Can you give information about women being in the same place as men (ikhtilat) for listening to the Quran and religious talks or as guests in a house?

The Details of the Question

To what extent is it appropriate for a woman to enter a place where men are present even if she sits separately to listen to the Quran or for a religious talk?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

A legitimate result cannot be achieved through an illegitimate means (The end does not justify the means). On the one hand, listening to the Quran or the realities of the Quran, with which Allah is pleased, and on the other hand, being together in a place where men and women can see each other, with which Allah is not pleased. It is necessary try to find solutions as much as we can to such things in this age of electronic developments. For example, we believe that it would be more appropriate to arrange another place where both the voice and the image of the reciter of the Quran would be transmitted.

We recommend you to read this article about close relatives who are not considered mahram.

Close relatives who are non-mahram to each other must be the most careful related to the issue of privacy because even though these people are considered relatives by lineage and marriage, they are non-mahram to each other. That is, they can marry each other. Relationships between male and female relatives who are non-mahram are not generally heeded and they are neglected where they need to be treated sensitively. However, men and women can act comfortably and be together only with people who are non-mahram forever.

Persons who are not considered mahram are no different from non-mahram persons for both men and women, and the relations between them are limited. The relationship of the man with the relatives of his wife who are temporarily considered mahram is also limited. They are his wife’s sister (sister-in-law), his wife’s paternal aunt, his wife’s maternal aunt, his brother-in-law’s daughter and his sister-in-law’s daughter. A man cannot marry these women as long as his wife is alive and unless he and his wife are divorced because it is forbidden by verses of the Quran and hadiths for a man to be married to two sisters and his wife’s maternal aunt and paternal aunt at the same time.

However, a man cannot travel alone with one of these women without the presence of a third person. He cannot look at their limbs other than their faces and hands. They cannot shake hands with each other or kiss each other’s hands. Our Prophet (pbuh) drew the borders of it.

According to what our mother Aisha (ra) narrates, once, Abu Bakr (ra)’s daughter Asma entered into the presence of the Prophet (pbuh) wearing a dress that was transparent enough to show her skin. As soon as the Prophet saw her, he turned his face to one side and said, “O Asma! When a woman reaches the age of puberty, it is not appropriate for her display her body that other than this and that part,” pointing to his face and hands. (1)

As it is known, Asma was the sister of Aisha, who was the wife of the Prophet (pbuh). Our Prophet reminded her that she could display only her face and hands in his presence. He acted very carefully because she was a relative. Indifference might eventually lead to some grave and bad consequences because the coexistence of one of these relatives and the woman alone is more dangerous than anyone else. Mischief is more likely. The Prophet (pbuh) acted very meticulously regarding the issue.

Once, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Avoid entering into places where women are.” Somebody from Ansar asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What do you say about brothers-in-law (the male relatives of the husband)?” Thereupon, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The in-laws are death” (2).

Imam Nawawi, who explained Sahihu Muslim, states the following in the explanation of this hadith:

“What is meant by in-law is the husband’s relatives except his father and sons because fathers and sons are mahram for the woman. They can be together with the woman and cannot be described as death. What is meant by the hadith is the husband’s brother, his brother’s sons, uncle, uncle’s son and similar non-mahram people.”

“The custom of the people is indifference regarding the issue. According to the custom, a man remains alone with the sister of his wife; that is death. The prohibition of being together with the brother-in-law is more necessary than strangers. That is the true meaning of the hadith.” (3)

In-laws may know some secrets in the family, as they occasionally enter the woman’s house. If an undesirable situation occurs between the woman and these in-laws, a great unrest and an unavoidable danger will come into existence within the family. As a result, if bad thoughts occur among relatives and if doubts arise, kinship relations will tend to break down... Our Prophet (pbuh) likened this possible danger to death. In order to show the importance of the situation, he advised his ummah to and not to act tolerantly by using a frightening expression.

The Prophet (pbuh) also strongly prohibited a non-mahram man and a woman from being alone together without a third person to provide security:

“Whoever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment should not be together with a non-mahram woman because the third one is Satan.” (4)

The coexistence of a man and a woman is like fire and gunpowder being side by side. In that case, Satan can provoke bad feelings in both genders and lead them astray.

If the man’s close relatives have something to do with the woman or when her husband is not at home, they should wait outside the door when they go to her house.

If there is no third person in the house except for very small children, they are not allowed to enter. Even in that case, the woman must strictly abide by the rules of hijab (covering up).

