Should we be attending Jummah and other congregational prayers in light of Coronavirus? Whereas, health organizations are recommending to keep away from mass gatherings what should be the muslim ruling on this?
The Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America said: "As for the jumuah, it is not permissible for adult men who are otherwise required to attend it to miss it except in the case of justifiable, not conjectural, fear (whether for oneself or others)." Meaning, there needs to be a real risk of exposure and harm. If your particular area has a non-existent or low risk, then there's no reason for Friday prayers to be closed or for you [healthy individual] to miss Jumuah.
Some mosques are taking extra precautions such as advising congregants to do wudu at home, advising the sick congregants to stay home, making the sermon shorter, instructing people to leave immediately after the prayer, etc. This is a good step.
"Conjectural fear" as they put it [e.g., any mass hysteria that is spreading] shouldn't prevent us from attending to our basic duties, as it only suits Satan and the enemies. In Israel they are using the "Coronavirus fear" to ask for Masjid Al Aqsa to be closed down for Friday prayers, which the Masjid's director strongly condemned.
In real harmful situations, the general Islamic principle is that we don't put ourselves in harm's way. With the Prophet's (ﷺ) saying that people can opt not to attend Jumuah prayer due to snow or rain that can reach a level that harms people, it can be argued that this is analogous to a wave of disease coming through and causing harm. It's best for scholars to assess each case and situation.
Note: The 'plague of Amwas' occurred during the time of the Caliphate of Umar رضي الله عنه [and it was bad, with various Sahabis passing away] but I've not yet seen any texts saying that mosques had been closed during such times. Perhaps someone else can research into this further?
Analysis, discussion and prologue
First of all we are talking about a contagious invisible virus, which any of us if it has broken out in our area could be a potential medium or distributor without necessarily being infected himself. So the matter is dangerous and should be taken very seriously as the outbreak of the related sickness and symptoms might take days after being infected and then it might be too late for some of the infected people and many others may have had contact with them.
Secondly we are discussing the possbility or permissibility of a temporary closure of mosques in order to stop or slow down the outbreak.
Thirdly I need to say that a fatwa council in a non-Muslim country has no authority to keep mosques open if the authorities of this country decide to close them that's why their fatwa is rather meaning and worthless and has no general nor specific regional impact. It is not much more than a recomendation.
See also Are centuries-old fatawa generally obsolete?
or What is the Islamic ruling on Fatwas and how should those Fatwas be treated in the light of Islam?
or Is there fatwa inerrancy like Papal inerrancy?.
And read the question: How to interpret Sufyan a-Thawri's statement on permission in fatwas?
Beside this this fatwa seems to miss a lot of Muslim sources, osol al-Fiqh, evidences and risks the infection of people which may lead to death and therefore goes against the teaching of Islam saying:
... and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction [by refraining]... (2:195)
which is an essential goal of shari'a! (saving the lifes of the believers instead of causing their destruction or death). While it concentrates on the conditions that - generally - permit not assisting a congregation or jum'ah.
I'd like to add that with the by now agreed upon precautions a salat al-Jama'a is only feasible if scholars pronounce fatwa allowing a distance of 1.5 to 2 m between two praying people. Which seems a major issue as we are asked to stand in a row shoulder by shoulder (there's no sahih hadith quoting feet) the only person that can stay apart is the imam.
Actual fatwas: different opinions and positions?
Nevertheless you may find in the Muslim world different views the Azhar and the supreme council of (Muslim) Sciences ('Ilmi') المجلس العلمي الأعلى in Morocco (on Mars 16th) both gave fatwas ordering the closure of mosques (for a certain periods of time), but not stopping the call for the prayers.
While the Saudi fatwa council held -in first place -see here-in Arabic- a different view and therefore kept mosques open. Even if they canceled hajj for this year. Historically i is not the first time hajj was not practiced, but maybe only the second or third time that it was not practiced or performed at all. As in many cases people from certain regions where hindered from performing this duty due to the lack of security during their tavel. Note that France 24 (here in Arabic) reported on Mars 17th that Saudi Arabia ordered the closure of all mosques with the exception of the two "Holy" mosques while almost all Muslim countries either are discussing the closure of mosques or ordered it temporarily.
