Not praying and denying its obligation is seen as disbelief and places the person outside the religion of Islam. All scholars agree on this point. They base their opinion on several hadith, some of which are:
Jabir reports that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “Between a person and disbelief is discarding prayer.” (Related by Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmizhi and Ibn Majah.)
Buraidah reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “The pact between us and them is prayer. Whoever abandons it is a disbeliever.” (Related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmizhi, anNasa’i and Ibn Majah.)
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, one day mentioned the prayer and said, “Whoever guards and observes his prayer, they will be a light and a proof and a saviour for him on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever does not guard and observe them, they will not be a light or a proof or a saviour for him. On the Day of Resurrection, he will be with Qarun, Fir’aun, Haman and Ubayy ibn Khalf.” (Related by Ahmad, at-Tabarani and Ibn Hibban. Its chain is excellent.)
That one who does not pray will be with the leaders of the unbelievers in the Hereafter makes it evident that such a person is an unbeliever. Says Ibn al-Qayyim, “The one who does not pray may be preoccupied with his wealth, kingdom, position or business. If one is kept away from his prayers by his wealth, he will be with Qarun. One whose kingdom keeps him away from the prayers will be with Haman, and one whose business keeps him away from the prayers will be with Ubayy ibn Khalf.”
Says ‘Abdullah ibn Shaqiq al-‘Aqeely, “The companions of Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not consider the abandonment of any act, with the exception of prayer, as being disbelief.” (Related by at-Tirmizhi and al-Hakim, who said it met al-Bukahri’s and Muslim’s conditions.)
Says Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Mirwazi, “I heard Ishaq say, ‘It is authentic (that) the Prophet (said or ruled): One who does not pray is an unbeliever.” It is from the Prophet himself that one who intentionally does not pray until the time for the prayer is over is an unbeliever.”
Says Ibn Hazm, “It has come from ‘Umar, ‘Abdurahman ibn ‘Auf, Mu’azh ibn Jabal, Abu Hurairah and other companions that anyone who skips one obligatory prayer until its time has finished becomes an apostate. We find no difference of opinion among them on this point.” This was mentioned by al-Munzhiri in at-Targheeb wa atTarheeb. Then he comments, “A group of companions and those who came after them believed that an intentional decision to skip one prayer until its time is completely finished makes one an unbeliever. The people of this opinion incude ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas, Mu’azh ibn Jabal, Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah and Abu ad-Darda’. Among the non-companions who shared this view were Ibn Hanbal, Ishaq ibn Rahwaih, ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak, an-Nakha’i, al-Hakim ibn ‘Utaibah, Abu Ayyub as-Sakhtiyani, Abu Dawud at-Tayalisi, Abu Bakr ibn Abu Shaibah, Zuhair ibn Harb, and others.
Some hadith make it clear that such a person should be killed. For example:
Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “The ties of Islam and the principles of the religion are three, and whoever leaves one of them becomes an unbeliever, and his blood becomes lawful: testifying that there is no god except Allah, the obligatory prayers, and the fast of Ramadan.” (Related by Abu Ya’la with a hassan chain.) Another narration states, “If anyone leaves one of them, by Allah he becomes an unbeliever and no voluntary deeds or recompense will be accepted from him, and his blood and wealth become lawful.” This is a clear indication that such a person is to be killed.
Ibn ‘Umar related that the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, said, “I have been ordered to kill the people until they testify that there is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer and pay the zakah. If they do that, their blood and wealth are protected from me save by the rights of Islam. Their reckoning will be with Allah.” (Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
Umm Salamah related that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “There will be rulers over you who will do good and evil things. Whoever hates these (latter) acts will be innocent of them. Whoever denies them will be safe, but (not) one who accepts and follows them.” They asked, “Should we kill them?” He said, “Not if they pray.” (Related by Muslim.) Therefore, he made it unlawful to kill even an unjust ruler who observes his prayers.
Abu Sa’eed reported that ‘Ali, while he was in Yemen, sent the Prophet some gold, which he then divided among four people. A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, beware of Allah.” The Prophet said, “Woe to you. Of all the people of the earth, am I not the most dutiful in being aware of Allah?” Khalid ibn al-Walid said, “O Messenger of Allah, shall I kill him?” He said, “Perhaps he is one of those who pray.” Khalid said, “How many people say with their tongues what is not in their hearts?” The Prophet said, “I have not been ordered to look into the hearts of people, nor to rip open their bellies.” (Abridged from al-Bukhari and Muslim.) In this hadith also, prayer is given as the reason for not killing a person. It is understood, therefore, that not praying would have resulted in the person’s killing.
Even though the preceding hadith clearly rule that one who discards salah becomes an unbeliever and should be killed, many early and later scholars (excluding Abu Hanifah, Malik and ash-Shafi) believe that such people become evildoers who must repent. If such a person does not repent, he is to be killed, that being the prescribed punishment, according to Malik, ash-Shai’i and others. Abu Hanifah maintains that such a person is not to be killed, but must be given a minor punishment and confined until he prays. They say the hadith that calls such people unbelievers refer to those who deny the prayers, and so on. They say that any other interpretation is contradicted by other texts. For example, Allah says, “Lo! Allah does not pardon one who gives Him partners. He pardons all save whom He wills” (an-Nisa’ 116). There is also a hadith related by Abu Hurairah and recorded by Ahmad and Muslim in which the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “Every prophet has a special supplication that is answered. Every prophet hastened to make his supplication, but I concealed mine and will use it for my nation on the Day of Resurrection. It will be granted–Allah willing–to whoever dies without associating any partners with Allah.” Al-Bukhari also recorded that Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, “The person who will be the happiest due to my intercession is the one who says, ‘There is no god but Allah’ sincerely from his heart.”
Says ash-Shaukani, “The truth of the matter is that he becomes an unbeliever who is to be killed for his unbelief. The hadith authenticates that Islamic law calls one who does not pray an unbeliever. It has also put the performance as the barrier between a believer and an unbeliever. Abandoning prayer means he may be called an unbeliever. We need not concern ourselves with arguments presented by those of the opposing opinion. We can say to them: It is not impossible that some types of unbelievers may obtain forgiveness or may have a right to intercession, such as the unbelief of those who pray to (our) qiblah. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they commit some sins which the Islamic law views as unbelief. To turn to the other narrow interpretations is just redundant.”