Can an Imam Delay a Prayer for Watching a Soccer Match?

First of all, we’d like to make it clear that religious observances, in Islam, are divinely established with appointed times and they are to be given due consideration. Salah (prayer), being the main pillar of Islam, is to be performed in time. For instance, the time of Friday prayer begins at pre-midday and ends just before the time of `Asr. So is the case with the daily prayers; each of them has a specific time set for it, and it should not be delayed unless there is a valid reason for doing so.

The concept of moderation and easiness in Islam is reflected in all aspects, even as regards the times set for religious observances, in the sense that it shows flexibility in appointing a time for each act of worship.

In prayers, for instance, as we have clarified above, the due times for most of them are somehow extended in a way that allows people to perform them in time. Thus, moving to the point in question, it’s clear that, in the light of the above-mentioned facts, if the Imam of a certain mosque finds it more important to give the people ample time to follow the Khutbah (as regards Friday Prayer) or to keep them away from what may distract their attention when performing the prayer, he is allowed to delay the Prayer (be it Friday Prayer or any other Congregational Prayer) for some time (but within the due time divinely specified for the prayer itself) in a way that does not make people perform it after its due time.

Shedding more light on this, Dr. Abdus-Sattar Fatahallah Sa`eed, professor of the Exegesis of the Qur’an, states the following:

“Basically, it is an obvious sin to delay Friday Prayer (Salatul-Jumu`ah) (the time of which begins at pre-midday and ends just before the time of `Asr prayer) or Congregational Prayer ( Salatul-Jama`ah) from its due time. However, for the sake of making matters easy for people and for the sake of preserving the unity among the Muslims, it’s allowed for the Imam of a mosque (only in case of an extreme necessity) to delay performing Friday Prayer for about one or two hours (within its stipulated time) in a way that does not imply neglecting the prayer completely or performing it after its due time. This is also to give due regard to the importance of concentration in prayer.

On this matter, Sheikh `Abdel-Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef, a prominent Muslim scholar said:

“It should be made clear that Friday Prayer is an Islamic ritual and it is not to be delayed unless there is a necessity. But I would like to stress that, in Islam, sport is something for practice, not just for watching. So it is unreasonable to see heaps of people sitting glued to TV screens to watch football matches while they themselves do not practice sports. Such people have given free rein to sports to the extent of making them have no more time or respect for prayers. This distraction is deliberately meant by the enemies of Islam.”