Sometimes, there are occurrences which boggle you because of their unprecedented repetition. While in Trinidad in April, I heard mention of saffs (lining up in rows for salaat) twice, one of those times time now escapes me since I took too long to write this, and the other being during the khutbah on yawm ul jummah. The visiting sermon renderer spoke of competition amongst the Companions, r.a., and illustrated with reference to the following hadith:
Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “If people came to know the blessing of pronouncing Adhan and the standing in the first row, they could nothing but would draw lots to secure the privileges.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
I reacted mentally, because growing up, I shunned the front row in salaat (fearing it would be construed as ‘showing off’), and thought then and there that I should revamp my thinking. So I searched a bit, because despite BD’s ambitious challenge, memorisation by me of hadith is an unreliable source for me at this time, and lo and behold, in addition to that hadith, I found the converse hadith:
Abu Hurairah (RA) quotes Prophet (SAW), who said: “The best of the men’s rows [in Salat] is the first row and the worst is the last; but for women’s row is the last and the worst of their rows is the first.” (Muslim)
Abu Said Khudri narrates that when Allah’s Messenger (SAW) perceived a tendency among his companions (RAA) to stand in the back rows, he said to them: “Come forward and be close to me and let those who come after you, follow your lead. (Remember!) If people continue to fall behind (i.e. in acquiring virtues), Allah puts them behind.” (Muslim).
This is an excellent read: http://www.quranandhadith.com/rows-in-prayer-significance-etiquettes