In Islam, the basic principle of the interaction between men and women is segregation. This means that in all areas of life and in all places whether private or public, contact between men and women is generally prohibited. Many evidences establish the principle of not mixing between the sexes, and there are many ahadith which clarify that this is the case in both public and private areas:
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: "The best rows
for the men are the first rows and the worst rows for them are the last
rows. The best rows for the women are the last rows and the worst for
them are the front rows." The last rows are the best for the women
because they are farther away from the men as against the first rows
that are nearest to men's rows. [This is related by the group except
In Abu Dawud, p.284, Hadith No. 4931, it is narrated upon the authority of Aisha (ra) that she said: "I used to play with my friends and whenever the Prophet (saw) entered they would leave and whenever he (saw) went out they would come back in."
This means that the Muslims should avoid contact with members of the opposite sex, whether Muslim or not, as a general rule. However, there are exceptions to this general rule, where the mixing or interaction between men and women is permitted in certain situations.
For example, it is permitted for men and women who are mahram to each other to mix freely for any purpose that Islam permits. As well, there are certain areas where it is permitted for non-mahram men and woman to interact with each other, such as for the purpose of da‘wah (invitation to Islam). However, the type of mixing that can occur here is not free, and is restricted by the Shari‘ah to be within certain guidelines and boundaries, and the Muslim must be sure to understand these before any type of mixing takes place.
The ahkam (rules) to do with mixing also vary with regard to the kind of place in which the mixing occurs.
In an Islamic society, there are two types of areas where men and women come into contact with each other, which are quite different in their descriptions and in the ahkam (rules) which relate to them. The nature of the interaction between people in them may involve the mixing among men, among women, and between men and women. These are:
The Public Areas - These consist of areas wherein anybody can be present without permission, e.g. the mosque, the streets etc.
The Private Areas - These are areas where permission is required to enter them, such as houses. In such areas, it is forbidden to enter without permission, or even to look inside. Sahl ibn Sa’ad narrated, “A man peeped through a round hole into the dwelling place of the Prophet (saw) while he had an iron comb with which he was scratching his head. He (saw) said, ‘Had I known you were looking (through the hole) I would have pierced your eye with it (the comb). Verily, the order of taking permission to enter (a dwelling place) has been enjoined because of that sight (that one should not look unlawfully at the state of others)’. ” [Bukhari]
Allah (swt) says:
“O you who believe, don’t enter houses other than your own until you have asked permission and saluted those in them, that is best for you, in order that you may heed (what is seemly). If you find no one in the house, don’t enter until permission is given to you; if you are asked to go back, go back; that makes for greater purity for yourselves, and Allah knows well all that you do).” [TMQ An-Nur: 27-28]
It was deduced from these verses that the place which is considered a house and upon which the rules of the private life apply is the one no one from outside is allowed to enter it except with a permission. In such place, the woman has special rules, to which the term of private life was given. This applies to that known as house or home. It was compared to it, by analogy, the places that are closed to the public i.e. in those areas which nobody is allowed to enter unless he had a special permission. However if those areas can be seen by people outside of them for example if they were made of transparent glass, where their inside is exposed to the public, then they are considered public places. Similarly, the places open to the public, wherever anybody has an enquiry or a transaction can enter, such offices are not subject to the rules of the private life.
Islam defines rules and laws which regulate the relationships between men and women in each of these spheres.The Private Life
This concerns the conduct of people when they are in the private areas. Here, the principle is that mixing between unrelated (non-mahram) men and women is forbidden as a general rule. However, the Shari‘ah gives permit for mixing to occur under certain special circumstances. In all these cases, a woman cannot be in Khalwa (seclusion) with another man alone. These areas include:
1) Medicine: It is allowed for men and women to mix for the purpose of seeking medical treatment. The Sahabiyat used to treat the Sahaba and the Prophet (saw) consented to that.
2) Da’wa: It is allowed for men and women to be present in the same class if the purpose of their mixing is learning about Islam or other types of education permitted by the Shari‘ah. The sister of Umar (ra) was being taught from the Quran by Khabab ibn Arrat (ra) with her husband when Umar entered upon them. It has been narrated that Umm Salamah and Aisha (ra) who used to do da'wa to men and women
3) Marriage: If a man is looking to marry a woman then he is allowed to talk to her about issues related to finding out about her and related to the marriage. A man came to the Messenger Muhammad (saw) to ask about marrying a girl and the Prophet (saw) told him to go and see her i.e. see her in her Mahram’s presence.
