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Women, Unlawful Gazes, and Leaving the House

Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra

Question: A so-called scholar on a Pakistani (religious) TV channel stated that if a man unlawfully gazes at a woman, the woman (even if she does not know that the man is looking at her) will be punished for it by being thrown in hell, and will never see heaven. This is because women, by their nature, have the instinctive ability to figure out who is looking/staring at them even if they are busy studying  or doing some other work. He also stated something along the lines that if a woman can leave the house only if it is an absolute necessity (i.e. life and death situation). I would appreciate it if you would answer the above, using proofs from the Quran and Hadith.

Answer: As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

Thank you for your question, sister. The views that you have stated above, namely that:

(1) a woman is punished for a man looking at her whilst she is unaware, even if she dresses and behaves with proper modesty and is not allowing or intending for him to gaze at her,

(2) that a woman cannot leave the house except in life or death circumstances, and

(3) that women should be prevented from seeking beneficial knowledge due to the fear of being seen, are all opinions that are not in accordance with the views of the mainstream scholarship of Islam.

That women have an instinctive ability to know someone is looking at them is perhaps the personal opinion of that particular speaker; it is not an Islamic precept to my knowledge, nor grounded on any valid reasoning.

True, a woman should be aware of her surroundings and not feel comfortable with being stared at nor encourage the stares of strange men, but that could be well beyond her control despite being modest in dress and behavior, and for this, she is not held accountable.

The Purpose Behind Preferring the Home

The injunction for women to prefer their homes rather than aimlessly being outside comes from the verse in the Qu’ran where Allah Most High says, “And stay in your homes and do not expose your beauty the way they used to expose in the pagan times of old, and establish prayer and pay the obligatory charity…” [al-Quran, 33:33].

Ibn Kathir explains that this command is only to curb leaving the home “without any need, and from amongst the needs which are valid according to the Sacred Law is praying in the mosque, while observing its conditions.” [Tafsir, Ibn Kathir]

The purpose of this injunction, as seen by the second half of the verse also, was for the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and hence all the believing women, not to imitate the women of pagan times who would aimlessly wander the streets dressed in revealing clothing and behave immodestly with men. This by no means prevents women from their respectable pursuits and natural needs such as education, keeping up ties with neighbors and family, etc

In his explanation, Ibn Kathir singles out the right of women to leave their homes to enrich their spiritual lives, which are intangible needs that are deemed as essential, while alternatives exist to pray at home. What then of more tangible needs such as education? Clearly, this should be encouraged considering how important it is for Muslim women to respond to the needs of modern society, especially in fields of collective obligation such as medicine, as you mentioned.

Conditions Establishing “Need”

The key to weighing this issue lies in the last part of Ibn Kathir’s explanation of the verse: “while observing its conditions”.  Once conditions of

(a) modest dress and behavior,

(b) a productive and genuine purpose, and

(c) avoiding people and places where sin are observed,

then there would be no prohibition on women in leaving the home to the amount that they need, as this would be beneficial to themselves and society. If one reflects on this, Muslim men are similarly encouraged to observe the same guidelines and discouraged from aimless loitering in the streets also.

Wasalam,

Abdullah Anik Misra

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

A Detailed Exposition of the Fiqh of Covering One’s Nakedness (awra)

Answered by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam

Question: Can you please explain in detail the awra of a woman in different situation, in front of men, women, unmarriagable kin and so forth?

Answer: The covering of one’s nakedness (awra) is of utmost importance for a male and female in Islam, thus the Qur’an and Sunnah have laid great emphasis with regards to this. We also see the various books of Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) discussing the issues relating to the Awra of both the male and female in great detail. In this brief article, I will attempt to shed some light and look comprehensively as to what is a woman’s Awra.

Awra is an Arabic term the plural of which is Awrat. Linguistically, it means a hidden and secret place, and a person’s Awra is that which must be kept hidden. It also refers to everything that causes shame when exposed, thus, the Awra of an individual is the area of the body which (normally) causes embarrassment if exposed. (Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-Arab, 9/370).

In the terminology of Islamic Jurisprudence, Awra refers to the area or part of the body that must be covered with appropriate clothing. In the English language, it is normally translated as ‘nakedness’ or ‘area of the body that must be concealed’. Many people (normally form the Indo/pak) refer to it as ‘Satar’. For the purpose of simplicity, I will use the term ‘Awra’ in this article, Insha Allah.

The Awra of a woman

A woman’s Awra can be initially divided into two categories:

1) Inside prayer

2) Outside prayer

The latter is then divided into further sub-categories:

a) In seclusion

b) In front of the husband

c) In front of Muslim women

d) In front of Mahram males (unmarriageable kin)

e) In front of non-Mahram males

f) In front of non-Muslim women

g) In front of non-Muslim Mahram males

1) Awra inside prayer (Salat)

A woman’s Awra whilst performing Salat consists of the whole body except the face, hands and feet. Allah Most High says: “O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel (zeenah) at every time and place of prayer.” (Surah al-A’raf, 31)

The majority of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all), their followers (tabi’un), Jurists and exegetes of the Qur’an have deduced from this verse (along with the other evidences) the obligation of covering one’s Awra in prayer. (See: Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur’an, 4/205, Ma’arif al-Qur’an (English), 3/565)

Sayyida Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who experiences menstruation (i.e. who has reached puberty, m) except with a head cover (khimar).” (Sunan Abu Dawud, no. 641, Sunan Tirmidhi, Sunan Ibn Majah and others)

The great Hanafi jurist, Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his renowned Durr al-Mukhtar:

“The Awra for a free woman (i.e. not a slave, m) is her full body including her descending hair according to the correct opinion, except for the face, hands……and feet”. (See Radd al-Muhtar, 1/405).

