Why Abandoning Salah Is Not Apostasy or Disbelief
There are many articles on the internet which have mislead the general public in to believing that the one who abandons salah is a disbeliever (Kafir) . This erroneous opinion has no basis whatsoever and has either been brought forward by misquoting the hadiths or by quoting the wrong fatwas of scholars.
Using the Wrong Fatwas of Scholars
An article published in troid.org ( Link-https://www.troid.org/ibadah/salaah/1096-abandonment-of-the-prayer ) has given a misguided opinion that abandoning prayers will make a Muslim a kafir. The articles explains,
فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا
"Then there succeeded them a posterity who have neglected the ṣalāh and have followed lusts, so they will be thrown in hell. Except those who repent and believe and work righteousness, such will enter Paradise and will not be wronged."
[Sūrah Maryam, 19:59]
Shaykh Muḥammad Ibn Ṣāliḥ al-ʿUthaymīn (raḥimahullāh) commented:
"In the verse from Sūrah Maryam, Allāh has said in reference to those who abandoned ṣalāh and followed their desires; "Except those who repent and believe" which is evidence that when they abandoned salah and followed their desires, they were not believers," (Hukmu Taarikis-al-Ṣalāh)
So Shaykh ʿUthaymīn felt that neglecting the ṣalāh meant they abandoned it which would have made them kuffār. About the same verse, Al-Walīd ibn Muslim said: "I heard aI-Awzaa'ee say on the authority of aI-Qaasim ibn Mukhaymirah: 'They neglected the prescribed times (for the ṣalāh) and they did not abandon them (altogether) and had thy abandoned them (the ṣalāh) they would've become kuffār." (Kitābush-Sharīʿah)
The point to be noted here is this, although they interpreted the meaning of "neglected the prayers" differently, what they agreed upon however, is the fact that abandoning the prayer makes an individual a kāfir."
(troid.org-"Abandonment of the Prayer"-21 December 2010)
This is what happens when you blind follow certain scholars and rely solely on their opinions rather than the Quran or authentic hadiths. In the verse quoted in troid.org, it does not say anywhere that a person who neglects the prayer is a kafir Rather, it says only about the punishment for neglecting prayers. Scholars like Uthaymin and others have given their own personal opinions on to the verse due to a misunderstanding. To understand the right context of a particular verse in the Quran or hadith, you need to first analyze and understand all the other available verses and hadiths pertaining to it. In the tafsir of Imam ibn Kathir, Al- Awzai reported from Al Qaim bin Mukhaymirah that what is meant from the verse mentioned above is with regards to not keeping up with the proper times of prayer, and he also said that abandoning it completely would mean that it is disbelief. In Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ibn Masud (rali) too explained the verse that abandoning the prayer that would mean that it is disbelief. None of these scholars said that the person who abandons prayer is a disbeliever but said that he has committed kufr. Just because someone does kufr does not make him a kafir. This understanding of Ibn Masud and Awzai is correct because this is what is mentioned in the authentic hadiths.
Explaining The Hadiths Mentioning About Abandoning The Prayer
Abandoning salah (prayer) is a form of kufr(disbelief) and does not make a Muslim a disbeliever. The idea that the one who abandons prayer is a kafir is a form of extremism that is prevalent among the Kawarij. The Kawarij first of all believed that anyone who commits major sins is a kafir, a belief that was alien to the prophet(sal) and his companions and the salaf. It is wrong to rely on wrong fatwas of scholars because as human beings, they have made a mistake in this regard.The general evidence that abandoning prayer is apostasy is taken from the below hadiths in which the prophet(sal) said:
"The covenant between us and them is the prayer, so whoever abandons it has committed an act of Kufr"
(Narrated by Ahmed and Tirmidhi and graded as Hasan Ghareeb)
and in another hadith the prophet(sal) said
Verily, between a man and Shirk and Kufr is the abandonment of prayer
The above two hadiths does not mention anything about apostasy. The above hadiths say only about a person doing kufr and kufr itself does not take a Muslim out of Islam.
Evidence Proving Why Abandoning Prayer is not Kufr
Hudhaifa bin al-Yamaan (rali) said that the Messenger of Allah (sal) said:
“Islaam will be erased just as the decoration of a garment is (worn out and) erased, until it will not be known what is fasting, nor prayer, nor the rituals of Hajj, nor charity; and the Book of Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, (i.e., the Qur’aan) will be taken away (from the mus-hafs and breasts of the people) in one night such that not (even) an aayah from it will remain on earth. And groups of people will remain – the old people – saying: ‘We saw our forefathers upon this statement: ‘laa ilaaha illAllaah (none has the right to worshiped but Allaah),’ so we also say it.’”
(Then), Silah bin Zufar said to Hudhaifa: ‘What will ‘laa ilaaha illAllaah’ benefit them when they don’t know what is prayer, nor fasting, nor the rituals of Hajj, nor charity?’ Hudhaifa turned away from him. Then (Silah) repeated it to (Hudhaifa) three times, and every time Hudhaifa would turn away from him. Then he turned toward him on the third time and said three times: ‘O Silah! It will save them from the Fire."
(Sahih Ibn Majah)
This hadith proves clearly that the one who bears witness that "None has the right to worship Allah" will enter paradise even if one has abandoned prayer. Imam Ahmed was one scholar who had wrongly given the verdict that the one who abandons prayer is an apostate and must be killed.
The second evidence is in the following hadith
Narrated by Buraidah bin Al-Husaib, may Allah be pleased with him, that he said: I heard the Prophet (sal) saying:
"The covenant between us and them is the prayer, so whoever abandons it has committed an act of Kufr.
(Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Tirmidhi declared this hadith to be Hasan Sahih)
The above hadith clearly proves from the words of the prophet(sal) that the one who abandons his prayer has only committed an act of kufr and has not become a kafir.
The person who abandons his prayer is a sinner and is doing major sin. Such people are known as rebellious but not disbelievers and the prophet(sal) said further,
‘Whoever says laa ilaaha illAllaah (sincerely) will enter Paradise,’
(Narrated in Silsilat al hadith as Saheeha and authenticated by Albani).
A Muslim has a great chance of forgiveness from Allah(swt) as long he or she does not do shirk.Shirk is a sin which Allah won't forgive.Allah says in the Quran:
‘Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with Him (in worship), but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He wills.’
Even in this scenario, there is evidence from the hadith of Bukhari and Muslim we see a man who was going to die told his family to desecrate his body and scatter it so that Allah will punish him in a way like no one else. After his death and when he met Allah asked him why he did so. the man replied saying that he feared Allah. Allah(swt) then forgave him and made him enter paradise. The full hadith is as follows,
Abu Huraira (rali) narrated: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “A man had indulged himself in sin. When death approached, he enjoined his sons, saying: When I die you should burn me, pulverize me, and scatter me to the winds over the sea. By Allah, if Allah is capable, he will punish me in such a way as he has not punished anyone else. They did that to him and when he stood before his Lord, Allah said to him: What made you do what you did? The man said: Fear and awe of you, O Lord. Thus, Allah forgave him due to that.”
(Bukhari and Muslim)
In this hadith, the man had an error in his belief in Allah which could amount to shirk and kufr because he believed that Allah cannot punish him altogether but Allah forgave him because of his intentions. Imam Ibn Qayyim al Jawzi explained this hadith by stating,
“Despite this error in belief, Allah forgave the man and had mercy upon him because of his ignorance. The knowledge about the providence of Allah that had reached him was not denied out of stubbornness or an intention to lie.”
(Madārij al-Sālikīn 1/347)
This man clearly did shirk but Allah forgave him because he did it in fear of Allah. This hadith proves that it is Allah who can judge a person and stating that a man who abandons prayer is a kafir and will abide in hellfire forever is the view point of the kawarij who make Irja (declaring a person kafir due to a major sin) upon the Muslim ummah.
The only exception would be for the one who rejects prayers by stating that the obligatory prayers is not part of Islam. This will make the person an apostate because he is rejecting one of the fundamentals of Islam. It is narrated in the hadith of Abu Dawud and authenticated by sheikh Albani that after the death of prophet(sal) the Arab clans apostatized by stating that the payment of zakath is no more after the prophet(sal) Abu Bakr(rali) declared war against them because they made a distinction on zakath. A Muslim who accepts that prayers is a legislation in Islam and abandons it out of laziness is not an apostate because the prophet(sal) said:
‘Whoever says laa ilaaha illAllaah (sincerely) will enter Paradise,’
(Silsilat ul-Ahaadeeth is-Saheeha)
Another example to prove that the one who is not mindful in prayers is not a kafir is in the below hadith.
Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri (rali):
'A woman came to the Prophet (sal) while we were with him.
She said: Messenger of Allah, my husband, Safwan ibn al-Mu'attal, beats me when I pray, and makes me break my fast when I keep a fast, and he does not offer the dawn prayer until the sun rises.
He asked Safwan, who was present, about what she had said. He replied: Messenger of Allah, as for her statement "he beats me when I pray", she recites two surahs (during prayer) and I have prohibited her (to do so). He (the Prophet) said: If one surah is recited (during prayer), that is sufficient for the people. (Safwan continued:) As regards her saying "he makes me break my fast," she dotes on fasting; I am a young man, I cannot restrain myself. The Messenger of Allah (sal) said on that day: A woman should not fast except with the permission of her husband. (Safwan said:) As for her statement that I do not pray until the sun rises, we are a people belonging to a class, and that (our profession of supplying water) is already known about us. We do not awake until the sun rises. He said: When you awake, offer your prayer."
(Sunan Abu Dawud-Graded Sahih by Albani)
From this hadith it is clear that the prophet (sal) did not admonish the companion for not praying the fajr prayer before sunrise but instead told him to pray after sunrise. Nowadays, we see some Muslims calling Muslims as kafir if they are slack in their prayers and this is unfortunate because of the widespread ignorance of the Muslim community in the world. Hadiths such as,"Whoever abandons the prayer has disbelieved" (Tirmidhi with an authentic chain of narration) is similar to another hadith in which the prophet (sal) said,
"Insulting a Muslim is disobedience (to Allah), and fighting him is disbelief."
(Bukhari and Muslim)
Now, I would like to ask the Muslim brothers and sisters who argue that the Muslim who abandons his five times prayers is a kafir and an apostate, what will you call a Muslim who will pick up a fight with another Muslim? Are you going to declare him a kafir too? if so, then almost every single Muslim will become an apostate. A Muslim who fights another Muslim is not a kafir because Allah (swt) says,
"And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah . And if it returns, then make settlement between them in justice and act justly. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.'
In the above verse, Allah(swt) clearly says to make peace between Muslims who fight each other and does not say to declare them as kafirs. It should be understood that fighting a Muslim is a minor form of disbelief. Similarly, abandoning prayer is also a form of minor disbelief.
After analyzing all the available evidence, it is clear that although abandoning the obligatory prayers is a major sin, it is still only a minor form of kufr and will not make a Muslim an apostate or a disbeliever and any other view that opposes this is wrong and baseless.