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Muslim Men and Women Should Mix

By  Abu H Sufyan

Freelance Writer — UK


The question of "free-mixing" over the last decade or two has gotten a bit out of hand I think. Some self-righteous and self-pious men are using this to exclude women from society. Segregation is not a concept compatible with Islam. I cannot imagine where in the Qur'ân and Sunnah it orders or even encourages that women should always be out of sight, never to be heard as equals, never to be able to contribute their God-given abilities to improve their societies and communities, never to be able to take on tasks that may take them away from their homes — or should I say kitchens to be precise?

Islam never did forbid "mixing" of the sexes. This term "mixing" is used and adopted by some Muslim writers today in response to what they perceive as looseness that exists mainly in Western societies. To respond to this challenge by making statements such as "Islam forbids free-mixing" is to distort the teachings of Islam, and show a sign of incompetence and a lack of creativity on part of some of these writers. Instead, they should be articulating vigorously the true concept of hijab, how it truly liberates, rather than isolates, women. But they would rather bury their heads in the sand instead of addressing one of the most fundamental questions relating to the development of Muslim communities and societies in the 21st century, namely "the great gender deficit."

Women who are just as capable and competent as, if not more so than, men in many fields of life are excluded because it is considered not appropriate, or that "women belong at home" or "may" lead to "temptation" if they are out and about. The Wahhabi (Arabic for: a way of practicing Islam strictly the way Prophet Muhammad practiced it), that calls for  sheikhs in some countries to ban women from driving, use this absurd and deeply offensive argument.

The sources of Islam do not dwell on physical segregation or on women's issues in particular. Rather, Islamic teachings manage human affairs and address issues common to both male and female. One can argue that on the whole, Islam encourages an interactive relationship between men and women in all areas of society, but like all other matters, Islam sets out certain boundaries. In other words "mixing" in the broad sense is permissible, except where it is forbidden.

Also, consider the broader question of segregation in a Muslim society. While remaining firmly attached to our religious traditions and values, we need to constantly reevaluate where our habits and customs are coming from.

Some "pious" people feel that in a so-called true Muslim society, men and women would be so pious, they would never mix, they would walk on separate pavements, and practically live in totally separate worlds. Where do these ideas come from? I do not believe for a moment that the Qur'an and Sunnah would teach in any terms such extremism and rigidity.

It is shocking to hear that even in 21st century Britain, there are cases in which some pious Muslim men walk out of gatherings and meetings because there are women in the same room! "Whether they are covered in hijab or not is not the question. They are women and they should be in separate, secluded rooms as far away as possible from the sight of men!" This is the mentality of such overzealous Muslim men.

This, I say, is total hypocrisy! You will see that these same men go to shops and are served by women (almost always uncovered non-Muslims); work with female colleagues, talk freely, sit in the same room, and eat in the same canteens; walk around in markets with women all around them; sit and stand on buses and the underground next to and close to women.

Where does this self-piety go then? If they were basing all their actions on being careful and cautious lest it may lead to temptation, then should they not be sitting at home locked away or taking a one-way ticket to a desert island to live there out of sight and out of mind? Maybe they should keep their own minds in check, locked up, instead of depriving half our nation of their God-given right to exist and be part of their society.

This double standard of Muslim men of our community is holding us back. We must have a very radical change in the Muslim psyche, especially those who are being brought up and educated here in the UK or else we risk always being alien and our women always being second-class citizens despite the rhetoric of freedom and liberation.

Finally comes the question of development of the Muslim community. To that, I would say that as long as we have half our nation chained to sinks on a full-time basis, we can keep dreaming for another millennia, God help us!

As far as I have learned, the notion of hijab is liberating rather than confining, i.e. it is precisely so that men and women can mix, rather than remain separate. If they were always separate, there is no need for the hijab, and God knows best.


Abu H Sufyan is an elected councilor for the London Borough of Newham Council, UK, and is on a career break from the Civil Servant at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK. Currently, he is involved in youth and community work around community cohesion, identity politics, and radicalization of Muslim youth in British society, as well works for an international UK-registered charity.

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