The Quran’s insistence on decency is scientific and good for society
In modern society free mixing is regarded natural; men and women sitting together, dining together, working together and studying together. However, this wasn’t so in the past, in the seventies I remember, colleges and schools were single-sex. Old school buildings still have entrances with engravings, ‘Boys Entrance’ and ‘Girls Entrance’. However, with disregard for traditional moral values after the Second World War, free mixing has become the norm.
In 2006 the last women’s only college at Oxford University opened its doors to men and universities opened their halls of residence for men and women with shared toilets and shower rooms. The liberal society with its lax views on decency and modesty poses a challenge to people of all faiths but particularly to practising Muslims. I shall examine Islamic principles concerning free mixing and its social costs.
Biological differences between the sexes
The Majestic Quran describes the biological relationship and the origin of men and women, “People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from one person and out of it created his mate and from them spread countless men and women” (The Women: 1). So, both sexes have come from one living person, Adam the first human, and father of humanity. Biologically, a human has 23 pairs of chromosomes, one pair determines the sex of the individual; a female has two X chromosomes in every cell whilst a male has one X and one smaller Y chromosome. This chromosomal difference leads to sexual differences in men and women, and differences in their bodies, organs, and hormones. Traditionally these anatomical, physical, and biological differences between men and women implied differences in their roles and function. Men, hunter-gatherers, and workers did strenuous work whilst women cared for and ran the home. They had complementary roles.
The biological difference between the sexes has the important function of being a natural magnet between the two, as a source of attraction. The Quran expresses this eloquently, “And of His signs is that he gave you wives of your own kind, that you live peacefully with them, and He put love and kindness in your hearts. There are signs in this for those who think” (The Romans: 21). Abdullah Yusuf Ali commented, “This refers to the wonderful mystery of sex. Children arise out of the union of the sexes. And it is always the female that brings forth the offspring”. Scientists have discovered that in addition to the anatomical differences, another reason for the attraction is the pheromones, molecules that cause attraction and affect natural ovulation and menstruation.
So biologically there are strong tendencies to free mixing and enjoying the company of the opposite sex. Here religion intervenes to prevent excesses and protect the sanctity of the sexes. Since unrestricted and free mixing can be detrimental and lead to unhealthy extramarital affairs and sexual harassment. Causing health risks, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, illegitimate children and broken families. Very heavy prices to pay for a short pleasure. The scale of the fallouts of sexual carelessness and promiscuity is enormous, affecting millions of people in Britain. It leaves physical, mental, and social scars on future generations, which leads to further delinquency and social and moral degeneration.
Free mixing creates a fertile breeding ground for all kinds of suspicions, temptations, rumours, accusations and conflicts in families leading to domestic violence and criminal acts. Free mixing, familiarity and friendship with the opposite sex unconsciously produce attraction as expressed by an Arabic proverb, “A look, a smile, a meeting and then … sin and even Haram moves.”
Our society underestimates the destructive impact of free mixing on marriage, family and society. However, some people in the West are beginning to recognise the dangers of free mixing and the benefits of segregation and are turning back to the ‘old’ ways. This is seen in the mushrooming of women-only schools, hospital wards, holiday resorts, workplaces, and swimming pools etc. “In this single-sex environment women are allowed to be women are allowed to be women once more and it is more relaxing, safer and better for women” (Sunday Times, 22nd April 2007). The statistics about sexual harassment further confirm our reservations about a mixed environment. You can see this in newspaper articles that are full of sex scandals.
Islamic Guidance on Free Mixing
The blessed Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Whenever a man is sitting alone with a woman, the third is the devil” (Ahmad). Therefore, it is forbidden for men and women to be alone if they are not mahram. Mahram is a woman that a man cannot marry, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, foster mothers, mothers-in-law, stepdaughters etc. A powerful precautionary move, the Quran orders, “Do not go near adultery…” (Isra: 32), which means do not mix freely. The beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “The eyes, ears and hands all commit adultery by looking listening and touching” (Muslim). The new British law “uninvited touch is sexual abuse” chimes with this Prophetic teaching.
Historically, the single-sex environment was normal all over the world. For Muslims, it is also a religious duty. During the time of the Messenger (peace be upon him) women would attend the congregational prayer in the Masjid but they would be neither seen nor heard. They would pray in the back rows, come and go quietly without being noticed. What a peaceful, sublime and segregated yet united community! To help believers live righteously Islam lays down the principle of “denying the means”. Adultery and extramarital relationships are forbidden and avoiding free mixing helps people from falling into this temptation. Islam wants to close all doors that lead to this evil. Free mixing is therefore forbidden.