Peace, Mercy and Blessings
The recent meeting of the London Muslims Discussion and Debate group bought up the issue of Segregation and it’s interpretation within Islam, it’s usage in past and present Muslim societies and also how it is interpreted and used by Muslims living within secular societies such as the UK.
Hadith and Quran
There are no direct references to gender segregation in the Quran. In Surah Al Ahzab, Allah (SWT) instructs the people to address the wives of the prophet (PBUH) from behind a screen. This passage in particular has been used by many scholars to commit us to segregation between the genders in public, however, some would argue that it was meant in reference to the wives of the prophet alone. I would say that I somewhat agree with the latter as Allah has bought to us through the Quran and the Sunnah (actions) of the prophet clear instructions as to how men and women should conduct themselves in public with regards to communicating with each other. Why would Allah mention the following if it was wished for us to separate ourselves from the opposite gender at all times?
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity: this will be most conducive to their purity – (and,) verily, Allah is aware of all that they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms beyond what may be apparent thereof; hence let them draw their veils over their bosoms.”
—Qur’an, Sura 24 (An-Nur), ayat
“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”
—Qur’an, Sura 33 (Al-Ahzab), ayat
My heart and my head lead me to believe that Segregation has not been enforced on us to such an extent that we should shun the other sex whenever they may be near. On the contrary, we have been taught to control our nafs (self) and our hawa (bad intentions), not through celibacy, but through practice of self control. The Quran and the Sunnah give us examples of how this self control should work:
How to speak to each other – Such as the tone of voice we use,
Where we should look when in each others company – To lower our gaze
What to wear – Covering our beauty and modesty with our clothing
What not to wear – There is a hadith where the prophet describes a woman who perfumes herself intentionally in the hope of seeking attention from men as a type of adulteress.
Where we should meet – We have been told to avoid meeting in private with each other as it may lead to uncontrollable actions (From both sexes)
Reasons for segregation: Controlling the Nafs
If it were meant that we should avoid each other at all times, there would have been no need for us to have been taught how to deal with a non mahrum. We should encourage men and women to communicate with one an other. However, this should not be in the form of ‘Free-Mixing’ because although women and men should mix, it should not be done ‘freely’. There must always be some reservation as this allows us to remain in control of our selves. Quality over quantity. We should encourage both genders to be selective, be cautious and be wise when coming into contact with one another. I would also say that once a male or female knows someone (such as a family relative) and is able to trust him or her not to take advantage of them, that they can open up a little more, in terms of the way they communicate.
“I have not left behind me any temptation more harmful for men than women” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
Segregation in certain environments such as weddings, restaurants, schools and work allows both genders to concentrate and focus on themselves, there responsibilities and on enjoying themselves without the worry of wondering about the other sex. Even though we might not like to admit it, when in the company of the opposite sex, I personally feel as though it effects my behaviour and character, even though it shouldn’t. Especially in today’s highly sexualised society where the mind quickly wanders away from being innocent and playful to being cheeky and conniving.
Extreme Segregation and it’s pitfalls: The example of Catholic celibacy
Although segregation is important, it must be used sensibly in a balanced fashion. It’s extremes are clear to see within any religion where celibacy is practised. Catholic monks and nuns who are taught to avoid all contact with one another, in many cases have become frustrated sexually which leads them towards unthinkable actions with people of the same gender, opposite gender and with innocent children. This is slowly creeping into Muslim Society, particularly in the UK where many examples of teachers in mosques who abuse kids in there trust have been witnessed. Segregation must not become extreme, and those who advocate it, must have there heads returned to the earth from the sky.
Segregation in a wider context- Sharing the Gift of Islam-
After connecting the entire debate of segregation with regards only to gender, we finally moved on to what I believe is a far greater issue, and an issue on which we would come to agree most points upon, This was the issue of segregation between Muslims themselves and is based on culture, class, age and nationality amongst other things. We would also discuss the segregation that exists between Muslims and Non- Muslims in the UK.
We asked the question of why many Muslims felt the need to keep Islam confined within our hearts, our homes and our masjids. We asked whether we have become secularised. We asked if and why secular Muslims may have become scared or afraid of our religion or in better words, how our religion may be perceived by others.
Perhaps we aren’t as confident as we once were to share our religion or actions as many of us have become slightly ignorant towards our religion and our actions (such as prayer). We tend to read the Quran and complete Sunnah without comprehending or trying to comprehend the essence of revelation and the reasoning behind the Sunnah of our beautiful prophet of Islam.
I, like my parents, like there parents, became ignorant about my religion as I was bought up being taught what is right and what is wrong without an explanation or comprehension as to why it may be so. I prayed, fasted, etc but I was never told why. I was just told that it’s the right thing to do. So when someone such as a non Muslim, or a deviant Muslim would question my actions, the only answer I could give them was ‘because that’s what it says in the Quran innit’…
But, now, Alhamdulillah, there is no doubt. Because my ignorance of emotion has been balanced with reasoning and judgement, and both, BOTH, are in cohesion with my faith. Islam is an Art and a Science. What we say (which comes from our brains) is just as important as how we say it ( which, through emotion comes from the heart). It’s amazing how Allah placed the tongue in between the mind and the heart to create communication.
The best of judgement is a balance of emotion and reasoning. Believe in Allah, believe in the religion he has given us, and believe in yourselves. Not only because your heart tells you, but because you know it makes sense.
“Cest le ton que fait la Musique” ( French proverb)
We must not segregate from each other, from different nationalities, different cultures, different madhabs, different genders, different ages or even from non Muslims. We must connect with each other, but with respect. Discuss, debate, share and argue, but with respect. The best way to teach is not through speech, it is through action. Actions speak louder than words. Action is the Peak of Iman.
“I was made to like Women” (Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon Him)