When Only Two Are Praying
When two men are praying together, one leads and the other stands to his right, foot-to-foot, shoulder-to-shoulder, not slightly behind. The same applies when two women are praying.
Narrated Ibn Abbās (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) who said: “One night I prayed to the left of the Prophet in the Prayer, so he took me by my hand or by my shoulder till he made me stand on his right side, and he beckoned with his hand for me to go to his right side from behind him.” (Reported by al-Bukhārī, no. 728.)
When A Wife Prays Behind Her Husband
When a woman prays with her husband then she should stand behind him and not next to him. That is because when the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) led the Prayer in the home of Anas’ grandmother, he placed Anas (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) and a child behind him, and the grandmother of Anas stood behind them on her own. At-Tirmidhi (rahimahullāh) commenting on this hadeeth stated that if there are two men and a woman praying, then the man stands to the right side of the imām and the woman stands behind them on her own. (See At-Tirmidhi, no. 234) In another narration from Anas bin Mālik that the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) led him, his mother (or his aunt) in prayer. Anas said: “He made me stand on his right side and made the woman stand, behind us.” (Muslim, no. 660) Shaikh Ibn Bāz (rahimahullāh) affirmed this as the correct ruling regarding this matter. The Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) did not allow Anas to (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) to stand with his mother, aunt or grandmother in the prayer.
Never Go Ahead Of The Imām, Instead Follow After Him
Abu Hurayrah (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) narrated that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated:
أَمَا يَخْشَى الَّذِي يَرْفَعُ رَأْسَهُ قَبْلَ الْإِمَامِ أَنْ يُحَوِّلَ اللَّهُ رَأْسَهُ رَأْسَ حِمَارٍ أَوْ يَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ صُورَتَهُ صُورَةَ حِمَارٍ ؟
“Isn’t he who raises his head before the Imām afraid that Allāh may transform his head into that of a donkey? Or his image into that of a donkey?!” (Reported by al-Bukhārī, no. 691; Muslim, no. 427)
When do those who are Praying Behind the Imām Prostrate?
Anas (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said: “When the Imām has prostrated, then prostrate.” Al-Barā’ (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) stated: “When Allāh’s Messenger would said, ‘sami ʿAllāhu liman hamidah’ after bowing, none of us would bend his back to prostrate until the Prophet was in prostration (sajdah), then we would enter prostration following him.” (Bukhāri, no. 690 with the same chapter heading).
Joining the Feet, Heels and Shoulders in Prayer is from the Established Sunnah
Nuʿmān bin Bashīr (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said:
فَرَأَيْتُ الرَّجُلَ يَلْزَقُ مَنْكِبَهُ بِمَنْكِبِ صَاحِبِهِ وَرُكْبَتَهُ بِرُكْبَةِ صَاحِبِهِ وَكَعْبَهُ بِكَعْبِهِ
“So I saw a person attach his shoulder to the shoulder of his companion, and his knee with his companion’s knee, and his ankle with his companion’s ankle.” (Reported by Abu Dawūd, under the chapter of ‘Straightening the Rows’, no. 622. Al-Albānī graded this hadīth as sahīh)
Anas bin Mālik (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said:
وَكَانَ أَحَدُنَا يُلْزِقُ مَنْكِبَهُ بِمَنْكِبِ صَاحِبِهِ وَقَدَمَهُ بِقَدَمِهِ
“Everyone of us used to put his shoulder with the shoulder of his companion and his foot with the foot of his companion.” (Reported by al-Bukhārī, no. 725.)
This applies to the rows of the men and to the rows of the women. The people of Sunnah should establish this practice in their prayers and not be lazy and unconcerned, and thus allow Shaytān to come in between them.
Women Praying Together
One of them leads the rest of them in prayer by her standing in the middle of the first row, with the women standing next to her on either side as was the practice of Ā’ishah bint Abi Bakr (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) with the women she led in prayer as reported by Abdur-Razzāq and Ibn Abi Shaybah (Al-Musannaf 1/223).