Of course this topic also begs the question, well what if the opposite gender is really a temptation for me? For some people, that is true. In that case use your judgement and don’t get involved in activities that will lead to sin and corruption. But stop pretending that men are animals when it comes to sex and that women are only objects of gratification for them. It’s offensive to both men and women. Both genders deserve more respect than this.
For me this is a topic that also comes back to gay/lesbian Muslims too. I know that the Quran condemns homosexuality but that does not stop people from having feelings for the same gender. If you’re not familiar with this you ought to do some research because I know (and truly respect) many LGBT Muslims and my question in their case is this: if I were a lesbian would I be required to only have male friends because being around other females would sexually excite me too much? I’ve always had both male and female friends both before accepting Islam and after and they’ll all tell you that I never tried sleeping with them and I can tell you that they’ve all respected my “friendship only” policy.
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)
Allies of one another. How is not being able to speak and interact with that person part of being an ally to them?! Andrew, Levi and Duane are my allies just as much as Anne, April and Jenni. We respect each other. We support each other. We love each other. We don’t burn the world together. We don’t spread corruption together. We don’t sleep together either! 😛 The six of them are people of equally good character and morality. They don’t lure me into sin with their conduct and vice versa. Now tell me how this is a sin! Tell me how I’m such an awful person. Tell me how I’m an adulteress (despite that I’m still a virgin) and how I’m going to hell. How about this? Gender segregation is bad for society, Muslims or not.
Now, I want to make it clear (not to sound too extreme) that I’m not calling on for a complete ban on segregation in all areas of life because obviously men and women will use different bathrooms and changing rooms, this post is solely in the context of non-sinful everyday social interactions. I also agree that if you prefer voluntary self-imposed segregation then you have the right just as much as to me to hang out with who you want. If you’re more comfortable with other women (or with other men if you’re a man) then it’s your right to be surrounded by them. Each person is different with what they are comfortable with but here is something we should all be uncomfortable with: being forced to do something.
Personally, I feel far more comfortable in a mixed environment than a divided one because a segregated one (be it that this word has probably been overused and has much negative connotation now) I feel that there is this unignorable coldness and mentality of “the other” and that makes me highly uncomfortable. Based solely on personal experiences, I’ve had a much better experience in mixed crowds than with other women only crowds but that’s just me. At school when I was 15 or 16 I was the only girl in physics class (which also had a male teacher) at school and never once did they guys make me feel out of place. Not one of them ever made a move of any kind on me. All respected me.
Why? My personal opinion is that it’s because they were largely accustomed to having females around. They weren’t frustrated in some way and somehow erroneously saw me as the object or cause of their frustration. Physics class is probably the class I have the most fond memories of and honestly my memories of school in general aren’t fond at all, and it never had anything to do with men. So don’t blame me if you can’t control your own sexual desires!
According to some if there are three people together somewhere (either two men and one woman or one man and two women) this is not considered “free mixing” because the third person is considered a “chaperone” of sorts, however others say that there ought to not be any free mixing of any kind unless there is absolute necessity. An opinion held during the earlier generations was that a man could be in the company of a woman if he was a reliable person. An example of this is Sayyiduna Umar, who once visited a woman’s house in the night, and this was permitted, because he was praised for his reliability. However, this seems to be discredited in modern times.
Really I just want there to be an end to this crap and the mentality of “the other” and the coldness that comes with it and for people to realize that your physical presence won’t automatically make somebody else commit a major sin! I’ve been around men my whole darn life and I have yet to hear a story about how I “forced” him to do something evil with my mere presence! Of course this would imply that I was properly and modestly dressed in appropriate Islamic attire, which I always am, and to me that in itself should be barrier enough. Some people may call me a heretic and a whore for my stance on this issue but their misogynistic and patriarchal views (not to mention close-mindedness) will not stop me from interacting with men or having male friends. I have lesbian friends too for that matter, who also respect my boundaries.
Not every single interaction between a man and a woman will automatically lead to evil. I am confident when I say that my interactions with men will be recorded in the book of my good deeds, will yours? Only you can answer that question. And if one day I feel tempted by a man I’ll take the appropriate measures to not fall into sin, but I most certainly won’t go around believing that every man I cross paths with is a danger to purity or chastity. Whether in the masjid or the mall, school or on the sidewalk, men and women alike are enjoined to be keenly aware of themselves and their roles in creating, encouraging, and maintaining a society that values spiritual purity and chastity, but also one that is free from coldness, discrimination and that toxic mentality of “the other.”
As a result of our gross misunderstanding of the Sunnah, we have gone to two extremes: attempting to segregate the genders to an unhealthy level, to the point where a simple, innocent conversation is considered sin; or throwing out any notion of modesty, lowering the gaze, and considering any and all behavior between the genders – even zina – to be acceptable. In both cases, diseased hearts are created and fostered, because there is no holistic understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Islam came to transform the Ummah from one of ignorance to one of beauty, honor, dignity, and respect.
To reach that state, we must go back to the understanding of the prophet. Only then can we possibly start seeing the men and women of this Ummah coming together, as they were meant to be, to cooperate upon birr and taqwa: goodness and righteousness, together as allies.