Some strange salafi sheikhs in Morocco called the government and population of his country disbelievers due to the above decision (Article in Arabic) . But he apparently corrected his view later after being informed and warned by a minister from the ruling Muslim party.
Some relevant evidences
Order to pray at home
One important evidence that we may use here is the hadith which @UmH has pointed at:
Once on a very cold and stormy night, Ibn 'Umar pronounced the Adhan for the prayer and then said, "Pray in your homes." He (Ibn 'Umar) added. "On very cold and rainy nights Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to order the Mu'adh-dhin to say, 'Pray in your homes.' " (Sahih al-Bukhari)
This hadith shows that the authority may warn and maybe even order people to pray at home under certain circumstances. But the adhan must be kept even if there's no congregation.
From the prophetic medicine: plague and other deseases
One of the most useful and most sahih statements of the prophetic medicine is:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place." (Sahih al-Bukhari)
There are even many more (sahih) ahadith that give good tidings to those who stay where they are during an outbreak of plague. Some of them even say stay at home (See https://islam.stackexchange.com/a/58423/13438).
The topic of plagues and how Muslims and especially Muslim leaders acted on them might be a good analogy to the corona pandemia. Sadly a research on this might take a lot of time. But must also be aware that our knowledge about virology is much more developed than that of earlier nations, so if they kept mosques open despite of a plague epidemic this doesn't necessarily mean that this was right, but maybe to best of their knowledge. This point is worth contemplating about. The first Saudi fatwa gave 3 regulations which basically don't represent enough precaution for the given circumstances. It only shows that Salafis follow the path of the Salaf without consulting specialists. And I doubt that this is the best way to act upon the given circumstances.
However one of the first applying the above recomendation was 'Umar () as during his Caliphate (18 a.H.) there was the outbreak of plague of 'Amwaas طاعون عمواس. Note that at the time Muslims still have not yet settled outside the Arabic peninsula, so it is rather doubtful that any of the reports about this plague is speaking of an outbreak in a town or city where Muslim citizens have built any mosque (even if it might be possible, but there's neither a confirmation nor refutation of this). My research only says that the ahadith related about 'Amwas itself and the death of prominent Sahabah was during a military expedition, so the speeches of the leaders were hardly held in a mosque than in a military camp. Except with some rather secondary hadith sources like Musnad Ahmad, while especially historians such as at-Tabari have reported of this plague. Ibn Majah in his Sunan only mengtioned that 'Amr ibn al-'Aas saved the Muslim soldiers. Note that strictly speaking 'Amr disobeyed and moved with the Muslims elsewhere, but scattered the people so that some could be saved.
Other ahadith showing the importance of precaution in case of illness:
There is no transitive disease and he also reported along with it: The ill should not be taken to the healthy. (Sahih Muslim)
'Amr b. Sharid reported on the authority of his father that there was in the delegation of Thaqif a leper. Allah's Apostle (ﷺ) sent a message to him: We have accepted your allegiance, so you may go. (Sahih Muslim)
Entering a mosque and offending people is not allowed
Further people shouldn't enter a mosque if they might offend the congregation with their bad smell, so hindering to enter a mosque due to a potential infection should be even more important.
"Anyone who eats this plant should not come near our mosques. The smell of the garlic will offend us." (Al-Muwatta')
A rule of fiqh on avoiding harming each other
And moreover a general rule in Islam says:
The above ahadith give solution for the Muslim individual who is in fear and give him permission not to attend mosques or congregations, but it doesn't give a general solution for a Muslim community nor country.
Now that we have discussed a few possible evidences that might be used to express a permission of the (temporary) closure of mosques under certain conditions. We need to find out whether this act is allowed and who has the authority to do so. Before going further the qur'an doesn't give any clear evidence that praying in congregation is a duty, however there are many verses recommending it or describing it.