4) Duress or Compulsion: At times of absolute necessity or emergency, such as earthquakes, war or hurricanes, the necessary mixing is permitted for men and women in order to remove any danger or threat.
5) State arrest: The evidence for this is from Uthman and Umar (ra) said, "O women, cover yourselves we are entering" and he entered a house to arrest someone with his army and there was Ijma of the Sahaba (consensus of the companions) on this.
6) Eating: In Surah Nur Allah (SWT) says:“The blind is not to be blamed, the crippled is not to be blamed, nor is the handicapped to be blamed, just as you are not to be blamed for eating at your homes, or the homes of your fathers, or the homes of your mothers, or the homes of your brothers, or the homes of your sisters, or the homes of your fathers' brothers, or the homes of your fathers' sisters, or the homes of your mothers' brothers, or the homes of your mothers' sisters, or the homes that belong to you and you possess their keys, or the homes of your friends. You commit nothing wrong by eating together or as individuals. When you enter any home, you shall greet each other a greeting from Allah that is blessed and good. Allah thus explains the revelations for you, that you may understand.” [TMQ 24:61]
For men and women to eat together is permitted in the places mentioned in the verse such as the home of your fathers or your friends as it says, “You commit nothing wrong by eating together or as individuals”.
However people should be careful that even though eating together with the women at a friends house is permitted that they should leave once they have eaten and beware of socialisation with the opposite sex which would be exceeding the permit.
7) Silat ar-rahm (maintaing the relationship between kith and kin): It is allowed for non-maharam relatives to sit with their non-maharam (people to whom marriage is permitted) for the sake of silat ar-rahm as long as it is without khalwah (privacy). There exist a number of hadith concerning the keeping of good relations with the relatives.
It was narrated by Anas b. Malik that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: "Whoever loves that he be granted more wealth, and that his lease of life be prolonged, then he should keep good relations with his kith and kin". It is narrated by Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (saw) said: "Allah created His creation, and when He finished it, the womb got up and said, I seek refuge with you from Al-qatia (ties being severed with me)". On that Allah (swt) said: "Don’t you accept that I bestow my favours on him who keeps your ties, and withhold My favours from him who severes your ties?" On that it said, "Yes, Oh my Lord!" Then Allah (swt) said: "That is for you".
The Public Life
This concerns the conduct of people when they are in the public areas. Here again, the principle is that mixing between unrelated (non-mahram) men and women is forbidden as a general rule. However, the Shari‘ah gives permit for mixing (in the sense of presence in the same area) to occur under certain special circumstances. In all these cases, it is not a condition that a woman has a mahram in her presence. The areas can be broadly categorised to include:
1) Hajj: Through the Prophets (saw) consent.
2) Trade/hiring: This includes markets/shops, buying, selling, hiring, borrowing and lending. Tirmidhi narrated that the Messenger Muhammad (saw) traded with women, and Abu Bakr saw the Messenger Muhammad (saw) trade with a woman.
3) Work: If the nature of the work means that one needs to mix then there is a permit. Work involves looking for work e.g. interviews, etc. The Messenger Muhammad (saw) permitted Zubayr Ibn Awwam's wife to work. She carried water both to men and women. The Messenger even offered his camel to assist her.
4) Every day life affairs: This involves the unavoidable interaction between men and women in areas like streets, markets, restaurants, etc.
Special cases within the Public life
There are private places upon which the rules of private life apply, such as houses. There are public places upon which the rules of the public life apply, such as the markets. There are public places with special rules like separating men from women, such as the mosques and attending the public talks at lecture theatres and the like which are compared by analogy.
The Prophet (saw) said, “The best row for men is the front row, (furthest from the women’s row) and the best row for women is the back row and the worst is the front row (just behind the men).” [Abu Dawud]In Abu Dawud Kitab Al Salat, V.1, in the Chapter on Segregation, it is narrated that Umar bin Al Khattab (ra) said: "Make a special door for women in the mosques."
So in the markets, it is not a condition that men separate from women during trading. But in the mosque and the lecture hall, the separation of men from women is a condition. The Messenger Muhammad (saw) used to address men and women in the mosque in medina, men in front and women behind. Similarly, in the hospitals the sections of men should be separated from the sections of women.
