Praying tarawih during work hours
What is the ruling for leaving the workplace during official work hours and going to pray the tarawih prayer? Is it permissible in such a case for an employer to penalize an employee? Is the period during which tarawih prayer is observed included in official work hours? Please note that we work at a club and sometimes work the evening shift which extends until midnight.
An employee is hired for certain hours to do certain tasks for remuneration. The salary he receives is in return for remaining at his work place and devoting a designated period of his time to do certain assigned tasks. During this time, an employee may not occupy himself with anything that may unduly affect his performance of his assigned duties unless there is an agreement on taking work breaks other than those observed by custom and breaks for observing the obligatory prayers, the voluntary prayers associated with them and associated preparation and ablution. Therefore, if during work hours an employee occupies himself with other than the assigned tasks, he breaches the terms of his contract and is legally and morally blameworthy— Muslims must abide by the terms of their contract.
The luminary and Shafi'i scholar, Al-Bijirmi, wrote in his commentary on Sharh Manhaj Al-Tullab by Sheikh Zakaria al-Ansari (Vol. 3, p. 174, Dar al-Fikr Al-Arabi): "Work breaks for ablution, the five obligatory prayers, the voluntary prayers associated with them, meal breaks and restroom breaks are all paid breaks. An employee may pray at his work place or at the mosque if praying at the mosque will take the same time as praying at his work place. Otherwise, he is to pray at his workplace."
When they conflict, an obligatory deed takes precedence over a recommended one; an employee must commit himself to accomplishing the tasks he has been commissioned to do by virtue of the contract between him and his employers.
Therefore, it is legally prohibited to leave work and occupy himself with something else even for a recommended act of worship. This is because an employee would be occupying himself with other than what he is required to do at that time unless work regulations permit this. The rights of Allah are based on tolerance while those of His servants are based on individual interest.
The tarawih prayer
The tarawih prayer is not obligatory but a sunnah. A person is not blameworthy if he omits it but sins if he interrupts official work hours or neglects a duty. He is akin to one who reads from a copy of the Qur`an until the time for an obligatory prayer ends without praying that prayer. In brief, a person must worship Allah as He wants to be worshipped and not as worshipper himself desires. It is impermissible for him to prioritize recommended acts over obligatory ones or take recommended acts of worship as a pretext to omitting duties and obligations stipulated by Islamic law, work regulations or customs.
Except for the time it takes an employee to prepare for and observe the obligatory prayer, it is impermissible for him to leave his workplace during official work hours to pray tarawih as long as he is commissioned to be present at his workplace during this period.
The criterion for punishing an employee is subject to work regulations without being rigid or too lenient, provided these regulations do not contravene Islamic law.
A Muslim may pray, in accordance with his ability, any number of rak'as (unit of prayer), in any part of the night, either individually or with a congregation, and thereby satisfy the sunnah of night vigil prayers or tarawih. If he cannot pray at night, he may pray during the day from approximately 20 minutes after sunrise (when the sun has risen to the height of a spear from the horizon) until right before noon prayer. This is because whenever the Prophet missed praying his wird (scheduled time of day or night devoted to worship other than the obligatory acts of worship) during the night, he would make it up during this time of the following day.
Allah the Almighty knows best.