In this article Shaykh Mubeen Raza (@mubeenr25) cogently responds to the misrepresentations regarding gender interactions spread by social media influencers presenting themselves to the public as imams and teachers.
In 2018, reports began to circulate of executives in Wall Street and Silicon Valley implementing new protective policies in the aftermath of sexual harassment scandals and the rise of the ‘MeToo’ movement.
These executives would now no longer be having dinner with female colleagues, they would book hotel rooms on different floors to female colleagues when traveling for business, and they would even avoid sitting next to them on flights. One-on-one meetings with females were also to be avoided completely or altered to ensure there was no complete seclusion (doors were to be left open or a third person invited in).
It seemed that they had finally acknowledged the natural temptations of unbridled interactions between the genders and were now fully ascribed to the adage, ‘prevention is better than cure’, an approach referred to in Islamic jurisprudence as sadd al-dharā’iʿ (blocking the means to evil).
From a Muslim perspective, it was interesting to see such measures being implemented because such rules are not alien to us. Similar regulations are found at the bedrock of the modesty and chastity taught by Islam. It is as though these ‘enlightened’ and ‘progressive’ people were playing catch-up with Islam. In reality, the perfect solution to every human problem can only come from the One who created the human being. Our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves and has sent revelation towards us to direct us to what is best for us. He sent Prophets and Messengers as exemplars of wisdom and observable guides who we must follow to attain His acceptance. In following the Messenger ﷺ and the Message, we can establish a flourishing society in which everyone is afforded respect and safety. In regulating gender interactions, Islam seeks to preserve lineage and prevent promiscuity by outlawing sexual relations outside of the institution of marriage. But the directive in the Qur’ān in this regard is not only to refrain from the act of zinā’ (unlawful sexual intimacy, whether adultery or fornication). Perfectly in tune with human nature and fully grasping the intensity with which initial feelings of attraction and magnetism can develop, Islam actually prohibits zinā’ and any preliminary moves that could lead to zinā’ (based on the principle sadd al-dharā’iʿ).
Allah Almighty commands:
وَلا تَقرَبُوا الزِّنىٰ إِنَّهُ كانَ فٰحِشَةً وَساءَ سَبيلًا
“And do not even approach zinā’! It is certainly shameless and a path of evil.” The Holy Qur’ān, 17:32
Elsewhere in the Qur’ān, Allah Almighty says:
وَلا تَقرَبُوا الفَوٰحِشَ ما ظَهَرَ مِنها وَما بَطَنَ
“And do not even approach acts of shamelessness; the apparent of them and the concealed. The Holy Qur’ān, 6:51
The 8th century Andalusian polymath, Imām Abū Isḥāq al-Shaṭibī in his seminal work al-Muwāfaqāt, asserts, “Sadd al-dharā’iʿ is a fundamental principle from the definitive fundamental principles of Islamic law.” Shāṭibī, al-Muwāfaqāt
In his extensive master’s thesis on the subject, the renowned Syrian jurist, Shaykh Hishām al-Burhāni defines sadd al-dharā’iʿ as ‘closing off the avenues to corruption’ (ḥasm wasā’il al-fasād). He explains that under this principle something that is permissible or seemingly innocuous (or even somewhat beneficial) in and of itself can be proscribed if it leads to something detrimental. Burhāni, Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ fī al-Sharīʿah al-Islāmiyyah, pg. 81, first published 1985 [Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ]
He describes sadd al-dharā’iʿ as ‘a valid proof that is supported by reason’ ibid page 331(dalīl ṣaḥīḥ mu’ayyad bi al-ʿaql), explaining that this concept is applied by all people in their daily lives in multiple ways. If parents wish to protect their infant child from the living room fire, they will not suffice by telling the child not to touch the fire; rather, they will block the means to the fire by placing a guard in front of it.
The principle of sadd al-dharā’iʿ is rooted deeply in the Qur’ān and Sunnah. In Sūrah al-Anʿām, Allah instructs the believers how to cut off the means that lead to the vilest of all crimes – insulting the Creator of the universe.
