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
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.