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I have seen many people who scold if someone crosses the path where someone is praying.
But the following hadith says otherwise.

Bukhari :: Book 1 :: Volume 9 :: Hadith 490

Narrated 'Aisha:

The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, "Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman (if they pass in front of the praying people)." I said, "You have made us (i.e. women) dogs. I saw the Prophet praying while I used to lie in my bed between him and the Qibla. Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away. for I disliked to face him."

It shows that even prophet Muhammad (PBUH) didn't mind praying while someone was in front of him or moving in front of him.

So what is the right thing to do?

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+50

There are essentially two parts to this question: what is the right thing to do, and how can we reconcile it to Aisha’s hadeeth?

The first part of the question deals with what is the right thing to do? We are not allowed to pass in front of a person who is praying alone without having a sutrah which is a divider or an obstacle put in front of a praying person.

حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو كُرَيْبٍ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو خَالِدٍ الأَحْمَرُ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَجْلاَنَ، عَنْ زَيْدِ بْنِ أَسْلَمَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ أَبِيهِ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ ‏ "‏ إِذَا صَلَّى أَحَدُكُمْ فَلْيُصَلِّ إِلَى سُتْرَةٍ وَلْيَدْنُ مِنْهَا وَلاَ يَدَعْ أَحَدًا يَمُرُّ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ فَإِنْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ يَمُرَّ فَلْيُقَاتِلْهُ فَإِنَّهُ شَيْطَانٌ ‏"‏ ‏.‏

It was narrated from ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Abu Sa’eed that his father said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘When anyone of you performs prayer, let him pray facing towards a Sutrah, and let him get close to it, and not let anyone pass in front of him. If someone comes and wants to pass in front of him, let him fight him, for he is a Shaitan (satan).’” [Deemed Saheeh by Al-Albani in Saheeh Ibn Majah 788]

Scholars have explained the words “for he is Shaitan (satan)” to mean one of two things: either he is sent by Shaitan at this point, or he is taken over by Shaitan in that specific action, so fight him to snap him back into realization that he is doing something forbidden.

The sutrah has been described to be the height of the back of a saddle in this hadeeth:

وَحَدَّثَنَا إِسْحَاقُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، أَخْبَرَنَا الْمَخْزُومِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْوَاحِدِ، - وَهُوَ ابْنُ زِيَادٍ - حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الأَصَمِّ، حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ بْنُ الأَصَمِّ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ "‏ يَقْطَعُ الصَّلاَةَ الْمَرْأَةُ وَالْحِمَارُ وَالْكَلْبُ وَيَقِي ذَلِكَ مِثْلُ مُؤْخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ ‏"‏

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: A woman, an ass and a dog disrupt the prayer, but something like the back of a saddle guards against that. [Sahih Muslim 511]

However, if people are praying in congregation, their sutrah is their Imam (leader of Sallah). This means that other people can walk in front of the praying people behind the Imam and fill the empty spots. We know this from a saheeh hadeeth in both Al-Bukhari (493) and Muslim (504)

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ يُوسُفَ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنَا مَالِكٌ، عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ، عَنْ عُبَيْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُتْبَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، أَنَّهُ قَالَ أَقْبَلْتُ رَاكِبًا عَلَى حِمَارٍ أَتَانٍ، وَأَنَا يَوْمَئِذٍ قَدْ نَاهَزْتُ الاِحْتِلاَمَ، وَرَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يُصَلِّي بِالنَّاسِ بِمِنًى إِلَى غَيْرِ جِدَارٍ، فَمَرَرْتُ بَيْنَ يَدَىْ بَعْضِ الصَّفِّ، فَنَزَلْتُ وَأَرْسَلْتُ الأَتَانَ تَرْتَعُ، وَدَخَلْتُ فِي الصَّفِّ، فَلَمْ يُنْكِرْ ذَلِكَ عَلَىَّ أَحَدٌ‏.‏

Narrated Ibn `Abbas: Once I came riding a she-ass when I had just attained the age of puberty. Allah's Messenger ﷺ was offering the prayer at Mina with no wall in front of him and I passed in front of some of the row. There I dismounted and let my she-ass loose to graze and entered the row and nobody objected to me about it. [Sahih al-Bukhari 493]

It is not only the responsibility of the praying person to make sure that no one passes in front of him, but it is also the responsibility of the people passing in the masjid to be watchful. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ has warned us of the great sin of walking in front of a person praying alone who does not have a sutrah.

حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ يَحْيَى، قَالَ قَرَأْتُ عَلَى مَالِكٍ عَنْ أَبِي النَّضْرِ، عَنْ بُسْرِ بْنِ سَعِيدٍ، أَنَّ زَيْدَ بْنَ خَالِدٍ الْجُهَنِيَّ، أَرْسَلَهُ إِلَى أَبِي جُهَيْمٍ يَسْأَلُهُ مَاذَا سَمِعَ مِنْ، رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي الْمَارِّ بَيْنَ يَدَىِ الْمُصَلِّي قَالَ أَبُو جُهَيْمٍ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ "‏ لَوْ يَعْلَمُ الْمَارُّ بَيْنَ يَدَىِ الْمُصَلِّي مَاذَا عَلَيْهِ لَكَانَ أَنْ يَقِفَ أَرْبَعِينَ خَيْرًا لَهُ مِنْ أَنْ يَمُرَّ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ ‏"‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو النَّضْرِ لاَ أَدْرِي قَالَ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا أَوْ شَهْرًا أَوْ سَنَةً.

