Why women stand behind men during the prayer.
The reason for women standing behind men might come as a surprise to most people. We need to understand that the society, which the Prophet (peace be upon him) dealt with had at its heart the raw desert Bedouin Arab. For this reason, He (peace be upon him) would encourage them to eat with their right hand, use three fingers, not to speak whilst easting and to eat slowly. He (peace be upon him) also taught them how to clean themselves after urinating and so on.
This certainly tells one a bit about the society he (peace be upon him) dealt with. You might find some later scholars finding no problem if the family speaks to each other while eating as this allows the family to bond in this day and age. This also ensures that the family eats slower.
We need to keep in mind the context and people the prophet (peace be upon him) dealt with so that we can understand, for example, why the prophet said, ‘do not blow your food or do not do this or do not do that…’ As for not blowing one’s food, then this is a well-known tradition and here the context is, ‘do not blow your food (while sitting close to others, else you might spit or interfere with the next persons meal)’. Again, we learn about the people he (peace be upon him) dealt with.
Even though these cases are specific, the prophetic example, regardless if it be specific to a particular case or a general one, is of benefit to us and only through emulating him (peace be upon him), both internally and externally, can we achieve enlightenment.
As the great Abu al-Qasim Junaid al-Baghdadi (May Allah sanctify his soul) said,
“the path is cut off from the creation, save the one who carefully follows the reports of the messenger of Allah, follows his sunna, and sticks to the path. This is because the paths of goodness are all open to him and those who follow him and his reports.”
Now that we have a bit of understanding about the people the prophet (peace be upon him) dealt with, the following is the context regarding the Salah.
During the early days when the prayer was instituted, they would shout out to each other during the prayer, ‘how far are you? How many cycles/rakats have you completed’. Men would wink at women and even grab them. It was the Prophets wife, Safiyyah (the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, chief of the Banu Nadir) who complained to the Prophet because some of the Bedouins would wink and grabbed the ladies during Salah. This was the reason for the prophet (peace be upon him) saying, ‘Men should stand in front during prayer and females should stand at the back, while children are in between’.
The reason for this is twofold,
a) Men were not disciplined and b) Women were disciplined.
For some strange reason we tend to believe that woman at the back in prayer means they are lower and less deserving and men have power. If you think about it, when we were younger and in school, the disciplined students would sit at the back while those who were a bit rowdy would sit right in front.
Initially, at the Masjid al-Nabawi, men and women would enter the mosque through the same door. When this caused overcrowding on entrances and exits, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said ‘It would be better if this door (in the Holy City) is left for women.’
Upon saying so, the men made that door for women, and it became known up until today as “The Women’s Door” or Bab al-Nisa.
And Allah knows best,
Muhammad Allie Khalfe.