وَلا تَسُبُّوا الَّذينَ يَدعونَ مِن دونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدوًا بِغَيرِ عِلمٍ
“And do not curse those who they worship besides Allah, for they will then curse Allah out of transgression without knowledge.” The Holy Qu’rān, 6:108
An example from the Ḥadīth is the statement of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ condemning those who swear at their own parents. He was asked how anyone could do such a heinous thing, to which he replied, “A person swears at another man’s father, and then that man responds by swearing at his father and his mother.”Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Adab, Ḥadīth 5628 In other words, the man who swore became the cause for his own parents being insulted when he insulted somebody else’s parents.
It is clear that Islam’s outlook on gender interaction is a very practical one that fully accepts natural human tendencies and legislates for them accordingly. It recognises that people have different levels of self-control, decorum, and restraint and so places barriers early on to prevent any potential immorality or depravity from spreading or taking root in society.
Shaykh al-Burhāni’s thesis mentioned above specifically lists the ways that the Qur’ān cuts off the avenues that lead to the vice of extra-marital intimacy.Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ, pgs. 363-372
For example, the Qur’ān instructs the wives of the Prophet to control their tone of voice when any situation arises in which they have no choice but to speak to a male.
إِنِ اتَّقَيتُنَّ فَلا تَخضَعنَ بِالقَولِ فَيَطمَعَ الَّذى فى قَلبِهِ مَرَضٌ
“If you are mindful of Allah, then do not speak so softly that someone with a diseased heart would be inclined”The Holy Qur’ān, 33:32
This is a preventative measure in unavoidable interactions to ensure that any interaction does not stimulate unchaste feelings. Commentators note that if this is the command to the wives of the Prophet ﷺ who are afforded the rank of being mothers of the believers, then the command would apply to a greater degree for other women, since the chance for misconduct against them is greater.
Various injunctions are also found to this effect in the Ḥadīth, which Shaykh al-Burhānī investigates in detail in a dedicated section of his thesis.Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ, pgs. 444-451 As an example, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ expressed the danger of a male and female being in seclusion together and warned of the satanic influence over them in such situations. In a famous sermon, he emphatically declared:
أَلاَ لاَ يَخْلُوَنَّ رَجُلٌ بِامْرَأَةٍ إِلاَّ كَانَ ثَالِثَهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ
“Take heed! No man is ever alone with a woman except that the devil is the third of them!”Sunan al-Tirmidhī, Kitāb al-Fitan, Ḥadīth 2165
The scandals that surface regularly in liberal societies whether in Hollywood, in corporate sectors, or the political world, continue to confirm the blessed words of our Messenger ﷺ. Instead of being intimidated by Western liberal licentiousness into watering down our religion, we should proudly uphold and champion the traditional and pristine values of our religion.
Whether it is due to a lack of courage, a weakness of conviction, or merely a hankering for approval from non-Muslims, we are unfortunately facing a pandemic of modernist preachers claiming to represent Islam who are tearing down the foundational Islamic principles of modesty with spurious claims and very shallow understandings of the texts they quote.
These individuals seek to relax the regulations of Islam on gender interaction by quoting out-of-context incidents from the Ḥadīth literature inferring from them that free and friendly exchanges between Muslim men and women are permitted in Islam. We will now examine these inferences and hold them to academic scrutiny to see if the narrations quoted actually support the position of those quoting them or not.
A woman living in the Mosque?
Imām al-Bukhārī related the account of a woman who lived in the Prophet’s Mosque,Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ḥadīth 439 which according to modern liberal-minded Muslims purportedly signifies the freedom of interaction between men and women in religious settings.
The Mother of the Faithful, Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah narrates that a black slave girl was accused of theft by the tribe who had bought and then manumitted her. After being subjected to unspeakable cruelty, she was fortunately exonerated of this accusation when a bird flew over the people and dropped the stolen item amongst them. She then left those people, came to Madina, and accepted Islam. The lady then began to stay in the mosque, but a sub-narrator of the Ḥadīth is unsure of the exact word that Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah used to describe the arrangements that were made for her residence. The narrator says:
قَالَتْ عَائِشَةُ فَكَانَ لَهَا خِبَاءٌ فِي الْمَسْجِدِ أَوْ حِفْشٌ
“ʿĀ’ishah either said she had a khibā’ in the Mosque or a ḥifsh.”
