How do women fold their arms and hold their hands in prayer? Do they need to clasp their hands on the wrist? Why do women perform prayers differently?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Women do not clasp the wrists when they fold their arms in the prayer. They fold their hands on their breasts. The right hand is on the left hand. Two hands are placed on the breasts together.

Hereby, we will mention the issues that in which are different from men in prayers:

In fact, there is no difference between women and men in terms of being responsible for worshipping. Both men and women have to do the same deeds of worshipping from the age of puberty to death. Since their Lord is the same, worshipping needs to be same, too. Besides, worshipping is a relationship between the worshipper and the worshipped generally about the hereafter; therefore, its place, time, conditions, principles and causes are determined by the worshipped. In other words, the creatures have no right to intervene these aspects of worshipping. That is, they cannot make ijtihad related to these points. For, ijtihad is the deed of finding causes and effects through reasoning. However, the properties and amounts of worshipping cannot be comprehended by the mind. Nevertheless, ijtihad may be made regarding the issues except conditions and causes, that is, not the worshipping itself but in its outer details performed perfectly, or rather, in the type of practicing the causes, conditions and principles determined by the Creator; that is, ijtihad can and should be made to understand the decrees of the Creator related to these issues. This is probably the meaning of the following statement of fiqh scholars:  

"It is permissible to determine worshipping through analogy." (Abul-Wafa Ali b. Aqil, Kitabul-Jadal, 13)

If it is taken into consideration related to these details that the Messenger of Allah acted differently from time to time, it will be understood that one difference of practice will originate from these sunnahs reaching mujtahids.

Besides, it is natural that there are changes to the extent that gender difference causes. For example, when a woman is menstruating, she will not pray and fast. Here we will try to rewrite only the cases that originate from the role of gender that are related to prayer.

If we take it according to the order of history, it is stated in "Tabyin", one of Hanafi sources, that a woman behaves differently from men in ten places related to prayer; and the following are mentioned:

"In takbir she lifts her hands up to the shoulder length.
- She puts her right hand on her on her left hand over her breasts. (She does not clasp it.)
- In prostration, she makes her abdomen touch her thighs; she does not separate them.
- In ruku', she puts her hands on her thighs, her fingertips reaching the knee; (she does not hold her knees); she does not separate between fingers,

- In prostration, she does not remove the elbows from the ground/floor.
- She sits in tahiyyat by doing tawarruk (she sits on her left hip and puts her feet to her right side),
- It is makruh for women to perform prayers in congregation among women.
- if they perform a prayer in congregation, the (female) imam stands in the middle, not at the front." (Zayla`i, Tabyin I/l18)

While mentioning the issues in which a woman is different from a man in general, Ibn Nujaym (970/1562) mentions differences in prayer too; and in addition to these, he mentions five more things; they are as follows:

"... It is makruh for a woman to call adhan and iqamah.
- She does not read aloud in the prayers in which qiraah is read aloud.
- She draw herself close together in ruku' and prostration.
- When it is necessary for her to warn the imam, she does so by clapping her hands.
It is better for her to pray at home." (Ibn Nujaym, al-Ashbah, 384)

When Ibn Abidin (1252/1836) says that Haskafi mentions fifteen differences, he increases them to twenty-five when he explains them with notes, but it is difficult to regard some of them to be related to prayer. Therefore, the only differences there are as follows:

"...She does not take her hands out of her sleeves; she bends a little at ruku' and bends her knees a bit." (Ibn Abidin, I/504) In a quote from "al-Bahr", he says that she cannot keep her toes upright in prostration. (ibid) Accordingly, a woman does not keep her toes upright in prostration and sits in a way that the top parts of her feet touch the ground, or she turns the tips of her toes to the right and places the sides of her feet on the ground, getting ready for "tawarruk". We have not been able to see anything clear about this issue. What is usual is the former. Similarly, we have not seen any statements about women not keeping their feet about four fingers separate from each other and keeping them adjacent. However, Ibn Nujaym's statement "she draws herself together in ruku' and prostration" and Ibn Abidin`s similar expression may have been understood as keeping the feet adjacent. In that case, a woman keeps her feet adjacent in ruku; and she does not keep her feet upright in prostration and sits in a way that the top parts of her feet touch the ground, or she turns her toes to the right on their sides.

