In the formulation of fatwa and religious guidance, one of the important types of understanding that muftis and scholars must possess is Fiqh Al-Waqi’ which basically means understanding the context in which a Quranic verse was revealed or a Hadith was conveyed, as well as understanding the context in which these texts is to be applied upon.
To put it in a simple manner, Fiqh Al-Waqi’ means understanding contexts and realities. A fatwa should not be issued without the knowledge of Fiqh Al-Waqi’.
The Hanbali scholar, Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim said:
“The mufti or judge is not able to issue a fatwa or verdict without understanding two things:
(i) Understanding and having a good grasp of reality; he should have a good understanding of what is happening, on the basis of circumstantial evidence and other signs, so that he has a full understanding of it.
(ii) Understanding what is required in the light of these circumstances, which means understanding the ruling of Allah that He issued in His Book or on the lips of His Messenger concerning this reality, then he should apply the one to the other.” 
The importance of possessing Fiqh Al-Waqi’ before issuing any fatwa or religious guidance has its roots in the actions of the Prophet s.a.w. One of the questions frequently inquired by the companions r.a. to the Prophet s.a.w. was regarding the best form of deed in Islam. The Prophet s.a.w. gave different answers to different companions.
In a hadith reported by Abu Hurairah r.a:
سُئِلَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَىُّ الأَعْمَالِ أَفْضَلُ قَالَ "إِيمَانٌ بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ"
The Prophet s.a.w. was asked, "Which is the best deed?" He s.a.w. said, "To believe in Allah and His Messenger."
In another hadith reported by Abdullah bin Mas’uud r.a:
عَنِ ابْنِ مَسْعُودٍ رضى الله عنه أَنَّ رَجُلاً، سَأَلَ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَىُّ الأَعْمَالِ أَفْضَلُ قَالَ "الصَّلاَةُ لِوَقْتِهَا، وَبِرُّ الْوَالِدَيْنِ.."
A man asked the Prophet s.a.w. "What deeds are the best?" The Prophet s.a.w. said: “To perform the (daily compulsory) prayers at their (early) stated fixed times, and to be good and dutiful to one's own parents..”
From these two hadiths, we can see how ‘the best form of deed’ differs from one companion to another, depending on what they were able to do and what was best at any given time. The Prophet s.a.w. replied some companions that the best deed is to believe in Allah s.w.t. and His Messenger s.a.w. On other occasions, the Prophet s.a.w. answered that the best deed is to perform the daily compulsory prayers at their early stated fixed times.
The different responses by the Prophet s.a.w. clearly shows that the Prophet s.a.w. took into consideration of the different situations and conditions of the Companions r.a. when giving his reply. This is a clear example of the application of Fiqh Al-Waqi’ by the Prophet s.a.w.
The formulation of fatwa and religious guidance in this pandemic should not only rely on the text of the Quran and Sunnah, as well as the opinions of past scholars per se, but it should also take into multiple considerations of the reality; such as the complexity of the pandemic, the restrictions set by the authorities and experts during this pandemic as well as the religious needs of the community.
In Singapore, safe distancing in congregational and Friday prayers was implemented since the re-opening of mosques last two years in 2020 to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Scholars acknowledge that there are several prophetic traditions that highlight the importance of not leaving any gaps between congregants. Examples of these prophetic traditions include:
1- The hadith reported by Jabir bin Samurah r.a:
فَقَالَ أَلَا تَصُفُّونَ كَمَا تَصُفُّ الْمَلَائِكَةُ عِنْدَ رَبِّهَا
فَقُلْنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَكَيْفَ تَصُفُّ الْمَلَائِكَةُ عِنْدَ رَبِّهَا
قَالَ يُتِمُّونَ الصُّفُوفَ الْأُوَلَ وَيَتَرَاصُّونَ فِي الصَّفِّ
“Rasulullah s.a.w. said: ‘Will you not form your rows as the angels form their rows before their Lord?’
We said: ‘How do the angels form their rows before their Lord?’
He said: ‘They complete the first row and they stand close with one another in the line.’”
2- The hadith reported by Abdullah bin Umar r.a:
وَلَا تَذَرُوا فُرُجَاتٍ لِلشَّيْطَانِ وَمَنْ وَصَلَ صَفًّا وَصَلَهُ اللَّهُ وَمَنْ قَطَعَ صَفًّا قَطَعَهُ اللَّهُ
“Do not leave openings for the devil. If anyone joins up a row, Allah will join him up, but if anyone breaks a row, Allah will cut him off."
(Sunan Abi Daud)
3- The hadith reported by Anas bin Malik:
رُصُّوا صُفُوفَكُمْ وَقَارِبُوا بَيْنَهَا وَحَاذُوا بِالأَعْنَاقِ فَوَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ إِنِّي لأَرَى الشَّيْطَانَ يَدْخُلُ مِنْ خَلَلِ الصَّفِّ كَأَنَّهَا الْحَذَفُ
“Stand close together in your rows, bring them near one another, and stand neck to neck, for by Him in Whose hand my soul is, I see the devil coming in through openings in the row just like a small black sheep.”
(Sunan Abi Daud)
However, it must be highlighted that the practice of closing the gaps during congregational prayer should be applied in the normal situation. In an extraordinary situation like the Covid-19 pandemic where there is a risk of Covid-19 transmission through close physical contact, it is important for congregants to observe safe distancing during congregational and Friday prayers in mosques.
This is in line with the teachings of Islam which is to preserve life and protect the safety of mankind. Many Shariah scholars and Fatwa Institutions around the globe have issued fatwas permitting Muslims to observe safe distancing during congregational prayers in this pandemic.
In the Syafi’i school of legal thought (mazhab), scholars like Imam Al-Syirbini are of the opinion that straightening of rows with no gaps between congregants is in fact not a condition for the validity of congregational prayers, but a recommended act (sunnah).
For a more detailed explanation on the matter, read the Fatwa on Friday Prayers during Covid-19 issued by the Office of the Mufti.
Understanding contexts and realities is a crucial step before issuing any fatwa or religious guidance. In this pandemic, the formulation of fatwa and religious guidance should not only rely on the text of the Quran and Sunnah, as well as the opinion of past scholars, but it should also take into consideration the reality of life such as the complexity of the pandemic, the restrictions set by the authorities during this pandemic as well as the religious needs of the community.
The failure to understand contexts and realities will result in the emergence of fatwa and religious guidance which are deviated from the truth.
Read: What is Fiqh Awlawiyyat?
This article is based on the writer's presentation during the Pre-ICCOS Seminar in June 2021. For more information, watch the full presentation:
 Mahir Husayn, Fiqh al-Waqi’ wa Atharuhu Fi al-Ijtihad, (USA: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2009), pp. 18-20.
 Ibn Qayyim, I’lam Al-Muwaqqi’in ‘An Rab Al-‘Alamin, (Dammam: Dar Ibn Al-Jawzi), vol.2, p.165.
 Imam Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Salah, Bab Al-Amr bi al-Sukun fi al-Salah, hadith no. 967.
 Imam Abu Daud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Bab Taswiyat al-Sufuf, hadith no. 666.
 Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, Bab Taswiyat al-Sufuf, hadith no. 667.
 Office of the Mufti, “Fatwa on Friday Prayers during Covid-19”, https://www.muis.gov.sg/officeofthemufti/Fatwa/English-Fatwa-on-Friday-Prayers-during-COVID-19, (accessed 8 June 2021).