Praises and thanks are due and belong to only Allah; the Mightiest and the Sole Creator of all that exist. We seek Allah’s favors, bounties, His salutations upon the final Prophet and Messenger; Prophet Muhammad, his pure family and blessed companions and may we be among them.
The topic under discussion is one of the legal maxims inherited from the jurisprudential creativity of the blessed Muslim jurists who submitted their whole life in serving this great religion of Islam. The maxim is not a principle invented from a vacuum; rather, it is an embodiment of types of obligations in Islam and their degree of importance. Obligations (fard) in Islam are either individual or communal.
Individual obligations are those acts that are binding on each Muslim to carry out or discharge. No one is exempted from it and it cannot be done on behalf of others. An example of such obligation is salaah (the five daily prayers), it is compulsory on every individual Muslim and a person cannot observe salaah on behalf of someone else, and is called: “Fard al-Ain”
Communal obligation on the other hand are obligations that are binding on all Muslims as a whole such that when others carry them out they receive the reward of their act and the blame is withheld from the rest. However, if there was no one to discharge, they would become blameworthy and sinful altogether. This in Arabic is called: “fard al-kifaaya”
With regards to their rule in Islam, both are (waajib) obligatory and compulsory to be carried out. The only discrepancy that existed between them is the obligational individuality and communality nature of the two obligations. Also in times of conflict, individual obligation takes precedence over communal obligation and that is the purport of the above maxim.
Jurisprudential applications of the maxim:
Acts such as salaat (the five daily prayers), fasting, obedience to parents, keeping the ties of kinship, pilgrimage if one is capable , zakat etc, are all forms of individual obligations.
Acts such as bathing the dead, shrouding it and praying the janaaza prayer over it are communal obligations. Also going for Jihad against the infidels who wage war against the Muslims, inviting people to Islam (Da’wa) are all communal obligations. The individual obligations (fard al-ain) are given precedence over the communal ones, hence, in times of conflict between the two, one should do what is obligatory on him and cannot be waived from him in any circumstance, and that is the individual obligation.