(Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud Tayalisi, Baihaqi, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Nasai and it is judged sahih by Albani. He includes it as #2472 in his Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Sahih)
Why is this narration so fascinating? Because it reveals how even in the time of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), the Sahabah had differing levels of emaan and even in salah - a time when all worldly desires are meant to be put aside - they still acted upon their desires.
Yet to me, the most interesting part of this narration is that when Allah sent down a revelation concerning this situation, He did not rebuke the woman - He rebuked the men who forgot their khushoo', the men who forgot that Allah is Ever-Watching, the men who forgot that Allah can easily expose those who claim piety yet act in a contrary manner. Allah is the One Who reminded these men that their intentions are fully known to Him.
Note the way that Ibn 'Abbas (radhiAllahu 'anhu) shared this story. This woman was publicly known, and though her name is not mentioned in the narration, her identity was obviously common knowledge amongst the people of Medinah.
It was also known that the pious men were those who made a point of fighting temptation by removing themselves from a situation where they would feel weak, whereas those whose emaan was weaker were those who purposely lingered behind to indulge their desires.
Now, can you imagine the embarrassment and shame of those men who were publicly rebuked by Allah? Can you imagine having all of Medinah *and* those who were visiting Madinah at the time, knowing that *your* weak and sinful behavior was the cause of Allah sending down Divine Revelation to warn you of His Knowledge? This aayah was and remains a public reminder and rebuke to all Muslim men who attempt to dress up their inappropriate behavior with a guise of 'religiousness.' It is a reminder that Muslim men are responsible for lowering their gazes, for controlling their behavior, for removing themselves from a situation where they feel weak. It is a reminder that they CANNOT blame their own weakness of faith, character, or actions on women!
This anecdote, combined with other ahadeeth that discuss the relationship of men and women in the public sphere (the masjid), display how RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) trained his Companions in the appropriate way of interacting with the other gender.
For example, RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) made it a habit to remain sitting forward (towards the qiblah) after his tasleem, giving the women a chance to leave the masjid before the men (remember, there was no physical barrier between the men and women at the time). He displayed respect towards these women (including and especially those who did not wear niqab), and thus trained his male Companions do act similarly.
Alas, both Muslim men and women alike have forgotten the beautiful akhlaaq and adab that *should* mark our actions, especially in mixed-gender interactions. Thus we have an Ummah which has gone to two extremes: attempting to segregate the genders to an unhealthy level to the point where a simple, innocent conversation is considered zina; or throwing out any notion of hijab, lowering the gaze, and considering any and all behaviour between the genders - even zina - to be acceptable.
In both cases, diseased hearts are created and fostered, because there is no holistic understanding of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Islam came to transform the Ummah from one of ignorance to one of beauty, honour, dignity, and respect. To reach that state, we *must* go back to the understanding of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions. Only then can we possibly start seeing the men and women of this Ummah coming together, as they were meant to be, to cooperate upon birr and taqwa: goodness and righteousness.