Community FAQs & Fatwas Fasting & Ramadan Prayer

Separating the Rows in a Congregation?

The Question

The hall that we rented has experienced overflow for the taraweeh prayers (the late night prayers offered in Ramadan). We started to pray outside, but the neighbors complained and we were forced to rent the room adjacent to the one we pray in. Some sincere brothers and sisters mentioned that the prayers of the people who pray in the other room are not accepted, because the rows are broken and they are not able to see the Imam (leader of prayer). What is your opinion on this issue?

The Answer

It is the opinion of the Malikis and Shaf`is, Ibn al-Qudama of the Hanbali school, al-AzharDar al-Ifta and Shaykh Ali Goma that in the face of a legitimate need, the congregation is allowed to separate the rows if they can follow the Imam by hearing or seeing him or those behind him, or are able to follow him by using a sound system.

The Maliki opinion was noted by al-Qarafi al-Maliki in al-Dhakhira who wrote, while arguing the Maliki’s position, “The spouses of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) used to follow him in prayer from their apartments next to the Prophet’s ﷺ masjid.”1

In the same text he writes, “The family of Umar (radi allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him) used to pray in their home, which was in front of the masjid, following the Imam.”

Two Opinions

With regards to this issue, scholars have traditionally taken two opinions:

  1. The prayers are allowed, but disliked
  2. The prayers are invalid.

Addressing this issue, Imam Ibn al-Qudama (ra), a great Hanbali jurist, wrote: “If a pathway (where people walk) or a space between two ships separates the Imam from his followers, then there are two opinions about the prayer’s validity.”

After mentioning the first opinion, he mentioned his opinion, which is that it is permissible. This differed with the opinion of his own madhab (school of thought), the Hanbali: “My opinion is that of the Maliki and the Shaf`i schools [that it is allowed] since there is no scholarly consensus (ijm`a) on its impermissibility. This is because the situation does not interfere with the congregation’s ability to follow the Imam; rather what effects the prayer’s validity is anything that prevents them from seeing or hearing him.”

Furthermore, the statement that “their prayers are not accepted because they cannot see the Imam, their rows are broken and they cannot see a row in front of them” is disputed since the Malikis hold that, as long as a person can hear the Imam, and they are in close proximity of the place of prayer, their prayers are accepted.

Qadi Abdu al-Wahab, a classical Maliki mujtahid, in his Ishraf wrote, “If the distance of the road or sea does not prevent them from hearing the takbir (the words that accompany transition into another position of prayer), then their prayer is valid.”

Those who quote scholarly texts, claiming that the reason for the prayer being invalid is because people cannot see the Imam, are probably following the Hanafi or Hanbali schools. While this is a respected opinion, and they are surely free to follow it, they should not tell others that their prayers are invalid. As was noted above, this issue falls under a legitimate difference based on evidences and sound principles. Imam al-Shaf`i said about these issues, “No one is allowed to force another to follow his opinion by force.”

There is no Rebuking Issues whose Wisdom is Disputed

Here it is important to invoke an important principle related to scholarly difference: “Legitimate disagreement over the `ila (cause) or manat (outcome) related to the wisdom of an act, is allowed, and it is not allowed to reprimand the one who differs, if that difference is based on sound scholarship.”

This is the case here, since the Hanbalis and Hanafis hold that the row must be connected and, in some cases, the Imam must be seen; while the Malikis hold that what is obligatory is being able to hear the Imam and follow him properly, close to the proximity of the masjid.

My Thoughts

I advise you to continue as you are since it is documented that the wives of the Prophet ﷺ, as well as the family of `Umar (ra) during his caliphate, would pray in buildings adjacent to the Masjid of the Prophet ﷺ and follow the Imam by listening to him. It is well known that the rows were not connected to the congregation and no one from the companions (ra) or their students censured them for this. An axiom states, “If an act of worship was preformed in the presence of the Companions (ra) and they did not censure it, it is permissible.”

Let me add that I have performed prayer with the scholars in Masjid al-Azhar, and we stood during our lessons and prayed in the rooms adjacent to the masjid, following the congregation, which was 500 ft. away and our rows were not connected.

