Muslim Men and Women Should Mix
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
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
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.