The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,
“When one of you prays, pray towards a Sutrah. Stand close to it and do not let anyone pass between you and it.”
[Abu Dawood, the Book of Prayer, Hadeeth 698 and Ibn Majah, the Book of Establishing the Prayer and its Sunan, Hadeeth 954]
This text is general regarding taking a Sutrah – irrespective of whether it is in the Masjid or home, for men or women. Some people do not adopt this Sunnah, so we find them praying without a Sutrah. This Sunnah is repeated by a Muslim many times during the day and night for the Sunnah Ar-Rawaatib, Ad-Duha, Tahiyaat Al-Masjid and Al-Witr prayers. For a woman it is repeated when she prays her obligatory prayers at home. As for the congregational prayers, the Imam is the Sutrah for those behind him.
Issues regarding the Sutrah
The Sutrah can be whatever the person sets in front of him when he is facing the Qiblah – such as a wall, stick or pillar. There is no limit to its width.
It should be at least the height of the back of a saddle (about a hand span). [Abu Dawood, the Book of Prayer, Hadeeth 685 and Ibn Majah, the Book of Establishing the Prayer and its Sunan, Hadeeth 945]
The space from the feet to the Sutrah should be about three arm-spans so that there is sufficient room for Sajdah (prostration).
The Sutrah has been legislated for the Imam as well as for the person praying alone, for the obligatory and options prayers alike. [Abu Dawood, the Book of Prayer, Hadeeth 698]
The Sutrah of the Imam is the Sutrah of the people praying behind him. It is permissible to walk between the lines of the people praying (i.e. in front of them) if there is a need. [At-Tirmidhi, the Book of Prayer, Hadeeth 335]
Benefits of observing this Sunnah:
■ It protects the prayer from being broken.
■ When someone passes in front of a prayer person, it cuts or reduces the value of the prayer. Things that break the Salah, when they pass between one praying and his Sutrah, are a female past the age of puberty, and a black dog. [Ibn Majah, the Book of Establishing the Prayer and its Sunan, Hadeeth 949]
■ The person praying provides a space for the people to pass by, thereby not giving them a need to pass directly in front of him.
■ It protects the eyes from wandering and looking around because the person using the Sutrah would always focus his sight to the area before his Sutrah. In this way, it is easier to contemplate on the meanings of the prayer.
[Book: More than 1000 Sunan Every Day and Night (Adhkar Min Alf Sunnah Fee Al-Yawm Wa Al-Laylah, Dar-us-Salaam Publications)]