Gender segregation and Islam

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A water Fountain specifically for women (is an example of the segregation of sexes practiced in Muslim cultures).
This is a sub-article to Islamic jurisprudence and Sex segregation

Gender segregation and Islam refers to the issue of the separation of men and boys from women and girls in social settings in Muslim countries and communities. Gender segregation is often enshrined in law under governments where sharia law is publicly enforced.

The practice of gender segregation is not without controversy. Muslim scholarship remains divided on the issue, with some supporting government enforcement while others uphold that the practice is textually baseless.

Views[edit]

Supports of gender segregation claim that Islam discourages free mixing between men and women (known as Ikhtilat (Arabic: اختلاط)), especially when alone; some supporters do not prohibit all forms of interaction. The intention of all restrictions is to keep interaction at a modest level.[citation needed] They may, for instance, socialize in order to know each other as ordained by God in the Quran (Surah al-Hujurat), as long as there is no obscenity, touching, secret meetings or flirting, according to the general rules of interaction between the genders.[1]

Opponents of gender segregation claim that there is no evidence from the Quran or Hadith that enforces the segregation of sexes,[2][3][4][5] and some even claim that there is, in fact, evidence indicating the opposite.[6] Notable Canadian scholar Sheikh Ahmad Kutty has said segregation of the sexes is not a requirement in Islam, as men and women used to interact during Muhammed's time without any partitions.[6]

Sources[edit]

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, 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; hence let them draw their veils over their bosoms."

—Qur'an, Sura 24 (An-Nur), ayat 30-31[7]

"O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful."

—Qur'an, Sura 33 (Al-Ahzab), ayat 59[8]

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)

It is clear from the following hadith that in some mosques, the women prayed behind the men and were not separated in a separate room or even concealed by a curtain or partition where there wasn't one available (where the screen is practiced in many mosques today, and in the past, it is as a precaution to prevent unnecessary socializing and distraction during prayers):

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 lest she should see the private parts of men."(Sunan Abu Dawud, No. 850).

Sex segregation in Islamic countries[edit]

Afghanistan[edit]

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 Islam women have the right to equal access to employment and education, although their first priority should be that of the family. Men too are said to be actively involved in the child rearing and household chores. The Prophet helped his wives in the house.[9][10]

In 1997 the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a "Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan", which urged the United States 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."[11]

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".[12] In a weekly presidential address in November 2001 Laura Bush also accused the Taliban of practicing "gender apartheid".[13] 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".[14]

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." [15]

Iran[edit]

When Ruhollah Khomeini called for women to attend public demonstration and ignore the night curfew, millions of women who would otherwise not have dreamed of leaving their homes without their husbands' and fathers' permission or presence, took to the streets. After the Islamic revolution, however, Khomeini publicly announced his disapproval of mixing between the sexes.[16]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

In Saudi Arabia, male doctors were not allowed to treat female patients in the past, unless there were no female specialists available; and it was also not permissible for women to treat men.[17] This has changed, however, and it is not uncommon for men and women to visit doctors of the opposite sex.

A woman is also not allowed to meet her spouse unveiled until after the wedding. Saudi daughters are encouraged to wear the niqāb in public.[18] Religious Saudis believe it is forbidden for a woman to eat in public, as part of her face would be exposed, so in most restaurants barriers are present to conceal women.

Mandate Palestine[edit]

Of the late 1800s and early 1900s European Jewish immigration to Palestine, Norman Rose writes that secular "Zionist mores" were "often at odds with Arab convention, threatening the customs and moral assumptions that lent cohesion to a socially conservative, traditional Palestinian society."[19] The active political role of the women of the Yishuv, and their lack of segregation, was judged as particularly offensive.[20]

Sex segregation in mosques[edit]

Further information: Mosque and Women's mosques
The ladies' prayer hall in the Khadija Mosque in Berlin.

