Answered by Shaykh Abul ‘Ataa Ahmad Banaja (may Allah preserve him)
What are the legal excuses for not participating in congregational prayer?
Prophet ﷺ has mentioned the excuses for someone to leave the congregation, in one Hadith. It’s the Hadith of Anas Bin Malik رضي الله عنه in which the Prophet ﷺ said:
” مَنْ نَسِيَ صَلاَةً فَلْيُصَلِّ إِذَا ذَكَرَهَا، لاَ كَفَّارَةَ لَهَا إِلاَّ ذَلِكَ ”
“If anyone forgets a prayer, he should pray that prayer when he remembers it. There is no expiation except to pray the same.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
So, there are excuses, which is forgetting, or sleeping. These two excuses apply on those who are nearby places, where they can hear the Adhan and can attend to congregation easily. As for the people in faraway places, who cannot hear the Adhan or cannot attend the congregation, they are also excused from attending the congregation. It comes under the general ruling of the Ayah:
“لَا یُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفسًا إِلَّا وُسعَهَاۚ”
“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” [Surah Al-Baqarah 286]
If he tries to go by walking from that far place, probably the congregation prayer will be finished when he reaches there. But it is advised for those who live far away from the Masaajid, to move to a place nearer to Masjid, so you could increase your Eeman by increasing good deeds.
Another excuse is that; the food is being served to him at the time of establishment of the congregation. In this case, he should complete the food and join the prayer, even if he couldn’t get the congregation. But, he should not make it a habit of always eating in the time congregational prayer. Doing it always will make him careless about the congregation, and will weaken his Eeman.
These are the general excuses. Other than this there are no excuses. But there are situations, for the prayer to be established in a different way. Like the sickness, due to rain, during the Jihad or travelling. In these situations, the congregational prayer will be different or will be dropped according to the situation. We don’t call it excuses. We say, its other ways of establishing prayer.