considering it non-obligatory is an infidel and outside the pale of Islam. To deny prayer is to deny the Holy Prophet (S) and to deny the Holy Qur’an and such a person is an unbeliever. Many traditions have been recorded in this connection (Layali al-Akhbār page 394, Salāt & Zāsail)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, A person came to the Holy Prophet (S) and begged him for a moral lesson. The Messenger of Allah (S) said, “Do not omit prayer intentionally because whoever leaves prayer voluntarily has exited from the pale of Islam. (Salāt, Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 29)
The Messenger of Allah (S) says: “The thing that turns a Muslim into Kafir is to omit prayer intentionally or to offer prayer considering it insignificant and unimportant.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 29)
The Holy Prophet (S) also says, “There is no difference between faith and infidelity except the omitting of prayer (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 29)
Allamah Majlisi (r.a.) writes in the commentary of al-Kāfi that some of these traditions emphasise that to omit all or some obligatory acts is infidelity. This itself is one of the connotations of ‘Kufr’ as recorded in ayats and traditions. It is mentioned, ‘One who intentionally omits prayer is a Kafir, one who doesn’t pay Zakat is a Kafir one who omits Hajj is a Kafir.’
In the traditions omitting obligatory acts is not separately mentioned as a greater sin. This is perhaps so, because when a person commits an act which is Harām, he is under some compulsion, either emotional or physical or social or of some other need which he seeks to fulfil. For example a person may commit fornication due to a physical urge; or under the influence of anger he may use foul language or may even commit murder and do injustice to others in many other ways. But in the case of omitting obligatory acts and particular prayers, there are no such compulsions. Obligatory acts are avoided by those who consider religious commands insignificant and attach no importance to them; and this amounts to denial of the Almighty.
In the tradition which equates omitting prayers to infidelity it may be argued that a person may avoid Hajj and Zakat for being a miser, or he may not fast out of concern for his health or because the idea of hunger and thirst deters him. But as far as prayer is concerned, there is not a single factor that can come in the way of a person offering prayer to the Creator, except that he considers religion insignificant and takes prayers lightly.
Sadūq (r.a.) quotes a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) wherein it was asked from the Imam (a.s.) why adulterers and drunkards are not called Kafirs while one who omits prayer is labelled so? Imam (a.s.) said,“Adultery etc. are committed when a person is subdued with sensuality but prayer is not omitted except that it was considered insignificant because one who commits adultery, does so to derive pleasure but one who leaves prayer does not get any pleasure.”
The above hadith proves that if one leaves an obligatory duty considering religion unimportant one is a kafir. The Messenger of Allah (S) says, “One who considers prayers light (insignificant) is not from us.” Another hadith mentions that such a person will not get the intercession of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.). “And one who consumes intoxicants is not from us and by Allah one who drinks wine will not be able to arrive at the Pool of Kawthar.” (Furu Kāfi, Vol. 3, page. 271)
In his last moments, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has been recorded to have said, “Our intercession will not reach those who consider prayer light (insignificant).” (Furu Kāfi, Vol. 3, page. 241)
It may be mentioned that a person who accepts that prayer has been prescribed by the Almighty and he believes in the prophethood and in the message of the Seal of the prophets (S), but fails to offer prayers due to sheer laziness, is not considered an unbeliever, but a transgressor.
Misunderstanding of some stupid people
When those who do not pray are warned and exhorted to pray and asked why they do not pray, they say that the Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) is not in need of their prayer. These thoughts are inspired by Shaitan. The fact is that these people believe that they are not in need of Allah (S.w.T.). They do not realize that they owe their very existence to Allah (S.w.T.)’s mercy and they function because they are always surrounded by divine favours. This attitude prompts them to give up all acts of thankfulness and service to their Benefactor. Their refusal to pray is due to hard heartedness, stubbornness and injustice. Accordingly Allah (S.w.T.) will also give them the destination they deserve (hell) and reward the obedient in the abode of peace.
