QUESTION: Is it a Bid'ah (innovation) to have a partition for the women in the Masjid?
Before I answer this question, let me give a criteria which will clarify what is considered Bid'ah and what is not. Any 'Ibaadah (act of worship) that has no evidence from the Book of Allah or the authentic Sunnah is a Bid'ah. For any action that is not in itself a 'Ibaadah, but is done to improve or facilitate performing a 'Ibaadah, the rule is that it would be considered Bid'ah if it meets two criteria:
1. The motivation to do such a thing existed in the time of the Prophet (SAAW) and his companions, but they did not do it, and
2. There was nothing to prevent them from doing it.
Example: The lines in the Masjid to straighten the rows. We find great emphasis in the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (SAAW) regarding straightening the rows, and we know that Allah's Messenger (SAAW) and his companions are much better than us in their Diyn and knowledge, and they were more eager to please Allah, but we do not find anything to suggest that they had lines on the floor.
Instead, they spend considerable time before Salaat to ensure that the lines were straight. It was not difficult for them to draw lines on the ground or use threads to straighten the lines. Yet, they did not do this. Thus, what we see in so many Masaajid is Bid'ah.
Now, in regard to the partition, the following two questions were asked to Permanent Committee of Scientific Research and Iftaa' (religious decrees) (PCSRI) Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Currently we are in the process of building a Masjid. Is it or is it not a must or Sunnah to erect a partition between the men and the women?
ANSWER: It is neither a must nor a Sunnah to erect a partition between the rows of men and women in the Masjid because the women used to pray in (Jamaa'ah) congregation in the Masjid at the time of the Prophet (SAAW), and he did not erect a wall or anything else between them, nor was this the practice of the companions. (Ad-Da'wa magazine #857 - the PCSRI.: See Fataawi Islamiya For A Group of Honorable Scholars (Sheikhs Ibn Baz, Ibn 'Uthaimeen, and Ibn Jibreen. Unfortunately, the collector of the book did not mention the names of the committee members which issued this Fatwa.)
QUESTION: What is the ruling concerning the partition between men and women in the Masjid? Some say it is allowed and others warn against it. Those who allow it use as evidence that nowadays the women's faces are uncovered. Those who are against it use as evidence the Hadith which states that the women are ordered to delay rising from Sujood and Ruku until the men rise, and they say that if it were useful, then Allah's Messenger (SAAW) would have ordered a wall built between the men and the women at that time, and to this day, the Prophet's (SAAW) Masjid is still without a partition.
To our knowledge, there was no partition in the Prophet's (SAAW) Masjid during the time of the Prophet (SAAW) or during the time of the Rightly Guided Khalifas. Also there was no partition made from fabric. The Prophet (SAAW) never ordered it nor did any of his Rightly Guided Khalifas. This is supported by the Hadith from Sahl bin Saad when he said, "The people used to pray while tying their (izars) around their necks."
Because they were very short, it was said to the women to not lift their heads until the men were fully sitting because it was feared that the women would see the men's private parts. If there was a partition, this fear would not exist.
But if there was a fear of Fitnah, there would be no harm in erecting a partition between men and women that would not prevent the women from following the Imam in their Salaat. This would prevent corruption and enable them to preform Salaat in the Masjid, which is allowed for them. Allah's Grace and peace be upon our Prophet, his family and his companions.
The PCSRI members are Abdullah ibn Goud, Abdul Razaq Afifi, Abdullah ibn Ghedian, Abdullah bin Baz. Fatwa #2611, 20/9/1399 H. Majalat Al-Buhuth Al-Islamiyah. You can see from most of the answers of these most renowned scholars that the partition never existed in the time of the Messenger of Allah (SAAW) nor in the time of the companions - even though a motivation for it did exist.
Also, it was possible for them to do it - and they cared about their Diyn more than we do. Thus, with all respect to all of the scholars who say it is ok, the answer is that yes, the partition is Bid'ah (innovation).
Preventing corruption can only be achieved by following the authentic Sunnah, teaching it to people, reminding them of Allah and encouraging them to fear Him at all times, as Allah did in regard to this very matter. Also, the Masjids need to be set up the way they were set up at the time of the Prophet Rasool Allah. (regarding the entrances, the lines, etc...)
The following narration relates to this matter.
"Ibn 'Abbass said, 'A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet (SAAW). Some of the people used to go to pray in the front row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits to see her."
Because of this act, in regard to her, Allah revealed: "Verily, We know the eager among you to be in the front and verily We know the eager to be behind." (15:24).
Narrated by Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Attayalisy, Baihaqi, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Nasai and others. It was judged authentic by Sheikh Al-Albaanee in his book, Silsilat Al-Ahaadeeth As-Saheehah #2472, where he quoted many scholars who judged it to be authentic.
As you can see from this Hadeeth, there was a Fitnah, but the answer was not a partition, rather it was the reminder of Allah. What suffices for them suffices for us, and Allah knows best.