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Can you blame Muslims for wanting to segregate?

A recent statement by Channel 4’s Jon Snow sparked a large conversation in the media, where he revealed in an interview about meeting new female colleagues, “Sex comes into every evaluation of a woman, there’s no doubt about it.”[1]  This revelation makes it even more difficult to understand the disgust that he displayed only weeks ago over the provision of separate seating for men and women in university Islamic Society events.[2]  Hypocrisy aside, he has indeed highlighted why any real man—in touch with his natural disposition—would not want other men looking at his wife or close female relatives—regardless of his religion.

Can we say that the 66-year-old veteran news reader is obsessed with sex?  Is he an anomaly, or is it a reality that other men are, more or less, in the same boat?  On one newspaper’s website covering this story[3], the number one best rated comment—with 1064 likes as of writing this—read: “What is controversial about this. All men do this, probably most women too.”  The second highest rated comment with 620 likes equally reassures women, “It’s true girls. Get used to it,” with the same sentiment being expressed by countless others.

It should not surprise us, therefore, that in the Guidance sent down by the Creator of human beings, the most highly-regulated relationship and interaction of all is that between men and women.  Allāh the Almighty says, “Allāh does not intend to make difficulty for you, but He intends to purify you and complete His favour upon you that you may be grateful.”[4]  He also declares, “Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?”  Despite being overwhelmingly coherent with prevalent wisdoms in Biology, Psychology, Sociology and common sense, however, this aspect of Islam is one of the most negatively portrayed and criticised, especially by Politicians with an anti-Islam agenda and those complicit within media—and as a result, unfortunately by many Muslims.

Evidence shows that Jon Snow’s statements do indeed reflect a reality that only certain brave, unpretentious people can disclose.  An interesting article was published in Scientific American in which “Researchers asked women and men “friends” what they really think—and got very different answers.”[6]  The article confirmed that “Although women seem to be genuine in their belief that opposite-sex friendships are platonic, men seem unable to turn off their desire for something more. And even though both genders agree overall that attraction between platonic friends is more negative than positive, males are less likely than females to hold this view.”

The matter is by no means, however, confined to the falsely-presumed harmlessness of Platonic love.  Last October, research commissioned by employment law specialists polled 1,579 people, finding the following shocking statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace[7]:

(I) 60% of females surveyed said they had experienced ‘inappropriate’ behaviour from a male colleague, 21% classing it as persistent;

(II) More than a third of women surveyed said a senior male colleague had made inappropriate comments about their breasts, sex life, backside, or the clothes they were wearing;

(III) One in six women had been forced to fend off a colleague who tried to kiss her and 12% had a colleague place his hand on their behind;

(IV) Of the 24% of women who had a superior make a move on them, 5% then lost their job, and more than one in 10 said they had been turned down for a promotion;

(V) Almost 40% of men surveyed said they had been victims of sexual harassment.

Statistics highlighting the results of manmade gender interaction regulations in the academy are equally as repulsive, if not more so.  Earlier this week a brave individual spoke out against the increasing problem of “rape culture” at Britain’s top universities, mentioning boys boasting of a “70% success rate” at certain events where girls were too intoxicated to refuse to have sexual relations with them[8].  Unfortunately this does not come as much of a surprise when considering a 2006 study by The American Association of University Women noted that “62% of female college students report having been sexually harassed at their university, with 80% of the reported harassment being peer-to-peer”, and “51% of male college students admit to sexually harassing someone in college, with 22% admitting to harassing someone often or occasionally.”[9]

Scandalous statistics such as the above are becoming something we seem to be getting desensitised to, especially when it highlights some uncomfortable facts that we have to come to terms with in institutions in society where men and women frequently intermingle, irrespective of their educational, cultural and class backgrounds.  One blatantly obvious fact is that with statistics like these, no one should dare blame Muslim men and women for wanting to segregate themselves in public, keeping a practical working distance between the two sexes.  Far from holding back criticism, these facts should make any sincere and honest person—who lives in the real world—appreciate the “traditional” and orthodox Islamic viewpoint on the matter.

