Sex segregation and Islam

''This is a sub-article to Islamic jurisprudence and Sex segregation

Islam discourages social interaction between men and women when they are alone but not all interaction between men and women. This is shown in the example of Khadijah, who employed Muhammad and met with him to conduct trade before they were married, and in the example set by the other wives of Muhammad, who taught and counseled the men and women of Medina.

In some Islamic countries, sex segregation has been or is strictly enforced.

Sources

The textual basis for insisting on total segregation of the sexes is the hadith on zina (fornication and adultery) of the limbs narrated from ibn Mas?ud by Imam Ahmad in his musnad with a strong chain: "The two eyes commit zina, the two hands commit zina, the two feet commit zina, and the genitals commit zina." Another wording with a passable chain in the musnad includes the tongue and specifies in the end: "Then the genitals actualize it or belly it.". However, it does not necessarily follow that this hadith can be used as justification for saying "Therefore, according to Shari'ah, to look, speak, listen, etc. to any ghayr mahram (women you are not related to or married to) except at the time of extreme necessity is haraam and impermissible."

The Qur'anic verses which address the interaction of men and women in the social context include:

"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, God 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 (in public) beyond what may (decently) be apparent thereof; hence let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.(24:30-31)"

and

"O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters, as well as all (other) believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments (when in public): this will be more conducive to their being recognized (as decent women) and not annoyed.(33:59)"

Implicit in these verses is the expectation that men and women will be interacting. Muslims are instructed to do so in such a way as to focus on attributes other than the physical, namely the spiritual and intellectual.

The following hadith indicate that the separation practiced in some Islamic societies today has little precedence in early Islamic practices:

Narrated Sahl,

When Abu Usaid As-Saidi got married, he invited the Prophet and his companions. None prepared the food for them and brought it to them but his wife. She soaked some dates in water in a stone pot overnight, and when the Prophet had finished his food, she provided him with the drink.(Bukhari, Vol. 7, No. 111)

Narrated Anas bin Malik,

Once an Ansari woman came to the Prophet and he took her aside and said (to her), "By God, you (Ansar) are the most beloved people to me."(Bukhari, Vol.7, No. 161)

Narrated Ar-Rabi? bint Mu?awidh,

We used to take part in holy battles with the Prophet by providing the people with water and serving them and bringing the killed and the wounded back to Medina. (Bukhari, Vol.4, No.134) (See also Nos. 131-133 and Muslim, Nos. 4453-4460).

Other hadith also confirm that men and women eating at the same place, and even at the same table, is not haram. Abu Hurairah reported,

A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and said; "I am hard pressed by hunger. He (peace and blessings be upon him) sent a word to one of his wives who replied: "By Him Who has sent you with the Truth, I have nothing except water. Then he sent the same message to another (wife) and received the same reply. He sent this message to all of them (i.e., his wives) and received the same reply. Then he (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Who will entertain this (man) as guest? One of the Ansar said: "O Messenger of Allah, I will. So he took him home and said to his wife: "Serve the guest of Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him).''

Another narration is,

An Ansari man asked his wife: "Have you got anything? She answered: "Nothing, except a little food for the children. He said: "Keep them busy with something, and when they ask for food put them to sleep. When the guest enters, extinguish the light and give him the impression that we are also eating. So they sat down and the guest ate and they passed the night hungry. When he came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the morning, he said to him, "Allah admired what you did with your guest last night. (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Based on this hadith, the scholars concluded that it is part of hospitality that the husband and wife eat with their guest.

Also, Imam Malik, as reported in Al-Muwatta', was asked about a woman eating with non-mahram, and he said: "There is no harm in doing this."

Similarly in many Muslim communities today, women are discouraged or prohibited from going to the mosques. Yet, Muhammad specifically admonished the men not to keep their wives from going to the mosques:

Ibn Omar reported,

The Messenger of God said, "Do not prevent the maid-servants of God from going to the mosque."(Muslim, No.888) (See also Nos. 884-891 and Bukhari Vol.1, Nos. 824, 832)

Also, it is clear from the following hadith that the women simply prayed behind the men and were not separated in a separate room or even concealed by a curtain or partition as is practiced in so many mosques today:

Asma' daughter of Abu Bakr said,

I heard the Apostle of God say, "One of you who believes in God and in the Last Day should not raise her head until the men raise their heads (after prostration) lest she should see the private parts of men."(Sunan Abu Dawud, No. 850).

