by Dr. Mateen Khan (Trenton, New Jersey)
A strange innovation happened in the salah of women in the past generation; a small group began telling the women to pray like men. To stand like men with chests protruding, and to perform their ruku’ and sujud like men with the other end protruding.
First, they cite the statement of the tabi’i1, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i (May Allah have mercy on him), “A woman does in salah as a man does.” However, the hadith scholars tell us that this statement is fabricated and to use it as proof is a gross error.
Second, they cite the hadith, “Pray as you have seen me pray.”2 However, wasn’t it the salaf al-saliheen that saw him (Allah bless and give him peace) pray? Yet, their women did not pray like men. They obeyed the words of Allah in Surah al-Noor, “Do not display yourselves except for that which is apparent.” Once, upon noting two women praying, our Nabi (Allah bless and give him peace) advised them of the correct manner of praying and stated, “A woman is not like a man in [salah].”3 In other words, a Muslimah should pray modestly while in salah. With this principle of modesty in salah, fifteen individuals from the salaf al-saliheen4 indicated that the women’s salah is different from the men’s salah. There are no narrations stating that they are the same.
For the sake of brevity, I have compiled their opinions into five basic differences.
Upon the opening takbir, the hands should be kept close to the body and raised up to the chest and shoulders only.
The hands should be placed upon the chest.
To ensure that the arms are kept close to the body and the posterior concealed as much as possible, ruku’ should be done by bending the back only enough for the hands to reach the knees.
When performing sujud, the arms and abdomen are placed upon the thighs while contracting the body as much as possible.
When sitting, the women should sit with her legs off to the right side with her bottom on the floor. Although, to sit in a manner similar to men has also been mentioned by some.
The strongest proof is that throughout the entirety of Islamic history, the salaf al-saliheen, hadith scholars and fiqh scholars universally stated that there are distinct differences between the salah of men and women!
The salaf al-saliheen and the expert scholars following them were given the heavy task of interpreting the words of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless and give him peace). It is the defining characteristic of Sunni Islam that we follow them. In this, we have not deviated at all since the passing of our Nabi (Allah bless and give him peace). Why start now?
_____ 1 The generation that learned directly from the Companions. They make up one of the three generations of the salaf al-saliheen. 2 Reported by Imam Bukhari in his Sahih. The context is the Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) addressing a group of young men. 3 Reported in Marasil Abi Dawud. 4 Among them are Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar, ‘Ali, Wa’il ibn Hujr, Umm Darda’, Hasan, Qatada, Nafi’, Sha’bi, Ibrahim, Mujahid, ‘Ata’, Zuhri, Hammad, and Hafsa bint Sireen (May Allah have mercy on them all). Their direct quotes may be found in the hadith books Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq, Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, Majma al-Zawa’id, and Imam Bukhari’s Raf’ al-Yadayn.