Therefore, a woman must cover herself properly when performing Salat. Everything besides the face, hands and feet must be covered. The face must be covered properly so that no hair is exposed. Also, care should be taken that no part from above the wrists and ankles is exposed.

It must be remembered that the Awra whilst performing Salat must be covered regardless of another person being present or otherwise, and regardless of whether one is performing Salat in dark or light. (Maraqi al-Falah, 210)

The feet, according to the more correct opinion, is not regarded as part of Awra. However, due to the difference of opinion with regards to it, it would be more precautious and advisable to cover them, as it will be explained in detail later.

With regards to the area below the chin, it should be remembered that the limit of the face in length starts from the point where the hairline usually begins to the bottom of the chin, and in breadth the portion between the two earlobes. (Maraqi al-Falah, P. 58)

Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that the area below the chin is not included in the face, thus it would fall within the legal definition of Awra, and one should try to cover it. However, because of the difficulty in covering it, if a little part of it became exposed, there should not be a problem.

Finally, (in this section), the Awra must be concealed from before entering into Salat and must remain concealed until the end. If quarter of a part/organ that requires concealment is exposed before initiating Salat, then Salat will not be valid from the outset. If however, quarter of the organ which is included in the Awra becomes exposed during Salat, then, if this remains to the duration of reciting Subhan Allah thrice, Salat will become invalid, otherwise, it will be valid. (See: Maraqi al-Falah, P. 242)

Note) One should consult a scholar with regards to how the parts of the body are categorized and divided, for at times, one may regard a organ of the body to be one part, whereas, legally, it may be considered to be two parts.

2) Awra outside prayer

a) Awra in privacy and seclusion

It is necessary (wajib) (and recommended according to another opinion) in the Hanafi school, to cover one’s minimum nakedness (between the navel and knee for both men and women) even when alone. The exception to this is when there is a need, such as taking a shower, relieving oneself, or changing one’s clothes. Even in such situations, it is recommended to minimize the exposure.

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Modesty is part of faith (iman).” (Sahih al-Bukhari & Sahih Muslim)

Ya’la ibn Umayya reports that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Verily Allah is modest and discreet and He likes modesty and discretion. When one of you takes a bath, one should cover one’s self.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan Nasa’I & Musnad Ahmad). This is a command of recommendation when alone.

Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) said in his Durr al-Mukhtar:

“(And to cover one’s Awra), this is a general obligation, even when alone, according to the correct opinion, unless it is for a valid reason.”

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) writes whilst commentating on the above in his Radd al-Muhtar:

“(al-Haskafi’s statement “Even when alone”) That is: Outside of prayer, it is obligatory to cover one’s Awra in front of others by scholarly consensus, and even when alone according to the correct opinion…..

Now, the apparent meaning of covering one’s Awra when alone outside of prayer (in this context) is that only which is between the navel and knees, such that even women do not have to cover other than that (when alone) even if it is of their Awra in front of others….

(al-Haskafi’s statement “According to the correct opinion) For Allah Most High, even though He sees the covered just as He sees the naked, sees the one with their nakedness uncovered leaving proper manners and sees the covered exhibiting proper manners. These proper manners (here) are obligatory whenever there is ability to exercise them.

(al-Haskafi’s statement “Unless it is for a valid reason”) Such as, using the toilet or cleaning one self (istinja)”. (See: Radd al-Muhtar, 1/405, matlab fi satr al-awra).

Therefore, (according to the more correct opinion), a woman must cover even in privacy between her navel and (including) knees except when there is a need, such as relieving herself, showering, changing her cloths, etc…

b) Awra in front of the husband

In principle, it is permissible for the spouses to look at any part of each others body. As such, there is no Awra in front of the spouse (for this will be exempted from the ruling of concealing in privacy due to need).

Scholars mention however, that although it is permissible for the spouses to look at any part of the partner’s body, it is disliked that they become completely naked during cohabitation. A cover or sheet over the naked bodies would be sufficient.

Sayyida Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) private parts”. (Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith no. 662)

c) Awra in front of Muslim women

The Awra of a woman in front of fellow Muslim women is the same to that which is a man’s Awra in front of other men, i.e. from the navel up to and including the knees.

It is stated in al-Hidaya:

“A woman may see of another (Muslim, m) woman that which is permitted for a man to see of another man, due to them being from the same sex, and the non-existence of desire (shahwa) between them normally…..Similarly, due to the need and requirement of them exposing amongst themselves”. (See: al-Marghinani, al-Hidaya, 4/461).

Therefore, a woman must cover from the navel up to and including her knees in front of other Muslim women.

d) Awra in front of (Muslim) Mahrams (unmarriageable kin)

The Awra of a woman in front of her Mahram men (those with whom marriage is permanently unlawful), such as the father, brother, son, paternal uncle (father’s brother), maternal uncle (mother’s brother), father in-law, grandson, husband’s son (from another marriage), son in-law, etc consists of the area between the navel and knees, and also the stomach and back.