Lexically, a khibā’ is: ‘[a] well-known kind of structure; … i.e. a kind of tent, made of wool, or of camels’ fur, or sometimes of [goats’] hair, sometimes upon two poles or three…it is (derived) from khaba’ahū “he hid it” or “concealed it”.’Lane’s Lexicon pgs. 692–693
[A]nd a ḥifsh is ‘a very small بَيْت [or tent], … having a very low roof; so called because of its narrowness; … or a very small بَيْت of [goats’] hair of the tents of the Arabs.’Lane’s Lexicon pg. 601
So, the woman stayed in the Mosque as a refugee and was afforded complete privacy and seclusion such that there were no interactions between her any man who would attend the Mosque. There is also no mention of how long she stayed in the Mosque or any other accounts of her telling her story to anyone other than Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah. This is despite Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah ending her recollection of the incident by saying that whenever the woman sat with her, she would bring up the ordeal she had been through and how Allah Almighty had saved her.
Women attending the prayers
On the topic of women in the Mosque, it is pertinent to give this subject further attention as these modernists seem unaware of the legislative development of this matter in the Sunnah. They often quote the injunction of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ which tells men not to stop Muslim women attending the Mosques. It is reported on the authority of Sayyidunā ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUmar that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from attending the houses of Allah.”Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri, Kitāb al-Jumuʿah, Ḥadīth 900; Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, Ḥadīth 442
This of course must be understood with all the other narrations on the topic which provide stipulations for this general ruling, and what is also noteworthy, yet seldom mentioned by the modernists, is the extended version of this Hadith which is authentically transmitted in Sunan Abī Dāwūd in which the following words are suffixed to the aforementioned statement, “and their homes are better for them.”Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, Ḥadīth 576
Women were indeed permitted by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ to attend the Mosques, however the Messenger of Allah ﷺ also taught the women in no uncertain terms that their attendance was subject to strict conditions, which liberal Muslims again seem to disregard when addressing this topic.
For example, Imām Muslim records on the authority of Sayyidunā Abū Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Whichever woman has touched perfume must not attend the ʿIshā’ prayer with us”Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, Ḥadīth 444 and Imām al-Tirmidhī quotes the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as having said, “Every eye is an adulterer and when a woman applies perfume and passes by a gathering, she is a so-and-so (meaning, an adulteress).”Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī, Kitāb al-Adab, Ḥadīth 2786
The Commander of the Faithful, Sayyidunā ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb in his time felt that the concession given to women for attending the congregational prayers in the Masjid was sometimes being misused and could be misused even more in the future. He felt that women were no longer taking care of the Prophetic instructions and requirements for attending prayer as they used to in the time of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and he was also aware of the fact that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ advised women to offer their prayers at home, declaring it to be more rewarding for them to do so. Hence, he issued a verdict that women should no longer attend congregational prayers in the Mosque, and this decision of his was collectively accepted by the other Companions. al-Imām Jalāl al-Dīn b. Shams al-Dīn al-Karlānī al-Khawārizmī, Al-Kifāyah Sharḥ al-Hidāyah printed with Fatḥ al-Qadīr (ʿalā al-Hidāyah fī Sharḥ Bidayat al-Mubtadī), Maktabah … Continue reading
Before the liberals begin to throw around accusations of misogyny at the ‘patriarchal system of Muslim scholarship’, they should note that one of the greatest and most vocal advocates of this verdict was none other than the greatest female scholar to have ever lived, our honourable mother, Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah. Imām al-Bukhārī does not just quote her recollection of a woman staying in the Mosque, he also records that she said:
“If the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saw the new things the women are doing, he would have certainly prevented them from attending the Mosques, just as the women of Banī Isrā`īl were prevented.”Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Adhān, Ḥadīth 869
The renowned Hadith expert and Hanafi jurist, Imām Badr al-Dīn al-ʿAynī, who wrote a voluminous commentary of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, remarks:
“Had Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah witnessed various types of innovations and wrongdoings that women are involved in these days, she would have been even more harsh in preventing them from attending the Mosques. She said this when there had not even been much time since the passing of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and at a time when the women were not involved in even one thousandth of what women do in our day.”al-ʿAynī, ʿUmdat al-Qārī, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. 6, pg. 158
Imām al-ʿAynī is speaking of his time in 8th and 9th century ḥijrī Egypt, so would be said for the times of immodesty and degeneration of society in which we live?
