The question of mixing of the sexes for the sake of education or any other reason in Islaam, can be best answered from the actions of the prophet (S.A) and his beloved companions. It is very important for Muslims to know that any act, which they do, or refrain from, must be in accordance with the allowances and prohibitions given by the Prophet (S.A) as practiced by the Sahabas (R.A).
Today in this age of modernization and so-called advanced understanding, some Muslims have fallen prey to many non-Islaamic trends and practices which they try to justify as being acceptable and allowed in Islaam. One such practice is that of the intermingling of Muslim men and women at different occasions. Sometimes this occurs at Islaamic functions, Family Days, at Musallas for Eid Salaah and also at the Masjid. This intermingling and free mixing of the sexes for the sake of Islaamic Education or any other reason is totally Haraam (forbidden) according to the teaching of the Quraan and Sunnah and is in total violation of the laws of the Shariah.
A glimpse into the teaching of the Prophet (S.A) reveals that although the need existed for women to seek Islaamic education and also attend the Masjid during his blessed times, the free mixing and intermingling of Muslim men and women was never encouraged nor allowed. This prohibition was a directive which came directly from Allah and was taught and practiced by the noble Prophet (S.A) as well as the rightly guided companions.
Some of the verses of the Holy Quraan which can be cited to prove that Islaam discourages and forbids such mixing are:
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, that will make for greater purity for them, and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty”. (Sura Nur 24 : 31)
The injunction outlined in the very beginning of this verse is that of lowering the gaze for both men and women. It is therefore imperative upon Muslims to avoid such places and situations where this law (of Allah) can be compromised and broken. The free intermingling and mixing of the sexes brings about such difficulty upon the believers that they are unable to adhere to the above-mentioned command which is compulsory upon them.
While preventing the believers from having a direct interaction and mixing with the opposite sex, Allah says, “And when you ask (the Prophet’s wives) for anything, ask them from behind a screen, that makes a greater purity for your heart and theirs”. (Sura Ahzab: 53)
There is consensus among the scholars of the Holy Quraan that although the wives of the Prophet (S.A) were particularly addressed in this verse, the commandment is meant for all women.
Commenting on this verse Hafiz Ibn Kathir writes, “Allah chose modesty and honour for this ummah and commanded them to observe Hijaab. Undoubtedly, this commandment is in respect and honour of this ummah. (Tafseer Ibn Kathir)
Similarly, Allaamah Ibn Arabi writes in his commentary, “Although this commandment along with the other two (mentioned in the entire verse) were revealed specifically for the houses of the Prophet (S.A) and his wives, these are binding for all Muslims as we are required to follow the guidance and the tradition of the Prophet (S.A). (Ahkamul Quraan). The famous and authentic scholar of Tafseer, Allama Qurtubi has also written on this verse, “This verse provides the permission to ask, from behind a screen, the wives of the Prophet (S.A) and all Muslim women would be bound by the same rule. (Tafseer Qurtubi)
The teaching which is established here is that, even in cases of necessity Allah has ordered that there should be no free mixing and intermingling.
The sunnah (teachings of the Prophet (S.A)) has also given many guidelines which discourage the act of intermingling and mixing of the sexes. It shows that even in observing their religious duties, women were given such instructions which avoided their interaction, association and socializing with men.
In the case of Salaah where women aspired to go to the masjid, the Prophet (S.A) advised them in the following manner, “it is better for a woman to offer her salaah in her bedroom than in the living room and it is better for her to offer her salaah in the living room than in her courtyard”. (Abu Dawud). It has also been narrated that Umm Humaid Sa’idiyya (R.A) once said to the Prophet (S.A), “O Prophet of Allah, I desire to offer prayers under your leadership”. The Holy Prophet (S.A) said, “ I know that, but your offering the prayer in the corner is better than your offering it in your private room and your offering it in your private room is better than offering it in your courtyard and your offering it in your courtyard is better than offering it in the neighbouring mosque”. (Reported by Ahmad and Tabarani)
However, although he pointed out to women the best place for their salaah, he did not outrightly prohibit them from going to the mosque. Those who wished to attend the mosque were allowed, even though they were encouraged to remain at home. Ibn Umar (R.A) reports that the Messenger of Allah (S.A) said, “ When the wife of one of you seeks permission to go to the mosque, he must not prevent her”. (Bukhari, Muslim)
It should be understood that the discouragement from going to the mosque (for women) was that it was more private and purer for them as well as for the men, seeing that it eliminated the possibility of intermingling and free mixing of the sexes.
