بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The hadith explaining this issue is found in Saheeh Muslim where the prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم stated, “The best of the rows of the women are the last ones and the worst are the first ones”. However, this does not indicate an absolute ruling and there is greater detail as to when this is applicable; as many scholars have explained and hold as the correct opinion. Therefore we present the explanation of Shaikh ibn Baz and Shaikh ibn ul-Uthaymeen on the issue.
[Shaikh ibn Baz]
Q: We are a group of women and we pray in the masjid during Ramadan in a designated seperate area from the men, they do not see us and we do not see them [similar to many masaajid where there are now seperate rooms for women]. I have noticed the sisters do not complete the first rows and do not perfect them [instead they prefer the rows toward the back], and some of them use the evidence from the hadith regarding the best rows being the last ones for this action of theirs. I have explained to them that this relates to a situation where the women are praying behind the men in a given space without a barrier between them, however they do not accept my speech, we request you clarify the affair since this is something that occurs in many masaajid.
A: The hadith mentioned in this regard is authentic, however it is understood by the people of knowledge as you mentioned, and that is a situation where there is no barrier between the men and women. If, however, the women are covered and concealed from the men then the best of the rows are the first ones and the worst are the last ones just like the men. It is therefore upon them to complete the rows from the beginning, from the front, and to close the gaps just like the men due to the generality of the narrations with that regard.
[Based on the Shaikh’s response to the issue, Official Website]
[Shaikh ibn ul-Uthaymeen]
The Shaikh’s response regarding the same issue [summarised]: “The intent [of the hadith] is if the men and women are together in one place, in that instance the last rows are better than the first ones for women, that is since the last ones are further from the men and the first ones are closer to them. If, however, the women have a specific designated place of prayer – as is the case in many masaajid now – then the best rows for the women are the first ones just like the men”.
[Fataawa Arkaan ul-Islam p310/311]