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Summary of question
Salamun alaikum, we see that in some mosques, there is a niche which is dug deeper the mosque to such extent that the prayer leader walks a few steps down to get into it. What is the reason?
question
Salamun alaikum, we see that in some mosques, there is a niche which is dug deeper the mosque to such extent that the prayer leader walks a few steps down to get into it. What is the reason?
Concise answer
One of the conditions of congregational prayer is that the place where a prayer leader stands should not be higher than the place of the follower, unless the height is negligible.[1] That is why in some mosques we see that in order that this rule be observed and to make sure that the people standing in different parts of a mosque including its courtyards stand at a surface higher than the place where the prayer leader stands, therefore a part of the floor where the prayer leader should stand is dug deeper.
It has to be noted that the reason behind this rule are traditions and narrations[2] that have been reported from Infallible Imams (AS).  The wisdom behind this could be the humbleness of the Imam as compared to the followers and that this should not lead to exaggeration as to the status of the prayer leader as well as to deviation in the believers' worship.
 

[1] Fazel Lankarani, Muhammad, Islamic Laws for Adolescents, p. 135, issue No. 332, Amir Qalam, Qom, 35, 1427 A.H.
[2] An instance of those narrations is the following:
«سُئِلَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ(ع) عَنِ الْإِمَامِ يُصَلِّي وَ خَلْفَهُ قَوْمٌ أَسْفَلُ مِنَ الْمَوْضِعِ الَّذِي يُصَلِّي فِيهِ قَالَ إِنْ كَانَ الْإِمَامُ عَلَى شِبْهِ الدُّكَّانِ أَوْ عَلَى أَرْفَعَ مِنْ مَوْضِعِهِمْ لَمْ تَجُزْ صَلَاتُهُمْ وَ إِنْ كَانَ أَرْفَعَ مِنْهُمْ بِإِصْبَعٍ أَوْ أَكْثَرَ أَوْ أَقَلَّ إِذَا كَانَ الِارْتِفَاعُ بِقَطْعِ سَيْلٍ وَ إِنْ كَانَتِ الْأَرْضُ مَبْسُوطَةً وَ كَانَ فِي مَوْضِعٍ مِنْهَا ارْتِفَاعٌ فَقَامَ الْإِمَامُ فِي الْمَوْضِعِ الْمُرْتَفِعِ وَ قَامَ مَنْ خَلْفَهُ أَسْفَلَ مِنْهُ وَ الْأَرْضُ مَبْسُوطَةٌ إِلَّا أَنَّهَا فِي مَوْضِعٍ مُنْحَدِرٍ فَلَا بَأْسَ بِهِ وَ سُئِلَ فَإِنْ قَامَ الْإِمَامُ أَسْفَلَ مِنْ مَوْضِعِ مَنْ يُصَلِّي خَلْفَهُ قَالَ لَا بَأْسَ بِهِ وَ قَالَ ع إِنْ كَانَ الرَّجُلُ فَوْقَ بَيْتٍ أَوْ غَيْرِ ذَلِكَ دُكَّاناً كَانَ أَوْ غَيْرَهُ وَ كَانَ الْإِمَامُ يُصَلِّي عَلَى الْأَرْضِ وَ الْإِمَامُ أَسْفَلَ مِنْهُ كَانَ لِلرَّجُل أَنْ يُصَلِّيَ خَلْفَهُ وَ يَقْتَدِيَ بِصَلَاتِهِ وَ إِنْ كَانَ أَرْفَعَ مِنْهُ بِشَيْ‌ءٍ كَثِيرٍ»
Shaykh Saduq, Muhammad bin Ali, Man La Yahzuruhu al-Faqih, vol.1, p.387, Islamic Publications Office, Qom, second edition, 1413 A.H.
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