Busr b Sa'id reported that Zaid b Khalid al-Juhani sent him to Abu Juhaim in order to ask him what he had heard from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ with regard to the passer in front of the worshipper. Abu Juhaim reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: If anyone who passes in front of a man who is praying knew the responsibility he incurs, he would stand still forty (years) rather than to pass in front of him Abu Nadr said: I do not know whether he said forty days or months or years. [Sahih Muslim 507 a]

Thus, it is a joint responsibility.

The second part of the question is about reconciling all the above evidence with the hadeeth of Aisha (ra).

Ibn Baaz in his Majmoo’ Fatwah explained that the clue lies in the word يَمُرُّ “pass.” Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said “not let anyone pass in front of him,” so the focus is on the passing. This is further manifested in the fact that when people walk into a Masjid they may choose to take another person who is praying as a sutrah. So in other words, a person who is standing, bowing, and prostrating can become a sutrah for a person who is about to start praying. Despite of the movement in praying, it is not considered “passing.”

In these terms, Aisha’s (ra) lying between Allah’s Messenger and the Qibla resembles a person praying in front of us in the masjid. Moreover, when she said “Whenever I was in need of something, I would slip away,” it would be equated to whenever the person in front of us finishes praying, he or she would say sallam and leave. He or she went from a non-passing position to a departing position.

Thus, hadeeth Aisha (ra) does not in any way or form contradict the rulings of the sutrah clearly delineated by Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.

  • 2
    Great answer! Can you add that hadith of Aisha? – Casanova Jun 27 '17 at 17:47
  • @Casanova, are you referring to a hadith other than the one in the question? My understanding from the answer is that the hadith is the one quoted by the OP. – III-AK-III Jun 28 '17 at 2:52
  • @|||-AK-||| Oh yes sorry!! – Casanova Jun 28 '17 at 5:50
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You may pass as long as you do not pass so close that you disturb his/her prayer by not letting him do the movements. I have came to this conclusion after reading several hadith similar to the one you have mentioned.

Update:

Apparently, there is no direct hadith leading to this answer. However, we know that three things (donkey/black dog/woman) may interrupt someone’s prayer when in front, and that Aisha excluded woman from the list with evidence. So I interpret all other hadith forbidding passing in front of someone while (s)he is praying as avoiding creation of disturbance and blocking of movements. That means you may slip away when you have to, but you can't 1) stand in front of, 2) move past too close or 3) try to interact with the one who prays in any way. And you should only do it when there is no other path you may take.

Please also note that woman might be a distraction for some men. So women should either (preferably) wait for the person's prayer to end or be quick and silent enough to mask their identity while passing. Aisha was a wife of rasulullah (may Salat and Salam be upon him) and it is well possible that (s)he was an exception for being his mahram.

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    Could you provide references to hadiths you mention? – user44 Jul 15 '12 at 11:20
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    references please? – muslim1 Jul 16 '12 at 0:50
  • updated answer! – user73 Jul 16 '12 at 12:09
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The following ruling was made by Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, when he was asked about the permissibility of walking in front of someone while they were praying:

Praise be to Allah.

It is not permissible to walk across in front of someone who is praying, and it is a great sin, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said (approximate translation of meaning is):

"If the one crossing in front of a praying person knew what sin is upon him, it would be better for him to wait forty than walk across." Abu Al-Nadhr (one of the narrators of the hadith) said: I don't know whether he said forth days, months, or years. (Bukhari)

Imam Al-Bukhari (R) has named the chapter in which he brings the hadith as follows: Chapter on the sin of walking across in front of a praying person.

When the praying person is the leader in the prayer or praying alone, and he has a sutrah( some object like a peice of wood) in front of him, then walking across in between him and his sutrah is not permitted. However, if he is praying without a sutrah, it is not permissible to walk across in between him and his place of prostration. For the followers (in a jamaa'ah prayer), the leader's sutrah is enough for them. Based on this, it is permissible to walk through in front of a row if need be.

And Allah knows best.

  • +1 Salaam and welcome to the site. This is a good first answer. Can you clarify the source of the second quote? It is not part of the hadith, nor of Imam al-Bukhari's chapter name/introduction. – Ansari Jul 15 '12 at 17:07
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    Plagiarism is not tolerated on this site. If you quote text from elsewhere, it must be cited and formatted so it is clear that it is quoted text, rather than your own. – goldPseudo Jul 15 '12 at 17:45
  • Decent answer. It does not address the hadith of Aisha though. – ashes999 Jul 16 '12 at 14:42

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