Answered by Ustadha Naielah Ackbarali
Question: In the ”Absolute Essentials of Islam” it’s written that women should have their hands at shoulder level in prostration and keep their forearms on the ground. Yet when I attempted to practice this, I found that I could not keep my forearms on the ground without having my hands at head-level, like men. Can you explain this and the way women should perform prostration? Can you also describe the exact sitting position women should be in, please.
Answer: Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa baraktuhu
The basis of the woman’s prayer in the Hanafi madhhab is that it follows the same rulings as the man’s prayer, and any differences between the two return to the principle of what is most concealing and modest for her. [Ibn `Abidin, Radd al Muhtar]
In prostration, it is sunna for a woman to draw all of her limbs closely together in order to achieve maximum modesty. Her abdomen rests on top of her thighs and her upper-arms remain closely at her sides while her forearms lay on the floor. [Radd al- Muhtar; Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah] It is sunna for men to prostrate in-between their hands, and their hands are placed at the level of the ears like the opening takbir. So far, I have not found a specific text that indicates that a woman does differently but I am still researching this matter. Yet, it should be noted that the placement of the hands do not affect the validity of the prayer and it is permissible to place one’s hands at the head level while prostrating as long as the ideals of modesty and concealment are upheld. In regards to her toes, it is obligatory for a part of the toes to touch the ground while in prostration in order for the prayer to be considered valid. Shaykh Faraz Rabbani has mentioned that it is not a specific sunna for women to keep their toes upright but there is no harm in doing so during prostration.
While sitting for tashahud, she sits in the tawarruk position, which means that she sits on her left buttock with her knees bent and both legs are conveniently positioned to the right side of her body. In Maraqi Falah, al-Hadiyya al-Alaiyya, and Imdad al Fatah, the authors mention that the thigh is placed on top of the other thigh while her leg rests underneath her right hip. In Majma al-Anhar, the author explains further and says that “…she sits on her left buttock and positions both legs to the right side of her body because this is most concealing for her, and she brings together both of her thighs and places her right leg on top of her left leg.”
In terms of additional information, the great Hanafi jurist Ibn Abdin notes the differences found within the woman’s prayer in Radd al-Muhtar. I have translated the majority of the details from his list while also adding extra explanations from sources like al-Hadiyya al-Alaiyya, Maraqi al-Falah and Imdad al-Fatah.
1.) When performing the opening takbir, she raises her hands to the level of her shoulders, while men raise their hands to the level of their ears.
2.) When performing the opening takbir, she does not withdraw her hands from underneath her sleeves because it may expose her forearms which are awrah (nakedness), while men should remove their hands from underneath their shawls.
3.) When standing, she places her right inner-palm on top of her left hand and rests them on her chest without clasping them, while men place their hands below their navels and clasp them together.
4.) When bowing, she bends her back slightly so that she touches her knees but she does not straighten her back fully, unlike men who completely align their limbs.
5.) When bowing, she does not spread her fingers apart but rather she keeps them closed together, unlike men who keep their fingers outspread.
6.) When bowing, she places her palms upon her knees and does not grasp her knees, unlike men who grasp their knees.
7.) When bowing, she bends her knees, unlike men who keep their knees straightened.
8.) When bowing and prostrating, she keeps her upper arms (the area from the shoulder to the elbow) as close as possible to the sides of her body, unlike men who distance their upper arms from their bodies.
9.) When prostrating, she rests her forearms on the ground, unlike men who keep their arms raised above the ground.
10.) She does not keep her toes upright like men.
11.) While sitting for tashahud, she sits in the tawarrak position (explained above) and she places her hands on top of her thighs such that the tips of her fingers reach her knees.
12.) While sitting for tashahud, she does not spread her fingers apart but rather she keeps them closed together, unlike men who keep their fingers outspread.
13.) If the Imam forgets something in his prayer, she claps without excessive movement instead of saying ‘SubHanAllah’ like men.
14.) She does not lead the man’s prayer.
15.) It is prohibitively disliked (e.g. sinful) for her to pray in a woman’s group prayer, to give the adhan, or to give the iqama.
16.) If she prays in a mixed congregation, she stands behind the men.
17.) She is not obligated to attend the Friday sermon prayer, but if she does and completes it, it counts as her Dhuhr prayer.
18.) It is not necessary (wajib) for her to attend the Eid prayer as opposed to men.
19.) It is not recommended for her to wait until the brightness of the sun to pray Fajr like it is for men performing the group prayer, but it is best for her to pray at the earliest part of the Fajr prayer time.
20.) She does not recite out loud in the non-silent prayers. Yet, it is important to note that if she is praying by herself in any prayer, she must recite at a level where she can hear herself in order for her prayers to be considered valid.
While the majority of information found within this post was extracted from Arabic texts, I would recommend the following English resources for more details about this topic:
”The Salah of Women” by Madrasa Arabiya Islamia Azadville, South Africa
”Heavenly Ornaments’‘ by Maulana Muhammad Ashraf Ali Thanvi
Barak Allah fikum
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani