While I have previously written (mostly ranted actually) about what I think of gender segregation in Islam twice, I’ve recently read this wonderful article by a Muslim brother and I felt compelled to write some further thoughts about this. First I want to make it clear that this post is about forced/obligatory segregation, not voluntary segregation. You can voluntarily sit next to a person of the same gender as you at a gathering at any time, there’s nothing stopping you. This is yet another post attacking the hypocrisy and misogyny (among other nasty things) being spread around by some people from average people to religious authority figures.
First, I also want to mention that while I don’t believe that gender segregation is Islamic, I want to make it clear that I do think that getting together for the purpose of evil (regardless of the people are involved are men or women or both), regardless of what that evil may be, is obviously prohibited. This post is about every affairs such as work, school, social gatherings, neighbors and communities and whatever other circumstance in your everyday life where you’ll cross paths with other people.
The first thing you’ll notice on the Wikipedia page about this issue it’s that there is no evidence from the Quran or Hadith that enforces the segregation of the sexes. Some people attempt to prove there is using the following verses that say in part:
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…
Now how is this preventing interactions between men and women? In fact it’s the exact opposite! It tells us how to appropriate interact! This verse says that men and women should not dress or behave immodestly around one another, not that they aren’t allowed to interact! Since I’ve last written about this I think that the term “free mixing” has a rather negative connotation so I will refrain from using it from now on but it’s obvious that interactions between men and women have always taken place and have always been allowed within the bounds of modesty.
I’m far from being the only one with this opinion, be it that we are often attacked by others who believe otherwise. They don’t seem to understand that we are saying that segregation has to be completely abolished, nobody is stopping you from doing it voluntarily! We are on the other hand criticizing those who force it upon others. It doesn’t protect women, it only discriminates and fosters the culture of “the other.” It promotes the idea that we are no more than sex objects when the Quran advocates nothing but equality between men and women while still understanding their natural differences.
It’s a good idea to remember that by promoting the idea of separation based on any trait, people are denied the most important lesson — learning how to live with others that aren’t like them. Did you know that 6 of the 8 countries who seek the most porn online are Muslim-majority nations? It’s estimated that over 40% of porn is derogatory towards women so this most certainly doesn’t teach these people that women are valuable members of society. Similarly to sex segregation in schools, sex segregation in society is bad for everybody. Much like Ed Husain said in his criticism of gender segregation, it only leads to poor social and communication skills and ultimately only plunges society further into a culture of coldness and gender inequality.
Gender inequality has no place in Islam. The religion itself is extremely kind to women, but unfortunately Muslims nowadays are not because they’ve fallen into legalism or other corruption that isn’t in the spirit of Islam. Women aren’t inferior to men in Islam, in fact the Quran states that they are allies and complementary halves of each other, so why break them apart? Here is what the leader of Iran Sayed Ali Khamenei said about the quality and greatness of both men and women:
“If we adopt a comprehensive outlook, we see that there is no difference between men and women. Certain privileges have been granted to women and certain others have been granted to men. And this is based on their natural characteristics, which Allah has bestowed upon them. There are no differences in terms of human qualities. There are no differences when it comes to human rights, social rights, spiritual values and spiritual perfection. A man can become Ali and a woman can become Fatima. A man can become Jesus and a woman can become Mary.”
Both men and women have always been a very important part of Muslim society and that naturally means that they will have to work together to build that strong and equal society. It’s not by not speaking or interacting with each other that we achieve this.