As for the evidence for these differences, it is not mentioned in the Quran and it is difficult to meet it in hadith books. It is mentioned clearly in Hindiyya:

"There is no difference between a man and a woman in terms of the fards, wajibs, sunnahs, and adabs of the prayer. Therefore, the differences that are mentioned are the differences that fiqh scholars regard nice so that women will comply with the rules of tasattur (hijab) more." (Hindiyya, I/73)

We can conclude the following from what has been written so far:

1. Prayer (salah) is fard for both women and men like the other deeds of worshipping. The conditions, parts, fards and wajibs of the prayer are the same for both women and men.  

2. There are some differences originating from gender difference. For instance, a woman does not perform prayers in the menstruation period; she does not read aloud in prayers; she stands behind men in congregation; she reads silently in the prayers in which qiraah is aloud. The parts of her body that needs to be covered in prayer are different from those of men. However, these differences are not regarded as differences when prayer is taken into account as a criterion. When they are in the state of janabah, neither men nor women can perform prayers. However, the period of menstruation is also regarded as a state of janabah; therefore, the times that women cannot perform prayers are more than those of men. Both men and women cover their bodies but since their awrah places are different, the parts of the body that they will cover will be different. As it is seen, if the issue is viewed from this viewpoint, we can say that there is no difference between them.

3. There are some details in which women act differently from men and which are called "mustahab" in the sense that fiqh scholars find them nice; they are as follows: They put their right hands on their left hands while standing but they do not clasp their left hands. They do not bend down so much as to make their backs parallel to the ground in ruku' and they put their hands on their thighs in a way that their fingertips reach the knees but they do not grab their knees. They keep their feet adjacent in ruku'. They draw themselves close together in both ruku' and prostration. They make their abdomen touch their thighs in prostration and put their arms on the ground/floor. They do not keep their feet upright in prostration; they put their toes to the right on their sides. They do "tawarruk" while sitting, that is, they sit on their left hips and put their feet to their right sides.

4. The real reason for these differences is fulfilling the condition of tasattur (hijab) perfectly. For, hijab is fard in prayer. It was observed that this fard is harmed when women did not act in accordance with those differences. However, this is related to the type of dressing of women. This was more distinct during the time of the fiqh scholars that mentioned those differences. For instance, when a woman lifted her hands very high, her arms were left open due to the jilbab she was wearing. When she bent too much in ruku', her legs opened. When she kept her feet upright in prstration, her legs were seen, and so on. Therefore, the fiqh scholars seem to be holding the view of strengthening (completing) fards related to the conflicts between sunnahs and fards. That is, it is sunnah to lift the hands up to the length of ears (according to Hanafis) but it is fard to close the body parts that are awrah. If a fard is harmed when one performs a sunnah, the fiqh scholars try to settle the issue by applying the sunnah a bit differently, without abandoning the sunnah completely.    

5. We can conclude the following acting upon the explanation above: Since these differences are not sunnah and even mustahab and the reason for them is to ensure hijab, these differences should not occur when the types of clothes are changed and hijab is ensured fully without applying those differences. For, when the reasons for decrees disappear, the decrees also disappear. There should be no drawback to saying it. Besides, the following is narrated from Imam Abu Hanifa:

"The woman lifts her hands up to the length of ears in takbir because her hands are not awrah." [Qasani, Badayi` I/199; Marghinani, Hidaya (Fathul-Qadir) I/283]

This narration is even reported as follows: A woman is like a man in prayer. (Hamawi, Sharhu`l-Ashbah, IV/171) As it is seen, the issue is based on hijab only.

6. However, if it is thought that some of these differences are based on at least mawquf hadiths, it will be more appropriate to say that it is mustahab, in the sense of fiqh scholars regarding them mustahsan, for women to act in accordance with those differences all the time.

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