Prayers: Punishment for not praying?

Q486 :In a program on prayer broadcast in our country a religious teacher said that if a person does not pray five times daily for three consecutive days, he may be executed. Please comment.

A486 : The suggestion you have quoted is preposterous. To suggest that a person who does not pray for three days can be taken and sentenced to death and executed straight-away is to betray one's ignorance of Islam and its teachings. But I can imagine the line of thinking which leads this man to say what he said, that is, if he is quoted correctly. Some scholars argue that a person who does not pray is a non-believer. If he was a Muslim and then reached that stage, then some people argue, he is an apostate and apostasy may incur capital punishment. But this line of thinking is not much different from the one which leads to the following conclusion: What is white is milk; eggs are white, so egg is milk. Let us now examine the position of a person who does not pray for three days. Scholars have distinguished between two types of disbelief: one which relates to action or lack of it. The first is concerned only with what a person believes in or denies. It is unanimously agreed by all scholars that if a person denies something which is essentially known as an integral part of the Islamic faith, he is a disbeliever. If we are to apply this principle to prayers, we say that if a person claims to be a Muslim and denies that prayers are part of Islam, or says that it is part of it but not necessarily in the number or the manner which the Prophet has taught us, then he is a disbeliever. If his denial has come shortly after he had been a Muslim, then he is an apostate. In a Muslim state, an apostate is given a fair hearing before Muslim judges who may order that scholars should come and explain to him the Islamic faith and argue with him about his beliefs. If he insists on maintaining his apostasy, he is given three days to recant. If he does not, then he may incur the capital punishment, as happened indeed in Sudan recently when a man who claimed to be god was executed. I would like to point here that this is not a simple case, but a very complicated one. To start with, the person concerned should have publicized his beliefs which are contrary to Islam in a way which is likely to undermine Islamic society. If he keeps his beliefs to himself, nobody will question him about them. When he is questioned about them, every opportunity is given to make him realize his mistake. Scholars of the highest caliber are brought to argue with him. In the end, if he is so stubborn, he is sentenced, but given three days to recant. He can easily escape punishment by publicly saying that he has renounced his erroneous beliefs. What I would like to emphasize here is that a Muslim government is not at all interested in discovering who is following the right faith and who has funny ideas. It does not follow people into their homes to discover what they actually believe in. Therefore, a person may entertain the most preposterous thoughts and beliefs, without having any fear that anyone will question him about his ideas. The principle is clearly stated in the Qur'an: "No compulsion is admissible in matters of faith." If a person who has much deviant ideas starts to publicize them and calls on others to share his beliefs, he is actually starting a rebellion against the very fabric of Islamic society and its basic concepts. His action is likely to result in division and conflict. When this happens, Islam moves to nip such a detrimental offshoot when it is still in the bud. Its method is to give the person concerned every chance to stop his seditious action. To escape punishment, that person need not do more than to state that he withdraws his earlier statements, even if he still believes in them himself. What Islam achieves by this is to stop the act of sedition which could cause public disorder. If the person still maintains his ideas but keeps them to himself, no one is going to bother about him. The other type of disbelief is that which relates to action, or the lack of it. Certain actions of disobedience to Allah have been described by the Prophet as actions of disbelief. A person who is guilty of any of these is questioned about his actions and the Islamic attitude is explained to him. If he has committed an act of disobedience for which a particular punishment is prescribed by Allah and this is proven either by the testimony of the required number of witnesses or by free confession, then the punishment is carried out. No authority can stop it. In the case of a person who does not pray, there is no prescribed punishment.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )