We are constructing a new mosque in Edinburgh (Scotland). Some of the sisters are refusing to have a barrier between men and women and they are telling us that the barrier is Bid'aa, there was no barrier in the first Islaam period. Is that correct? And are the rules that should be considered when preparing the mosque?
All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah, and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger. We ask Allaah to exalt his mention as well as that of his family and all his companions.
If there is a barrier in the mosque between men and women, it should not be a wall preventing the sight and sound, because some scholars forbade that, and said that the prayer of a person behind a wall or a closed door (that separates him from the Imaam) is not valid. However, other scholars say that putting a barrier between them is permissible as long as it does not prevent them from seeing the Imaam or the people praying behind him, so that they could imitate them. There is no harm in reserving a section of the mosque for men and another section for women. Women used to pray behind the Prophet's mosque in Madeenah at the back rows. The Prophet used to remain in his position after the prayer so that women could leave before the men turned around and started to withdraw from the mosque. This reason is mentioned in the book of Imaam Al-Bukhari and narrated by Um Salamah . There was no wall or barrier that separated men from women; that's why the Prophet used to remain in his position after the prayer until women had left. There is no doubt that separating men from women is considered as a better way of preventing men and women from seeing each other and a way of increasing attention to prayer and a better way of performing this great act of worship by both parties, especially at this time when corruption and temptations are widespread. It is for this reason that the mother of the believers 'Aa'ishah said: "Had the Prophet seen what women had innovated, he would certainly have forbidden them (from the mosque) in the same manner like the women of the children of Isra'eel were prohibited." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] What the women had innovated after the Prophet when going out to the mosque was wearing perfume and clothes of beauty, which were forbidden (for them) when going out.
Anyway, reserving a section in the mosque for women is the Sunnah of the Prophet . If a barrier or curtain is put between them and men, that is better on the condition that it should not prevent the sight and sound. Another suggestion is to have a reflecting glass were the sisters can see the Imaam (if needed) during prayers and men will not be able to see them, and sound speakers will naturally convey his voice for them. If women pray behind the rows of men without a curtain or barrier, their prayer is valid if its conditions are met.
Allaah knows best.
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