Some schools of thought[who?] claim that Muhammad preferred women to pray at home rather than at a mosque. According to one hadith, a supposed recounting of an encounter with Muhammad, he said:

I know that you women love to pray with me, but praying in your inner rooms is better for you than praying in your house, and praying in your house is better for you that praying in your courtyard, and praying in your courtyard is better for you than praying in your local mosque, and praying in your local mosque is better for you than praying in my mosque.[21]

Muhammad is also recorded to have said: "The best places of prayer for women are the innermost apartments of their houses"[22]

Some schools of thought interpret these hadith as signs that women should be encouraged to pray at home rather than in a mosque. However, other schools prefer to look at the context of the sayings, which they suggest were given at a time when women were in danger when leaving their homes, and consider mosques as welcome for women as their homes. Muhammad did not forbid women from entering his mosque in Medina. In fact, he told Muslims "not to prevent their women from going to mosque when they ask for permission".[23]

However, segregation of sexes in mosques and prayer spaces is reported in a hadith in Sahih Muslim, one of the two most authentic Hadith books in Islam. It says that the best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst ones the last ones, and the best rows for women are the last ones and the worst ones for them are the first ones.[24]

It is also recorded that Muhammad ordered that mosques have separate doors for women and men so that men and women would not be obliged to go and come through the same door.[25] He also commanded that after the Isha' evening prayer, women be allowed to leave the mosque first so that they would not have to mix with men.[26] But it has not been reported that there was any barrier between men and women in the prophet's mosque.

After Muhammad's death, many of his followers began to forbid women under their control from going to the mosque. Aisha bint Abi Bakr, a wife of Prophet Muhammad, once said, "If the Prophet had lived now and if he saw what we see of women today, he would have forbidden women to go to the mosque even as the Children of Israel forbade their women."[27]

The second caliph Umar also prohibited women from attending mosques especially at night because he feared they may be sexually harassed or assaulted by men, and he asked them to pray at home.[28]

As Islam spread, it became unusual for women to worship in mosques because of male fear of immorality between sexes.[29]

Sometimes a special part of the mosque was railed off for women. For example, the governor of Mecca in 870 had ropes tied between the columns to make a separate place for women.[30]

The male section of a mosque in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India.

Many mosques today will put the women behind a barrier or partition or in another room. Mosques in South and Southeast Asia put men and women in separate rooms, as the divisions were built into them centuries ago. In nearly two-thirds of American mosques, women pray behind partitions or in separate areas, not in the main prayer hall; some mosques do not admit women at all due to the lack of space and the fact that some prayers, such as the Friday Jumuʻah, are mandatory for men but optional for women. Although there are sections exclusively for women and children, the Grand Mosque in Mecca is desegregated.[31]

There is a growing women's movement led by figures such as Asra Nomani who protest against their second-class status and facilities.[32][33]

Justifications for segregation, include the need to avoid distraction during prayer, although the primary reason cited is that this was the tradition (sunnah) of worshipers in the time of Muhammad.[34]

Criticism[edit]

British-born Muslim author Ed Husain, argues that rather than keeping sexual desires under check, gender segregation creates "pent-up sexual frustration which expressed itself in the unhealthiest ways," and leads young people to "see the opposite gender only as sex objects." [35] While working in Saudi Arabia for seven months as an English teacher, the Arabic-speaking Husain was surprised to find that despite compulsory gender segregation and full hijab, Saudi men were much less modest and more predatory towards women than men in other countries he had lived. In Saudi -- unlike in Britain, or the more "secular" Syrian Republic -- students commonly downloaded hardcore pornography off the internet in violation of school rules. Despite the modest dress of his wife -- who "out of respect for local custom, ... wore the long black abaya and covered her hair in a black scarf" -- she was on two occasions "accosted by passing Saudi youths from their cars. ... In supermarkets I only had to be away from [my wife] for five minutes and Saudi men would hiss or whisper obscenities has they walked past." Discussions with local women at the British Council indicated that her experience was far from unique.[36]

