By Shaikh Sami al-Majid
The terms "mixing" and "mingling" are used frequently in discussions on the subject of male-female relations in Islam, but these terms were not used at the time the Qur'an was revealed. For this reason, we cannot find direct references in the Qur'an and Sunnah that say "free mixing between men and women is unlawful". However, this does not mean that such conduct is permissible or that Islam has failed to address the matter. Islam has detailed the relationship between men and women in the most precise and exacting terms. It has set down clear guidelines to show men and women how they must conduct themselves with one another. From all of this, there can be no question that Islam prohibits the free mixing of the sexes.
If we look at every verse of the Qur'an in search of a direct statement prohibiting a child from beating his parents, we will never find it. It is not there. However, the Qur'an says: "Do not even say to them 'uff'." Can any rational person, after hearing this verse, claim that it is permissible for a son to beat up his mother and father?
Likewise, Islam has forbidden a woman from putting on perfume and passing in front of men. It has prohibited her from striking her feet on the ground when she walks to reveal the jingle of her hidden ornaments. Can anyone, after considering these and so many other rulings, assume that women and men are allowed to freely mingle and mix with one another?
The texts of the Qur'an and Sunnah are limited in number. If we were to abstain from forbidding anything that is not directly stipulated by word in the texts, we would be rejecting the validity of analogous reasoning in Islamic Law. This would leave countless matters of life without an Islamic legal ruling. This would strip Islamic Law of one of its greatest qualities, which is its relevance to all times and circumstances.
It is absolutely clear from the texts that Islam does not allow men and women to meet each other whenever and however they like. It has placed clear regulations and restrictions upon such behavior and has defined the limits of interaction between men and women. Moreover, Islam has closed all doors that lead to temptation and promiscuity.
When we consider all of the laws governing the relationship between men and women in Islam, we are forced to come to the conclusion that Islam forbids any mixing between the sexes that might provide even the remotest possibility of temptation. Scholars of Islam throughout history have fully appreciated this fact. We can see it evidenced in the writings of the great jurists:
Al-Sarakhsi writes: "The judge should try women separately from men since people tend to crowd together in the courtroom. It is quite obvious that the mixing together of men and women under such crowded conditions is conducive to temptation and other distasteful consequences." [al-Mabsût (16/80)]
Al-Nawawi writes: "Ibn al-Mundhir and others maintain that it is a matter of unanimous agreement that women are not obligated to attend the Jumu'ah prayers. However, his argument that this is because it brings about the mixing of women and men is not correct. The attendance of women at the Jumu'ah prayers does not necessarily bring about such mixing since the women stay behind the men." [al-Majmû' (4/350)]
Al-Nawawi also writes: "One of the vilest innovations, that some ignorant people today are involved in, is the habit of lighting candles on Mount 'Arafah on the ninth night. This behavior is gravely misguided and is full of improper goings-on such as the mixing of men and women." [al-Majmû': (8/140)]
In the law book entitled al-Fawakih al-Dawani, there is a discussion of when it is permissible to refuse an invitation to a wedding party. It says: "An invitation may be refused if there is any clear wrongdoing at the party, like the mixing of men and women." [al-Fawakih al-Dawani (2/322)]
When scholars warn against the free mixing of men and women, they are not talking about the mere presence of men and women together in the same place. This is something that is definitely not prohibited by Islamic Law. Men and women gathered in the same place at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the mosque and in the marketplace. They walked down the same roads and public thoroughfares.
The mere presence of men and women in the same area is not a great cause for temptation. It would be wrong to treat this as unlawful mixing, since the reason for prohibiting free mixing does not exist in such circumstances. If someone were to prohibit men and women from frequenting the same public places under the pretext of preventing temptation, this would be taking matters to an extreme and imposing a restriction that is unduly severe. Such a policy is, moreover, unnatural and would impose great hardships on people's lives.
