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Lawful mixing of men and women in Islam- No iron like curtain separating the two

By Yusuf Al Qardawi

(Translated by Syed Ubaidur Rahman)

It is well-known that women used to attend the sermons of the Prophet (pbuh) in search of knowledge. They used to direct some questions to Aisha as they felt awkward in asking such private questions directly to the Prophet (pbuh). Aisha, while praising these women from the Helpers (A-Ansar) says that shame or awkwardness didn’t stop them from asking very private questions concerning religion. They asked the Prophet (pbuh) questions about impurity, night ejaculation, washing after menses and other issues like menstruation.

Due to the ever increasing gathering of men surrounding the Prophet in his teaching sessions, the women demanded a day exclusively for teaching them where they didn’t have not to compete with men. Subsequently they talked to the Prophet (pbuh) saying, “O Messenger of Allah, men dominate us during such teaching sessions and we are not able to benefit much. Therefore, please devote such a session for us in any day of the week. Subsequently, the Prophet (pbuh) ensured that he had one exclusive session when he taught them, preached and instructed them.” (Bukhari, Chapter of education)

Women, during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) were not confined to just education. They played stellar role in armed campaigns, wars and played a vital role everywhere. They served as was expected of them where they could serve in the best manner. They nursed the injured attending the wounded and providing medical aids. They also provided other important services including cooking for the army, providing drinking water and distributing other essentials to the members of the army.

Umm Atiyya says “I participated in seven wars with the Prophet (pbuh). Our tents were usually behind the regular army’s tents. I used to cook food for them, tended to injured fighters and provided medical aid to the needy.” (Sahih Muslim)
Imam Muslim quotes Anas, one of the Prophet’s (pbuh) Companions as saying “On the Day of the war of Uhud, the wife of Prophet (pbuh) Aisha and Umm Salim were carrying water in animal hides on their back with their sleeves rolled up. They would pour the water in the mouths of the injured soldiers and then refill the hides with water.” (Muslim) Aisha was not even of twenty years of age at that time. This narrative negates the arguments of those people who claim that only very aged women joined the military expeditions of the Prophet (pbuh). This is a misplaced notion. What’s the place of frail and aged women during war where most physical and psychological energies must be at their best?

Imam Ahmad bin Hambal while detailing in his collection says “there were six Muslim women along with the army that had besieged Khaibar. These believing women would distribute arrows among the archers, prepare food, tended to the injured and helped in the way of Allah. Prophet (pbuh) gave them equal amount in the spoils of war as any other member of the expedition.” (Masnad Ahmad)

There are instance when women, not just accomplished all the above tasks in the military expeditions of the Prophet (pbuh), but even fought with enemies. Umm Ammara’s military exploits were part of the folklore and is well documented in the annals of the Islamic history. At one point during the raging war of Uhud that Muslims eventually lost, the Prophet (pbuh) praised her saying, “There are not many fighters as brave as you”.
During the war of Hunain, Umm Salim fought valiantly and would kill with her dagger whoever dared to come within her reach.

The Companion of the Prophet (pbuh) Anas says that his mother Umm Salim took a dagger along with her while on way to Hunain. When her husband Abu Talha saw her carrying the massive dagger, he asked the Prophet (pbuh), O Messenger of Allah, why Umm Salim is carrying the dagger? When the Prophet asked her as to why she was carrying the dagger, Umm Salim said, I will kill every enemy who will come within my reach. The Prophet (pbuh) laughed at her daring response”. (Muslim)

In his Sahih Bukhari, Imam Bukhari has a separate chapter on women who participated in military expeditions during the time of the Prophet (pbuh).

During the time of the Prophet (pbuh)and during the time of Caliphs, women’s participation in wars was not just limited to Arabia and surrounding places. They even crossed seas and participated in far off expeditions to spread the light of Islam.

Anas narrated, “One day, the Prophet (pbuh) was asked to take his afternoon rest in the house of Umm Hiram (maternal aunt of Anas). The Prophet (pbuh) woke up laughing from his siesta. Umm Hiram asked the Prophet (pbuh), ‘What made you laugh, O Messenger of Allah?’ The Prophet responded saying, ‘I saw some Muslim warriors crossing seas to fight in the way of Allah. They were either kings or were seated on thrones like kings.” She said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, please pray that I may be one of them. The Prophet (pbuh) prayed for her.” It is said that during the reign of rightly guided Uthman, Um Hiram set sail with her husband, Ubada ibn As-Samit, to Cyprus, where she was killed while she was on horseback (in a battle) and was buried there. This incident is authentic and narrated in most books of early Islamic history and Seerah.

In social life, women have always done what is expected of them as the preacher and guide towards the religion of Allah. They have invited people to good deeds and forbidden evils. Qur’an says:
“The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another, they enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil”. (9: 71)

In other domains too women have done exceptionally well. During the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and during the rules of the rightly guided Caliphs, women were very assertive about their rights. A woman went to the extent of dissenting and opposing the view of the second Caliph Umar and the caliph retreated from his views and accepted that woman’s stand as right. Umar went on to say, “Everyone seems to be better expert of jurisprudence than Umar”. Renowned scholar and mufassir Ibn Kathir, has mentioned it in his famed Tafsir Ibn Kathir. Another similar incident is narrated by Abdur Raziq in his book Al-Musannaf saying that the Caliph Umar said, “A woman argued well with Umar and woman won the day”.

Umar appointed Shifa bint Abdullah Adwiyya as the market inspector.

The people who are well-versed with Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh (jurisprudence) will nowhere found the iron like curtain that some people have created between the man and woman. We don’t find such curtains in the lives of the Prophet (pbuh) or get a mention in Quran.

Islam and lawful mixing of men and women in society

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