Thus, it will be permissible for a woman to expose the following parts of her body in front of Mahram males: head, hair, face, neck, chest, shoulders, hands, forearms, and legs from below the knees. It will not be permissible to expose the stomach, back or any area which is between the navel and knees. (See: al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/328 & al-Hidaya, 4/461).

This ruling is based on the verse of the Qur’an in Surah al- Nur:

“They (believing women) must not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers, their brother’s sons, their sister’s sons or their women…” (24-31).

It will also be permissible for a Mahram to touch those parts that are permissible to expose in front of them, provided there is no fear of temptation or desire.

Imam al-Quduri (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“There is nothing wrong in touching those parts that are permissible to see” (Mukhtasar al-Quduri).

However, it should be remembered that if there is a fear of temptation (fitna), then it will be impermissible to expose these parts even in front of Mahrams, neither will it be permissible to see or touch those areas of a Mahrams body. (See: al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab, 3/218).

e) Awra in front of non-Mahram males

The Awra in front of non-Mahram males (those with whom marriage is unlawful), which includes cousin brother, brother in-law, paternal uncle (one’s father’s sister’s husband), maternal uncle (one’s mother’s sister’s husband), husband’s uncle, husband’s nephew, etc) consists of the whole body except the face, hands and feet. It is similar to that which is considered Awra in prayer (salat).

Imam al-Marghinani (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is impermissible for a man to look at the whole body of a non-Mahram woman (due to it being part of Awra, m) except for her face and hands, for Allah Most High says: “Women must not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear thereof” (al-Nur, 31). Sayyiduna Ali and Sayyiduna Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) interpreted this verse with the face and hands… This is textual evidence on the impermissibility of looking at her feet (for it is awra, m), but Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) said that it is permitted to look at her feet due to need”. (al-Hidaya, 4/458).

Imam al-Tumurtashi (Allah have mercy on him) states in Tanwir al-Absar:

“A woman’s Awra consists of her whole body except her face, hands and feet. However, she will be prevented from exposing her face in amongst men due to the fear of temptation (fitna)”.

Therefore, a woman’s Awra in front of non-Mahram men is her whole body except her face, hands and feet.

It must be remarked here that there is a difference between Awra and Niqab or Hijab. Due to the failure of distinguishing between the two, many people become victims of misinterpreting Islamic law in one way or another.

The face according to the scholars is not part of the Awra, yet, as we have seen in the text of Imam al-Tumurtashi, it will be necessary to cover it due to the fear of temptation and incitement. Ibn Abidin states: “(A young woman will be prevented from exposing her face), not because it is part of Awra, rather (for the fear of temptation)”. (Radd al-Muhtar, 1/406)

Thus, our discussion is solely regarding Awra, and not Hijab or Niqab. As far as the decisive ruling with regards to the covering of the face or otherwise is concerned, we leave that for another time.

It is also worth mentioning here that although the Fatwa position in the Hanafi Madhab is that the feet are not included within the Awra, but there is another strong opinion (within the madhhab and according to other Madhabs, such as the Shafi’is), that they are part of Awra, and must be covered. As such, legally, one will not be sinful for exposing them, but it would be advisable as a precautionary measure to cover them.

Moreover, (according to the Fatwa opinion), it is only allowed to uncover the feet up to the ankles. Anything above the ankles is from the Awra without a doubt. Many women wear veils, Burqas and Jilbabs that normally cover the ankles, but reveal the leg area above this while walking (especially in the wind, sitting and coming out of a car, etc), thus they commit the sin of exposing What is considered Awra according to all.

Therefore, we need to emphasise the importance of covering the feet. Covering the feet is just as important as covering the face if not more, for the face is not considered part of Awra, whilst, there is a strong opinion in the Hanafi Madhhab (and the Fatwa opinion in the other madhhabs) that the feet are.

Those who strongly call for and emphasise the necessity of covering the face (not that I object to them) must also realise that the feet are just of the same importance. At times, all the emphasis is laid upon the face, whilst the woman is seen to expose the area above the ankle while walking and there is no realisation that a sin is being committed.

f) Awra in front of non-Muslim women

The Awra of a woman in front of non-Muslim women is, strictly speaking, the same that is in front of non-Mahram men, i.e. the whole body besides the hands, face and the feet.

The verse of Surah al-Nur that we quoted earlier details the list of people besides whom a woman is not allowed to expose her beauty. Such people (as explained earlier) are known to be her Mahrams (unmarriageable kin). Also, in that verse, Allah Almighty states: “their women” (al-Nur, 31) indicating that a woman must only expose herself to her woman and not others.

The exegetes of the Qur’an differ with regards to the interpretation of this statement of Allah. Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“With regards to the statement of Allah “or their women”, there are two opinions. The first is that it refers to those women who are on the same religion (din) as them (i.e. Muslims, m). This is the opinion of the majority of the predecessors (salaf). Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) states: “It is impermissible for a believing/Muslim woman to uncover herself in front of non-Muslim women, and she is only allowed to expose that what is allowed in front of non-Mahram men… Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) wrote to Abu Ubaida ibn al-Jarrah (Allah be pleased with him) to stop non-Muslim women from entering bath areas (hammam) with Muslim women.

