From the Sunna we come to know that if an adult woman, a black dog, or a donkey passes in front of someone who is praying Salaat, without a Sutra (obstruction) in between, then his Salaat is invalidated. This is based on a sound Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ narrated by his illustrious companion Abu Dharr (radi Allahu anhu):
إِذَا قَامَ أَحَدُكُمْ يُصَلِّي فَإِنَّهُ يَسْتُرُهُ إِذَا كَانَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِثْلُ آخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ فَإِذَا لَمْ يَكُنْ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِثْلُ آخِرَةِ الرَّحْلِ فَإِنَّهُ يَقْطَعُ صَلاَتَهُ الْحِمَارُ وَالْمَرْأَةُ وَالْكَلْبُ الأَسْوَدُ
When any one of you stands for prayer and there is a thing before him equal to the back of the saddle that covers him and in case there is not before him (a thing) equal to the back of the saddle, his prayer would be cut off by (passing of an) ass, woman, and black Dog.
Some people object to this Hadith and the ruling contained therein on the basis that it is misogynist and degrades women. They often quote the reaction of the Prophet’s own beloved wife, sayyida Aisha (radi Allahu anha) to this Hadith, when she said to one of its narrators: “You have compared us (women) to donkeys and dogs!”
The answer to this objection is that while analogizing women with dogs and donkeys in their essence is certainly an example of misogyny and would naturally be considered a degradation of the high status of women as human beings, this Hadith has not actually analogized women with any animal in its essence. In other words, the Hadith does not say that “women are like dogs and donkeys”. It is only stating that among the factors which result in the invalidation of Salat is the passing in front of the Musalli of three things, one of which is an adult woman.” However, this does not necessitate that the raison d’etre of why a woman’s passing in front nullifies the Salat is identical to that of why a black dog or donkey passing in front nullifies the Salat. In fact, the reasons are different though the result (nullification of the Salat) is the same. It is only because the result is the same that women have been mentioned in the same sentence with dogs and donkeys. Imam al-Qurtubi, in his explanation of the Hadith, has stated that the distraction of the woman is different than the distraction of the donkey which may bray, and that of a black dog which may cause fright. It is only the common factor of distraction to the praying man offering his Salat which results in the ruling of the nullification of the Salat by the passing in front of these three, though the reason for the distraction is different for each.
To help illustrate this point, consider the fact that in Islam is it forbidden to eat, among other things, the flesh of swine (pork), the flesh of canine, and the flesh of a human being (cannibalism). No one can infer from this that Islam has equated human beings with swine and canines.
Sayyida Aisha (radi Allahu anha) mentions, in refutation of this Hadith, that she would often lie in front of the Prophet ﷺ when he was offering his Salat, and then would at times get up and slip away, while this action of hers did not nullify the Prophet’s ﷺ Salat. However, this argument is erroneous because the Hadith is talking about passing in front of someone who is praying from one side to the other, i.e., someone passing in front of him from his left and passing to his right, or vice versa.
Another objection to the ruling contained in this Hadith is that it is not accepted by the major schools of jurisprudence in Islam, namely, the Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’ie schools. There seems to be a difference of opinion within the Hanbali school. The position of the jurists and their respective schools of law is that the Hadith speaks of not nullifying the Salat proper, but of “cutting” the concentration of the one who is praying. This seems to be somewhat of a far-fetched explanation since the wording of the Hadith does not mention “concentration” or the Khushu of the Salat. It would be safer and more cautious to act upon the literal wording of this Hadith.