Segregation Between Men and Women

Q. Some of us have been debating for the last few days on the segregation between men and women in general on which I need your kind help. Could you please refer to any good book or Quran/Hadith sources that do tell us that segregation is preferable as it was understood by traditional scholars for centuries (correct me if I am wrong).

A. With permission from Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani:

The stipulations of the shari`a concerning the prayer of women in mixed congregation are as follows [Preference comes before permission and the avoidance of evil before the practice of good, hence the order of the texts followed below]:

It is preferable to stay at home in absolute terms. It is permissible to pray in the mosque in mixed assembly, although it is preferable for women to avoid going out for prayer in mixed assembly despite their permission. Segregation between men and women must be observed both in entering and inside the mosque, and women pray behind men. When religion is in jeopardy, that is, TODAY, IT IS BEST TO GO TO THE MOSQUES AND HOMES WHERE ALLAH IS REMEMBERED, WHETHER THE GATHERING IS MIXED OR NOT.

1. It is preferable to stay at home

  1. according to the verse: “And stay in your houses” (33:33) Note: The verse is addressed to the Prophet’s wives in particular, and to all women in general;
  2. according to the hadith: Umm Salama the Prophet’s wife said: The Prophet said — Allah’s blessings be upon him: “The best mosques for women are the inner chambers of their homes.” Tabarani narrated it in “al-Mu`jam al-kabir” and Haythami said in “Majma` al-zawa’id” that its chain contains Ibn Luhay`a, who is subject to question among the experts of authentication; however, it is confirmed by the fact that Ahmad and Abu Ya`la narrate it in the form: “The best prayers for the omen are in the inner chambers of their homes.”
  3. according to the hadith of Umm Humayd the wife of Abu Humayd al-Sa`id. She once said to the Prophet: “Messenger of Allah, I long to pray with you.” He replied: “I know that you love to say prayer with me but the prayer you offer in your chamber is more excellent than the prayer you offer in your courtyard, and the prayer which you offer in your courtyard is more excellent than the one your observe in the mosque of your tribe [i.e. the mosque nearest to your home], and your prayer in the mosque of your tribe is better than the one you offer in my mosque [in Madina].” After this she ordered a mosque built in the farthest and darkest quarter of her house and did all her prayers in it until she met Allah the Glorious and the Exalted. [I.e. she did not even go out to her courtyard or to the mosque of her tribe.] Ahmad narrated it in his “Musnad.” Haythami said: “Its subnarrrators are those of the sound (sahih) grade, except for `Abd Allah ibn Suwayd whom Ibn Hibban considered of the trustworthy (thiqa) grade.” It is supported by Ibn Mas`ud’s hadith in Abu Dawud (#570) whereby the Prophet (s) said the same words but in relation to women in general.

2. It is permissible to pray in the mosque in mixed assembly

  1. Because `Abd Allah ibn `Umar said that the Prophet (s) said: “When women ask permission for going to the mosque, do not prevent them” (Muslim, English 1:240 #884) and “Do not prevent Allah’s maid-servants from going to the mosque” (Muslim #886) and “Do not prevent women from going to the mosque at night” (for `Isha prayer) (Muslim #888); Abu Hurayrah reports the same as #886 but with the ending: “but let them go out without perfuming themselves.” (Abu Dawud, English 1:149 #565). This wording is found also in Muslim in the two hadiths of Zaynab al-Thaqafiyya the wife of `Abd Allah ibn `Umar and the hadith of Abu Hurayra (respectively #892-894);
  2. Because of the Prophet’s wording in Umm Humayd’s hadith above, which did not defend her but merely exhorted her not to go out.
  3. Ibn `Umar heavily rebuked those who were bent on preventing the women from attending the mosque: His son Bilal ibn `Abd Allah said: “By Allah we shall certainly prevent them,” whereupon `Abd Allah ibn `Umar turned and reprimanded him more harshly than I [the sub-narrator] have ever seen him do before. He said: “I am narrating to you that which comes from Allah’s Messenger and you have the audacity to say: By Allah we shall certainly prevent them?!” (Muslim #885; cf. Abu Dawud #568) In another version the son is identified as Waqid, and the father thumps the son’s chest as he says to him: “I am narrating to you the hadith of Allah’s Messenger and you say: No?!” (Muslim #890)

3. It is preferable for women to avoid going out for prayer in mixed assembly despite their permission

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