Recently, there was an event held where Muslim men and women were praying together, in the same line. The women were on one side of the line, the men on the other, but without any barrier between them. There just may have been a few feet of empty space between the man on the very right and woman on the very left. What’s the ruling on this?
The general ruling is that women should stand behind men when they are praying together in congregation.
Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) that he said: “The best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst ones are the last ones. The best rows for women are the last ones, and the worst ones for them are the first ones.” (Sahih Muslim, no: 440)
Hence, it is stated in the renowned Hanafi Fiqh masterpiece, al-Hidaya:
“Men will make their rows first, then children and thereafter women…” (al-Hidaya, 1/124. Also see: Maraqi al-Falah, P: 249, al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 1/89 and others)
According to the Hanafi School, if a woman was to pray next to a man, the prayer of the man would become invalid, and not the prayer of the woman. However, there are certain conditions in order for the man’s prayer (salat) to become invalid: These conditions are as following:
1) The woman has reached puberty or is close to puberty in such a way that sexual gratification is typically acquired from her.
2) The prayer they are both offering consists of bowing (ruku’) and prostration (sajda), even if one of them may be gesturing. Hence, the funeral prayer of a man will not be invalidated if a woman prays next to him, for it does not consist of a Ruku’ and Sajda.
3) Both the man and woman are offering the same prayer with the same Tahrima. In other words, they are both following the same Imam or the woman is following the man. If they are offering their own individual prayers, the man’s prayer will not become invalid.
4) There is no barrier between the man and woman. However, if there is a barrier between them such as a pillar, then the man’s prayer would not become invalid. This barrier should be, at minimum, the size of the rear of a saddle in length, and to the thickness of a finger. Moreover, empty space is also considered to be a barrier, the minimum of which should be that in which a person is able to stand. Thus, if a man prayed next to a woman without a barrier, but there was enough space between them for another person to stand, then the man’s prayer would not become invalid.
5) The Imam makes the intention of the woman following him, for if the Imam fails to make this intention, her prayer would become invalid rather than the man’s, as the Imam’s intention is a requirement for the correctness of a woman’s prayer. Moreover, the condition is that the Imam makes this intention (of the woman following him) at the time of commencing prayer, thus if a woman came later on and joined in the congregation and the Imam made the intention of her joining him, no one’s prayer would become invalid.
6) The woman is from amongst those whose prayer is considered valid; hence, if an insane woman (majnuna) prayed next to a man, his prayer would not be invalidated.
7) The woman remains praying next to the man for the duration of one complete posture (rukn) of Salat such as the duration in which one can offer a Ruku’ or Sajda. (This is normally estimated to be the duration of reading Subhan Allah thrice). Hence, if a woman remained next to him for a period shorter than this and then left, the man’s prayer would not become invalid.
8) Both the woman and man pray in the same direction, hence if they were facing in different directions, such as when praying in the Ka’ba, then the man’s prayer would not be invalidated. (See: al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 1/89 & Radd al-Muhtar, 1/572)
The above are eight conditions that need to be found in order for a man’s prayer to become invalid when praying next to a woman. If any one of these conditions is not met, his prayer would not be invalidated.
It is important to remember here that there is a slight difference of opinion amongst the classical Hanafi Fuqaha with regards to the actual method of being next to someone of the opposite gender. Is the prayer invalidated with any limb of one’s body being in line with any limb of the other’s body or is the ruling based on the positioning of the feet?
Some jurists are of the view that if any limb of the woman is in line with any limb of the man, the man’s prayer would become invalid. Therefore, whilst prostrating, if a woman’s head becomes in line with the feet of the man, his prayer would be invalidated. However, the relied upon opinion and that chosen by Ibn Abidin and others is that the ruling will be based on the feet and in particular the heel. Thus, the man’s prayer would not become invalid, as long as his heel is in front of the woman’s heel. (Radd al-Muhtar, 1/572)
Given this difference of opinion, it is best for a spouse, for example, to stand completely behind her husband when praying in congregation. However, their prayer will be valid as long as her feet and heel are behind her husband’s heel.
It is also worth remembering here that this above-mentioned ruling applies to all types of women, Mahram and non-Mahram, related or unrelated, provided she has attained puberty or she is close to puberty such that sexual gratification is typically acquired from her. (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 1/89)
Based on the above explanation, if men and women were praying together in the same line in a congregation and behind one Imam, then the man who is standing at the end of the men’s line which is connected to the women’s line, his prayer will not be valid, provided all the other above-mentioned conditions are met.
Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his notes on Imam al-Marghinani’s renowned al-Hidaya:
“Marghinani’s statement: “And that there is no barrier” It is regarding this, Imam Abu Yusuf (Allah have mercy on him) said that if men and women prayed together in one line, the prayer of only one man, the one standing between the men’s and women’s line, will become invalid. And this man will be considered a barrier between the other men and women.” (See: al-Hidaya with notes from Imam al-Lakhnawi, 1/125, Indian print)
However, this is when all the above-mentioned conditions are found. Hence, if there was a barrier between the men’s and women’s lines which also includes empty space that would be sufficient for a person to stand in, then the man standing at the edge of the row, his prayer will not be invalidated.
In conclusion, it is always best for women to stand completely behind men whilst offering prayer jointly, even if the woman is a close family member. If a woman prayed next to a man, the prayer of the man will become invalid. However, in order for the man’s prayer to become invalid, certain necessary conditions have to be found. If any one condition is not met, his prayer would not be invalidated.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK