Answered by Shaykh Farid Dingle
Question: Assalamu alaykum
I know a woman shouldn’t leave the house unless there’s a genuine purpose, and shouldn’t aimlessly wander the street. But does this mean it’s haram to go for a walk, or enjoy the sunshine in my yard or at a park? Does this qualify as having a purpose, or should this be avoided?
Answer: Dear questioner,
Leaving one’s house: a basic human need
Allah Most High has said, ‘Do not go to extremes in your religion, save but in the truth.’ [4:171] and the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) has said, ‘There is to be no harm, nor any reciprocating harm.’ [al-Hakim and other]
There is nothing offensive or forbidden about a woman stepping out of her house, walking down the street or taking a stroll in a park. I personally know of righteous women who get out and about for business, work, fundraising or just to get a breathe of fresh air. I even remember Sheikh Nuh Keller–a modern Shafi’i scholar who isn’t one to cut corners in his religion–once joking about a woman who had never left her house from the day she got married till the day she died. ‘It can’t have been a very long time!’ he said. That is to say that getting out of the house is a basic human need.
Culture affects halal and haram
Opinions that we may hear shunning such practice are to be understood in their cultural settings, settings in which certain places were not visited by men, and the only women found there were those with ill intentions.
In ancient Arabia, for example, there was a particular term for a woman who would go out and deal with or speak to men: she was called a baraza, or ‘out-goer’. She was defined as, ‘a women of great moment who would come out to the people and with whom the tribe would consult, who was trusted by dint of her wisdom and good intentions.’ [Lisan al-Arab]
We might compare her, to some extent, to the likes of Our Mother Khadija (Allah be well-pleased with her) who was a businesswoman, but sent men to do the business for her [Ibn Hisham, Sira], or even religious and practising sisters we may know of in our communities who are today headmistresses, lecturers or even C.E.Os.
Not rocking the Boat
In highly conservative Islamic cultures where segregation is healthily applied, a woman’s being in a certain place or dressing in a certain way, may cause genuine social strife. In such places, we must respect the social norms — as long as they don’t contravene the Sacred Law — and learn how to carry ourselves in a way that reflects modesty as they define it.
The principle that should applied, in such cultures, and indeed elsewhere, is that anything that would normally lead to realistic and significant temptation from either of the two genders must be stopped. [al-Fatawa al-Kubra al-Fiqhiyya, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami] This will vary based on place, time, culture, age of those involved, and their religiosity.
Using our Head
That said, we should be wise and understand that the Sacred Law has protected Muslim women with two hijabs: the hijab of covering her hair and dressing modestly, and the hijab of carrying herself with shyness and decorum, and not unnecessarily mixing with the opposite sex, or intentionally exposing oneself to their gaze or attention. Women are not stupid: they can tell the difference between walking in the park to worship Allah by taking some exercise or enjoying the blessings of nature, and between disobeying Him by trying to be seen.
It is worth noting that shyness and decorum equally apply to men around women, and men should be careful where their footsteps and gazes fall. The Prophet himself (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was described as ‘shyer than a virgin’ [al-Bukhari]. May Allah make us all walk in his footsteps.
I hope this helps.
[Shaykh] Farid Dingle