Evidence prohibiting men and women mixing?
Recently we were sent a copy of an article entitled: ‘No. 1200: Evidence Prohibiting of Mixing of Men and Women,’ written by Muḥammed Ṣāliḥ al-Munājjid. The article is published and available online. We have been asked to review and critically evaluate this answer, paying particular attention to: a) the subject and terms being employed; and more importantly, b) the evidences, textual or otherwise, that are used to argue that there is a general prohibition.
The response detailed below necessarily follows the chronological order that the article has been written in.
To begin, absent from the article is a clear legal definition of what this term ‘free-mixing’ is. Yet implicit within the line of argument that is presented, is the idea that the segregation of the sexes is mandated. In fact it is common to hear some people asserting that they cannot attend a particular restaurant, wedding, social-function or the like, because there is no segregation and as a result, there will be ‘free mixing.’
It is noteworthy that the term is not a Sharī’ah term. Neither is it a translation of an Arabic expression or a term that appears in either the Qur’ān or the Prophetic Sunnah. Law does not and cannot function on the basis of obscurities. It is not within the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence to use terms which are vague, open to wide interpretation and/or have no clear definition.
The author writes:
Among the many proofs of prohibition of the meeting and mixing of men and women in the Qur’aan and Sunnah are: Verse No. 53 of Surat al-Ahzab, or the Confederates (Interpretation of the meaning); “…for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs…”
Yet the verse in full reads as follows:
O you who believe! Do not enter the houses of the Prophet unless permission is given to you for a meal, not waiting for its cooking being finished– but when you are invited, enter, and when you have taken the food, then disperse– not seeking to listen to talk; surely this gives the Prophet trouble, but he forbears from you, and Allah does not forbear from the truth. And when you ask of them any goods, ask of them from behind a curtain; this is purer for your hearts and (for) their hearts; and it does not behove you that you should give trouble to the Messenger of Allah, nor that you should marry his wives after him ever; surely this is grievous in the sight of Allah. [33: 53]
As one can see, citing a small portion of the verse out of context does not constitute legal evidence. Moreover, when read in full, it is abundantly clear that the verse has nothing to do with a perceived ill-defined term of ‘free mixing.’ In fact, it is bordering upon being disingenuous to cite a small sentence like this from a verse and taking it completely out of context.
The statement of explanation provided by Ibn Kathir from his Tafsir does not indicate a prohibition of ‘free mixing.’ There is a legal distinction in Islamic jurisprudence between what is considered as the general and the specific. Additionally, it is established beyond doubt that there are certain rules which only apply to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his wives. Those rules are not of general applicability. For anyone to claim as such, they would not be following what Allah and his messenger (peace be upon him) have prescribed. As an example of this, no one can legitimately argue that a Muslim woman cannot remarry following the death of her husband, but this was the case for the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They had the special designated title of being ‘mothers of the believers’ (umm al-Mu’mineen).
A series of aḥadith are thereafter mentioned, ostensibly to show that they demonstrate the “….enforced separation of men and women even at Allaah’s most revered and preferred place, the mosque,” and “This is the greatest evidence that the Law of Islam (Shari’ah) forbids meeting and mixing of men and women.” These aḥadith are well known and are not being disputed in terms of transmission. However, in none of the hadith which are mentioned, is there an explicit prohibition from the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the author asserts.
a. Concerning the aḥadith of Umm Salamah (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri) and Ibn Umar (Sunan Abu Dāwud), these relate to having a well-ordered congregation in the masjid as well as an orderly attendance and departure. None of the transmitted text explicitly or implicitly makes any reference to the ‘mixing’ of the sexes, or that there is a general prohibition of this.
b. The ḥadith of Abu Hurayrah (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim) sets out the correct ordering of the rows for prayer. The context is clearly seen in the reported wording. And yet he writes:
“If these procedures and precautions were prescribed and adhered to in a mosque, which is a pure place of worship where people are as far away as they ever are from the arousal of desire and temptation, then no doubt the same procedures need to be followed even more rigorously at other places.”
c. To extrapolate that the ordering of rows for prayer now extends beyond the prayer is stepping over the bounds and making a wild assumption. The evidence does not substantiate that point. In fact, the author has overlooked the fact that during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), men and women were making ablution communally, which stands in direct contradistinction to the inflated and exaggerated claims he has made. The evidence for this comes in narration of Ibn Umar as reported in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri (but also appearing in the Sunan collections of Abu Dāwud, Nasā’i and Ibn Mājah):
Abdallah bin Yusuf narrated to us he said Mālik reported to us from Nāfi’ from Abdallah bin Umar that he said: during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), men and women used to perform ablution together in the same place.
d. The last ḥadith mentioned is that of Abu Usayd al-Anṣāri (Sunan Abu Dāwud). But here the reported words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are only: ‘Draw back, for you must not walk in the middle of the road; keep to the sides of the road.’ No mention is made regarding a general prohibition of mixing together or that this was the primary reason for the statement. One could reasonably argue that this related to the orderly departure from the masjid.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was not inarticulate in his wording. Rather, he was given the shortest expression with the widest meaning, as evidenced in the ḥadith reported from Abu Hurayrah (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri):
Abdal-Aziz bin Abdallah narrated to us Ibrāhim bin Sa’d narrated to us from Ibn Shihāb from Sa’eed bin Musayib from Abu Hurayrah may Allah be pleased with him that the Messenger of Allah peace be upon him said: I have been sent with ‘Jawāmi-al-Kalim‘ (the shortest expression with the widest meaning).