See also[edit]

Case studies:


References[edit]

  1. ^ "Sexuality In Islam". .hu-berlin.de. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  2. ^ Answered by Sheikh Sâmî al-Mâjid. "Woman sitting in the company of her husband in the presence of male guests | IslamToday - English". Islam Today. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  3. ^ "Segregation of the Sexes - Social Life - counsels". OnIslam. 2012-05-31. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  4. ^ "Is It Permissible For A Woman Or A Man To Eat At A Restaurant Where There Is No Gender Segregation? - Fatwas | Ali Gomaa - Official Website". Ali Gomaa. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  5. ^ http://eng.dar-alifta.org/foriegn/ViewFatwa.aspx?ID=2265&text=interaction
  6. ^ a b "Ask The Scholar". Ask The Scholar. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  7. ^ Quran 24:30–31
  8. ^ Quran 33:59
  9. ^ Hunter, D. Lyn. Gender Apartheid Under Afghanistan's Taliban The Berkleyan, March 17, 1999.
  10. ^ The Taliban & Afghan Women: Background, Feminist Majority Foundation website, Accessed June 25, 2006.
  11. ^ Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan (PDF), Global Petition Flyer, Feminist Majority Foundation.
  12. ^ Women Around the Globe Face Threats to Human Rights, National Organization for Women, Fall 1998.
  13. ^ Otis, John. First lady slams 'gender apartheid', Houston Chronicle News Service, November 18, 2001.
  14. ^ Block, Max. Kabul's Health Apartheid, The Nation, November 24, 1997.
  15. ^ Women in Afghanistan, Women's Human Rights Resource Programme, University of Toronto Bora Laskin Law Library.
  16. ^ Roksana Bahramitash. "Revolution, Islamization, and Women’s Employment in Iran". Watsoninstitute. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  17. ^ Haghian (1988).
  18. ^ McNeill (2000), p. 271.
  19. ^ Norman Rose, A Senseless, Squalid War: Voices from Palestine 1945-1948, The Bodley Head, London, 2009. (p. 10)
  20. ^ Porath, Zipporah, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948, Jerusalem: Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, 1987 (p. 26-30)
  21. ^ Abu Dawud in al-Sunan, Bāb mā jā’a fī khurūj al-nisā’ ilá al-masjid: Bāb al-tashdīd fī dhālik, p. 133
  22. ^ Doi, Rahi. "Ruling on women going to the masjid". Islam Q&A. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  23. ^ Doi, Rahi. "Can women go to mosque?". Questions on Islam. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  24. ^ "Sahih Muslim, Book 4, Hadith 881". Islam.us. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  25. ^ al-Sunan al-Kubrá, vol. 1, p. 109.
  26. ^ al-Sunan al-Kubrá, vol. 2, p. 558
  27. ^ Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, 14:244
  28. ^ Doi, Abdur Rahman I. "Women in Society". Compendium of Muslim Texts. University of Southern California. Retrieved 2006-04-15. 
  29. ^ Mattson, Ingrid. "Women, Islam, and Mosques". In Encyclopedia of Women And Religion in North America (Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Marie Cantlon, ed.). Indiana University Press (2006), p616. ISBN 0-253-34688-6.
  30. ^ Hillenbrand, R. "Masdjid. I. In the central Islamic lands". In P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  31. ^ Rezk, Rawya (2006-01-26). "Muslim Women Seek More Equitable Role in Mosques". The Columbia Journalist. Retrieved 2006-04-09. 
  32. ^ [1][dead link]
  33. ^ Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Women and religion ... - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. 2006. ISBN 9780253346865. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  34. ^ Smith, Jane L. Islam in America. Columbia University Press (2000): p111. ISBN 0-231-10967-9.
  35. ^ Husain, Ed, The Islamist : Why I joined Radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, Penguin Books, 2007, p.244
  36. ^ Husain, Ed, The Islamist, 2007, p.246

External links[edit]