Some common fallacious arguments do unfortunately crop up when statistics like these are mentioned within this context.  Some may think that in citing these societal problems we are endorsing or condoning the sexual harassment of women by men.  Connected to this is the oft-flung accusation that when a woman is subjected to such harassment or abuse, then it is somehow her fault, or the man is absolved of responsibility.  The reason this is a major fallacy is because it is foolishly conflating two very different things: the moral blame for an action, and a credible obstacle to such an action.  To put it simply, just because we advocate genuine, tried and tested obstacles to indecency, sexual harassment and abuse, it does not follow—logically or morally—that in the absence of those obstacles the victim is to blame.  For example, the Metropolitan Police compiled a useful advice booklet called “Preventing Personal Theft[10].  I find it hard to imagine any sane person accusing this (and similar advice) of absolving thieves of blame.  Even if someone were to ignore this advice and as a result become a victim of theft, there is not a judge in the world that would not blame the thief.  It is unfortunate then that some people have double standards when it comes to advice and guidelines given by Islam.

Another unfair objection is the claim that if we assert that men and women have the propensity to think inappropriate thoughts of one another then it somehow means they are “obsessed about sex” or “animals.”  The reason why this is not the case is because according to most if not all wisdom traditions and value systems across the globe, the human being is comprised of an animalistic element (which contemporary neuroscience largely ascribes to the limbic system of the brain), preoccupied with basic Biological tasks of food, drink and sexual reproduction; and a ‘spiritual’ element which serves to filter out and inhibit inappropriate thoughts and behaviour (possibly represented by the frontal cortex of the brain).  A popular research study in 2003 was based on an unfortunate school teacher with a tumour in his frontal cortex, who experienced an apparent irresistible urge to rape women and girls, which was then cured immediately after the tumour was removed; and amazingly reappeared and disappeared as the tumour grew back and was again removed[11].  The point here is that gambling the safety and security of women and men on the unreliable and diverse self-control mechanisms of different people is far less sensible than having standard etiquettes and regulations that prevent such devastating harm in the first place.

What really amazes me, however, is the denial many people suffer when it comes to gender interactions in the 21st century.  Even more astonishing is the blind eye that countless Muslims turn towards the masses of cases in Islamic law and jurisprudence in regulating the relationship between men and women, in particular minimising ikhtilāt (intermingling) between sexes.  The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “I am not leaving behind a more harmful trial for men than women.”[12]  He, (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) also warned, “Beware of entering upon women.” The companions then asked: “O Messenger of Allāh, what about the in-law?” He replied: “The in-law is death.”[13]  The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) also said: “No man should be alone with a woman unless there is a mahram with her.”[14]

One thing that I cannot bear is the attempt of many Muslims involved in da’wah to trivialise the sensitivity of this relationship, causing them to run their activities like non-Muslims do.  It is sad to see so many ‘Islamic’ activities promoting a heedless and naïve relationship between brothers and sisters, with their expected unfortunate results.  I have countless stories of zina (fornication and adultery) that took place between Muslims working in Islamic and even da’wah organisations.  Many such cases were initiated through some seemingly innocent interactions through social media, chatting and even Skype meetings.  I have to deal with many cases of mutual attraction happening between married brothers and sisters working in the same place.  I do not want to paint a dark picture of da’wah and Muslims but it is imperative that we realise and acknowledge the mistakes and problems within our community.

It is very sad to know that many du’āt and famous Muslim speakers are aware of these problems and yet they do not have the courage and honesty to say anything about it.  In fact, to the contrary of what we expect from people in their position, they often promote sensationalised terms like “empowerment”, “leadership” and “scholarship” of women in contexts that do little more than deceive and exploit young sisters who are eager to find a space for themselves in da’wah.  Let us ponder over the Qur’ān and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) to see the real empowerment of women in Islam; a topic that I will touch on in a future articles, if Allāh wills.