Praying on time is a duty
Allah the Almighty says:
...Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times. (4:103)
This verse shows that prayer has specific times so we clearly can't cancel it nor can we cancel the call for it, as a reminder for the community as Allah also says:
And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers. (51:55)
Following the call of jumu'ah prayer is a duty
And about Jumu'ah we read in the qur'an:
O you who have believed, when [the adhan] is called for the prayer on the day of Jumu'ah [Friday], then proceed to the remembrance of Allah and leave trade. That is better for you, if you only knew. (62:9)
Obeying a ruler who establishes the prayer is a duty
But we also read in the sunnah about the Muslim rulers whom we have to obey:
The best of your rulers are those whom you love and who love you, who invoke God's blessings upon you and you invoke His blessings upon them. And the worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and who hate you and whom you curse and who curse you. It was asked (by those present): Shouldn't we overthrow them with the help of the sword? He said: No, as long as they establish prayer among you. If you then find anything detestable in them. You should hate their administration, but do not withdraw yourselves from their obedience. (Sahih Muslim)
This hadith has been interpreted in two ways: First it shows that establishing the prayers (by supervising the opening of mosques and establishing of this worship by appointing imams and if necessary building them) is a duty of the Muslim ruler or his governor secondly if a Muslim leader (himself) stops praying the five daily prayers as they should and on time as ordered by Allah in the verse above the citizens can go against him. (See also the statement of al-Qurtoby in his al-Mufham in the fatwa islamweb #108103 -in Arabic- which rather supports the second view)
Honoring the symbols of Allah is a duty
We read also in the qur'an:
That [is so]. And whoever honors the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts. (22:32)
Most mufassireen consider the symbols of Allah everything related to hajj as this term was mentioned in the qur'an when mentioning the acts and locations related to hajj. However some of the scholars said it is related to any worship Allah ordered. This second interpretation puts a lot of pressure on Muslims to keep the mosques open as they are symbols of Allah's worship.
Legal issues and osol that might be relevant
I've already mentioned a basic rule of Islam above which is:
There is no injury nor return of injury.
And the fact that among the goals of shari'a is to save the Muslims life and hinder its destruction.
Further a possible basis for a verdict is the benefit (al-Maslaha) on the community, sometimes one must condemn something halal temporary in order to save lives or hinder something haraam or bad to happen. So sometimes Muslim authorities must hinder people from going out for their own benefit.
But all this requires two things a Muslim ruler who decrees this and he should be supported by a fatwa explaining the conditions and circumstances that made something legal illegal (temporay). Such an action has its legacy and backup in the way 'Umar ibn al-Khattab lifted the punishment for robbery for a cert3while and under given circumstances.
Conclusion So on the whole a Muslim ruler might seek advice and fatwas to order a temporary closure of mosques. But the call for the prayers must remain only he would have enough authority to enforce such an order. But he must be aware that his action is very crucial as closing places of worship might be regarded as a disrespect of Allah's symbols
WORK IN Progress (Need time to check whether historians left any description about the big plague or other diseases that had a local impact)
When you have announced" I testify that there is no god but Allah; I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah," do not say:" Come to the prayer," but make this announcement:" Say prayer in your houses." He (the narrator) said that the people disapproved of it. Ibn 'Abbas said: Are you astonished at it? He (the Holy Prophet), who is better than I, did it. Jumu'a prayer is no doubt obligatory, but I do not like that I should (force you) to come out and walk in mud and slippery ground.
وَحَدَّثَنِي عَلِيُّ بْنُ حُجْرٍ السَّعْدِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا إِسْمَاعِيلُ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الْحَمِيدِ، صَاحِبِ الزِّيَادِيِّ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الْحَارِثِ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، أَنَّهُ قَالَ لِمُؤَذِّنِهِ فِي يَوْمٍ مَطِيرٍ إِذَا قُلْتَ أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ فَلاَ تَقُلْ حَىَّ عَلَى الصَّلاَةِ قُلْ صَلُّوا فِي بُيُوتِكُمْ - قَالَ - فَكَأَنَّ النَّاسَ اسْتَنْكَرُوا ذَاكَ فَقَالَ أَتَعْجَبُونَ مِنْ ذَا قَدْ فَعَلَ ذَا مَنْ هُوَ خَيْرٌ مِنِّي إِنَّ الْجُمُعَةَ عَزْمَةٌ وَإِنِّي كَرِهْتُ أَنْ أُحْرِجَكُمْ فَتَمْشُوا فِي الطِّينِ وَالدَّحْضِ .
So I think the better decision is to avoid mass gatherings as recommended.