One of the fallacies on the subject of jemaah (group/congregation) is the belief that the truth is only with the jemaah that one is a member of. As a consequence, those who are not members, or who leave it, are judged as kafir as they have allegedly turned away from the truth. There is also the mistaken belief that the jemaah is the source of truth. All these are fanaticism which are condemned, and which overstep the limits of moderation in Islam.
To be in a jemaah for the purpose of promoting good and eradicating evil is, undeniably, encouraged by Islam. This may be seen from the following sayings of Prophet Muhammad;
“Anyone who leaves the jemaah, even by a short distance, then he has set free the bond that ties Islam to his neck.” (Narrated by At-Turmuzi, Hakim and Ibn Hibban)
“You should be with the jemaah of Muslims and their imam (leader).” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
“Allah will not let my followers agree on deviation. Indeed, the hand of Allah is with the jemaah. Anyone who isolates himself, then he isolates himself in Hell Fire.” (Narrated by At-Turmuzi)
These hadiths tell us the importance of jemaah and that it is sinful to isolate oneself from the jemaah or not being with it.
In no other time is it more important for the Muslim ummah to strive to live as in a jemaah. This is because one of the biggest problems and misfortunes of the Muslim ummah is disunity. Disunity is mainly to blame for the current low social, economical and political standing of the Muslim ummah.
The Quran says;
“And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves.” (The Quran, 3:103)
“Be not like those who are divided amongst themselves and fall into disputations after receiving Clear Signs: for them is a dreadful penalty.” (The Quran, 3:105)
Today, it is not possible for any individual or isolated Islamic group to independently overcome the problems of the Muslim ummah. To unite the Muslim ummah, the right spirit and practice of living in a jemaah should be promoted.
The Meaning of Jemaah In Islam
The issue is, what is the meaning of jemaah in the evidence quoted above?
Understanding it is important, as it will determine how much truth there is in the claims that people who are not in the same jemaah, or who have left it, are in error.
The ulama gave the following meanings to jemaah:
a. It means the majority of Muslim community (As-Sawad Al-A`azam)
b. It refers to the ulama of mujtahidin (those who are able to perform independent ijtihad) status.
This is the view of Al-Bukhari and numerous ulama. Al-Bukhari dedicated one specific topic in a chapter in his book as follows:
“Chapter ‘Thus We have made you a nation justly balanced’ [The Quran 2:143] and the order of the Prophet to adhere to the, and they are the people of knowledge.” (Ibn Hajar, Fathu Al-Bari’ Syarh Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol 13, p. 316.)
“The explanation of al-jamaah according to the people of knowledge is the people of fiqh (jurisprudence), knowledge and hadith (Prophetic tradition).” (At-Turmuzi, Sunan At-Turmuzi, Dar Ihya’ At-Turats Al-`Arabi, Beirut, vol 4, p. 467.)
“The implication of the order to adhere to the jamaah is that responsible person is required to follow what the mujtahideen [scholars] have agreed upon.” (Ibn Hajar, Fathu Al-Bari’ Syarh Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol 13, p. 316)
c. It specifically means the companions of the Prophet.
d. It means the jemaah of Muslims under one leadership.
It refers to a group of Muslim communities who agree to live under a political leadership in a country. They are obliged to pledge obedience (bai`ah) to and abide by that leadership.
e. It means a jemaah of all of the Muslim ummah (Ahl Al-Islam).
What is meant in the above hadiths by being together with the Muslim ummah, is in professing faith, hence, not being with the jemaah means not professing faith and so leaving the jemaah means apostasy.
We may summarise the opinions of the ulama about the meaning of jemaah, as follows:
a. Jemaah refers to the political structures, which exist, when a Muslim community agrees on one leadership and government.
They agree to pledge obedience (bai`ah) to the leader. At any one time, this jemaah may or may not exist. The Muslim political power under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad during his lifetime, and an Islamic state, belongs to this category.
This may be seen from the following hadith, “You should be with the Muslim jemaah and their leader.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Ibn Hajar narrated that At-Tabari said:
“The correct opinion is that the meaning of the report is to adhere to the congregation in obeying the command that the people are agreed. The one who discards his allegiance has left from the jamaah.”
b. Jemaah refers to Islam as the ideological basis of the Muslim ummah.
The Prophet said, “[Jemaah is] What I am upon as well as my companions.” (Narrated by At-Turmuzi and Al-Hakim)
All of the above, mutually complete the meaning of jemaah and it does not necessarily refer to a structure but more importantly to a manhaj (way) – the manhaj of the Prophet based on the Quran and his tradition.
As such, jemaah does not refer to an Islamic group in the sense of an organisation, or an official or unofficial group. Hence, it is wrong to rule that it is obligatory to be in jemaah with such groupings or to leave them is sinful and kufr (apostasy), that will result in one being classified as jahiliyah.
Jemaah as mentioned in the above hadiths, refers to the obligation for Muslims to hold onto the religion together, whilst the jemaah in Islamic movements is but a means to do da’wah (propagation of Islam). Muslims may choose any of these to carry out their responsibility to work as a group for da’wah (propagation of Islam). One may choose a jemaah on the conviction of it being the nearest to the truth, but one cannot claim that it is the only true, and the others are astray.
(Adaptation from Seminar Paper 2 presented in Convention of Ulama organised by PERGAS on 13 – 14 September 2003 which was written by me. Details analysis of the topic can also be referred to Dr. Abdul Rahman b.Mu`alla Al-Luwaihiq, Religious Extremism In the Life Of Contemporary Muslims, translated by Jamaal Al-Din M. Zarabozo, Al-Basheer, 2001, pg 188-218.)