The recent attacks Muslims received from some politicians and media outlets on the topic of separation between men and women could have been turned into an opportunity to highlight the resounding eminence of Islamic practices.  Yet, fear of being labelled, weakness of articulating ourselves and lack of engagement disabled us from a strategic response.  Let us learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward, always remembering that “Allāh has full power and control over His Affair, but most of the people know not.”[15]


Source: www.islam21c.com

[1] http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/jon-snow-on-sex-sexism-and-sexploitation-9087768.html

[2] http://www.5pillarz.com/video/nazreen-nawaz-this-is-what-i-would-have-said-had-jon-snow-let-me/

[3] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2547080/I-think-sex-time-I-meet-woman-says-Jon-Snow-Channel-4-news-host-admits-considers-female-friends-workers.html

[4] Part of al-Qur’ān 5:6

[5] Al-Qur’ān 67:14

[6] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/men-and-women-cant-be-just-friends/

[7] http://www.slatergordon.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2013/10/sexual-harassment-rife-in-the-workplace-new-study-reveals/

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2014/jan/27/rape-culture-campus

[9] http://sapac.umich.edu/article/68

[10] http://content.met.police.uk/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Content-Type&blobheadername2=Content-Disposition&blobheadervalue1=application%2Fpdf&blobheadervalue2=inline%3B+filename%3D%221013%2F290%2FPersonal+Theft+Booklet

[11] Arch Neurol. 2003 Mar;60(3):437-40. Right orbitofrontal tumor with pedophilia symptom and constructional apraxia sign. Burns JM, Swerdlow RH.

[12] Reported by Usāmah b. Zaid (may Allāh be pleased with them) and recorded in Sahīh al-Bukhāri and Sahīh Muslim.

[13] Reported by ‘Uqbah b. ‘Āmir (may Allāh be pleased with him) and recorded in Sahīh al-Bukhāri and Sahīh Muslim.

[14] Part of a hadith reported by Abdullāh b. ‘Abbās (may Allāh be pleased with him) and recorded in Sahīh al-Bukhāri and Sahīh Muslim.

[15] Part of al-Qur’ān 12:21.

About Shaykh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad

Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Council of Europe. He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom's Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari'ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Council of Europe as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.


  1. Hi Paulette,
    Nuns cover their bodies too. Nobody makes them or forces them. Muslim women and nuns that choose to cover their bodies do so out of personal choice.
    Its each to their own. I don’t understand why some people like to have extensive tattoes and body piercing but its each to their own.
    And some men choose to cover their bodies, some men don’t.

    Its personal choice and the freedom to choose. Thats the beauty of this country and why I’m proud to be be British.

  2. I just dont understand why women have to cover their whole body,have to stay indoors,cant go on porch without cover every inch of their body,have a man with them to go out,its an awful thing to step on the rights of the women.Why dont the men cover up completely,after all they may tempt a women by their looks,isnt that a fact?I see through this!I propose men should cover everything and not go out freely,because its the same principle! They may tempt a woman or man with their looks.You are honest?You just want to shut women down as they are only weaker when you bully them.

  3. LOL. I clicked this thinking it would address why our masjids in america are segregated. Regardless of their names on the front of the building we refer to them as the arab masjid, the paki masjid, the tablighi masjid, the ikwaani masjid, etc. Unfortunatly there is no american revert masjid so we never quite fit in. WHY IS IT SO SEGREGATED?!

  4. Schools don’t separate children because girls are assumed to be inferior, but because it is believed by some educationalists that girls and boys perform better in single sex environments. Similarly to those who believe students of the opposite sex can be a distraction in co-ed classrooms, some Muslim groups believe this applies in lecture halls. One doesn’t have to condone this view (which I don’t) to accept its right to exist.

  5. Hamza Smith-Marshall

    This article was 50/50. Very good points but including ‘research’ from feminist groups on sexual harassment is like trusting ‘research’ on Islamaphobia from Robert Spencer.

