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Segregation of the Sexes

Question and answer details
Muslimah
2012/05/31
Assalamu alakum, I am a Muslim American. I try to practice Islam as much as I can. But it seems to me that some Muslim scholars make Islam seem as a religion that divides the society into two: female and male. May Allah forgive me for saying this, but we are living in the 21st century and it is clear that a woman will meet a man, in work places for example. We cannot make men live in the north and women in the south so that no unmarried woman sees unmarried man and commit a sin! I am a teenager and don't date and I understand why Allah makes dating haram. I proudly explain to my non-Muslim friends why Islam forbids dating. However, when someone says that a woman should not even treat a male patient, then that does not sound to me like Islam! If I want to become a doctor, why do men think that simply because I take care of man patient, I will fall in love with him or something. Alhamdu-li-Allah, Allah has given us Islam, which is a way of life and teaches us what is right and what is wrong. As long as we know our limits, why should we be that suspicious? Are women less trustworthy?
Amani Aboul Fadl Farag
Answer

Dear sister,

Assalamu alaykum,

My understanding of the relationship between men and women in the Muslim society is not that image of two genders living in two different planets! The Islamic society, in its early form, was not a segregated society. Men and women communicated in all fields of life. This took place in market places, mosques, work … etc.

It is not through segregation that men and women don't fall into sin. Rather, it is through the understanding of and the submission to the ethics that Allah has asked them to observe, when they come into contact with the other sex.

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do.

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss.

Surah 24 Verses 30 - 31

Notice that Allah directed Muslim men and women to cast down their eyes and He directed women to wear hijab. He also asked women, through the model example of the Prophet's wives, not to soften their voices and language when they talk to men. This is in itself a proof that they are allowed to talk with them. Of course, this is as long as they avoid all means of seductive behavior, such as sending their looks, softening their voices, using soft language or wearing sensual clothes.

Again, Islam directed that a man and a woman should avoid being alone with one another. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

‘No man should be alone with a woman except when there is a mahram with her.’ (Sahih Muslim).

These were the simple useful regulations that the traditional Muslim society at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Caliphs applied. This took place up till the time other civilizations mingled with Islam, bringing alien social concepts into the society. A true alien concept is the domination of the Freudian mentality, which looks at any male/female contact as an invitation for sin!

The authorized stories from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his four rightly guided Caliphs give us a completely different image of the relationship between the two genders. While some forbid a women doctor from attending a male patient, the Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted to have women in his army for medical aid.

There is also this famous story that while Umar bin al-Khattab was lecturing in the mosque he gave some wrong information, concerning the financial settlement after divorce. A woman heard him and corrected the information loudly, in front of all the male attendants. Umar did not rebuke her for such audacity that made her talk in the middle of the men listening. Nevertheless, he recognized that she was right to do so by saying: ‘Umar was wrong and a woman was right.’

I don't think that with all the books, many of which are now available in English, giving the true image of the Muslim society and the credit it gave to women, anyone should confuse Islam with accretions of cultures and tradition.

For more about the topic, maybe it would be helpful to read the following useful links:

Any Gardens for Veiled Muslim Women?

Does Hijab Infringe on Women’s Liberty?

Reflections on the Islamic Dress Code
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