What is the ruling of Islam on the mixing of men and women in one place?
The dominant human culture in our world today considers the free satisfaction of bodily pleasures a natural right for everyone. It finds nothing immoral in acknowledging this. However, it has directed the human efforts to invest in the practical fields of civil and military developments.
For the Muslim nation, it failed to follow the course that Islam has set for it concerning the preservation of man’s instinct nature; it put social and economic obstacles in the way of marriage and developed extremely strict traditions that govern the possibility for the two genders to see each other.
A thoughtful look at these traditions shows that they are based on ostentatiousness, ignorance and arrogance of some races on the one hand, and the pretention of religiousness on the other. For me, if the Western traditions are dishonorable, the Eastern traditions must be illogical. The victims of both invented traditions are growing either in the East or in the West.
Let us take the Islamic traditions from their authentic sources as practiced by the early Muslim generation and not as claimed by those who have been taught fabricated knowledge. Indeed, such people destroy women emotionally and are much like their ancestors who used to bury women alive in the pre-Islamic period.
In Islam, a woman can go to pray in the mosque five times a day, provided that this does not affect the service she offers to her husband and children. Her Muslim husband is instructed not to prevent her from going to the mosque so long as she has fulfilled her duties towards her family. In mosques, there is no mixing between women and men as for each gender group there are certain rows. Moreover, women go to mosques in decent dress where they cover all of their bodies except for the face and the hands. If this is the case, should we claim that there is mixing between women and men in mosques? Seeing the other gender is possible at the mosque and while going to and from it. However, seeing the other gender is only permissible if the individual observes lowering the gaze and showing politeness. For example, if a Muslim man’s sight fell on a beautiful woman, he should quickly lower his gaze and not look at her again since the first look is permissible and the second one is not. Surely, the first unintentional quick look which a man takes at any women is permissible, even if some people argue about it.
There is nothing wrong with the Muslim woman walking down the street in her decent dress as prescribed by the teachings of Islam as she goes to the market, the school, or the mosque, for example. Suppose that a Muslim man passes by a group of Muslim women and greets them, he would not do anything wrong sin for the following narration by ˀAsmāˀ bint Yazīd who said, “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by us, among a group of women, and he greeted us with (the greeting of) peace.” In another narration reported by At-Tirmiżiy, the Prophet (PBUH) held up his hand in greeting them.
It is reported that a number of the female Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) accompanied the Muslim army led by him to cook for the soldiers, nurse the injured, and the carry aside the martyred ones. At the end of the battle, Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, offered them some gifts.
Here is a very important ḥadīth reported by Al-Bukhariy that I would like each Muslim to contemplate on in order to recognize some of the qualities of the first Muslim communities. Abu Juḥaifah reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, established a bond of brotherhood between Salmān and Abu Ad-Dardāˀ. Salmān paid a visit to Abu Ad-Dardāˀ and found ˀUm Ad-Dardāˀ dressed in shabby clothes and asked her why she was in that state? She replied, “Your brother, Abu Ad-Dardāˀ is not interested in the joy of this world.” In the meantime, Abu Ad-Dardāˀ came and prepared a meal for him (Salmān), and said to him, “(Please) eat for I am fasting.” Salman said, “I am not going to eat, unless you eat.” So Abu Ad-Dardāˀ ate. When it was night, Abu Ad-Dardāˀ got up (for the night prayer). Salman said (to him), “Sleep,” and he slept. Again Abu- Ad-Dardāˀ got up for the prayer, and Salmān said o him, “Sleep.” When it was the last part of the night, Salmān said to him, “Get up now (for the prayer).” So both of them offered their prayers and Salman said to Abu Ad-Dardāˀ, “Your Lord has a right on you; and your soul has a right on you; and your family has a right on you; so you should give the rights of all those who have rights on you.” Later on, Abu Ad-Dardāˀ visited the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and mentioned that to him. The Prophet (PBUH), said, “Salmān has spoken the truth.”
When I read the above-mentioned ḥadīth, I said to myself that the community in which the distorted Islamic knowledge is prevailing would consider Salmān’s question to Um Ad-Dardāˀ an offense and would consider her answer a graver offense. Consequently, it would address a similar situation be legitimizing beating women or punishing them in a way that may cause death or a permanent disability.
I wonder how marriage is arranged in such closed communities. It often becomes a form of gambling. That is why the Arabs living in the European cities and in the United States are notorious for hypersexuality while they have left hundreds of young women becoming spinsters at their home lands. The primary reason for that dilemma is the strict traditions which the Arabs invented by themselves and imposed on their communities but which has nothing to do with the Islamic teachings.