The second opinion is that, it refers to all the women (i.e. she may uncover in front of all the women, m). This is the adopted opinion, and the opinion of the predecessors is based on superiority (istihbab)”. (See: Tafsir al-Kabir, 8/365).

As we have seen, that Imam al-Razi (Allah have mercy on him) adopted the second view in that a woman may uncover in front of non-Muslim women to the extent of what she is allowed to uncover in front of Mahram men.

However, many scholars chose the first view, and it is the view that is adopted by the Hanafi School. Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“An unbelieving woman is similar to a non-Mahram man according to the correct opinion. Thus, she is not allowed to see the body of a Muslim woman”. (Radd al-Muhtar, 6/371)

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains:

“It is impermissible for a Muslim woman to uncover in front of a Jewish, Christian or a atheist woman except if she is her slave…It is also disliked that a corrupt woman (fasiqa) sees the body of a pious woman, for she may describe her to the men, thus she should avoid taking off her outer garment (jilbab) or scarf (khimar)”. (ibid).

It is evident from the text of Ibn Abidin that the main reason for the impermissibility of uncovering in front of a non-Muslim woman is that she may describe her to other men. If this is feared from a corrupt Muslim woman, then one should avoid uncovering in front of her also.

Therefore, the Awra of a woman in front of non-Muslim women is all her body except her face, hands and feet. Thus, a woman should cover in front of non-Muslim women whenever reasonably possible. However, scholars say that if this is difficult, then it will be permissible to expose some part of the body in front of them.

The ruling of covering in front of non-Muslim women is not as strict as the other situations, for, firstly, there is a difference of opinion between the scholars regarding it, and secondly, it may be at times very difficult to cover in front of women. The great exegete, Imam al-Alusi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“This opinion (of not covering in front of non-Muslim women) is more appropriate these days, for it is almost impossible to cover in front of them”. (Ruh al-Ma’ani)

In conclusion, a woman should cover whenever reasonably possible in front of non-Muslim women, especially when there is fear that she may describe her to other men. Also nowadays, Fitnahs such as lesbianism have become so wide spread that it has become necessary for women to observe caution with non-Muslim women. However, if it is difficult to fully cover, then one may take the concession on not covering and minimising it to the minimum.

g) Awra in front of non-Muslim Mahrams

With regards to a woman’s Awra in front of her Mahrams who are non-Muslim, such as a non-Muslim father, brother, son, etc, I could not find an explicit ruling on the issue in the Hanafi School.

However, it seems that non-Muslim Mahrams are similar to other Mahrams in that a woman may expose herself besides from the navel to the knee and the stomach and back, provided there is no fear of temptation (fitna).

There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, the verse of the Qur’an and the statements of the jurists (fuqaha) are general when discussing Mahrams. They don’t distinguish between a non-Muslim and Muslim Mahram. The Qur’an permits a woman to expose herself (to a degree, as explained above) in front of her father, brother, son, etc without specifying that he be a Muslim.

Secondly, the Fuqaha explicitly mention that a Mahram with whom a woman may go on a journey of Hajj includes also a non-Muslim. Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“A woman may travel for Hajj with her husband or a Mahram, even though if he (Mahram) is a slave or a non-Muslim or (he is considered a Mahram, m) due to breastfeeding. He must have reached puberty and is sane, and a boy who is close to puberty is like the one who has reached puberty, except a fire worshipper and an immoral and corrupt person”.

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains:

“The reason why travelling with a Mahram who is a fire worshipper is impermissible, is that they (fire worshippers, m) consider marriage with a close relative to be permissible”. (Radd al-Muhtar, 2/464)

Imam al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“A Mahram is one with whom marriage is permanently unlawful… whether this Mahram is a free person or a slave, for slavery is not contrary to the close relationship (mahramiyya), and whether he is a Muslim, a non-Muslim or an atheist (mushrik), for a non-Muslim Mahram normally safeguards her, except that he is a fire worshipper, for he considers marriage with her to be permissible”. (Badai’i al-Sana’i, 2/124).

It is stated in Fath al-Qadir:

“It is permissible for her to travel with all types of Mahrams except a fire worshipper, for he believes marriage with her to be permissible”. (Ibn al-Humam, Fath al-Qadir, 2/422).

In the Shafi’i Madhhab, we have a clear text permitting the uncovering in front of a non-Muslim Mahram. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is not permissible to look at what lies between the navel and knee of one’s close relative (mahram); everything else is permissible, provided there is no desire (shahwah), and even if he is a non-Muslim, because the close relationship (mahramiyyah) makes marriage unlawful, so it is as if they were two males or two females”. (Tuhfat al-Muhtaj ala al-Minhaj)

Therefore, it would be permissible for a woman to uncover besides the area between the navel and knees, and the stomach and back in front of her non-Muslim Mahrams, provided two conditions are met:

1)That there be no desire (shahwah) or fear of temptation (fitna), especially when we live in a age where evils such as incest among the non-Muslims is becoming common,

2)That the non-Muslim close relative not be from among those who believe that it is permissible to marry close relatives,

Finally before parting, I would like to mention in relation to our discussion three points.

Firstly, it should be remembered that all the parts of the body that need to be covered (in the various situations discussed above) must be covered with clothing that is loose and opaque. The clothing must not be close-fitting whereby the figure of the body is visible or transparent by which the colour of the body is able to be seen. If this is not taken care of, then it will not be regarded to be sufficient covering of the Awra.

Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“Clothing that is considered to be sufficient covering is such that, it is not possible to see thorough them”.

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains:

“(It is not possible to see thorough them), meaning in a way that the colour of the skin can not be visible. This exempts thin and other see-through clothing… However, if the clothing is thick in a way that the colour of the skin is not visible, but it is tight to the body, then this should not prevent the validity of Salat… However, it is still impermissible to see that part of the body”. (See: Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 1/410)

This excerpt of Ibn Abidin explains that if the skin of the body becomes visible in prayer, Salat will become invalid. However, tight clothing would not prevent the validity of prayer, yet it is still necessary not to wear tight-fitting clothing.

Secondly, in all the foregoing occasions where it is permissible to uncover and expose the body, if there is a fear of desire (shahwa) on either side or there is fear of temptation (fitna), then it will be necessary to cover. A woman may make this decision herself in accordance with the surroundings she is in.

Thirdly, it will be permissible to uncover and expose parts of the Awra in cases of extreme need and necessity, such as medication. However, care should be taken that this is limited to only the part that needs treatment. If treatment is needed on the actual private parts, then it would be better to receive treatment from someone of the same sex. However, if this is not possible, then it would be allowed to receive treatment from a specialist of the opposite sex, with taking due care of the injunctions and guidance of Shariah.

Allama Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is permissible for a male physician to view the affected area of a woman for the purpose of medication, provided it is minimised to only the area that actually needs treatment, for necessity is restricted to only the actual need. If the private parts need treatment, then a female should carry out the treatment, as seeing someone of the same sex is less of an evil.” (Radd al-Muhtar, 5/261)

The above was a comprehensive look at the Awra of a woman. The extent of the Awra differs from one occasion to another and from one person to another. The whole concept and idea behind this is that Islam desires its followers to live a life that is chaste and free from any type of corruption or immorality. This is a basis for every sound and pure society. May Allah guide us all to the straight path, and that we are able to act upon the injunctions of Shariah in a manner that is most pleasing to Allah Almighty.

And Allah Knows Best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

Women & the Workplace: Is it Impermissible for Me to Work Even If I Observe Proper Limits?

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

Question: I would like to know if women are allowed to work in environments where they will have to interact with men if they dress and interact modestly and limits interaction with the opposite gender as much as possible? Assume that a woman in such a position is working by choice and not by necessity, and with the approval of her husband. Please advise, as there are many Muslims these days that insist that going to college or working around men is “free mixing” for women and therefore not permitted, even if one chooses to keep their intentions pure and behave according to Islamic guidelines in those mixed environments.

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and their followers.

Dear Sister,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your question. I pray this message finds you and your husband in good health and iman.

I’m a little puzzled as to why people would take issue with your situation. Ultimately, this matter is between you and your husband. If your husband is comfortable with your working, then it should be of no concern to anyone else.

It is not unlawful for a woman to work, whether she needs to work or chooses to do so. You have already outlined the conditions under which it is permissible for a woman to work:

1. The work is halal.
2. The environment is safe.
3. She observes Islamic etiquette.

Those who say that it is unlawful for women to work outside the home may be taking that position in recognition of certain forces or anxieties specific to that culture. In some majority Muslim societies, economic conditions are so difficult that women’s working outside the home may be perceived as taking jobs away from men. As far as free mixing is concerned, its definition can vary depending on someone’s cultural context. In some societies, a woman’s simply walking down the street can be perceived as mixing with the men, whereas in other societies, the limits are far broader.

Given that you live in North America, you need to consult scholars who live here and understand this society. No scholar with a balanced understanding would issue a blanket prohibition on women’s seeking work and higher education. To argue this position, one is effectively saying that Muslim women have only one role: to stay within the four walls. Given the early history of the Muslim community and the very dynamic women that existed in that community, it seems such a position is untenable.

May Allah reward you,

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq
July 25, 2010/Sha’ban 13, 1431

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq is a wife and mother residing in the southeastern United States. She graduated from Abu Nour University’s precollege program in 2000 and has remained active in teaching and studying sacred knowledge through SunniPath and SeekersGuidance. She holds undergraduate degrees in history and Middle Eastern Studies and is a certified public speaker.

I Like a Girl: Controlling One’s Interactions & Feelings

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

Question: I go to this Catholic school and there’s this non-Muslim girl. I don’t date or go to dances but I started having these weird crush feelings for her. I tried to be her friend. I would give her advice and be nice to her. Sometimes she would talk to me an di added her on Facebook, and other times she would ignore me like I don’t even exist. For some time I cut contact with her due to specific reasons. Then we started interacting like normal friends but then she starting ignoring me again. Now, I feel sad and lonely. I sometimes feel like this entire scenario is impermissible and that I’m just some stupid teenage sinner. What should I do?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Brother,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your question. I pray you are in good health and iman.

First, you are not a teenage sinner. You are a normal teenager. I am not surprised you have a crush on this girl. It is natural for males and females to be attracted to each other and you go to a co-ed school.

Second, while you can’t control how you feel about this girl, you most certainly can control what you do with your feelings. Adding her as your Facebook friend was a mistake and you shouldn’t be trying to add her again. You did the right thing by going to school administrators when she threatened suicide. She obviously has some personal issues to sort through and there’s not much you can do to help her without getting sucked into a lot of drama you don’t need.

