Kathy wrote in message <email@example.com> in the newsgroup soc.religion.islam:
We are a masjid that does not have
a curtain, according to the sunnah. A few people are insisting that we put a
curtain. Part of their argument is that Umar (ra) banned women from the mosque,
so we should put a curtain. People I ask say they never heard this before.
Did Umar ban women from the
mosque? I know of a hadith in Sahih Muslim where Umar's grandson (Bilal) wanted
to prevent women from coming to the mosque but Umar's son (Abdullah) told him he
could not go against the Sunnah of the Prophet.
Wa `alaykum as-Salam Sister Kathy:
Regarding the question: Did the Commander of the
Believers `Umar ibn al-Khattab - Allah be well-pleased with him - prevent women
from attending the mosque?
The answer is: Yes, but only those who stayed there for
loitering/relaxation (istirwah), not those attending fard Salat.
Khawla bint Qays said: "We were women, in the Mosque [in Madina al-Munawwara], who may have mixed with the men at times and perhaps even flirted (ghazalna) and even harmed themselves in this intermixing; so `Umar said: 'I swear I shall make free women of you again.' So he brought us out (akhrajana) of the Mosque." Kanz al-`Ummal #23131 from Ibn Sa`d's Tabaqat.
`Umar (RA) never prevented nor forbade women from attending the mosque for the five obligatory prayers nor Tarawih.
This general permission and conditional prohibition is how he understood the meaning of the hadith of the Prophet (S): "Do not forbid the bondswomen of Allah from [going to] the mosques of Allah."
It is also related that he allowed them to pray Tarawih prayers in the Mosque at Madina far from the men and ordered Sulayman ibn Abi Hatma to be Imam for them, at the far end of the Mosque. Al-Muhalla (3:139).
In fact `Umar himself narrated that the Prophet (SAWS) said more explicitly, "If your women ask permission to go out to Salat, do not forbid them!" Musnad Ahmad (1:40).
To that end `Umar made sure they had a separate entrance and exit to the Mosque, which he forbade men from using, and separate ablution facilities. Al-Muhalla (3:131 and 4:119).
Yes, `Umar disliked for women to go the mosque.
`Atika bint Zayd the wife of `Umar would ask `Umar permission to go to Salat in the Masjid and he would remain silent. She would continue, "I swear I will go out unless you forbid me." She used to go out for Salat al-`Isha and Salat al-Fajr. She was asked once: "Why do you go out like that, knowing how jealous he is?" She replied: "And what prevents him from forbidding us?" Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba (1:106).
`Umar once said to her: "I swear that you know very well I dislike it." She said: "By Allah! I shall not stop until you forbid me." `Umar replied: "I truly do not forbid you." And the day `Umar was stabbed to death in the mosque, she was present. Al-Muhalla of Ibn Hazm (3:139).
It is `A'isha - Allah be well-pleased with her - that tended to forbid the women from going to the mosques, including for the five prescribed prayers let alone Tarawih. She gave her reason in the famous statement: "If the Messenger of Allah had seen what the women of our time do, he would have forbidden them to go to the mosques just as the Israelite women were forbidden." Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and the books of Sunan.
The majority of the Ulema if not their Consensus agree - and Allah knows best - that if women go to mosques - for obligatory prayers or otherwise - then there should be (1) a separate entrance for them and (2) space for prayer and facilities they can use in isolation from mixing with and view by the men. And Allah knows best.
In conclusion: You are right that in the time of the Prophet (S) there was no curtain separating men from women. The men prayed directly behind the Prophet (S), then the boys, then the women starting behind the last row of the boys. But not having a curtain in the mosque today in not a sunna in the sense of "something not obligatory but carrying reward, the leaving which does not constitute sin."
Furthermore, the curtain is not against the Sunna but on the contrary is a way to prevent fitna, which prevention is fard and a pre-requisite of obligatory and recommended practices. There is a basic principle that "the prevention of evil take precedence over the obtainment of good." Such prevention, in other words, applies before everything.
In view of this, the Prophet (S) said that the best place for a woman's Salat is in the privacy of her house, and in another narration: in the privacy of her room. If something approaching the function and purposes of this private space can be reduplicated in the mosque, it should be welcome as something close to Wajib, not fought.
So the curtain should be accepted, allowing men and women to pray on alternate sides if space does not allow front rows for men and back rows for women, which is a better arrangement. Together with this there should be separate facilities and, if possible, separate entrances.
This conclusion reunites the basic stipulations of the texts on the issue of women praying in the Mosque, not on the allegation that "`Umar banned women from the mosque" but in order that believing men and women can obtain the benefits of Jama`a without Shaytan interfering with them. Wallahu a`lam.