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Differences between Men and Women in Prayer

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him said: "Islam has been built on five pillars: to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; to perform daily Prayers (Salah); to pay the poor-due (Zakah); to fast in Ramadan; and to perform Pilgrimage (Hajj) to the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, if one is financially and physically able.”(Reported by Al-Bukhari) In another Hadith, he said, “Prayer is the cornerstone of Islam…”

“The general principle is that women are equal to men in all religious rulings, because of the Hadith: "Women are counterparts of men." (Reported by Ahmad), except when there is evidence of a specific ruling which applies only to women. One of the cases in which the scholars mention specific rules for women is Prayer, as follows:

1. Women do not have to give Adhan (call to Prayer) or Iqamah(second call to Prayer). Ibn Qudamah, may Allah have mercy on him, said: "We don’t know any difference between Muslim scholars (on this point)." (Al-Mughni ma`a Ash-Sharh Al-Kabir, 1/438).

2. All of the woman’s body must be covered during Prayer, except for her face and hands, because the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: "No prayer will be accepted from an adult woman unless she wears a Khimar.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari) There is some dispute as to whether her heels and feet should be covered.

3. The woman should keep her limbs close to her body during bowing and prostration, and not spread them out, because this is more modest and covering. (Al-Mughni, 2/258)

Al-Nawawi said: "In his Al-Mukhtasar, Ash-Shafi`i said that there is no difference between men and women in Prayer, except that women should keep the parts of their bodies close to one another, and they should make their stomachs touch their thighs during prostration. This is more covering and preferable in bowing and the rest of the Prayer as well." (Al-Majmu`, 3/429)

4. It is preferable for women to pray in congregation, led by another woman, because the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, told Umm Waraqah to lead the women of her household in Prayer. There is some difference among scholars on this matter. (See Al-Mughni, 2/202 and Al-Majmu`, 4/84-85) The woman leading the Prayer should read aloud as long as no non-mahram man can hear her. It is permissible for women to go out and pray in the mosque with men, although their Prayer at home is better, because the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: "Do not prevent the women from going out to the mosques, even though their homes are better for them."

Imam An-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy on him, said: "Women differ from men in congregational Prayer in some ways:

a) Congregational Prayer is not required of them in the same way as it is of men.

b) In case a woman leads a group of women in Prayer, she stands in the middle of the (first) row.

c) If one woman led by a man, she should stand behind him, not next to him.

d) If women are praying in rows behind men, the back rows are better for them than the front rows.” (Al-Majmu`, 3/455)”

Moreover, the following are some other differences:

“1. When the Imam makes a mistake in a congregational Prayer, men would correct him by saying, “Subhanallah”, while women would correct him by clapping (some describe it as clapping the palm of one hand against the back of the other). This is confirmed in a well-known Hadith.

2. The Friday Prayer is not obligatory upon women. If a woman performs the Friday Prayer, then she doesn't have to pray the Zuhr Prayer.” 

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