Promise of chastisement in the Qur’an
There are numerous Qur’anic Verses that emphasise the importance of Prayer and the certainty of Divine chastisement for neglect. A few of these ayats are given below: “In gardens, they shall ask each other. About the guilty: What has brought you into hell? They shall say: We were not of those who prayed; And we used not to feed the poor; And we used to enter into vain discourse with those who entered into vain discourses. And we used to call the day of judgment a lie.” (Surah al-Muddaththir 74:40-46)
“So he did not accept the truth, nor did he pray, But called the truth a lie and turned back, Then he went to his followers, walking away in haughtiness.” (Surah al-Qiyāma 75:31-33)
“Nearer to you (is destruction) and nearer, Again (consider how) nearer to you and nearer.” (Surah al-Qiyāma 75:34-35)
Some commentators of Qur’an explain that ‘destruction’ is ‘wael’ (a place in hell). And the repetition of word ‘nearer’ four times is for emphasis. Or the four repetitions may signify four stages of destruction: Once in this world, second the punishment of grave, terror in Qiyāma and fourth the everlasting stay in Hell.
In Surah al-Mā’ūn, the Almighty remarks, “And wael (woe) to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayers, who do (good) to be seen.” (Surah al-Mā’ūn 107: 4–6)
‘Waelun’ (terrible punishment) is for those who are unmindful about prayers; prayer which is a pillar of faith and the dividing line between belief and disbelief. ‘Waelun’ is one of the sections of Hell, or a well situated in Hell. It is also used as a word denoting terrible punishment the ‘Un’ which is added at the end makes it a superlative.
The Almighty Lord says in Surah Maryam, “But there came after them an evil generation, who neglected prayers and followed sensual desires, so they will meet perdition.” (Surah Maryam 19: 59)
The word ‘gayya’ which is translated as ‘perdition’ above is a valley in Hell where the punishment is far more severe than other areas. Even the inmates of Hell seek Allah (S.w.T.)’s refuge from this punishment. Ibn Abbas has related that, ‘There is a serpent in this valley which is sixty day’s journey long and thirty day’s journey wide. Since the day it was created it has opened it’s mouth only to swallow those who neglect prayer and those who drink.” Allah (S.w.T.) the Almighty remarks in Surah ar-Rūm, “…And keep up prayer and be not of the polytheists…” (Surah ar-Rūm 30: 31)
This verse implies that a person who neglects prayer is at par with the idol worshippers and polytheists.
Fifteen terrible Consequences in the life and the Hereafter for those who neglect prayer
The Messenger of Allah (S) says that a person who neglects prayer and is lazy in its fulfilment is punished with fifteen calamities by Allah. Of these, six are related to this life, Three are with regard to the time of death, Three occur in the grave and Three calamities strike him in Qiyāma. That is when he will emerge from his grave (for the final accounting). The six calamites with regard to this life are:
1. The Almighty Allah reduces his life span.
2. And He terminates his sustenance.
3. He makes the signs of righteousness to disappear from his face.
4. None of his good deeds will be accepted and he will not be rewarded for them.
5. His invocations will not be accepted.
6. The supplications of righteous people will not benefit him.
The Three calamities to befall him at the time of death are:
1. He will die a death of degradation and disgrace.
2. He will die in hunger
3. He will die in a state of such a terrible thirst that even if he were to drink all the streams of the earth his thirst will not be quenched.
And the Three punishments that he will suffer in the grave are:
1. An angel will be appointed over him to give him squeeze and chastise him.
2. His grave will be made narrow.
3. His grave will be dark and horrifying.
And the Three calamities with regard to Qiyāma are as follows:
1. The angel will be dragging him for accounting in such a way that other people will be a witness to it.
2. His accounting will be very strict.
3. The Almighty Allah will not look at him with mercy, will not purify him and there is a terrible punishment for him.
The Most Important Religious Obligations
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, “In Qiyāma the first thing that one has to account for is one’s prayer. If it is accepted, his other good deeds will be accepted too. And if it is rejected his other good deeds will be rejected too.” (Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 18 page 52)
Muawiyah Ibn Wahab asked Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), “Which is that meritorious deed that brings one closer to his Lord?” Imam (a.s.) replied, “After the Marefat (recognition) of Allah, the Prophet and Imam no deed is superior to Prayer. Don’t you see that the righteous slave of Almighty, Hazrat Isa (a.s.) said, ‘As far as I am alive, the Almighty Allah has commanded me to pray and pay the poor-rate’? The Holy Prophet (S) was queried regarding the Best of deeds and he replied: Of all the good deeds the best is a prayer that is offered at the earliest hour.” (Furu al-Kāfi Vol. 3 page 264)
Hazrat Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says: “Prayer is a pillar of faith, it is like the centrepole of the tent. As far as it is fulfilled, the ropes and pegs remain taut. When this centre pole does not remain straight or is broken, the other ropes and pegs also loosen from their places and the tent collapses.” (Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 82 page 218)
In the same way all the good deeds and acts of worship are connected to Prayers. Such that if this (Prayer) is neglected the other good deeds will also be wasted.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) comments on the Verse, “…and whoever denies faith, his work indeed is of no account…” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:5)
Imam (a.s.) says, “This ayat denotes those who neglect prayer without any disability or problem.” (Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 82)
Hazrat Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says, “The foundation of Islam is based on five things: Upon the prayer and Zakat and Hajj and Fasting and Wilāyat.” (Bihār al-Anwār Vol. 111)
Zurarah asked Imam (a.s.) which of these were the most superior. Imam (a.s.) replied, “It is Wilāyat, Because Wilāyat of Āle Muhammad (a.s.) is the key to other things. And after Wilāyat the most superior is Prayer. Because the Messenger of Allah (S) has said, ‘The Prayer is the Pillar of your religion.”
