Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Assalam alaykum
What are the conditions and when/where are you allowed and when/where are you not allowed to walk in front of someone when they are praying alone and/or in congregation?
Answer: ssalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
The basis is that you should avoid walking in front of somebody praying. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “If the person passing in front of a praying person knew what he was incurring, he would find it preferable to wait forty rather than pass in front of him.” [Bukhari] (the specific time was omitted in this tradition)
In general, somebody is either praying in: (a) a large mosque or out in the open, or (b) a small mosque or any other room.
If somebody is praying in a large mosque, namely, one which is greater than [approximately] 20m x 20m, it is permissible to walk past them as long as you avoid the area which they would be able to see with their peripheral vision if they were looking to their place of prostration. The jurists (fuqaha) differed as to how much of the space in front of them needs to be avoided, so it is superior to walk behind people as much as reasonably possible or to give something like a couple of rows or so to be safe.
In a small mosque or any other room, it is not permissible to walk in front of a praying person altogether. Rather, you must walk around and behind them or past a barrier (sutra).
Generally, it is recommended to place a barrier in front of you whilst praying, and especially so in places where it is reasonably possible that somebody may need to walk past. Moreover, the barrier of the imam is legally considered to be a barrier for the followers (muqtadin).
The exception to the rulings above would be in the case that the person has no alternative but to walk past the praying person. This would be deemed a need and exempted from the general rule, and thus, not sinful.
[Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar; Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah, with Tahtawi’s Gloss]
Please also see this answer.
And Allah Most High knows best.
[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Tabraze Azam holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Leicester, where he also served as the President of the Islamic Society. He memorised the entire Qur’an in his hometown of Ipswich at the tender age of sixteen, and has since studied the Islamic Sciences in traditional settings in the UK, Jordan and Turkey. He is currently pursuing advanced studies in Jordan, where he is presently based with his family.