The difference between the rulings for a masjid and a musalla
My father and uncle erected a residential building in 1983. The ground floor was readied as a musalla which was divided into two sections; one for men and the other for women. The two sections are not linked and the entryway to the building separates them. Since the building was first constructed, religious rites such as prayers, i'tikaf (spiritual retreat), and religious lectures have been held in the men's section; prayers were not held in the women's section except for only a few days. Ten years ago, my uncle started using the women's section as storage space and refused to use it as a school for Qur`anic memorization. Now he wants to convert it into a shop. Is this permissible?
Are those who pray in the women's section allowed to follow the prayers of the imam leading prayers in the men's section? Please note that there are two doors in women's section: one opens into the building's entryway (there are no doors from the men's section that open into the building's entryway) while the other opens into the street. There are likewise two doors in the men's section: one leads to the street and the other to the outside of the building from the opposite side with respect to the women's section. There is no direct link between the two sections.
It is established in Islamic law that there is a difference between a masjid which has been dedicated to Allah and a zawya or a musalla with shops and private quarters above them. It is permissible to pray in them and purity of place is incumbent in all three.
Rulings specific to a masjid
A masjid has special rulings which include among others:
-The impermissibility of changing it from a masjid to another purpose;
- The impermissibility of selling in it;
- The impermissibility of menstruating women remaining inside it;
- The permissibility of offering the specialized prayer for 'greeting the masjid' in it.
In contrast, the rulings for masjids do not apply to zawyas or musallas even if they have been endowed as places for performing prayers. This is because the space surrounding a masjid is part of it while private properties are usually built over zawyas or a musallas, i.e. any zawya or musalla built under a private property is not considered a masjid.
-Ibn Nujaim, the Hanafi scholar, wrote in Al-Bahr Al-Ra`iq Sharh Kinz Ad-Daqa`iq, "(The opinion stating): whoever erects a masjid beneath which is a basement or above which is a residence with its door facing the street and separates it from the rest of the house or reserves a portion in the middle of his house as a masjid and allows people to enter to pray in it, is free to sell it and can it be inherited from him. This is because he did not dedicate it exclusively to Allah and it remains his private property. In brief, the condition that causes a place to be considered a masjid is that the space above and beneath it must also be part of it thus severing a person's right to it. Allah Almighty says,And the places of worship are for Allah (alone). [Al-Jinn, 18]
Structures beneath or above a masjid which have been endowed to the interests of the masjid are permissible; they are not owned by anyone but rather are supplementary to the interests of the masjid. An example includes the basement of Al-Aqsa Mosque. This is the dominant opinion of [our] school of jurisprudence. There are some different rulings mentioned in Al-Hidaya."
-Ibn Hazm, from the literalist school of jurisprudence, wrote in Al-Muhalla (4/248), "It is not permissible to build a masjid with private residence above or beneath it that is not part of it. Any such structure is not considered a masjid and remains the property of the owner. This is evidenced by the fact that space cannot be owned as it is incorporeal. Allah the Almighty says,And the places of worship are for Allah (alone). [Al-Jinn, 18]
Therefore, a place of worship cannot be designated as a masjid unless it is exclusively the property of Allah without any partners. If this is so, then a person may build as many stories as he wishes above his personal property and it is not possible to eliminate his ownership to the space above, which is legally his.
Likewise, a person may build a masjid on a piece of land and stipulate his ownership of the space surrounding it to dispose of as he wishes. This condition is invalid and does not eliminate his ownership of the masjid and make it the property of Allah. The Messenger of Allah said, "Any condition that is not present in the Qur`an is invalid."
Such a condition is invalid because: if a person erects a masjid on a ground floor and retains the space above it for himself, then if its ceiling belongs to him, this would mean that the masjid is without a ceiling and no structure is ever without one. And if the ceiling belongs to the masjid, then it is not permissible to build anything above it. But if the masjid is on an elevated floor and its ceiling belongs to it, then it is a place without a floor (because the ceiling of the ground floor does not belong to it) and this cannot be. But if it does belong to the masjid, then he has no claim to it and it would be tantamount to erecting a house with no ceiling which is impossible.
Additionally, if the masjid is on the ground floor, then it is impermissible to build anything on its walls; such a stipulation is invalid since it is a condition that does not exist in Allah's Book. But if the place of worship is on an upper floor, it is permissible for the owner of the property beneath it to knock down the walls of his property whenever he wishes even if this involves destroying the masjid. It is unlawful to prevent him from doing this since by doing so, one would only be preventing him from disposing of his property, which is impermissible."
Praying in a building while following the imam praying in another building
According to An-Nawawi in Rawdat Al-Talibeen, it is impermissible for a person in a building to follow the imam praying in another building, one of which is not a masjid and that is separated from the former by a barrier thereby preventing free entry and seeing the motions of the imam.
It is permissible for your uncle to use the women's section for storage. It is impermissible for a person — man or woman — praying in the women's section to follow an imam in the men's section or vice-versa. This is due to the barrier that separates the two places, impeding free entry and seeing the motions of the imam.
Allah the Almighty knows best.