In order to maintain this standard of segregation, he issued many guidelines to women who wished to attend the mosque. Some of these were: –
Women were allowed to attend the mosque for those salaah that were offered in the dark. According to Abdullah bin Umar (R.A), the Holy Prophet (S.A) said, “Let the women come to the mosque at night”. (Bukhari, Tirmizi).
According to Naf’i, the famous student of Ibn Umar (R.A), nighttime has been specified because women can easily observe the laws of segregation and Hijaab in the dark.
While attending the mosque women were never allowed to mix or mingle with the men. It is reported in a tradition recorded by Imam Bukhari, that upon the completion of the salaah the Prophet and his companions would remain on their places until the women had left the mosque. Similarly it is narrated that these women used to stand in rows that were behind the men and the young male children and thus occupied the last rows for salaah as reported in many traditions by Imam Bukhari and Muslim. As such, occupying themselves in the last rows behind the men and children and then returning home immediately after the prayer before the men stood up from their places, ensured that there was absolutely no chance of free movements and interaction with the men. This is further explained by Aishah (R.A) who said that ‘the women used to come for the Fajr prayer and would not be recognized, and returned home immediately after the prayer’ (Tirmizi)
Women who came to the mosque were not allowed to perfume or beautify themselves. In a tradition reported in Mu’atta, Muslim and Ibn Majah, the Prophet (S.A) is reported to have said to the women, “Do not use any perfume or scent in the night when you want to join the prayers in the mosque. Come in a simple dress. The women who use perfume will not have their prayer rewarded by Allah”.
It is also established that although many women attended the musalla for the Eid Salaah, they did not mix or mingle with the men. It is mentioned in Sahih Al Bukhari that on such occasions the women remained away from the men, to the extent that after speaking to the men, the Messenger (S.A) would go and advise them separately about matters in Islaam. In the same manner it is evident in Sahih Al Bukhari that the women did not come out along with men for the sake of learning. Instead, they proposed to the Prophet (S.A) that he should fix a separate day for them on which he would address them, which was accepted by him.
Even at the season of Hajj, this mixing was not allowed. According to a tradition reported by Ata in the collection of Al Bukhari, it states that women used to perform their circumambulation round the Kaaba along with men during the days of the Holy Prophet (S.A), but they were not allowed to mix with them. According to a tradition reported by Ibraheem Nakh’i, Umar (R.A) had forbidden the males and females to mix during the Tawaaf of the Kaaba. Once when he saw a man in the midst of women, he caught hold of him and whipped him. (Fathul Baari – Commentary of Sahih Al Bukhari). Abdullah bin Umar (R.A) used to send the members of his family in advance from Muzdalifa to Mina, so that the women could offer the Fajr prayers and perform the stone throwing ceremony before the people arrived. Similarly Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr (R.A) used to leave for Mina early in the morning when it was still dark, as that was the common practice among women during the time of the Holy Prophet (S.A).
From these narrations it can be seen that the law of segregation between men and women was enforced even in the most essential duties of Muslim men and women and this remains the established teaching in Islaam.
Muslims are therefore requested to adhere to these sacred teachings and avoid the mixing, intermingling and socializing between the sexes, which has become rampant in our society. The failure to adopt this guideline of the Shariah has resulted in many evils and negative consequences in the ummah.
Additionally, those who are entrusted with a degree of authority in Masaajid (Mosques) and other places should ensure that the necessary measures are implemented to avoid the mixing, intermingling and meeting between males and females.
We must understand that we are all accountable to Allah to the extent of our ability and are not responsible for things which are beyond our control.
This answer which has been given conforms to the Fatawas and legal opinions given by the renowned and accepted Muftis and Sheikhs of Makkah, Madina, India, Pakistan and South Africa.