Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa
Is it permissible for a Muslim woman to recite the Quran in front of men in mixed gatherings of men and women for learning?
In the name of Allah Most High, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
It is not permissible for a Muslim woman to recite the Quran in front of men in mixed gatherings of men and women for the purpose of learning – without a valid necessity. There is neither a logical nor a justifiable reason for mixing genders to learn the Quran.
There are numerous avenues for Muslim women to acquire knowledge, including Quranic studies, without needing mixed-gender gatherings.
The empowerment of women to mingle with men is the root of every calamity and evil, and it is one of the most significant causes of the descent of general punishments. This is because it arouses desires that lead to the deterioration of society’s ethics and values. It has caused countless harms that are not hidden from anyone with eyesight, and no one is “unaware” of it except those who feign ignorance.
Islam has established rules for the interaction of men with women, closing all pathways that lead to the forbidden, even if they were originally permissible, as a preventative measure against corruption. This is due to the potential for corruption in mixing with women and conversing with them, even while learning the Quran. It opens the doors through which Shaytan can enter the heart of a believer, casting harmful thoughts that can lead to sinful acts. The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “I have not left after me any fitna (trial) more harmful to men than women.” [Bukhari]
And he, blessings and peace be upon him, warned against entering upon women and said, “Beware of entering upon women.” A man from the Ansar asked, “O Messenger of Allah, what about the in-laws?” He replied, “The in-law is death.” [Bukhari]
The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, also prohibited the close relatives of a husband, such as his brother, uncle, cousin, and their sons, from entering upon the wives of their close relatives.
The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, emphasized the importance of avoiding mixing between men and women, as evidenced by his guidance regarding arranging rows during prayer. He said, “The best rows for men are the first, and the worst are the last. The best rows for women are the last, and the worst are the first.” [Nasa’i]
Imam Nawawi, in his commentary, explained that the preference for the last rows for women who are present with men during prayer is due to their distance from men, preventing any interaction or visual contact with them, as well as avoiding their heart’s attachment when observing their movements and hearing their conversations. [Nawawi, Sharh al-Nawawi ala Muslim, 4.159]
Shawkani explained that the preference for women to be in the last rows, especially when present with men, is due to the distance it creates, preventing any close interaction with men. This contrasts with women standing in the first rows, where the potential for mingling and attachment between men and women is more likely. This separation is essential to avoid unwanted socializing and prevent harm or inappropriate behavior. [Shawkani, Neil al-Awtar li al-Shawkani, 3.219]
Similarly, Sindi commented on this matter, stating that the virtue of women praying in the last rows is because the proximity of men to women might lead to difficulties and disturbances, with concerns that women might distract men and vice versa. This separation is based on the wisdom of avoiding situations where the interaction between men and women could lead to inappropriate outcomes.
Sindi further commented that with men, the greatest reward is in the front row; for women, it is most rewarding to pray in the row right at the back. This distinction is because women being closer to men might lead to distractions and potential issues. [Sindi, Hashiyat al-Sindi ala Sunan al-Nasai 2.94]
The idea is that the proximity and interaction between men and women might disrupt the focus and devotion of individuals during prayer. To avoid such situations, it is preferred for women to pray in the back rows while men occupy the front rows, ensuring better concentration and less likelihood of distractions. This distinction is made to maintain a conducive and focused atmosphere during prayer.
The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) used to delay exiting the mosque along with his companions to allow women to enter their homes first and not occupy the path. Women would leave the mosque first.
The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) instructed the women: “Stay behind, as it is not for you to occupy the path. You should stay to the sides of the path.” Consequently, women would walk close to the walls, to the extent that their garments would stick to the walls. [Abu Dawud]
The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, designated a separate entrance for women in the mosque. Umar ibn al-Khattab forbade people from using the women’s entrance. [Abu Dawud]
If a woman prays in the innermost part of her home, it is better than praying in a visible room. This emphasizes the importance of women avoiding mixing with men.
The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, illustrated this when he said, “The prayer of a woman in her house is better than her prayer in her courtyard, and her prayer in her chamber is better than her prayer in her house..” [Abu Dawud]
This highlights the significance of women praying in the most secluded and private areas of their homes, reinforcing the principle of maintaining modesty and avoiding unnecessary interactions with men.
It is said ‘Awn al-Ma’bud: “A woman’s prayer in her house means the innermost part of her house where she can have complete privacy and concealment is better than her prayer in her room, in the open area of the house.”
Ibn Malik said: By ‘room,’ he meant the area in the house with doors leading to it. It is considered less private than the house itself. Her prayer in her chamber, which is the small room inside the larger house, where valuable belongings are stored, is better than her prayer in her house because the building of her house requires her to maintain modesty.” [Muhammad Sharful Haq al Adhim Abadi, ‘Awn al-Ma’bud Sharh Sunan Abi Dawood, 2.194]
So, when it is preferred for a woman to pray in her house, away from temptation and mingling with men, it is more appropriate to prevent her from mixing with men in places of work and education.
Note: All that has been mentioned is related to acts or places of worship where a person should maintain the utmost modesty and avoid disgraceful or inappropriate behavior.
Note: The questions posed to the mothers of the believers, the wives of the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace be upon him, and their responses may raise concerns for the inquirer. It should be understood that this was in compliance with the command of Allah Most High, firstly: “˹Always˺ remember what is recited in your homes of Allah’s revelations and ˹prophetic˺ wisdom. Surely Allah is Most Subtle, All-Aware…” [Quran, 33:34]
Secondly, all of this occurred behind another veil, where men could hear knowledge from them without seeing them, as Allah, the Most Sublime, has informed us: “And when you ˹believers˺ ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a barrier.” [Quran, 33:53]
The presence of women, during learning, in one place and men in another distant place (such as in spacious university halls) is permissible when necessary, provided that women observe hijab, both men and women lower their gaze, and they avoid engaging in conversation that may tempt those with diseased hearts. It is stated in the Quran: “…do not be overly effeminate in speech ˹with men˺ or those with sickness in their hearts may be tempted, but speak in a moderate tone.” [Quran, 33:32].
Finally, Islamic law does not only consider the issue of the mixing of men and women in the context of learning the Quran or other specific scenarios but rather from all aspects.
As long as there are potential concerns related to mixing during learning for both men and women, Islamic law has closed the door to tribulation before any issues arise. This is what jurists have referred to as the principle of blocking the means, and they have emphasized that preventing harm takes precedence over seeking benefits.
We must, therefore, close the door to anything that may incite desires, especially in our age, filled with temptations and trials. If this door is left open without control, it will become an entry point for those driven by desires and those with corrupted hearts, causing corruption in morals, principles, and values. Allah knows best.
May Allah Most High send blessings and peace upon our Master and Prophet, Muhammad, and his family and companions.