The Messenger of Allah (S) said, “When the day of Judgement is established a serpent of the species of scorpion will emerge from Hell. Its head will be on the seventh heaven and its tail will reach lower than the earth. Its mouth will be wide open from the west to the east. He will say, ‘Where are those who warred against Allah and his Messenger?’ Then Jibrīl the trustworthy will descend and ask him as to what people he wanted. The serpent will reply, “I want five groups of people. Those who neglected prayer, those who didn’t pay Zakat, those who took usury, the drunkards and those who talk of worldly things in the Masjids. (Meaning Harām conversation. For example the backbiting of Muslims and falsely accusing them, or to start an illegal practice, praising an oppressor or praising a person who doesn’t deserve this praise, or criticising a person who is free from blame.) (Layalul Akhbār)
The Messenger of Allah (S) also said, “There is a valley in Hell and the inmates of Hell scream 70000 times daily due to the severity of its punishment. There is a house of fire therein and this house has a well of fire. In this well is a casket which houses a thousand headed snake. Each of the head has a thousand mouths and each mouth has a thousand fangs and each of the fangs is one thousand metres long.”
Anas said, “O Messenger of Allah (S), for whom is this punishment reserved?” The Prophet (S) replied, “For those who imbibe wine and those who omit Prayers.”
Numerous traditions have reached us describing the severity of the punishment for neglecting Prayer but we think the above mentioned ones shall suffice for our purpose.
Helping those who omit Prayer
Many traditional reports mention terrible consequences for those who help and assist the people who neglect prayer. As mentioned by the Messenger of Allah (S), “One who helps the neglecter of Prayer by giving him food or cloth acts as if he has murdered 70 prophets, the first of whom being Adam (a.s.) and the last Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (S).” (Layalul Akhbār Vol. 4 page 51)
He (S) also said, “One who gives a draught of water to the neglecter of prayer, acts as if he has made war against me and battled with all the prophets.” (Layalul Akhbār page 395)
The Holy Prophet is also reported to have stated, “One who laughs with the neglecter of prayer, it is as if he has demolished the Ka’ba 70 times.” (Layalul Akhbār Page 395)
Obviously the general implication of these traditions is that if help and assistance given to a person, who neglects prayers, makes him complacent about his lapse and he continues to neglect his prayer; or if this assistance encourages him to be even more neglectful, then such help should not be given. And indeed whenever helping the sinner induces him to sin more, it is absolutely Harām. And from the point of view of Nahy Anil Munkar it is obligatory not to render such a person any help.
It may also be that helping or not helping does not have any effect on the person who neglects prayers. In this case it is not clear whether one should withhold help. There is a possibility that some assistance may in fact encourage a person to start praying or to stop sinning, in which case, needless to say, helping becomes obligatory.
Different ways of Neglecting Prayer
1. As we have already seen there are some who do not offer prayers because they refuse to believe that it is an article of faith and a religious obligation, commanded by Allah (S.w.T.). Such denial amounts to denying Allah (S.w.T.), Allah (S.w.T.)’s Prophet and Allah (S.w.T.)’s book, the Holy Qur’an. These are the people who shall be in everlasting chastisement. There is no escape for them.