Third, don’t worry if she ignores you. Pursuing a relationship with her is not good for you. You have your whole life ahead of you, insha’Allah, and when the time is right you can pursue a relationship with someone suitable in a halal manner. Be proud of the fact that you tried to help her but didn’t get caught up in any drama. Draw on the inner peace that you have as a believing Muslim and be the best example you can for your classmates.

Finally, pray a special sunnah prayer called Salat al-Hajah and ask Allah to calm your heart and focus your attention on what is truly beneficial for you.

I hope this is helpful.

May Allah reward you,

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq
May 18, 2010/Jumada al-Thani 5, 1431

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Hadith About Seclusion (khalwa) and Unmarriageable Kin (mahram)

Answered by Sidi Salman Younas

Question: I recently came across a hadith in English that says, “[t]he man must not be alone with a woman except in the presence of her mahram.” Would you happen to know the book of hadith in which this saying is found. I have not been able to locate it. Also, does “khalwa”, which I’m assuming the hadith pertains to, include a man and woman together in a public place?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

I pray you are well.

Ibn `Abbas said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) give a sermon. He said, ‘A man should not seclude himself with a woman except that there be with her someone who is of unmarriageable kin (mahram).'” [Bukhari, Muslim]

As for the situation you described, it would not be considered “seclusion” (khalwa). Seclusion is defined as a man and a woman, who are not unmarriageable kin (mahram), being alone in an enclosed area in such a way that a third party cannot easily enter upon them.

As such, a public place will not be considered a place of isolation, though one should take caution in their interaction with the opposite sex in such a setting, doing so only when there is benefit or need, while maintaining proper etiquette.

Wasalam
Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Love for a Non-Muslim Man & Inviting Him to Islam

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

Question: What are the rules on marriage with a non-Muslim man? Is it permissible for a Muslim lady to even speak to a non-Muslim man (from her past life) and to introduce Islam to him? And is it wrong to have love for this person after accepting Islam? Is there something she can do to cure her heart? Also, what should one do if they want to get married but cant, due to reasons like parents not stressing it or not giving it attention? Does this mean marriage isnt for her?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Sister,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your question. I pray you are in better spirits these days.

I wasn’t quite clear on what obstacles to marriage you are facing, but let me try to address the points you have raised.

First, it sounds like you are still in love with someone you knew before you became Muslim. While you certainly cannot control your feelings, you can control what you do with them. It may be difficult to be rational about this, but what is the basis for the attraction you feel? If you are meant to be with this person, then Allah will guide him to Islam. No amount of da’wah you give is going to make a difference. And given how emotional you are about this, it is best not to speak to this person. Why put yourself through that kind of heartache? If he’s genuinely interested in Islam, there are a number of resources he could seek out.

Second, ask Allah to give you what is best. Ask Allah to guide this person to Islam and let you marry him if it is best for your deen and dunya. And ask Allah to remove this attachment from your heart if this person is not the best for your deen and dunya. It was reported that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, used to say, “O Allah, o controller of hearts and eyes, make my heart firm upon your religion.” You should make this dua, keep constant with your prayers, and always strive to be in a state of remembrance of Allah.

Third, it’s very premature to conclude that marriage is not for you. And while lack of a Muslim community or Muslim family members poses a problem, there are ways around this. However, before you even consider trying to find a Muslim husband, you need to resolve your feelings for this individual. You can’t seriously discuss marriage with a Muslim brother when you have these feelings about someone from your past.

I hope this is helpful.

May Allah reward you,
Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq
March 22, 2010/Rabi’ al-Thani 7, 1431

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Approaching a Potential Spouse

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

Question:  You said: “If a person sees someone they would like to approach for marriage and they have no idea who this person is or how to contact their family, then common sense would dictate that they establish some sort of communication.” My question is: Can a guy talk to a girl and get to know personal things about her without the consent and awareness of her guardian? The reason why I’m asking this question is because it’s very easy to slip and get intimate with each other. If this happens and the guy proposes marriage and the guardian refuses him, there might be problems. Isn’t it better to let the guardian know about this from day one?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Brother,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your follow-up question. I’m glad we’re on the same page. I would certainly not encourage young people to talk without the knowledge of their parents. I think you misunderstand the point I’m making.  As long as a young man and woman are talking in a public setting about legitimate business, one cannot say such conversations are unlawful. I’m not encouraging people to form relationships and become intimate. I’m saying that it can’t hurt to discreetly inquire if the other person and their family are open to the subject of marriage.  If you want to communicate with the young woman’s family, it helps to ask her (or someone who knows her) how to contact her guardian. You certainly don’t have to have any further conversation. And if the environment is such that people are easily slipping and making mistakes, then you should definitely continue all further conversations with her in the presence of her family.

Again, what I’m talking about is discreet, respectful conversation that will help you to assess if there’s any basis for even discussing marriage. You don’t want to approach the young woman’s family and you know absolutely nothing about her, then you realize that she is not what you are looking for, and then the family is hurt. This can happen too.