At the same time, some circumstances are indisputably cases of unlawful mixing. This would include situations where women and men are crowded together so that there is a danger of their making physical contact. Equally unlawful would be any occasion where unrelated women and men are seated next to one another. Under these circumstances, desires are kindled and temptations are greater and regrettable things happen, as is seen time and again in co-ed schools and mixed social events.
The same can be said for any repeated acquaintance between men and women. Repeated meetings break down the barriers between men and women and allow a relationship to develop between them.
We cannot compare situations like these to the general presence of men and women at shops and other open public places, especially when women are accompanied by their family. In such cases, there is no intimacy, no crowding, and no reason for suspicion. Preventing women from public places frequented by men in order to prevent temptation would be taking things to an extreme.
A woman is commanded in Islam not to come too close to men. She is not, however, prohibited from going to places where men are present as long as she does not approach them or place herself in a position where she is alone with them.
There can be no doubt that preventative legislation is an important part of Islamic Law. There are numerous rulings in Islam that are preventative in nature. However, this does not mean that we can legislate against every remote possibility of wrongdoing that we can think of. Doing so would be a violation of Islam's tolerance and magnanimity and its ease of application. It would place too great a burden upon the believers.
People might differ as to the degree of mixing that is prohibited. We can, nonetheless, get a good approximation of proper limits by reviewing the laws of Islam that govern the relationship between men and women. The sacred texts provides ample evidence about how and when men and women can meet, how women should dress and conduct themselves when they go outside, and many other pertinent matters. It is impossible for free mixing between men and women to occur if Islamic Law is properly observed.
The body of evidence showing that women and men should not mix freely with one another is quite large. We will briefly mention some of it:
1. Allah says: "And when you ask the ladies for anything, ask them from before a screen. That makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs." [Sûrah al-Ahzab: 53] For women to go about uncovered in the company of men is inarguably a gross violation of the command given in this verse.
2. It is prohibited for men to join women in one place in the absence of at least one of the women's close male relatives. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade men and women from being alone together. He said: "Never is a man alone with a woman except that Satan is the third party with them."
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: "Do not enter into the company of women."
A man then asked him: "What about her male in-laws?"
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: "The in-law is the most dangerous".
This hadith emphasizes the importance of being wary of in-laws since they are likely to have more opportunities to be alone with the woman and to see her as others do not get the opportunity to see her.
The private meeting between a man and an unchaperoned woman is one of the serious forms of mixing that can take place between the sexes. Temptations are worse when the people know that they are shielded from the sight of others.
Ibn Daqiq al-'id makes the following important observation: "We must take into consideration whether or not the man's arrival at a place brings about a situation where he is alone with the woman. If it does not do so, it is not unlawful for him to go there." (2/181)
This point was made clear by the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said: "No man should enter into the presence of a woman after this day unless he is accompanied by one or two other men." [Sahih Muslim]
3. There are numerous evidences that the woman may not shake hands with men who are not among her closest relatives.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) never shook hands with an unrelated woman. Umaymah b. Raqiqah said: "I came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) with a group of the women of Madinah to swear fealty for Islam. The women informed Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) that they wished to swear fealty to him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: 'I do not shake hands with women. The way I accept the pledge from one woman is the same as with one hundred women." [al-Muwatta', Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Nasa'i and Sunan Ibn Majah].
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: "It is better for one of you to be pierced by a steel pin in his head than to touch the hand of a strange woman." [Al-Mundhiri mentions that all the narrators of this hadith are trustworthy. Al-Albani classifies it as a good hadith in Ghayah al-Maram (no. 403).]
4. The Qur'an clearly forbids women from being soft of speech while talking to men. Allah says: "Be not too complaisant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak with a speech (that is) proper." [Sûrah al-Ahzab: 32].
5. There is evidence that women may not sit with strange men while wearing perfume. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Any woman who puts on perfume then goes and passes by some men to let them find her scent is a type of adulteress." [Musnad Ahmad, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Sunan Abi Dawûd, and Sunan al-Nasa'i with a sound chain of transmission]
6. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The best of rows in prayer for the man is the first row and the worst for him is the last, and the best of rows for the women is the last row and the worst for her is the first." [Sahih Muslim].