2. It has also been mentioned that there are others who do not deny Allah (S.w.T.)’s complete supremacy and accept the fact that prayers have been made obligatory, but they never pray out of sheer laziness or due to excessive involvement in worldly affairs. These are the people who are not condemned as unbelievers but they are transgressors who have committed a greater sin, for which they will have to undergo severe punishment. Even if such a person were to die a believer, he can get salvation only after he has undergone the rigours of punishment. That a person who omits prayer can die a believer is itself a highly remote possibility, because sins make a person hard hearted and destroys his faith; except that the Almighty with His kindness and mercy heeds the call for help at the time of death and because of the sinner’s love for Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) allows him to die a believer. It is possible that intercession by Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.) may lighten his punishment or remove it altogether. On the other hand these divine personalities have themselves said that their intercession will not reach those who consider prayer insignificant.
3. A third category of people are those who do not omit prayers altogether but pray occasionally. These are people whose faith is weak and lacks the strength of firm conviction. Such people when they do pray may be inclined to postpone prayers after the time has set it, on the grounds that they would pray later and may not pray at the earliest hour.
Certainly this way of neglecting Prayer is different from the previous two kinds but such a person has also considered Prayers unimportant, so whatever punishment is promised for those who belittle or omit Prayers will be applicable to him also. Traditions have made a special mention of such types of people. In one narration Imam Ja’far as Sadiq (a.s.) says, “The Messenger of Allah (S) said, “If one prays after the prescribed time the prayer rises up as the prayer of one who omits it and in a horrid condition. It tells the person: You have wasted me. May Allah waste you as you have wasted me.”
Imam (a.s.) also said that the first deed about which one shall be questioned in the presence of Allah on the day of Qiyāma is Prayer. If Prayer is valid the other worship acts shall be considered valid too, but if it is not correct his other deeds are also invalid.
In the same way the Messenger of Allah (S) says, “My intercession shall not reach the person who delays prayer (even) after its time has arrived and (he delays it) till the time has expired.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 81)
He (S) also said, “As far as one exercises caution and performs the five obligatory prayers the Shaitan is in awe of him. But if he wastes these prayers, the Shaitan gets an upper hand and lures him towards more dreadful sins. (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 3 page 81)
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) said, “If one performs prayer on time keeping in mind its due importance and does not give preference to anything else, the Almighty writes for him salvation from punishment (that is Allah (S.w.T.) will not punish him). And one who recites prayer after its time has lapsed and prefers the worldly affairs to his prayers, his consequences are in the hands of Allah (S.w.T.). He may forgive or punish him.”
Emphasis on Reciting at the Earliest time
Traditions have greatly emphasized on punctuality with regard to prayer times and performing it on time. One should not delay prayer without a valid excuse. Our guides did not ever miss the best time of prayers even in the most difficult circumstances.
Thus in the book Irshad ul Quloob a narration states that one day Hazrat Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) was in the midst of fighting during the battle of Siffīn. In spite of these circumstances he often glanced at the sun between the rows of fighters. Ibn Abbas asked him why he kept glancing at the sun? Imam (a.s.) said, “I am looking towards Zawāl (decline of sun from its zenith) so that I may perform Prayer.” Ibn Abbas asked him if there was opportunity to recite prayer in these trying circumstances? Imam (a.s.) replied, “Why are we fighting these people? Our aim in fighting these people itself is the establishing of Prayer.”
Ibn Abbas has related that ‘Ali (a.s.) never omitted the Midnight Prayer, not even during the battle of Siffīn when it was extreme winter.
It is reported that on the day of Aash-Shūrā at the time of Zawāl, Abu Thamama Saidawi came to the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Husain (a.s.) and said, “O my Master! We shall all be killed without any doubt and the time for noon prayer (Zuhr) has arrived. So you please lead us in Prayer. This shall be our last Prayer and we hope that on this great occasion we meet the Lord in the condition of having performed one of the religious obligations. Imam (a.s.) lifted his head towards the sky and said, “You have remembered Prayer, may Allah (S.w.T.) include you among the praying ones. Yes, it is the time for Prayer.”
Then he said, “Recite Azān (the call for Prayer).”
After Azān he (a.s.) called out, “O son of Sa’ad. Have you forgotten the Islamic Shari’a? Would you not halt hostilities so that we can offer Prayer?” Thus Imam (a.s.) offered the ‘prayer under perilous circumstances (Salāt al-Khauf) in such a way that Zuhair Ibn Qayn and Saīd bin Abdullah Hanfi stood in front of Imam Husain (a.s.) and whenever an arrow was shot towards the Chief of Martyrs one of them acted as a shield and took the arrow upon himself. At last Saīd received thirteen arrow wounds in addition to the injuries caused by spears and swords and finally Saīd fell down and breathed his last.