In all these cases, where men and women are present at the same time, there must not be free mixing, where both sexes are mingling with each other. The general rule is that any contact between members of the opposite sex is minimised as much as possible, so any contact between members of the opposite sex must be necessary to the business at hand. Thus in the Islamic State, for example, in the trains or buses there would be separate areas for men and women.
In any case, the activities which are occurring must be halal (i.e. permitted) in nature. Accordingly, mixing between non-mahram men and women for the purpose of amusement, leisure-activities or entertainment is strictly prohibited. Thus issues such as boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, dating, or enjoying leisure and company with unrelated women is haram. However, Islam does see these types of activities as acceptable, but only when regulated within the framework of marriage.
Mixing (ikhtilaat) is not allowed unless it is for a need recognised by the Shariah for which there is a text in the Book of Allah or the Sunnah of His Messenger (saw) such as buying, selling, silat rahm (maintaining relations with kith and kin), etc.
There is no text regarding the mixing of men and women in halls for wedding celebrations. Rather what has been mentioned in the time of the Messenger of Allah and his Sahabah is that the women used to sit with the bride on their own and the men used to sit on their own. Thus, mixing in halls is Haraam and no exception is made for it.
In Abu Dawud Hadith No.4933, it is narrated that Aisha (ra) said: "The Prophet married me at seven and we had relationship at nine and when I moved to medina some women prepared me for the wedding and they nor I ever mixed with men in a house of women. The women received me and men received the Prophet and then we went to the house."
What has been reported with respect to the wedding feasts is the wedding procession when the woman is taken to her husband’s house. It is allowed for men and women to take her to her husband’s house and then the men should separate form the women since this has been the established during the time of the Messenger of Allah (saw) and he approved of it. This occurred outside and therefore falls under the rules of the public place.
Khalwa relates to the presence of a non-mahram man and woman being on their own together without the presence of a mahram or any other person. This could happen in a private place, or a public place. In either case khalwa is forbidden from Islam, and both the man and woman involved are sinful.
Khalwa in a Private Place: This could occur in any place that requires permission for entry, such as a house or bedroom in a residence building.
Khalwa in a Public Place: This could occur in any public place whose nature is that no other people would be likely to pass by or come there. An example of such a place would be in a forest or an isolated room in an office.
Muhammad (saw) said, “If a man and a woman are alone together in an isolated place, then the third is Shaitan.” Bukhari narrated that the Prophet (saw) said, “No man should stay with a lady in seclusion except in the presence of a mahram to her.” A man stood up and said, “O Rasul Allah! My wife has gone out intending to perform the Hajj and I have been enrolled in the army for such and such a campaign.” The Prophet (saw) said, “Return and perform the Hajj with your wife.”
Modesty and Lowering the Gaze
Part of the provision of maintaining the dignity and honour of men and women in Islam is in the regulation of the way they are regarded by each other. It is forbidden for the Muslim man to look at any woman with lustful intentions, except for his wife. The same is true for a Muslim woman with regard to other men.
Rather, the emphasis is on lowering the gaze away from members of the opposite sex at times when they are present, like in the streets or the market place. Allah (swt) says,
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, that will make for greater purity for them, and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.” [TMQ 24:30-31]
Jarir ibn ‘Abdullah reported, “I asked Allah’s Messenger about the sudden glance (that is cast) on the face (of a non-mahram). He commanded me that I should turn away my eyes.” [Muslim]
This reflects the principle that the way that Muslim men and women view each other is completely different to the way of the West, where women are seen as sex objects, and respect of both men and women in this context is almost non-existent. Indeed, if it does exist at all, the criteria upon which it is based mainly concerns the superficial physical attributes. Allah (swt) says:
“And the believers, the men and women, are protecting friends of one another, they bid to honour and forbid dishonour, they perform the prayer, and they pay the alms, and they obey Allah and His Messenger. Upon them Allah will have mercy.” [TMQ 9:71]
This aspect of the Social System of the Islamic State will prevent exploitation of women in pornography, or the use of their bodies as an enticement for people to buy products. Additionally, in the media as a whole, whether on television, magazines, newspapers or films, neither men nor women will be portrayed in roles where they reveal their awrah, or involve in activities that are forbidden in Islam.
Thus the sexual bombardment from the media that is faced by people in the West, and the distorted image of men and women that this builds in the mind, will be absent in the Islamic State.