In This Series
How men and women should line up in a mosque? This is the question discussed by Dr. Jasser Auda in this part of the series. In part 1, Dr. Auda argued that isolating women from men in mosques does not follow the practice of the Prophet nor does it conform to the design of his Mosque during his lifetime. Part 2 highlighted the advantages women acquire when they share the same mosque hall with men and, thus, be able to learn directly form the Imam.
There is a Hadith reported by Abu Hurayrah, in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that:
“The best of men’s rows are the frontward ones and their worst are their rearward ones, while women’s best rows are its rearward ones and their worst are their frontward ones.”
Some people draw on this Hadith to prevent women from attending prayer at mosques at all, or for isolating them in separate halls. This is a strange interpretation, since the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) could have got another prayer hall built for women alone or even prevented them from performing prayers in mosques from the very beginning. Yet, he absolutely did neither.
The Hadith rather asserts the preference of men’s standing in the first rows and women’s standing in the last rows in prayer, nothing else. This is meant for reasonable considerations and justifications, first of which is that the front men’s row and the rear women’s row are the ones filled by those who come earlier to mosque, which is a well-known virtue.
Second, these two rows are better in helping the praying persons avoid distractions that may take place in the rest of the mosque, and this entails uninterrupted concentration and devotion in prayer.
Third, this instruction is in harmony with other Hadiths in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade praying women from raising their heads (from prostration) before men, to give men enough time to maintain cover their bodies properly; at the time, due to the poor economic situation in the nascent Muslim community, not all Companions could afford long clothes that would cover them properly during prostration.
it was narrated from Asma’ that she said: I heard the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) say, “Whoever of you believes in Allah and in the Last Day should not raise her head until we (the men) raise our heads (after prostration),” lest they should see the private parts of men because their lower garments were short…
Similarly, Sahl ibn Sad said, during the Prophet’s time, women were ordered not to raise their heads [from sujood] until men are fully seated due to the inappropriate (in another narration, the small) clothes [worn by men]
Another narration added, “So, guard your sights from seeing men’s private parts”
Narrated `Amr ibn Salamah:
….So they looked for such a person and found none who knew more Quran than I because of the Quranic material which I used to learn from the caravans. They therefore made me their Imam (to lead the prayer) and at that time I was a boy of six or seven years, wearing a Burdah (i.e. a black square garment) that was so short that when I prostrate, it shrinks [exposing] my body. A lady from the tribe said, “Won’t you cover the anus of your reciter for us?” So they bought (a piece of cloth) and made a shirt for me. I had never been so happy with anything before as I was with that shirt.
So, this is one of the reasons for separating the rows and encouraging women to be in the rear row.
Hence, the general ruling regarding the rows is that the first (frontward) row is recommended for men followed by the second , then the third rows. The same applies to women’s rows who offer their congregation prayer in the absence of men’s congregation.
However, if women offer prayer in the same place where men’s congregational prayer is offered, then the best of their rows are the last (rearward) ones, and so on.
* Translated from the Arabic original by AboutIslam.net. Sources referenced in the endnotes are the Arabic works, not their English translations.
 Muslim, Chapter on Prayer, 2/32.
 Ahmad’s Musnad, 44/511. Al-Arna’ut said: This Hadith is Sahih (authentic) by virtue of another Hadith that supports it, and this chain of narration is weak, due to the doubt about Asma’s freed female-slave [who is listed as a narrator of the hadith], knowing that some other narrations read, “male-slave of Asma'”. Besides, Al-Hafizh Al-Mazziy mentioned his biograhphy in his Tahdhib Al-Kamal among the anonymous male narrators, saying, “If he is not `Abdullah ibn Kaysan, then I do not know who he is”, though the rest of narrators in the chain are trustworthy, being judged as such by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.
 Ibn Khuzaimah’s Sahih 2/817; Mawarid Az-Zam’an 1/136
 Al-Bukhari 5/150.
 See for example Al-Majmu` Sharh Al-Muhadhdhab, 4/301, Bada’i` As-Sana’i` Fi Tartib Ash-Shar’i`, 1/195, and other sources that maintain the same ruling on this issue.