Imām al-ʿAynī knew about the narrations about the lady who stayed in the Mosque and the Prophetic injunction not to prevent Muslims women from attending the Mosque, but as a responsible and qualified jurist of Islam, he understood it within the context of the entire Sunnah and the objectives of the Shariah.
Women serving men food?
The modernists also misrepresent another report of Imām al-BukhārīṢaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ḥadīth 5403, which they claim recalls the eagerness of a lady to directly serve the male Companions with soup every Friday, without her having a male family member serve the food instead. These liberal minded individuals tell the story deliberately leaving out key details that change the entire purport of the account. Sayyiduna Sahl b. Saʿad, the narrator of the report, describes the lady in question as being an ʿajūz, meaning ‘a woman extremely old; or old and weak: so called because of her inability to do many things.’Lane’s Lexicon pg. 1961 This single word so precisely recorded by Imām al-Bukhārī is enough to demolish the argument of the proponents of free-mixing. They neglect this important fact when taking evidence from this incident, ostensibly encouraging all women, regardless of age, to invite unrelated men to their homes to serve them meals! In fact, the narrator Sayyidunā Sahl b. Saʿad was only fifteen years old when the Messenger of Allah passed awayAbū Nuʿaym, Maʿrifat al-Ṣaḥābah, Dār al-Waṭan li’l-Nashr , pg. 1312and so was only a young boy when he would go to the home of this old lady. Whilst it is perfectly appropriate for a very elderly lady to serve a group of young boys with soup, it would be totally inappropriate for a young woman to serve food to a group of unrelated men! Age is a very important distinguishing factor in issues of gender interaction, and one that cannot be overlooked or disregarded.
Women and men interacting in the Mosque?
According to the modernists, it is perfectly acceptable for women to interact with men in the Mosque without the need of any barrier between them. They quote a tradition found in Sunan al-Nasā’ī in which Sayyidah Asmā’ (the noble sister of Sayyidah ʿĀ’ishah) narrates that she attended a sermon in which the Prophet ﷺ described the test of the grave. The Muslims were emotionally moved to the extent that she was unable to hear the final words of the sermon. Sayyidah Asmā’ says that when the people settled down, she asked a man close to her, “What did the Prophet ﷺ say at the end of his sermon?”, upon which the man informed her of the Prophet’s ﷺ concluding statement.Sunan an-Nasā’ī, Kitāb al-Janā’iz, Ḥadīth 2062; Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ, Kitāb al-Īmān, Ḥadīth 137
First of all, we have no detail as to whether this incident was prior to the revelation of the verses of ḥijāb or after it. Without being able to place the account accurately on the timeline of the sīrah, it is impossible to derive a ruling from it considering that there was considerable change in the rulings of veiling from the era in which revelation began to the time by which the entire Quran had been revealed. Many practices and forms of interaction that were permitted initially whilst the teachings of the Quran were being gradually revealed and applied in Muslim society, were later forbidden when prohibitive verses were revealed.
Having said that, the Ḥadīth experts offered an interesting commentary on the interaction found in this report which answers the potential confusion. The erudite and prolific Meccan jurist, Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī, in his seminal Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ, explains that in this narration the words, ‘a man close to me’ has two possible meanings. He says it could mean ‘close in proximity’ or ‘close in relation’, and he then asserts that it is the latter that is the most appropriate meaning for a woman.Al-Qārī, Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ, Vol. 1, Dār al-Kotob al-ʿIlmiyyah, pg. 331 And so, seeing that the man she asked was a close relative of hers, this report contains no basis to permit unrestrained free mixing between men and women in the sacred houses of Allah.
The correct approach when studying scripture
Many people who approach this topic fail to do holistically by looking at the entire corpus of Islamic scripture with consideration of legislative development throughout the sīrah of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and beyond. Just as it is not academically viable to quote hadith narrations from the period before total prohibition of alcohol and derive rulings about some form of permissibility of drinking alcohol, it is similarly disingenuous to disregard the overall outlook of Islamic law when examining issues of gender interaction. When the accounts and reports from the Prophetic era that mention interactions between men and women are simply placed on the timeline of Quranic revelation, it quickly becomes manifest that these instances all occurred before the revelation of the verses of hijab. Thus, using these reports as evidence to sanction interactions between Muslim men and women is akin to using narrations that mentions the direction Muslims prayed in before the change of the qibla to allow Muslims today to pray towards Jerusalem instead of towards Makkah.
The guidelines and directives of scripture are very clear in their conservative and protective methodology on this subject and the Companions, the best of all generations who are exemplars for Muslims until the end of time, implemented every commandment as it was revealed or issued.
Regarding the command of gender segregation, an example is the narration of Abū Usayd al-Anṣārī who reports that he observed the Messenger of Allah ﷺ outside the Mosque saying to the women after they had become unsegregated from the men in the streets:
“Wait! For it is not appropriate for you to walk in the middle of the streets. Stay on the sides of the streets!” Abū Usayd comments that after this command, women would walk as though attached to the walls such that at times their clothing would even become ensnared on the walls.Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Ḥadīth 5272
In conclusion, Muslims must take back the narrative from liberal minded Western influenced preachers and reconnect with their own heritage of modesty and chastity which is rooted in Divine scripture and Prophetic guidance. A holistic approach which takes into account the entire scope of Islamic legislation and considers the understanding of centuries of scholarship is the only approach that remains true to the essence of Islam. Muslim men and women must recognise their own distinct roles in society and the home, and they must take direction from their religion sincerely without superimposing Western values onto the timeless and perfect guidance of Islam. Finally, the following profound warning Prophetic warning contains ample counsel for the people of intellect and justice and answers a plethora of problems that the world is plagued with today:
“I have not left any tribulation after me which is more harmful for men than women.”Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ḥadīth 5096
|The Holy Qur’ān, 17:32
|The Holy Qur’ān, 6:51
|Burhāni, Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ fī al-Sharīʿah al-Islāmiyyah, pg. 81, first published 1985 [Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ]
|ibid page 331
|The Holy Qu’rān, 6:108
|Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Adab, Ḥadīth 5628
|Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ, pgs. 363-372
|The Holy Qur’ān, 33:32
|Sadd al-Dharā’iʿ, pgs. 444-451
|Sunan al-Tirmidhī, Kitāb al-Fitan, Ḥadīth 2165
|Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ḥadīth 439
|Lane’s Lexicon pgs. 692–693
|Lane’s Lexicon pg. 601
|Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri, Kitāb al-Jumuʿah, Ḥadīth 900; Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, Ḥadīth 442
|Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, Ḥadīth 576
|Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, Ḥadīth 444
|Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī, Kitāb al-Adab, Ḥadīth 2786
|al-Imām Jalāl al-Dīn b. Shams al-Dīn al-Karlānī al-Khawārizmī, Al-Kifāyah Sharḥ al-Hidāyah printed with Fatḥ al-Qadīr (ʿalā al-Hidāyah fī Sharḥ Bidayat al-Mubtadī), Maktabah al-Rashīdiyyah, Kitāb al-Ṣalāh, pg. 476
|Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Adhān, Ḥadīth 869
|al-ʿAynī, ʿUmdat al-Qārī, Dar al-Fikr, Vol. 6, pg. 158
|Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ḥadīth 5403
|Lane’s Lexicon pg. 1961
|Abū Nuʿaym, Maʿrifat al-Ṣaḥābah, Dār al-Waṭan li’l-Nashr , pg. 1312
|Sunan an-Nasā’ī, Kitāb al-Janā’iz, Ḥadīth 2062; Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ, Kitāb al-Īmān, Ḥadīth 137
|Al-Qārī, Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ, Vol. 1, Dār al-Kotob al-ʿIlmiyyah, pg. 331
|Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Ḥadīth 5272
|Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ḥadīth 5096
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