I do not label the Muslim society as being closed or open. I would rather say that it is a very natural society governed only by the intact human nature. However, a closed society suspects all women’s movements and interprets them as being a means to evil, or displays fear that they might be harmed. Therefore, it forbids what has been made permissible by the Islamic law, puts obstacles to women’s rights, misinterprets the very explicit religious texts, or tries to label as ‘weak’ the ḥadīths graded as ‘authentic’ or vice versa. This eventually obliterates the personality of the Muslim woman.
An open society gives women absolute freedom, makes them a prey for what we may call human wolves that look at women only as a means for fulfilling their sexual desires. Eventually, an open society exploits its acknowledgment of women’s rights in subjecting them to its will.
Both societies are truly evil. I really cannot see anything that can do better than the Islamic teachings as understood by the healthy minds rather than the insane ones. I once met a religiously adamant university graduate who was shocked when I recited to him the following verse,
“And the men believers and the women believers are patrons one of the other; they command beneficence and forbid maleficence.” (Qur’ān 9:71)
He reacted as though he heard this Qur’anic verse for the first time. I cited it to support my argument that it is women’s right in Islam to enjoin what is good and forbid what is bad and decide on what is false and what is true exactly as a Muslim man would do. He thought that a Muslim woman’s voice is ‛awrah (i.e. sexually inciting and thus should not be heard in public) and, in his opinion, a woman should not be allowed to speak in public to tell the truth or reject falsehood.
One of those who think that a Muslim woman should be veiled from the whole society once told me in support of his view that God says,
“And reside in your homes, and do not flaunt your finery as was the flaunting of finery in the earliest (times) of Ignorance.” (Qur’ān 33:33)
I told him that there is no contradiction in the Qur’ān and that interpreting this verse to mean that a woman should not leave her house, as if it were her prison, is totally erroneous. The Prophet (PBUH) said in an authentic ḥadīth “It is permissible for you (women) to go out for your needs.” However, it is provided that a woman’s going out should not be in the way women used to dress themselves in the period of ignorance before the advent of Islam. Staying at home becomes much better for women than going out dressed in that bad way.
When a Muslim woman feels she has to go out, and this is certainly her right, she can go but she has to be dressed in the decent manner as shown by another Qur’anic verse. When a woman wears a decent dress covering her body in a nontransparent garment, she protects herself from suspicion and proves that she is a clean and modest woman. Conversely, indecent dress or sexually attractive clothes for women attract non-pious men and wicked persons to her. Thus, a wise Muslim woman should not harm herself by wearing such indecent clothes. She should always wear modest clothes to protect her chastity and keep herself safe. This is the intended meaning of this Qur’ānic verse,
“O you Prophet, tell your spouses, your daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments closer to them; that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognized and so will not be hurt. Allah has been Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.” (Qur’ān 33:59)
The individuals of a Muslim community should always be conscious of Allah and should regularly perform prayers because this prohibits immorality and wrongdoing. The limits set by Allah Almighty should be defined very clearly for everyone and whoever transgresses them should be punished. In such protective environment, a Muslim woman can go out for work if she needs to do so or when the community needs her contribution. Moreover, she can take part in land or sea battles as the female Companions did. She even can travel to the space if she has the required skills and talents for that. Indeed, with Islam a Muslim woman is not inferior in any way to a non-Muslim woman.
I know that some people will deeply resent my argument. Unfortunately, they harm Islam by their lack of understanding of the Islamic teachings. Consequently, they have brought up a generation of Muslim women who fail to teach their children the true Islamic values, while Jewish women struggle without a complaint to establish the State of Israel and nuns work hard to convert thousands of Muslims from Islam to Christianity.
I really feel pessimistic about the future when I hear those muftis who speak in the name of Islam and issue their verdicts forbidding women from going to mosques.
I would like to call your attention to the fact that the two genders’ relationships come second in importance after other critical issues, including the establishment of the true Islamic beliefs, the values based on such beliefs as among which are faithfulness, fear of God, awe to Him, loyalty to Him and His Messenger, freedom from being infidels and disbelievers, and establishment of social ethical values of truthfulness, righteousness, honesty, and mercy.
The psychological diseases that may appear as a result of the negligence of the above-mentioned issues are more destructive to nations than the physical diseases. Irrational hatred among the Arabs is more fatal for them than the obvious hostility of their enemies.
It is utterly foolish and ridiculous to think that women’s uncovering of their faces is more evil than having a malicious or an envious heart to others.
 Muḩammad El-Ghazāli, “A Hundred Questions on Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 402.