If this advice is being given for men and women when they are in their purest frame of mind and engaged in prayer, then how should they be expected to conduct themselves in other situations?
Ibn 'Abbas relates that he prayed one of the 'Id prayers with the Prophet (peace be upon him). He informs us that the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed and offered a sermon, then he went to the women and offered to them a separate sermon, admonishing them and encouraging them to give charity. [Sahih al-Bukhari]
Ibn Hajr offers the following observations about this hadith: "The fact that he went to the women separately shows that the women were assembled separately from the men and were not mixed in with them." [Fath al-Bari (2/466)]
7. Once the Prophet (peace be upon him) saw men and women mixing together on the road upon their departure from the mosque. He said to the women: "Hold back a bit. You do not have to walk in the middle of the road. You may keep to the sides." The narrator of the hadith commented that after that time, women would come so close to the buildings that their dresses would sometime cling to the walls." [Sunan Abi Dawûd with a sound chain of transmission]
Ibn 'Umar related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said about one of the mosque's doors: "We should leave this door exclusively for women to use." Ibn 'Umar, until he died, never again entered through that door. [Sunan Abi Dawûd with a sound chain of transmission. Al-Albani says: "This hadith is authentic according to the conditions set down by Bukhari and Muslim."]
Umm Salamah said: "When the Prophet (peace be upon him) completed the prayer, the women would get up to leave. He would then wait awhile before standing." Ibn Shahab said: "I believe that he waited for a while to give the women an opportunity to depart before the men." [Sahih al-Bukhari]
Ibn Hajr comments: "In the hadith, we see that it is disliked for men and women to mix on the road. How much more, then, should such mixing be avoided inside of houses." [Fath al-Bari (2/336)]
8. It was related in al-Bukhari that women at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not circumambulate the Ka'bah along with the men. 'a'ishah used to go around the Ka'bah at a good distance from the men and avoided mixing with them. Once another woman bade to her to go forward with her so they could touch the corner of the Ka'bah. 'a'ishah refused to do so. [Sahih al-Bukhari]
One of 'aishah's handmaidens came to her and said: "O Mother of believers, I went around the Ka'bah seven times and touched the corner twice or trice".
'aishah replied: "May Allah not reward you for pushing your way through men. It would have been sufficient for you to you to say "Allah Akbar" as you passed by". [Musnad al-Shafi'i]
There are two things that this shows us. First, 'a'ishah did not hesitate to circumambulate the Ka'bah when there were men around, nor did she forbid other women from doing so. She only refrained from crowding into men and mixing with them and this is what she prohibited others from doing. This shows us in the clearest of terms that the mere presence of men and women in the same place is not prohibited.
Second, the mixing and contact between men and women circumambulating the Ka'bah that unavoidably occurs during Hajj under today's crowded conditions cannot be used as proof that such mixing is generally allowed. Firstly, the practice of the people does not constitute any sort of evidence in Islamic Law. Secondly, what is happening today during Hajj is unavoidable. It is permitted out of necessity and cannot be made into a general rule for all times and circumstances. It would be fruitless for us to try and demand that women avoid contact with men while circumambulating the Ka'bah during Hajj. It would be equally impossible to ask them to delay their circumambulations until the crowds depart, especially since the women on Hajj are always accompanied by the others who came with them who cannot be forced to wait around.
It is pure sophistry for anyone to use these exceptional circumstances to argue that men and women are allowed to mingle under circumstances where no necessity exists. It is just as baseless as taking the other extreme and declaring the mere presence or men and women in the same place to be unlawful mixing.
We will conclude by mentioning a few verses of the Qur'an. Allah says: "Nor come nigh to adultery". In this verse, Allah does not say "Do not commit adultery" but tells us not even to come close to it. This means that everything that may seduce a person to fall into adultery is unlawful.
Moreover, Allah 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 says: "And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty." [Sûrah al-Nûr: 30-31] This shows us how men and women are to conduct themselves.