This is because the Muslim ritual prayer is very physical in nature, involving standing, bowing and prostrating. People are supposed to stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with those next to them.
Muslims consider it distracting or immodest to have men and women praying side by side, or for women to prostrate in front of men.
Therefore, for the sake of modesty, Muslim women either pray behind men, or parallel to men with a separation between them. The only mosque in which this does not apply is in the mosque built around the Ka'bah where men and women pray in circular formations around it. Muslims like to stress, however, that this separation only applies during congregational prayer or in the prayer hall of a mosque. Moreover, where people stand in prayer has no bearing on their status with God or each other.
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