May Allah reward you,

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

December 10, 2009
Dhul-Hijjah 23, 1430

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Breaking Family Relations Due To Adulterous Acts

Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra

Question: My sister was married to a cousin and had five children. My brother was also married with five children. We discovered, with undoubtable proof, that my sister’s husband and my brother’s wife were having a secret affair. This has torn apart the family and the children. Not only that, my brother has also lost the custody battle and his ex-wife slanders him and does not allow the children to talk to him. She is not religious nor practicing and does not have any desire to learn. My questions are: [1]  How am i supposed to keep family ties with my cousin after such an act? [2] What do you suggest we do about the children?

Answer: Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

May Allah protect you and us from His displeasure. What you have described is not an easy situation. Although we have only heard as much as you have described, my heart goes out to your brother and sister, and most all, the 10 children caught in between. Family relations can never be reduced to a set of legal rulings; thus, it is difficult to say that there is only one way of dealing with this scenario without understanding much of its nuances. Before we go into your questions however, there are important lessons relating to this situation that should not be overlooked by any of us:

1. The Importance of Choosing a Righteous Spouse

Although a person can marry someone for their beauty, their family status or their wealth, the best basis on which to choose a spouse is for their righteousness. If Islamic good character and religious commitment were the prime factors in people’s minds when selecting a spouse, perhaps many of the issues that practicing Muslims go through with their not-so-practicing spouses would be nipped in the bud. There would be a better understanding of each other’s rights and also, of how to be faithful to one another by controlling the actions and scenarios which lead to infidelity. Moreover, the children of the household would get two religious parents, so that even in the event of a divorce, they could still get an Islamic upbringing from either parent or both, and practicing the Deen would not be portrayed as a flaw in custody disputes. Of course, problems could and do still arise despite both people being religious, but this is why “religious” here would most importantly entail a person’s character and manners being in line with the teachings of Islam, alongside outward manifestations of piety.

2. Interactions Between In-Laws

Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an, “And do not even go close to Zina! Truly, it is a gross obscenity and an evil path (to go down).”   [al-Quran, 17:32]

Usually, infidelity in a marriage comes about by excessive familiarity and inappropriate venues of interaction between a man and a woman; often, it begins with very light and casual exchanges which become more personal over time. Thus, one would be advised to limit the amount of contact, and eliminate unnecessary interactions, with members of the opposite gender who are not related to them.

While the workplace, school, social clubs and the neighborhood are spots that most people might keep their modesty-guards up, practicing Muslims often overlook that the traps of adultery could actually be set up in their own homes through the informal coming and going of in-laws. Very often, cultural perceptions or a lack of Islamic knowledge could lead one to say that their brother or sister-in-law is “like my own brother/ sister” or “part of the family”. In reality, because in-laws have fairly easier and more frequent access into one’s home, the opportunities for trouble abound.  A rigorously authenticated hadeeth in Bukhari, Muslim and others says that:

“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Beware of entering upon the ladies [who are non-mahrams, in seclusion]!’  A man of the Ansar said, ‘What do you think about the brother-in-law (being in seclusion with his sister-in-law)?  He (the Prophet upon him peace) said, ‘The brother-in-law is death!’ ”

The early scholar Layth ibn Sa’ad said that “in-law” here means all the un-related male relatives of the husband and also the woman’s own non-mahram relatives such as her cousins. Due to the fact that these people are familiar faces in own’s home, it is likelier and easier for inappropriate speech to begin, even when one is confident that it will not happen or has a false sense of security. Ibn Hajr in Fath al-Bari says that seclusion with one’s in-laws is compared to death because any ensuing infidelity that could occur entails destruction of one’s spiritual and personal life.  The Arabs, when they hated a thing, would often refer to it as “death”.

It should be noted however, that long before actual adultery occurs, its precursor is most often emotional infidelity: sharing each other’s problems, complaining about their spouses, and confiding in each other’s secrets.  A pious and beloved Shaykh of ours says one should not even sit casually and joke around laughingly with one’s in-laws in a group situation, let alone relaxing laws of dress and modesty. This may seem strict in some times and cultures, but when these things happen, no one expects it, and it wreaks havoc on families from within.  May Allah save and protect us.

3. The Importance of Raising Children in a Religious and Enriching Home

While giving children a religious upbringing is essential, many parents often do so without a sense of fun, interest or enrichment. The religious requirements may be taught, but quality time and relationship-building activities are usually left out- this is especially true for practicing fathers. What often occurs is that in divorce situations, the practicing parent seems to be boring and rigid and young children may incline towards a less-practicing or irreligious parent because they do not have many memories of good times or friendships with the parent who taught them their Deen.

Now, to answer your questions, after consulting one of my shaykhs who specializes in family matters, it would not be necessary or even recommended to keep up ties with your cousin. Had this been a case of something that occurred outside the family, or it happened only once and there was repentance made for it, or it had no consequences, then that might have been a different story. However, this was a sustained, years-long affair, within another branch of your immediate family, which destroyed multiple marriages and left so many children without united households. Thus, because this person was the agent of this corruption, and bringing him back around the family may cause great distress or even another chance of fitnah, you can forgive him and wish him well, but keeping up relations would not be a duty upon you in this case.

