Forming a row or a range of rows is a peculiarity of congregational prayer [that is why we always hear the Imam, immediately after ‘iqama’ before prayer begins, announcing ‘Sahu’ I’itadilu” i.e. straighten your raw].
The Prophet (pbuh) taught his Ummah to form rows in prayers as a sign of humility before God. Jabir bn Abdullah had reported that the Prophet (pbuh) once said: “Why do you draw yourself up in rows as the angels do before their Lord?’ We asked: “Oh Messenger of Allah! How do angels do? He replied, “They fill each row beginning with the first and keep close to one another in the row” (Muslim).
Observing such Sunnah would serve as protection from dissension, which may befall those who neglect it. This would be evident by causing inferiority complex to some of the members of the congregation. The Prophet (pbuh) had said: “Straighten your rows; otherwise, Allah will create dissension among you” (Bukhari and Muslim).
For those who have the tendency of hanging behind without any legally acceptable excuse that would prevent them from joining the row, the Prophet (pbuh) declared their prayer as void. It was authentically reported that “he saw a man praying alone behind the row and he ordered him to repeat the prayer” (Abu Dawud).
The Shari’a has guided Muslims to base the rows they perform on certain conditions. These are straightening the row, keeping it tight, maintaining closeness, completing the first row and then next one, and putting the Imam at the middle.
As for the Imam, he should stand at the middle of the first row with men standing behind him on both left and right sides. It was reported, though with weak chain of transmission but the meaning is a consensus of the jurists that the Prophet had said: “Let the Imam stand in the middle and close the gaps” (Abu Dawud).
The Prophet (pbuh) had attached much concern on the straightness of the rows. He (pbuh) used to pass through the row from one side to the other, set out chests and gently pats companions’ shoulders while in rows. He, at times, repeated: ‘Do not be irregular’. ‘Keep the rows straight for keeping the rows straight is part of the perfection of Salat”.
The Caliphs were very particular about it, especially ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and Ali. They cautiously observed the rows before starting the prayer. Some of them had to employ a man for this task only. They would not start the prayer until they were confirmed about completeness of the rows.
The proper way for straightening is not left to the tests of people; it was, rather, explained. FIRSTLY, while standing, one should leave his feet at middle stature; not too close or very wide apart. Ibn ‘Umar was keeping the distance between his feet not very wide apart nor keeping them together. This normal standing would allow the space provided for each row to accommodate as many people as it could naturally take.
SECONDLY, people are ordered to put their necks in such a way that they should be in a straight line, as narrated by Anas. THIRDLY, people would be standing tied in the rows to the point that their feet should be touching on either side.
Some people do really seize a huge portion of the row and stay independently. It seems they don’t want other people close to them. This is contrary to the order of our beloved Prophet (pbuh) that: “Stand neck to neck”.
Ahmed Murtala, Department of Islamic Studies, B.U.K. <email@example.com> 08032906184