Straightening The Rows For Prayer
There are numerous hadiths concerning straightening the rows, some of which were included in Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and other works.
Hadiths recorded in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim
1. Anas Ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said, “Straighten your rows for it is part of establishing prayers.”
2. Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) also narrated that the Prophet said, “Straighten your rows for I can see you from behind my back.”
3. An-Nu’man Ibn Bashir reported that the Prophet said, “Align your rows or Allah will create dissension among you.”
4. Abu Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “The Prophet used to pat us on the shoulder at prayer time and say, “Align the rows and do not fall into disorder lest your hearts be set against each other” [Muslim].
5- Abu Dawud recorded in his Sunan through a sound transmission from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both) who narrated that the Prophet said, “Form rows and stand shoulder to shoulder and close the gaps; do not resist your fellow brother’s hands and do not leave gaps for Satan. Whoever connects a row, Allah will bestow His mercy on him and whoever breaks a row, Allah will deprive him of His mercy.”
Straightening the rows for prayer has two meanings both of which are included in the above mentioned hadiths. The first includes the perceptible alignment of the rows in a uniform manner such that a person does protrude from the row. The second includes spiritual alignment by closing the gaps and spaces in the prayer rows [to prevent Satan from passing through them].
Scholars have agreed that aligning the rows is among the established practices of the Prophet in group prayers. Hanafi scholars and others have even maintained that it is a duty upon the imam. However, this must be done in a gentle and amicable manner especially after the lack of [religious] knowledge [among the public]. The matter requires extra forbearance to teach the people [about matters concerning their religion], though this must not be at the expense of the principle objective of prayer which is presence of mind and humility during prayer. The optimal position is to follow the Prophet’s internal and external actions. If it is not possible to combine both, then maintaining submissiveness to the Creator, Allah the Almighty, and creating harmony between Muslims is of greater priority than providing guidance on the external actions which are not an end in themselves. When the two conflict, what is aimed per se takes precedence over what is not though the optimal manner is to combine the two.
Al-Kashmiri, the Hanafi luminary, wrote in Al-‘Arf Al-Shadhi Sharh Sunnan At-Tirmidhi (1/235): “Straightening the rows is a duty upon the imam as mentioned in Al-Dur Al-Mukhtar. Neglecting this duty is disliked and reaches the degree of prohibition. Ibn Hazm maintained its oblgatoriness; the important thing is to [align] the ankles. Some people have interpreted what Bukhari mentions [concerning aligning the ankles] literally when, in fact, it was mere exaggeration on the narrator’s part. The fact is that there is no textual evidence on an obligatory manner for straightening rows; the most appropriate is that which brings one closer to humility [in prayer].”
(دار الإفتاء المصرية – eng.dar-alifta.org)