The Sutrah, and the Obligation to have one
"he (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) used to stand near to the sutrah, so that there was (a distance of) three cubits between him and the wall"37 and "between the place of his prostration and the wall, (there was) enough space for a sheep to pass."38
he used to say: "do not pray except towards a sutrah, and do not let anyone pass in front of you, but if someone continues (to try to pass) then fight him, for he has a companion (i.e. a shaytaan) with him."39
he would also say: "when one of you prays towards a sutrah, he should get close to it so that shaytaan cannot break his prayer."40
sometimes "he would seek to pray at the pillar which was in his mosque."41
"when he prayed [in an open space where there was nothing to use as sutrah] he would plant a spear in the ground in front of him and pray towards it with the people behind him"42; sometimes "he would to set his mount sideways and pray towards it"43 but this is not the same as prayer in the resting-place of camels44, which "he forbade"45, and sometimes "he would take his saddle; set it lengthways and pray towards its end."46
he would say: when one of you places in front of him something such as the stick on the end of a saddle, he should pray and not mind anyone who passes beyond it.47
once "he prayed towards a tree"48 and sometimes "he would pray towards the bed on which 'aa'ishah (radi allaahu anhaa) was lying [under her sheet]."49
he (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam), would not let anything pass between him and his sutrah, hence once "he was praying, when a sheep came running in front of him, so he raced it until he pressed his belly against the wall [and it passed behind him]."50
also, once "while praying an obligatory prayer, he clenched his fist (during it), so when he had finished, the people said: 'o messenger of allaah, did something happen during the prayer?' he said: no, except that the devil wanted to pass in front of me, so i strangled him until i could feel the coldness of his tongue on my hand by allaah! had my brother sulaimaan not beaten me to it51, i would have tied him (the devil) to one of the pillars of the mosque so that the children of madinah could walk round him. [so whoever can prevent something intervening between him and the qiblah, he must do so]."52
he also used to say:
when one of you prays towards something which is a sutrah between him and the people and someone intends to cross in front of him, then he should push him in the throat [and repel, as much as he can], (in one narration: he should stop him, twice) but if he refuses (to not pass) then he should fight him, for verily he is a devil.53
he also used to say: if the person who passed in front of someone praying knew (the sin) on him, it would be better for him to wait forty than to pass in front. (abu an-nadr said, "i do not remember exactly whether he said forty days, months or years.").54
36lit., "screen, cover"; in the context of prayer, it refers to an object just beyond the place of prostration, within which nothing should pass, as is detailed in this section.
37 bukhaari & ahmad.
38 bukhaari & muslim.
39 ibn khuzaimah in his saheeh (1/93/1) with a sound isnaad.
40 abu daawood, bazzaar (p. 54 - zawaaid) & haakim, who declared it saheeh and dhahabi and nawawi agreed.
41 bukhaari. the sutrah is a must for the imaam or a person praying alone, even in a large mosque. ibn haani said in his masaa'il from imaam ahmad (1/66): "abu `abdullaah (i.e. imaam ahmad ibn hanbal) saw me one day when i was praying without a sutrah in front of me, and i was in a (large) congregational mosque, so he said to me: `take something as a sutrah', so i took a man as a sutrah." this contains an indication that imaam ahmad did not differentiate between big or small mosques in taking a sutrah - and that is surely correct, but this is something neglected by most people, including imaams of mosques, in every land that i have visited, including arabia which i was able to tour in rajab of this year (1410), so the `ulamaa should tell the people and advise them of this, explaining its ruling and that it is also required in the two sacred mosques.
42 bukhaari, muslim & ibn maajah
43 bukhaari & ahmad.
44 i.e., their kneeling place.
45 bukhaari & ahmad.
46 muslim, ibn khuzaimah (92/2) & ahmad.
47 muslim & abu daawood.
48 nasaa'i & ahmad with a saheeh isnaad.
49 bukhaari , muslim & abu ya`laa (3/1107).
50 ibn khuzaimah in his saheeh (1/95/1), tabaraani (3/140/3) & haakim who declared it saheeh and dhahabi agreed.
51 referring to the following prayer of the prophet sulaimaan (`alaihis salaam) which was answered by allaah, as described in the qur'aan: "my lord! forgive me, and grant me sovereignty not allowed to anyone after me, for you are indeed the granter of bounties. so we subjected to his power: the wind, gently flowing to his order, wherever he wished; and the devils, every kind of builder and diver, and also others bound together in fetters." (saad 38: 35-38)
52 ahmad, daaraqutni & tabari with a saheeh isnaad, and similar in meaning to this hadeeth is found in bukhaari and muslim and others on the authority of several companions. it is one of the many ahaadeeth which the qadiani group disbelieve, for they do not believe in the world of the jinn which is mentioned in the qur'aan and the sunnah. their method of discarding the texts is well-known: if it is from the qur'aan, they change its meaning e.g. the saying of the exalted "say, it has been revealed to me that a group of jinns listened" (72:1); they say "i.e. a group of humans"! making the word "jinn" synonymous with "human"! hence they play with the language and the religion; if it is from the sunnah, then if it is possible for them to change it with a false interpretation they do so, otherwise they find it easy to declare it to be false, even if all the imaams of hadeeth and the whole ummah behind them are agreed on its authenticity, nay its being mutawaatir. may allaah guide them.
53 bukhaari & muslim, and the additional narration is from ibn khuzaimah (1/94/1).