    “rape culture” is the idea that no woman is responsible for her own actions (i.e. going out drinking and sleeping around) and that even one drop of alcohol renders her unable to consent. However the same reasoning is never applied to men. so if a man and woman are intoxicate and the fornicate “rape culture” states that ‘she’ is a victim & ‘he’ is a rapist.

    Stick to the Islamic views and disregard other ideologies.

  6. Glory of Islam

    Also members of the public that i have dealt with in work interviews tend to look at men with beards as non nonsense focused and ready to do the job and not concerned about what is around them in terms of other women

  7. As a woman I have NEVER viewed gender segregation as discriminatory, rather it is a convenience and a privilege. The way I dress (full hijaab), the way I behave, the way I interact with men, the language that makes it clear that I do not befriend men, the fact that I wont enter a room with a man alone…all of this leads statistically to virtually nil sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Quite the opposite…Many of us have been told by non Muslim men that they respect us more, that they would not view as they do other women and even that life is easier around a respectful modest Muslim woman as opposed to scantily dressed overly friendly woman.
    Muslim brothers at my university maintained a level of respect with the women, were honorable and never made inappropriate gestures or moves. What could be more honoring than that? The West have really picked a shallow element in their agenda to ban or defame Muslim organisations.
    I recall how other students would talk to girls on my course and it was sickening… but they dared not ever say anything like that to us…Made me eternally grateful for my hijaab and the ‘space’ I demanded wrt interactions.
    Do we even need these statistics to prove the point… surely prevention is better than cure. And in a society sinking (or sunk) from sexualisation of children, and promiscuity, and fatherless children and unstable relationships…they should turn to this Islamic practice as guidance to reinstating marriage and morals, and modesty.

  8. I don’t understand why its difficult for a dirty old pervert to understand that it is more decent for women to be away from the likes of him.

  9. When gender Segregation is practiced by Jews they’re called Orthodox Jews. When its by Muslim they’re extremist. I was disappointed that not a single Muslim was able to explain gender segregation eloquently on LBC ( James O’Brien’s show). The sad reality is that back a few years ago in ISOCS this was a complete non issue. I guess we are beginning to see the early stages of a modern day enforced form of liberalism, who knows what will be next in their agenda, maybe the beard? May Allah grant us steadfastness and allow the truth to be victorious.

    Separating men and women cannot necessarily be assumed to reflect a statement of male supremacy. It can reflect personal preferences, as in women-only gyms, etiquette concerning behaviour in sacred spaces, as in orthodox synagogues or mosques, or feminist calls for “autonomous women’s space”. Like some feminists, some conservative Muslim women argue for their right to female-only spaces. Why should such requests be ignored simply because their purveyors are Muslim rather than radical secularists?

    Schools don’t separate children because girls are assumed to be inferior, but because it is believed by some educationalists that girls and boys perform better in single sex environments. Similarly to those who believe students of the opposite sex can be a distraction in co-ed classrooms, some Muslim groups believe this applies in lecture halls. One doesn’t have to condone this view (which I don’t) to accept its right to exist.

    If secularism means anything, it means the neutrality of the state on religious matters. Separate but equal access to a lecture is no more or less discriminatory than separate but equal access to education more broadly. As Baroness Warsi quite rightly points out, “there are certain boys in our political system who have spent their whole life being segregated from girls as they were educated, some of the best schools in our country are segregated.”

    The question does arise, why – when some of the UK’s leading schools, including some state schools – continue to offer separate educational facilities without encountering mass protests, why Muslims organising separate seating in an educational facility, does.

    Nobody’s forcing you to attend their events that they hold on campuses. If you don’t like segregation, don’t attend. If you do like segregation, hold your event somewhere else please. I’m confused .Doesn’t the Government support faith schools?Are they extreme? We’ve got a Girls school & a Boys school in my town. Very highly regarded both of them.Is this segregation?