The emphasis in the Qur'an and the Sunnah is thus not on total segregation but on minimizing factors that promote physical attractiveness or may lead to the unlawful. Thus Islam requires believers to:

  1. Treat one another with respect at all times in all situations.
  2. Behave modestly.
  3. Avoid situations of seclusion (khalwa).
  4. Dress modestly (by covering ones body and (for females) hair).

Sex segregation in Islamic countries

Afghanistan

Afghanistan, under Taliban religious leadership, was characterized by feminist groups and others as a "gender apartheid" system where women are segregated from men in public and do not enjoy legal equality or equal access to employment or education. In 1997 the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a "Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan", which urged the U.S. government and the United Nations to "do everything in their power to restore the human rights of Afghan women and girls." The campaign included a petition to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.N. Assistant Secretary General Angela King which stated, in part, that "We, the undersigned, deplore the Taliban's brutal decrees and gender apartheid in Afghanistan." In 1998 activists from the National Organization for Women picketed Unocal's Sugar Land, Texas office, arguing that its proposed pipeline through Afghanistan was collaborating with "gender apartheid". In a weekly presidential address in November 2001 Laura Bush also accused the Taliban of practising "gender apartheid". The Nation referred to the Taliban's 1997 order that medical services for women be partly or completely suspended in all hospitals in the capital city of Kabul as "Health apartheid". According to the Women's Human Rights Resource Programme of the University of Toronto Bora Laskin Law Library "Throughout the duration of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the term "Gender Apartheid" was used by a number of women's rights advocates to convey the message that the rights violations experience by Afghan women were in substance no different than those experienced by blacks in Apartheid South Africa."

Iran

For many years, breaking the barrier of confinement of the private sphere has been a major source of frustration for advocates of women's rights in Iran. But the Iranian revolution broke the barrier overnight. When Ruhollah Khomeini called for women to attend public demonstration and ignore the night curfew, millions of women who would otherwise not have dreamt of leaving their homes without their husbands' and fathers' permission or presence, took to the streets. Khomeini's call to rise up against the Shah took away any doubt in the minds of many devoted Muslim women about the propriety of taking to the streets during the day or at night.

The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed a marked increase of employment for women. This increase was much more than the rate prior to the revolution. Such dramatic change in the pattern of labor force participation might not have been possible if Khomeini had not broken the barriers to women entering into the public sphere. Educational attainment for women, also a product of free education and the literacy campaign, contributed to this increase. In fact, today there are more women in higher education than there are men. The Islamic Republic had adopted certain policies to expand educational levels for women in order to ensure that sexual segregation paid off. These policies were to encourage women to become skilled workers in domains exclusive to women. For example, the government set quotas for female pediatricians and gynecologists and set up barriers against women wanting to become civil engineers. Khomeini supported family planning, a program through which the government called upon women to distribute contraceptives.

Iranian women have a majority in Iranian educational institutions and Universities. Women have also enjoyed continuous presence in Iran's parliaments, city councils and cabinet.

Malaysia

In 2006 Marina Mahathir, the daughter of Malaysia's former Prime Minister, and a campaigner for women's rights, described the status of Muslim women in Malaysia as similar to that of Black South Africans under apartheid. She was apparently doing so in response to new family laws which make it easier for Muslim men to divorce wives, or take multiple wives, or gain access to their property. Marina stated ""In our country, there is an insidious growing form of apartheid among Malaysian women, that between Muslim and non-Muslim women." According to the BBC, she sees Muslim Malaysian women as "subject to a form of apartheid - second-class citizens held back by discriminatory rules that do not apply to non-Muslim women."BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Malaysia women 'suffer apartheid' Her comments were strongly criticized: the Malaysian Muslim Professionals Forum stated "Her prejudiced views and assumptions smack of ignorance of the objectives and methodology of the Sharia, and a slavish capitulation to western feminism's notions of women's rights, gender equality and sexuality," and Dr Harlina Halizah Siraj, women's chief of the reform group Jamaah Islah Malaysia said "Women in Malaysia are given unlimited opportunities to obtain high education level, we are free to choose our profession and career besides enjoying high standard of living with our families."

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's practices with respect to women have been referred to as "gender apartheid", and according to Jan Goodwin, this issue is serious enough to warrant attention from the international human rights community. Others criticize U.S. government words of support for the plight women and children in Afghanistan as a "cynical public relations ploy", arguing that the Bush administration has remained silent about the gender apartheid practiced by Saudi Arabia.

