In Islam, the Friday Prayer is an obligation. Every believer is obliged to attend the weekly congregation. There is however, a little difference the five daily Prayers and the Friday Congregation. The former can be offered individually whereas the latter is necessarily a congregation. It is also acknowledged that the Friday Prayer is originally the zuhr Prayer, which it replaces. This means that basically it is sufficient if we offer all the obligatory Prayers individually when we cannot offer them in the congregations in the mosques. However, Friday Prayer has some additional value and corresponding degree of added stress. This additional value is obtained by the fact that it has political ramifications. In the Islamic State, the believers have to show loyalty to the rulers and help them in discharging their duties.
Originally the Friday Prayers were led by the rulers. If a commoner among the believers dared to lead the people in the Prayer without permission by the rulers and their deputies it amounted to mutiny. In that case it marked one’s expression of being loyal to the state and subservient to the rulers to attend the Friday Congregations in which the rulers could discuss political matters, seek the advice and help of the public and issue some policy statements. The first sermon was reserved for this purpose.
In such a situation setting up a separate congregation was considered rebellion and failing to attend the congregation meant that the believer no longer openly stood with the community. This is why such a failure could mean one’s departure from the community of the believers who were organized in a political set up to which they all adhered to. It needs to be appreciated that failing to attend the congregation led by the rulers was a sign of one’s departure from the apparent and political body of the believers. It did not mean loss of faith. This means that if one failed to offer the Prayer in the congregation he could be declared to have left the community. It was a political decision and not a religious verdict affecting one’s faith.
Now when the rulers are no longer fulfilling their religious duty and it is only the religious scholars who consider it a duty to keep the practice alive albeit in a changed form, we cannot declare that attending the Friday congregation is the obligation of the same status. If someone cannot attend the congregation he cannot be declared non-Muslim not to say of disbeliever (kāfir). This is because the necessary elements of the Friday congregations are no more alive in the practice.