    “Michael Gove has launched a passionate defence of faith schools, telling them they can avoid “unsympathetic meddling” from secularists by becoming academies. Writing in this week’s Catholic Herald, the education secretary praised Catholic schools and attributed their strong academic performance to their religious ethos.” “Mr Gove said: “Of course, what really makes Catholic schools stand out is their Catholicity … A key element of [Cardinal Manning’s] vision was that Catholic schools must be allowed sufficient autonomy to integrate the Catholic faith into every aspect of school life. A Catholic ethos is not something confined to RE lessons, but a pervasive set of values that find expression throughout the school day.”

    Most of the best schools are single sex, getting better academic results than co-eds. Whilst you might criticise single sex schools on other grounds, you can hardly characterise sex-segregation as irrational. Gender segregation is not alien to western culture and is widely practiced in places such as public toilets, single sex schools, hospitals and sports. I wonder why feminists are not protesting that they are not allowed to play against men in singles tennis championships or against male teams at football matches? There seems to be some level of recognition that men and women are better doing some things in segregated groups so why has it become such a political hot potato when Muslims segregate by gender?

    A religious speaker wishes to have a segregated audience, my choice is to submit to his views, or not to attend and therefore not to have the opportunity to examine critically his beliefs. What’s all the fuss, men and women ARE different – equal of course; but we compliment each other. Segregation isn’t creating an imbalance between the sexes, it’s good old fashioned common sense – something sorely lacking in our misplaced pride motivated existence…grow up!”Girls achieve better exam results when they are taught in single-sex schools, research has shown.” I’ve seen the separation of genders during Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist practices, for theologian and sometimes also practical reasons, perhaps tradition plays also a role. It is nice that people still keep their traditions. It makes the world more interesting.

    The university spokeswoman who insisted that the women sitting segregated are there by choice ignores the fact that essentially the lecture is not open to those who object in principle to segregation. The parallel with apartheid is exact: ‘coloureds’ could go, but in the coloured section. Birds of a feather flock together, we have Turkish areas, Greek areas, West Indian areas, African areas if this is not apartheid what is? If toilets are segregated by gender, why not student political meetings? After all the product is about the same. Call it apartheid is certainly wrong. Strange that nobody ever thinks about this. Is it according to Islam forbidden for a man to marry a woman and live side by side with her? Certainly not. So wherein is the apartheid? In Doha I’ve seen a Muslim man pushing his mother in a wheel chair with care and love. So how could people claim that Muslim men are all so monstrous to women? In a fast food restaurant I’ve seen an African Muslim carrying trays of food back to his wife and his mother, they are just people like anyone else, with some different customs, like everyone of us.

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    London School of Islamics Trust

  10. The Jews have maintained the Islamic guidelines of men at the front and women at the back in the synagogue. This is practiced even today. This Islamic guideline of past prophets was also preserved by the last messenger.

    I recall finding that there is even a verse in the Quran warning bowing men during prayer, at the time of prophet Mohamed (saw), from catching a glimpse of women praying behind them.

    So there is a test for all in this mixed gender attendance in the prayer hall. There is good in the lack of dividers, in that prospective singles may meet each other (or a mother or a father spot a potential daughter-in-law or a son-in-law for their son or daughter respectively) for marriage selection, but at the same time, responsibility of both parties not to let their thoughts go astray, as God is watching their every thought and action.

    But in the 13/14th century, the Turks, conquered the Islamic state. The Turks eventually became Muslims but as part of the package introduced their own interpretation to some activities. One of these was the division of men and women in the prayer hall.

    For the past 600 years this has become the accepted norm. No one questions the wisdom of the Ottomans to override the divine guidance of countless prophets.

    Gender segregation and mixing is a difficult subject. But ultimately this subject has been part of our test since Adam and Eve. And our intentions and actions must be good to get us through and pass on the day of reckoning.

  11. Glory of Islam

    MashAllah this was a comprehensive dawah bombshell showing the loftiness of Islam through the Quran and sunnah.

    Ironically the vast majority of criticisms or anxieties people have about Islam are due to emotional insecurities and misplaced desires.

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