If there was to be a general prohibition barring all social interactions between the sexes, then it would have been clearly issued. Yet there is nothing in the divine texts which outline something called ‘free mixing’, nor is there a general prohibition relating to mixing – whatever either of those mean. Indeed, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said explicitly, again reported from Abu Hurayrah (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri):
Ismāeel narrated to us Mālik narrated to me from Abi Zinād from al-A’raj from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet (peace be upon him) who said:
Leave me as I leave you for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and their differences over their Prophets. So, if I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can.
In al-Mustadrak a’la Ṣaḥīḥayn, Al-Ḥākim cited the following:
A’li bin E’sa narrated to me Muḥammad bin Amr al-Ḥarshi narrated to us al-Qa’nabi narrated to us A’li bin Mashur narrated to us from Dāwud bin Abi Hind from Makḥoul from Abu Thalabah al-Khushani who said: the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
Verily, Allah has set some limits, so do not trespass them and He has ordained some obligations, so do not neglect them; He has sanctified some things so do not violate them; and He has refrained from mentioning other matters not (out of) forgetfulness, but as a way of being merciful to you, so accept (that) and do not look for them!
And Allah the exalted has said:
Nothing is (incumbent) on the Apostle but to deliver (the message), and Allah knows what you do openly and what you hide [5: 99]
The remainder of the article focuses upon some surveys that were conducted (references not provided) that purport to show that it is a common view that this (ill-defined) matter is prohibited and its various (alleged) negative consequences. We would reject out of hand any argument that a legal prohibition can be made on the basis of a survey. Obligations and prohibitions as well as recommendations and the disliked, can only be established by the Qur’ān and the Prophetic Sunnah. In addition to the ḥadith mentioned in section IV, Allah the exalted and majestic has said:
But no! By your Lord, they do not believe until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straightness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission [4: 65]
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا
O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those in authority from among you; then if you differ about anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle, if you believe in Allah and the last day; this is better and very good in the end [4: 59]
Blaming societal ills upon an ill-defined mixing of men and women is not a cogent or even legal argument. Perhaps it would have been better if the author had argued that a large proportion of corruption in society is because of the use of all pervasive mass-surveillance and the plethora of security agencies that spy upon people. At least that would have had a textual basis; as Imām Abu Dāwud records in his Sunan:
Sa’eed ibn Umar al-Ḥaḍramy narrated to us Ismāeel ibn A’yāsh narrated to us Ḍamḍam ibn Zur’a narrated to us from Shurayḥ ibn Ubaid from Jubayr ibn Nufayr and Kathir ibn Murra and Amr’ ibn al-Aswad and Miqdām ibn Ma’dikarib and Abi Umāmah who narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
When a ruler seeks to make imputations against the people, he corrupts them.
Or even perhaps note the prevalence of usury (riba’) upon which the entire banking system is based. Each of the Qur’ānic verses which outlaw and condemn this are unequivocal (for example see – 2: 275/276, 278/279 and 3: 130).
Conducting a comprehensive study relating to men and women in society would naturally be beyond the scope of this present reply. Perhaps a separate study into this can be conducted soon. To argue that society – any society, could reasonably function on the basis of a total separation of men and women is incredulous. The sheer number of necessary social interactions is too numerous to list. The author of article does not spend any effort in deliberating upon this point. Or for that matter, make a distinction between social interactions that are necessary and those which are not.
From our viewpoint, for what it is worth, it would have perhaps been better if the author had crafted a reply to the question basing his answer solely upon the clear Sharī’ah evidences abandoning sweeping statements, poor citation and misapplication. Even just mentioning the most obvious three evidences as an answer would have presented a more cogent and legally correct viewpoint:
And do not go near zinā (fornication); surely it is an indecency (fāḥisha’) and an evil way [17: 32]
And the two famous ḥadith which are found in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhāri (but also widely narrated):
Ali bin Abdallah narrated to us Sufyān narrated to us ‘Amr narrated to us from Abu Ma’bad from Ibn A’bbās from the Prophet (peace be upon him), he said:
No man should stay with a lady in seclusion except in the presence of a Maḥram.
حَدَّثَنَا الْحُمَيْدِيُّ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ الزُّبَيْرِ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَانُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ الأَنْصَارِيُّ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ التَّيْمِيُّ، أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ عَلْقَمَةَ بْنَ وَقَّاصٍ اللَّيْثِيَّ، يَقُولُ سَمِعْتُ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ عَلَى الْمِنْبَرِ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى، فَمَنْ كَانَتْ هِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى دُنْيَا يُصِيبُهَا أَوْ إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ يَنْكِحُهَا فَهِجْرَتُهُ إِلَى مَا هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِ
al-Ḥumaydi Abdallah bin Zubayr narrated to us he said Sufyān narrated to us he said Yaḥya bin Saeed al-Anṣāri he said Muḥammad bin Ibrāhim at-Tayme reported to me that he heard A’lqama bin Waqqāṣ al-Laythi saying that he heard Umar bin al-Khaṭṭāb (may Allah be pleased with him) upon the pulpit (where) he said he heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) say:
Actions are according to intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.
We pray to Allah to grant us all tawfiq.