I observed prayer like this with Dr. Usama Sayid al-Azhari, the muhadith of al-Azhar, and Dr. Ali Gommathe current Mufti of Egypt. In addition, there were at least 15 major scholars with us as well as 10-15 major students of knowledge. It is not possible to imagine that this many people of knowledge and fiqh (jurisprudence) would have done this and said nothing, or not asked the major scholars if there was something wrong with the act.

I would also like to mention an important axiom in Islamic Law: “When issues of legitimate differences arise, the one that aides in facilitating of the maqaasid (objectives of Shari`ah – Islamic Law) is given precedence.”

In this case, the number of benefits is such that the act, in my opinion, becomes commendable. This is because there is a legitimate need for this worship to happen since the other mosques are some distance from yours, and by limiting the prayers, this may cause people not to observe them.

There is an important axiom in Islamic law that states, “If an act is disliked, if there is a legitimate need for its performance, it becomes permissible or recommended.”

This was noted by the scholars who took this opinion when they said, “The disliked nature of splitting the rows is in the absence of a true need (hajjah). In such cases, the ruling changes.”

Finally, I encourage your community to avoid fitna (tribulation) and making this an issue of dispute, especially when the great scholars of old differed about it. While this is a legitimate difference, scholars agree that it is not permissible to divide the community, destroy the ranks of the Muslims and create strife over this type of issue.

For more on this, see the fatwa (ruling) issued by Dar al-Ifta of Egypt, which I helped edit, here.

I’ll end by quoting a question that was sent to Imam Malik (ra). He was asked, “Is it allowed for a family to pray following the congregation of the masjid if their house is close to the mosque (meaning they can hear the Imam)?” His response, “Yes! As long as it is not done like this for the Friday Prayers.” Commenting on this Ibn Rushd (ra) wrote, “There is no difference about this in our madhab.”2

We ask Allah to bless you and your community in this special month and Allah knows best.

  1. al-Dhakhira vol. 2 pg. 259 []
  2. al-Bayan wa al-Tahsil vol. 17 pg. 210 []

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

Add Comment

  • I’m certainly not an expert on this stuff but I agree with Imam Suhaib Webb that this should be o.k. I believe that Allah is very Merciful so as long as they all have pure intentions than Inshallah Allah will accept this worship from them.

    Of course, Allah knows best.

  • JAK for this – i love the example of Ibn al-Qudama issuing an opinion even as it differed from his own madhab…

  • Regarding Imam Malik’s opinion in the last paragraph –
    a) why is it not OK for Friday prayers but OK for the Friday ones?
    b) if the house being close to the mosque defined by being able to hear the Imam, what implications does this have for a mosque equipped by loudspeakers as is the case with most mosques in Muslim countries? What implications does this have for live satellite broadcast of prayers? I have heard of people following Tarawih in Mecca from their TV sets.

    I also find it interesting that this issue is cropping up only when it comes to men’s prayers because women have been praying in separate rooms with the jama’a for the longest time.

  • BintKhalil makes a really good point. Why do masjids have a barrier between the men and women and purposely separate the rows when such an issue seems to complicate doing so? Would certain schools argue that the prayer of the women is disliked? Could you please clarify? Jazak’allah kheir!

  • salaam-alaikum sheikh, please your explanation is well taken but it would have been good if you could have said though it is allowed to pray away from the row but it is better to pray in congregation in the masjid. As this would prevent others from praying in the masjid when though they could.

  • asalam alekum,

    This issue has been a HUGE source of frustration for me as a revert. The WOMEN at our masjid decided that they wanted their own privacy, in other words a partition or a separate room. Any of us sisters who are wishing to pray in the main prayer hall behind the brothers (there is not an issue of lack of space normally) are being treated very badly to the point we have left the masjid. Is it wrong to ask for a place in the main prayer hall behind the brothers? And if there is a valid explanation for the need of a separate room for sisters, why did our dear Prophet (PBUH) not build a separate room for the women during the early days of Islam, or at the very least make clear it’s permissibility?

    Sr. Ann

  • I have been told Islam is not a difficult religion. Therefore, why is the place of prayer and whether it is accepted or not an issue? Men and women don’t even agree where women are allowed to pray much less their appearance in the mosque at all. Until these type of concerns are resolved I don’t see islam making much progress. There is no issue in Christianity of where and if women can pray, and if god finds prayer permisable due to a row separation. Wow, this really is more difficult than I imagined prior to my shahada.

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