Women in Islamic Society - 12: Insisting on Propriety, Decency
- Women in Islamic Society 12: Insisting on Propriety, Decency
Dr. Abd Al-Haleem Abu ShuqqahIt is often thought that Muslim society segregates men and women, not allowing them to mix even in a small measure. This is not true. Muslim society is a mixed one, but it has values of decency and propriety that need to be observed. It also provides simple measures that allow these values to be easily and smoothly maintained. It is important, for example, to allow men and women to move separately in congested areas, but there is nothing to prevent them from being together in ample space. Thus, they attend together in the mosque, but their exit should be organized to avoid congestion.Umm Salamah (r.a.) one of the wives of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) reports: When Allahs Messenger (s.a.w.s) finished his prayers with Salam, the women would leave straightaway but he stayed a little while longer before he left. (Related by Al-Bukhari.) Ibn Shihab (r.al.), an early scholar of high standing, comments: I think that he stayed on to allow women to leave before men who also wished to leave early caught up with them. This is, then, a matter of organization when exiting the mosque. It is well known that exits at public places are often very congested at the end of a function. By staying on a few minutes, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) allowed women to leave comfortably before men left.This is confirmed by the Prophets (s.a.w.s.) suggestion to his companions (r.a.): Perhaps we should leave this door for women... This was certainly to make their movement easier. On one occasion, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) left the mosque and soon men and women were walking together in the middle of the road. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said to women: Move to the side. It is not proper for you to walk in the middle. Keep to either side. Again, this was a simple measure to ensure that decency is maintained.Similarly, congestion should be avoided in public places, but this does not mean that women should always be in the back, as it is the case in mosque. Keeping women in the back is a special case that applies to prayer only, whether prayer is performed in the mosque or at home, with strangers or with husbands and close relatives. On all occasions, other than prayers, Islamic values of propriety require separate seating and avoidance of congestion. This may be done by allocating a separate area within the meeting place for women, or by adopting any arrangement that ensures no overcrowding. What we are talking about here is that men and women should not be too close physically. It is in reference to this that Imam Al-Sarakhsi (r.al.), a leading Hanafi scholar, says: A woman should not try to kiss the Black Stone (when doing the tawaf in the Kaba) if there are several people around it. She is required not to be too close to men and crowd with them. She kisses the Black Stone only if she finds the place clear.Another important aspect of Islamic propriety is the prevention of one man being alone with one woman in an enclosed place. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) says: Let no man be alone with a woman unless she is accompanied by a mahram, i.e. a close relative. (Related by Al-Bukhari.) Ibn Hajar (r.al.), an authoritative commentator on Hadith, says: This indicates that being alone with a stranger woman is forbidden. This is unanimously agreed by scholars. However, they differ as to whether a mahram could be replaced by others who ensure that the purpose is met, such as the presence of other reliable women. This is allowed because suspicion does not arise in this case. The following situations do not come under the prohibited one-to-one meeting:1. A meeting when other people are present. Under the heading permissibility of a man meeting a woman with people around, Al-Bukhari relates: Anas ibn Malik (r.a.) reported that a woman from the Ansar came to the Prophet (s.a.w.s.)and he met her alone. He said to her, By Allah, you, (the Ansar), are the dearest people to me. (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.) Commenting on this Hadith Ibn Hajar (r.al.)says: Such one-to-one meeting should not be conducted in a way where they are physically unseen by others or their conversation is unheard, as happens when a woman is saying something that she would be too shy to say in public. He also says that the Hadith makes clear that speaking privately to a woman is not incompatible with Islam when both are safe from allurement.2. A meeting of two or three men with one woman, when necessary. The supporting evidence is given in the Hadith that quotes the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) as saying: As from today, let not a man enters the home of a woman, whose husband is absent, unless accompanied by one or two men. (Related by Muslim.) Imam Al-Nawawi (r.al.), who wrote a commentary on Muslims anthology of authentic Hadiths, says: At face value, this Hadith allows two or three men to be alone with a woman unrelated to them, but scholars of our Shafie school agree that this is prohibited. Therefore, the Hadith should be interpreted as meaning a group of honorable and God-fearing men who would never agree to indecency.A meeting of one man with a group of women. The prohibited meeting is that of one man with one woman. When there are more men or women, the prohibition is removed. Al-Nawawi (r.al.) says: Should a man visit a woman and is alone with her, this is prohibited for both of them. If he visits a group of women unrelated to him, the majority of scholars agree that this is permissible. The evidence is clear in the Hadith that says: As from today, let not a man enters the home of a woman, whose husband is absent, unless accompanied by one or two men. Moreover, when there is a group of women, a man cannot tempt one of them to join him in doing something indecent.
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