Privacy Limit in Visiting Families as Guests

A person who enjoys belief and tries his best to comply with the aspects of Islam that reflects on life opens the doors of peace and comfort in his worldly life, establishes an order away from trouble and hardship and starts to compile the flowers of happiness for his eternal life. Relationships with our environment, which have an important place in our personal lives, are among the problems that we face the most in our religious life and that we encounter while fulfilling the requirements of our belief.

We visit our close and distant relatives, friends and acquaintances in order to fulfill sila ar-rahm, which our religion orders us to do. We get together and have talks and conversations. From time to time, they come to us to return our visits. Sometimes situations such as weddings, condolences and invitations lead us to those visits. These visits and meetings often take place as a family. As a matter of fact, we can meet the daughters and wives of our friends or our relatives, and they can come meet ours theirs, and in certain circumstances we can sit together in an assembly, though temporarily, due to lack of space or for some other reasons. What should we pay attention to in such cases?

Since these people we are talking about are religiously non-mahram to each other, that is, since it is possible for them to marry each other, it is necessary to be careful not to exceed the limits of privacy. If importance is not attached to this issue, some undesirable and objectionable situations may occur. The following is stated in the Quran regarding the issue:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty...” (5)

And the believing women are warned as follows in the Quran:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof...” (6)

These verses come after the verses of istidhan (asking for permission to enter someone’s house). Ayni, who draws attention to this issue in Bukhari’s explanation, says that the main purpose of mentioning this verse after the “istidhan” verses is to tell the host to protect his female family members from the gazes of the non-mahram guests and not to show them to non-mahram men.(7)

After the interpretation of this verse in Bukhari, he mentions the following verse:

He (Allah) knows of (the tricks) that deceive with the eyes, and all that the hearts (of men) conceal.” (8)

While interpreting this verse, Ibn Abbas makes the following explanation: The person who deceives with eyes is someone who looks insidiously at a beautiful woman who passes by him while sitting in an assembly or in a house where he is a guest, without making the people around him notice his gaze. When the people around him look at him, he immediately averts his eyes. However, Allah knows that that person with treacherous eyes will resort to haram if he can.(9)

In this regard, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi’s following statement is significant:

“A beautiful woman entering a gathering of brothers, arouses veins of hypocrisy, rivalry, envy, and selfishness. Slumbering desires suddenly awaken.” (10)

Although looking does not make a person responsible as much as fornication does, believers are advised to avoid looking since it is a door leading to fornication. Abu Hurayra reports a hadith stating that man’s other organs also have a share from fornication and that they are included among minor sins. The Prophet (pbuh) said,

“Verily Allah has fixed the very portion of fornication which a man will indulge in, and which he of necessity must commit. The fornication of the eye is the lustful look, and the fornication of the tongue is the licentious speech; the heart desires and yearns, which the private parts may or may not put into effect.” (11)

Those states are included in the category of metaphorical fornication; gaze includes lust and pleasure; if a person talks of and listens to illegitimate things, and if the soul has a strong desire, the field of responsibility widens. Since those sins are regarded as minor sins, they approach Allah’s forgiveness if they are repented unless they lead to fornication.

Since such undesirable situations may occur, it is the safest way for male and female guests to sit separately and not see each other unless there is a necessity. However, the following hadith is mentioned in Bukhari and Muslim, regarding the permissibility of a housewife to serve male guests when people are sure to avoid those bad feelings, when the woman abides by the rules of hijab and does not act in a way to arouse men:

“Abu Usayd invited our Prophet (pbuh) and some Companions to his wedding. His wife served the guests. She had soaked dates in a stone bowl at night. When our Prophet finished his meal, she crushed the dates, added water to them, made sherbet and offered them to the guests.”(12)

Acting upon this hadith, hadith scholars conclude that a woman can serve her husband’s guests, provided that there is no risk of mischief.(13)

References:

1. Abu Dawud, Libas: 32.
2. Muslim, Salam: 20.
3. Nawawi, Sharhu Sahibi Muslim, 14: 154.
4. Bukhari, Nikah: 111.

5. an-Nur, 30.
6. an-Nur, 31.
7. Ayni, Umdatul-Qari. 22. 231.
8. al-Mumin, 19.
9. Ayni, Umdatul-Qari, 22: 231, Tecrit Tercemesi, 12: 171.
10. Sözler, p. 678

11. Muslim, Qadar: 21; Bukhari, Istidhan: 12.
12. Bukhari, Nikah, 77; Muslim, Ashriba: 86.
13. Ayni, Umdatul-Qari, 20: 164-165.

(see Mehmet PAKSU, Kadın, Evlilik ve Aile)

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