As for the children, for the sake of his own heart, as well as in the interests of winning visitation rights, your brother should try to deal in as civil of a manner as possible with his ex-wife and not descend into bickering and slandering. Often, hostile behavior after a divorce leads a person to act in vengeful or spiteful ways even if they are the wrong party, whereas there is an undeniable need to rise above that and look for avenues of cooperation on how to raise the children. No one is saying to re-form a friendly or cordial relationship; the concern here is that the children will be denied to see their own father and perhaps the only source of religious encouragement in their lives. Your brother should attempt to be jovial and thoughtful in his interactions with his children when he gets the chance, rather than emotional and burdensome, so that it will counter any potential negative things they have been told about him and so that they incline towards speaking and meeting with him.

Eventually, it is hoped that with a good relationship formed, they will look towards your family for religious encouragement if it is not provided for on the other side. Also, your brother should look to resolve any anger and resentment within himself and uphold himself in as chivalrous and magnanimous a manner as such a situation could allow, that perhaps his ex-wife could repent from her ways upon seeing his good Islamic character and possibly lead the children to a more Islamic lifestyle herself. And Allah knows best.

wasalam,

Abdullah Misra

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Limits of Relationship between Males and Females

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razack

Question: What are the limits of the relationship between male and female (non-mahram)? For example, can they talk to each other about knowledge in a room on their own without a third party, or teach each other? Would the ruling be the same if one was with two or more girls or vice versa, or they are on their own in a public place like in a coffee shop or in a library or in a cinema to watch a decent film? If you could possibly give a detailed answer with the other scenarios possible on this with the four madhaheb, I would be thankful.

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Brother,

Thank you for your questions.

I am not knowledgeable enough to give an answer according to all four madhahib. For the purposes of your question, however, my answer covers what I have studied from the Hanafi and Shafi’i schools.

The definition of unlawful seclusion, or khalwa is that it occurs when a man and a woman are alone in a place that is either inaccessible to others or nearly so, for example, in a room with the door closed but not locked. Please see Shaykh Faraz’s definition of khalwa here. In other words, it is being in a place where the man and woman feel comfortable enough to commit indecency.

Let’s look at the above scenarios:

1. A man and woman, with no other, in a room discussing knowledge or teaching each other: This situation constitutes khalwa and is unlawful. If the man and woman have legitimate business to discuss, then they need to do so in the presence of their mahrams, or unmarriageable relatives. Otherwise, they need to talk in a public place. Human nature is human nature. Why would a man and a woman want to have religious discussions or teach each other in private? The hadith about shaytan being the third is no exaggeration. Why set yourself up for trouble?

2.   A man and two or more women is not khalwa. However, from an Islamic social standpoint, how appropriate is it for a young guy to hang out with a bunch of young girls? If there is a legitimate need for the young people to meet, then the meeting needs to be chaperoned.

3. Two or more men and one woman is khalwa and is unlawful.

4. Being in a library, cinema, or coffee shop: Even if a man meets a group of women at a library, there’s still plenty of opportunity for socializing and free intermingling. And let’s not even mention the coffee shop and cinema. Those places are purely for socializing and entertainment. You need to be more specific. It’s one thing if you’ve been assigned to work on a project with a group that includes women and a completely different thing if you purposely hang out with women in social settings.

The bottom line is: If it looks like a date and feels like a date, it probably is a date. And I don’t mean the kind you eat! If you feel the need for female companionship, then it is time to get married.

May Allah reward you,

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

October 6, 2009
Shawwal 17, 1430

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

How Do We Bring About An Islamic Environment To Our MSA?

Answered by Sister Hadia Mubarak

Question: I just started medical school in the Cayman Islands and we are in desperate need of Islamic unity there. We’re starting up an MSA, but frankly, I’m very worried that it will be used as an opportunity for male and female students to interact inappropriately. Do you have any tips as to what could be done to provide the Islamic environment that we so drastically need?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

May Allah swt reward you for your efforts. My personal advice, based on my experience with my MSA at FSU, is to try to be as organized as possible. What I’ve noticed is that MSA events tend to become grounds for inappropriate mixing when events are held without any clear goals or structure.

It’s really important that the MSA officers get together and have a strategy planning meeting before the year starts. What do you hope to achieve for the year? What is the best way to achieve those goals? For example, if you decide that one of your goals is to increase members’ knowledge of Islam and bring them closer to Allah swt, then you must establish means by which your MSA can achieve those goals.

One way we tried to increase the spiritual/religious atmosphere of our MSA meetings at FSU was by having a guest speaker or MSA member present a spiritual/religious talk (halaqa) at every single meeting. Further, we always began our meetings with the recitation of Quran and ended our meetings with dua. We held our meetings close to prayer time (some times) so that we could all pray in congregation. I know that our congregational prayers literally introduced some of our members to prayers for the first time in their lives. The more structured your meetings are, the more beneficial you will find them to be.

Further, I would strongly discourage holding events that are purely social in nature without incorporating other dimensions to the event. I don’t think having all the MSA members go out for dinner or go bowling, for example, is necessarily beneficial. Once an MSA becomes purely about socializing, it loses its significance. You don’t need an organization to get together for dinner or go bowling. An organization should provide more significant services and events that would not be otherwise available.

Of course, an MSA should incorporate some social events into its yearly planning, but these events could revolve around more significant objectives, like coming together to break fast during Ramadan or having an Eid party. As long as there is a well-structured program, then there will be benefit in it inshallah.

I hope this simple advice helps. May Allah swt guide your heart to that which is most pleasing to Him.

Hadia Mubarak