According to Rita Henley Jensen while Saudi Arabian women "have the right to own property, transact business, go to school and be supported by their husbands, while maintaining their separate bank accounts", "Women on Saudi soil must have a husband or male relative as an escort. We are not allowed to drive. When sight-seeing we must wear a full-length black gown known as an abaya. During Saudi Arabia's first elections, held the week before my arrival, women were not permitted to vote or run for office." She states that hotels have no female employees, and that segregated eating areas in hotels and beaches for women have poorer facilities. She also criticizes Saudi law for setting female inheritance at half of what men inherit (see Female inheritance in Islam). Ann Elizabeth Mayer sees gender apartheid as being enshrined in the Saudi Basic Law, particularly articles 9 and 10, which, in her view, deny women "any opportunity to participate in public law or government".Though Mary Kaldor does not differentiate between gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia and that enforced by the Taliban in Afghanistan, Margaret L. Andersen and Howard Francis Taylor see strictures such as the Saudi refusal to let women drive as indicative of a less extreme form of gender apartheid. Daniel Pipes, too, sees Saudi gender apartheid as tempered by other practices, including the Saudi policy of allowing women "to attend school and work".

Andrea Dworkin refers to these Saudi practices regarding women simply as "apartheid":

Seductive mirages of progress notwithstanding, nowhere in the world is apartheid practiced with more cruelty and finality than in Saudi Arabia. Of course, it is women who are locked in and kept out, exiled to invisibility and abject powerlessness within their own country. It is women who are degraded systematically from birth to early death, utterly and totally and without exception deprived of freedom. It is women who are sold into marriage or concubinage, often before puberty; killed if their hymens are not intact on the wedding night; kept confined, ignorant, pregnant, poor, without choice or recourse. It is women who are raped and beaten with full sanction of the law. It is women who cannot own property or work for a living or determine in any way the circumstances of their own lives. It is women who are subject to a despotism that knows no restraint. Women locked out and locked in.

Daniel McNeill in his book The Face: A Natural History writes that "the apartheid is starkest in Saudi Arabia":

Most Saudi homes have one entrance for men, another for women. Women ride in the back of the bus in Riyadh, and enter it through a separate door. Until 1981 a woman couldn't meet her spouse unveiled till after the wedding. Saudi daughters inherit half as much as sons... Saudi banks are so segregated that only female auditors examine women's accounts. Medicine is the sole career where the sexes mix, because, though fundamentalists object to women doctors touching male patients, there aren't enough male physicians to go around.

Others refer to these practices as "sexual apartheid". Colbert I. King quotes an American official who accuses Western companies of complicity in Saudi Arabia's sexual apartheid:

One of the (still) untold stories, however, is the cooperation of U.S. and other Western companies in enforcing sexual apartheid in Saudi Arabia. McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and other U.S. firms, for instance, maintain strictly segregated eating zones in their restaurants. The men's sections are typically lavish, comfortable and up to Western standards, whereas the women's or families' sections are often run-down, neglected and, in the case of Starbucks, have no seats. Worse, these firms will bar entrance to Western women who show up without their husbands. My wife and other [U.S. government affiliated] women were regularly forbidden entrance to the local McDonald's unless there was a man with them."

Azar Majedi, of the Centre for Women and Socialism, attributes sexual apartheid in Saudi Arabia to political Islam. According to The Guardian, "[i]n the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, sexual apartheid rules", and this sexual apartheid is enforced by mutawa, religious police, though not as strongly in some areas:

The kingdom's sexual apartheid is enforced, in a crude fashion, by the religious police, the mutawa. Thuggish, bigoted and with little real training in Islamic law, they are much feared in some areas but also increasingly ridiculed. In Jeddah - a more laid-back city than Riyadh - they are rarely seen nowadays.

On 2008-03-18, the first women's-only hotel opened in Saudi Arabia. In addition to only servicing female clients, all employees are women as well.

Sex segregation in mosques

According to a saying attributed to Muhammad, women may not have been forbidden from entering mosques. However, as Islam spread, it became unusual for women to worship in mosques because of fears of unchastity caused by interaction between sexes; this condition persisted until the late 1960s. Since then, women have become increasingly involved in the mosque, though men and women generally worship separately. (Muslims explain this by citing the need to avoid distraction during prayer prostrations that raise the buttocks while the forehead touches the ground.) Separation between sexes ranges from men and women on opposite sides of an aisle, to men in front of women (as was the case in the time of Muhammad), to women in second-floor balconies or separate rooms accessible by a door for women only. There is a growing movement of women (such as Asra Nomani) who complain of second-class conditions in separate female sections of mosques. On the Hajj (the mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca) men and women pray side by side.

See also

External links

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