The performance of five prayers in congregation (jamaah) is sunnah muakkadah (something that the Prophet (PBUH) always did) in a degree equal to wajib (almost fardh) according to Hanafi School. According to Shafii School it is fardh kifayah (fard that if performed by some (a sufficient number), the obligation falls from the rest) whereas according to some Maliki scholars it is fardh ain (a compulsory duty for every single Muslim). However these judgments are for men. Women do not have to perform prayers in congregation. They may, but it is not a religious obligation.
As a matter of fact women used to perform prayers in the mosque behind the row of men in a separate row when our Prophet (PBUH) was alive. However, after the death of our Prophet (PBUH), it did not go on like that very long. The Sahabahs (Companions of the Prophet (PBUH)) did not consent to womens going to the mosque. Hadrat Aisha said: “If the Prophet (PBUH) had lived now, he would have forbidden women to go to the mosque as Bani Israil did.”(2)
What made Hadrat Aisha say the sentence above was the extremism in their clothes and appearance. Some women started to come to the mosque by wearing perfumes or ornamented clothes and attracting attention. Imam Ayni who translated and explained Bukhari said the following related to Hadrat Aishas above-mentioned sentence: “If Hadrat Aisha had seen the bidahs (innovations) and prohibited things the women of our time performed, she would have said something more severe. Furthermore, the innovations that women of that time performed may be only one out of one thousand of todays women.”
While one of the Shafii Scholars, Imam Nawai said, “For a woman there is no better place than her home even if she is old, Abdullah bin Mas’ud (May Allah be pleased with him) said ” a woman is awrah (needs to be covered). The time when she is nearest to Allah is when she is at home pointing out that the mosque of the woman was her home.
In a hadith our Prophet (PBUH) said the following about the most rewarding prayer of a woman:
“The prayer a woman performs in her house is more rewarding than the one she performs in the yard of her house. The prayer she performs in the yard of her house is more rewarding than the one in the mosque in their district. Their houses are better for them. (3)
(1) Muslim Salat: 135.
(2) At-Tafseeru’l-Kurtubi, 14: 244.
(3) Macmau’l-Anbur, 1: 109.