The issue of straightening the lines (rows) is an extremely important matter, and the Prophet (S.A) has stressed upon it in great details. In this regard, Imam Bukhari, as well as other compilers of Ahadith, has mentioned a number of traditions regarding it.
In one tradition, Anas (R.A) narrates that the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘Straighten your rows, for certainly the straightening of the rows (lines) is essential for the establishment of Salaah’. (Bukhari vol.1 pg.388)
Here, in this tradition, the Prophet (S.A) made it very clear that the straightening of the rows is an essential part of the Salaah. This means that if this is not done, the perfection and soundness of the Salaah will be seriously affected.
In another tradition, a serious warning is given to those who do not straighten the rows. The tradition states that Numan bin Bashir (R.A) narrates that the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘Straighten your rows or else Allah will alter your faces’. (Sahih Al Bukhari vol.1 pg.386)
This is a grave warning which has been given, and the Prophet (S.A) has advised his followers to ensure that the rows are straight when they perform the Salaah in congregation. He further mentioned that failure to do this will result in a grave wrongdoing which will bring about the punishment of Allah in a manner that He may disfigure their faces. According to some scholars, the statement ‘Allah will alter your faces’ (in the hadith) refers to disunity which will be created in the heart on account of not straightening the rows (lines) in Salaah. It is therefore essential upon all Muslims to straighten their rows when they stand for the Salaah in congregation. It is also equally essential that they refrain from every such act which may bring about a hindrance in the straightening of the rows.
While on the topic of forming the rows for Salaah, it is also important for our Muslim brothers to know that the first line (closest to the Imam) is the most virtuous and best line (row) for Salaah (when one performs Salaah in congregation). In this regard, Imam Bukhari has recorded the tradition of Abu Hurairah (R.A), who narrates that the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘If the people knew the reward for the Zuhr prayer in its early time, they would race for it. If they knew the reward for the Isha and the Fajr Salaah in congregation, they would join them even if they had to crawl. If they knew the reward for the first row (front line) they would (compete with each other and) draw lots for it’. (Sahih Al Bukhari vol.1pg.387)
This statement of the Prophet (S.A) regarding the front line for Salaah (in congregation) goes to show how virtuous and important it is. He tells us that it is such a great thing which is filled with so many rewards, that people would agree to draw lots to see whose names would appear in order to have that great opportunity of being admitted in the front line/first row.
In another narration, Abu Saeed (R.A) relates that the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘The best line/row for the men is the first line’ (Ahmad). In another tradition narrated by Bara bin Azib (R.A), the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘Certainly Allah and His angels send blessings upon the first line’ (Ahmad).
Along with the above, another important matter which Muslims must pay particular attention to is the filling of the spaces between the rows (lines) in Salaah.
In a tradition, Anas bin Malik (R.A) said, ‘Once the Iqamah was pronounced and the Messenger of Allah (S.A) faced us and said, ‘Straighten your rows and stand close to each other, for I see you from behind my back’. (Sahih Al Bukhari vol.1 pg.387) In this tradition, the Prophet (S.A) has given the directive that those in the rows must stand close to each other. While explaining this tradition, the scholars of hadith have stated that ‘standing close to each other’ means that one should stand in a manner that he is very close to another Musalli (performer of Salaah) to the extent that there is no gap or space between them. (Umdatul Qaari-Commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari vol.5 pg.255)
The great importance of filling the spaces in the rows (lines) can also be seen from another hadith which has been narrated from Anas bin Malik (R.A). He (Anas) states that the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘Align the rows and stand close to each other, being parallel to the shoulders. I swear by the One in whose hand is my life, I see satan entering into the gaps (spaces) of the rows like a small goat. (Abu Dawood, Sahih Ibn Hibban). (Umdatul Qaari vol.5 pg.255)
This hadith tells of the presence of satan being in the rows of Salaah when the gaps or spaces are not filled. Hence, those forming the lines must ensure that all spaces and gaps are filled in the rows when the congregational Salaah is about to begin.
Based on the above two guidelines (which the Prophet (S.A) has given with respect to the formation of the rows and lines for Salaah), it is understood that it will not be permissible for one to do any such act which may affect the implementation of the said guidelines. This means that it will not be permissible to place chairs (upon which people sit for Salaah) in the midst of the rows, since it interrupts both the straightening of the lines and the close standing (shoulder to shoulder) of the Musallis to each other.
With respect to the issue of sitting on chairs, it must be understood that in the matter of Farz Salaah, one is only allowed to sit (for Salaah) when he/she is totally unable to stand. If one is able to stand for the Farz Salaah, then it will not be permissible for him/her to sit. Furthermore, if the position of sitting is adopted (based on the above allowance), then the sitting which is a posture of Salaah must first be adopted. This means that one who is unable to stand, must first adopt the Tashahud position of sitting before any other type (of sitting). If he is unable to do so, then he can adopt any other posture of sitting on the ground (like sitting with the feet/foot outstretched or even cross legged). When one is unable to adopt any of these postures, only then he will be allowed to sit on a chair.
As for the optional Salaah, one is instructed to perform it in the way that he would perform the Farz Salaah, that is, by standing. However, because it is optional, one has been given the allowance to sit when he feels tired, and finds it difficult to stand. In this case also, the sitting postures explained above must first be adopted and only when a person is totally unable to adopt those postures, he will be allowed to sit on a chair. In this aspect of optional Salaah, one who chooses to sit (although he has the ability to stand) will receive only half of the rewards for his Salaah, as the Prophet (S.A) said, ‘The Salaah of a sitting person, receives half the rewards of a standing person’.
Whatever the case and situation be, those performing Salaah in the sitting position must not sit (with chairs or without chairs) between the other Musallis (performers of Salaah) in the rows and lines which are being formed for Salaah. They must sit at the end of the rows and must not place their chairs in a manner to prevent the straightening of the lines/rows.
Those performing Salaah on chairs must also be attached to the lines that have been formed. They must not detach/separate themselves from these lines in a manner where a big/large space is seen between them and the lines which have been formed for Salaah.
Mufti Waseem Khan