Answered by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Can you please comment on the permissibility of mixed social gatherings and whether its allowed as far as guys and girls going out together that are just friends to dinner or other places?
“And We reveal of the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy for believers though it increases the evil-doers in naught save ruin.” [Quran, 17:82]
“We sent you (O Prophet!) not except as a mercy for all people.” [Quran, 21:107]
The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) is a manifestation of the Mercy of Allah Most High. he was sent as a mercy to all humanity, as the Quran states. The Shariah is the guidance Allah Most High sent the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) with to bring humanity out from darkness of confusion and bewilderment to the light of charity. Its rulings are all for the benefit of humanity, for, as Allah reminds us,
“O mankind! You are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah! he is Absolutely Free of Need, the Owner of Praise.” [Quran, 35:15]
The Soundness of Human Civilization
The regulations related to male-female interaction are essential to the very soundness of human civilization. If ignored, they threaten its very survival.
Islam is not just a true religion but also a social order that enables individuals to attain the cherished goal of material happiness and welfare in the world and to prepare them for the next world through righteousness and virtuous deeds.
Islam removes the possible causes which may breed corruption. It strikes hard at the root of evil and suggests measures that may bring about peaceful, happy, and harmonious relations among Muslims.
It discourages free and unbridled contact between men and women to prevent the consequences of undesirable impulses. It puts a restraint on such impelling forces, which might play a disastrous role in degenerating the mind of young men and women.
The Greatest Weakness
Sexual instinct is the greatest weakness of the human race. That is why Shaytan selected this weak spot for his attack on the believer.
In present-day society, the family system has been shattered. [F: See Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad’s excellent work, ‘The Fall of the Family’ at www.masud.co.uk]
The Dangers of Free Mixing
The husband and wife work in different places in an atmosphere of free mixing of the sexes. Sometimes it leads to unlawful contact with strangers, divorce, and the destruction of the family home.
We can see the disastrous outcome of giving unlimited freedom for mixed gatherings. Allah Almighty has created this attraction between the sexes for each other. This cannot be denied.
Blocking the Means
Where there is free mixing, this natural instinct will be aroused at some time and lead to the committing of sin.
Therefore Islam takes preventive measures rather than suffer the consequences. This is also one of the principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, namely ‘blocking the means’ (sadd al-dhara’i‘).
This is based on the idea of preventing an evil before it actually materializes, and is taken from the heart of the guidance of the Qur’an and Sunna that, “Preventing harm is given precedence even to achieving possible benefits.”
The harms of adultery, fornication, and things that lead to it have been explained in detail in the Quran:
Allah says in Surat al-Nur:
“Say to the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That is purer for them, and Allah is aware of what they do. And say to the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty.” [Quran, 24:30-31]
Similarly, Allah says in Surat al-Ahzab:
“When you ask them for anything, then ask from behind a screen (hijab). This is a means for greater purity for your hearts and their hearts.” [Quran, 33:53]
Imam Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Qurtubi (Allah have mercy on him) writes in his famous exegesis of Quran, al-Jami‘ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an:
“This verse indicates the permissibility to ask and converse with the wives of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) from behind a screen or a curtain. The same guidance would bind all Muslim women.” [Qurtubi, al-Jami` li Ahkam al-Qur’an, 14:227]
Also, in Surat al-Ahzab, Allah says:
“O wives of the prophet! You are not like other women, if you are god-fearing. So do not be soft in speech. Lest in whose heart is disease should be moved with desire.” [v. 32]
This verse clearly indicates that men and women should not talk unnecessarily, and when they do so, both the content and manner of conversation must be appropriate and free of anything inciting.
The Guidance of the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace)
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) dealt with the issue of male-female relations at length
1) Imam Abu Dawud and Imam an-Nasa’i relate from Sayyidatuna ‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with him) that she says: “A woman extended her hand from behind a curtain to hand a piece of paper to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). The Messenger of Allah pulled his hands back and said: “I don’t know if this is a man’s hand or a women’s hand.” Aisha said that it was a women’s hand.
This Hadith is clear that the companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to observe separation (hijab) in a way that there use to be a curtain or a veil between the sexes. If free mixing was acceptable, then there was no need for this. Besides, if such separation were against the spirit of the Sharia, the Messenger of Allah would have certainly pointed it out to her.
2) Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim narrate in their Sahih from Uqba ibn Amir (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah said: “Do not go near [non-Mahram] women.” A person inquired: “What about in-laws?” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) responded, “The in-laws are death.”
The Prophet of Allah (may Allah have mercy on him) compared male in-laws to death. This means that one should be even more careful with in-laws regarding interaction as there is a greater risk for fitna, especially given the comfortable, social atmosphere in which both parties may lower their guard and forget to lower their gazes.
3) Imam Muslim narrates from Jarir ibn Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him), who says: “I asked Allah’s Messenger about the sudden glance on a Non – Mahram. He commanded me that I should turn away my eyes.
4) Buraida reported that the Messenger of Allah said to Ali [Allah be pleased with him]: “O Ali! don’t allow your glance to follow a glance, because the first [glance] is forgiven and not the second. [Tirmidhi; Abu Dawud; Imam Ahmad].
The above-mentioned [and other] verses of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet [Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam] indicate the importance of observing the proper limits of gender interaction.
The following are the rules deduced from the Quran and Sunnah regarding the social behavior of men and women, as outlined by the scholars:
a) Both men and women should dress properly and modestly, such that their nakedness (awra) is covered with loose clothing that does not define the shape of the limbs below. This, of course, includes women being in proper hijab, both avoiding tight-fitting clothing;
b) Men and women who are not immediately related should not talk to each other unnecessarily. When there is a genuine need (such as work or education) to talk, the conversation should be in a modest, restrained manner and be limited to the extent of the need;
c) It is from the guidance of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that women cannot wear fragrances that might catch the attention of strange men;
d) Both men and women should lower their gazes. It is disliked to look at someone young of the opposite sex even without the fear of desire; when one even fears desire, it is impermissible to look;
e) Particular care must be given to one’s interaction with in-laws, relatives, and others one is likely to have sustained contact with, such as co-workers.
In the light of the above, we can see that the free intermingling of both the sexes is not allowed. Islam enjoins on both men and women to cast down their looks in presence of each other. How is it possible for men and women to meet freely in dinners, tea parties and other social events with looks cast down?. There is not a single instance in the history of early Islam of men and women being allowed to meet each other freely in any social, political or religious gathering. Even in the Masjid men and women had their separate rows at the time of prayers. The Hadith considers the free mixing with in-laws as death, as there is a greater risk of Fitna.
In one narration, listening to the voice of a woman with lust has been termed as adultery. The scholars have debated whether the voice of a women is Awrah, although according to the Hanafi Madhab it is not considered awrah, but it shows the importance of keeping away from free mixing. If a young woman says Salam to a Non-Mahram, he should reply within himself and not let the woman hear his reply [see “Taqreerat” of Rafi’e on the “Hashiya” of Ibn Abideen].
Ibn Abideen says in his “Hashiya”: If one fears Fitna or lust then it will be Haram for him to look at the face of a woman. This was in the early days. However, in our times one is not allowed to look at the face of a Non-Mahram woman, not because it’s part of the Awra, rather due to Fitna.
It is thus clear that Islam insist on the segregation of sexes to the utmost extent compatible with individual and collective self-preservation. Its pattern of society is one in which men and women do not intermingle too freely. If intermixture becomes necessary at any time, then too much freedom must be avoided and all the rules and conditions must be observed.
In conclusion, mixed gatherings are not permissible. Men and women must sit apart from each other. If they sit apart and there is no free mixing [as was also mentioned in the Question] then it will be permissible. May Allah guide us to the straight path. Ameen
And Allah knows best.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
[i]Edited by Faraz Rabbani.