The following is a guest post from Mufti Zameelur Rahman, esteemed scholar and researcher residing in the UK.
What is Ikhtilāṭ?
As the “human being has been created weak” (Qur’ān, 4:28) and “no temptation (fitnah) is greater for men than women” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 5096), the Sharī‘ah has placed strict safeguards against men and women interacting.
One of these safeguards is the prohibition of unnecessary mixing (mukhālaṭah, ikhtilāṭ, imtizāj, ijtimā‘) between non-elderly men and women, something upheld by the vast majority of the classical jurists. Mixing refers to there being no segregation between men and women; that is, men and women are together in the same place, and don’t have their own areas or seating places. Unfortunately, due mainly to influences of non-Islāmic systems of morality, many Muslims have become very relaxed with regards to this ruling. Some even oppose and ridicule it.
Ḥijāb primarily means to screen women from men but also has the secondary meaning of being fully covered when a woman’s person is exposed to onlookers due to some need, e.g. on the streets, in the markets or during Ḥajj. The obligation of Ḥijāb began towards the end of the 5th year of Hijrah with the revelation of verses in Sūrat al-Aḥzāb. From this time onward, care was taken to ensure non-elderly men and women do not unnecessarily intermingle or mix.
The Example of ‘Ᾱ’ishah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) During the Incident of Slander
The incident of slander (ifk) referred to in verses of Sūrat al-Nūr occurred in the 6th year of Hijrah, after the revelation of Ḥijāb. Thus, while explaining its background,
‘Ᾱ’ishah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) said:
“I had come out with the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) after Ḥijāb was revealed and thus I was carried in a hawdaj and put down in it.”
‘Ᾱ’ishah’s (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) person was completely concealed in the hawdaj.
Ibn Ḥajar explains:
That is, after the command of Ḥijāb was revealed, meaning the concealment of women from men looking at them, while before that they were not forbidden [from this]. She said this as an explanation for why she was concealed in the hawdaj, to the point that this led to them [later on in the journey] carrying it when she was not inside it while they believed she was inside it; as distinguished from before the Ḥijāb, as it may have been that women then rode on the backs of the saddles without a hawdaj.
When later in the journey ‘Ᾱ’ishah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) returned from searching for her misplaced necklace to find the caravan had left, she explains:
I headed towards my position where I was, and I assumed that they would find me missing and come back for me. While I was sitting at my place, my eyes overcame me and I slept. Safwān ibn al-Mu‘aṭṭal al-Sulamī al-Dhakwānī was behind the army, and he proceeded in the morning to where I was resting, and saw the shape of a person sleeping. He came to me and recognised me when he saw me, as he had seen me before Ḥijāb. I woke up when he said innā lillāhi wa innā ilayhi rāji‘ūn upon recognising me, so I covered my face with my Jilbāb, and by Allāh he did not say to me a word and nor did I hear from him anything besides innā lillāhi wa innā ilayhi rāji‘ūn…” 
This demonstrates that after the revelation of Ḥijāb, extreme care was taken to ensure men did not see women in general circumstances, while in cases of necessity she was covered fully.
Non-Observance of Ḥijāb before its Obligation Cannot be Advanced as Evidence
There are narrations of Ṣaḥābah drinking wine in the time of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) or engaging in mut‘ah marriage. These narrations obviously cannot be advanced as evidence as they occurred before the prohibition of these acts. Similarly, it will be mistaken to use incidents before the revelation of Ḥijāb as proof for the permissibility of unnecessary mixing. Likewise, incidents in which elderly women are in reference are not evidence that this would be allowed for non-elderly women. For example, Sahl ibn Sa‘d (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhumā) explained that the young Ṣaḥābah came to eat at a woman’s house after Jumu‘ah, and in one version, it is clarified that she was an elderly woman (‘ajūz). 
Women’s Attendance of Congregational Ṣalāh in the Time of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam)
The congregational Ṣalāh that would take place in the time of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) would not entail mixing. Some narrations indicate that women were only permitted to emerge for Ṣalāh in the night (i.e. for Fajr and ‘Ishā’). 
‘Ᾱ’ishah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) said:
“The Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) would pray Fajr, and women from the believers would attend with him wrapped up in their cloaks, and then they would return to their houses while no-one recognised them.” 
Note, that these women would return immediately after the Ṣalāh and were not recognized by anyone.
Measures were taken for men and women to not mix.
Umm Salamah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā) said: “[The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam)] would make salām, and the women would turn away and enter their houses before the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) [and the male companions] turned away.” 
Al-Zuhrī, a narrator of this ḥadīth, explains: “This was so that the women turn back before the men catch up with them.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 875) Ibn Ḥajar comments that this ḥadīth shows “the reprehensibility of men mixing with women on the roads, let alone in homes.” 
The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “The best rows of men are the first and the worst of them are the last, and the best rows of women are the last and worst of them the first.” (Saḥīḥ Muslim)
Again, this is to show that men and women are to be separate from one another. One narration even indicates that there was a separate entrance for women in the time of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).  Women’s emergence for ṣalāh was premised on such principles being adhered to. Once these principles were not maintained, and decadence became the norm amongst people, the ruling changed.
Separate Sessions for Men and Women
Female companions complained to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) that “the men have overpowered us with you, so arrange a day for us…” (Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 101) This shows men and women would not gather together in the same place – otherwise, there would be no reason the women could not attend with the men.
Segregation During Ṭawāf
A governor of Makkah from the early part of the second century of Hijrah, Muḥammad ibn Hishām, stopped women completely from making Ṭawāf when men were making Ṭawāf, i.e. they had completely separate times for making ṭawāf. (Fatḥ al-Bārī, 4:548-9) ‘Aṭā’ ibn Abī Rabāḥ (26 – 114), the great scholar of Makkah, questioned this, stating that the wives of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) made Ṭawāf when there were men present. His well-known student, Ibn Jurayj (80 – 150 H), at this, asked: “How was it that [women] were mixing with the men [in Ṭawāf]?” He said: “They would not mix, ‘Ᾱ’ishah would perform Ṭawāf screened from the men, not mixing with them.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 1618)
In other words, even in Ṭawāf, in the blessed era of the Salaf, men and women would keep separate from one another. Al-Fākihī (ca. 210 – 275 H) reports with his chain to Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī: “‘Umar forbade men from making ṭawāf with women. He once saw a man making ṭawāf with the women and he struck him with a whip.” 
The later intermingling that became commonplace in the Ḥaram was censured by the scholars. Mullā ‘Alī al-Qārī (ca. 930 – 1014 H) describes what “the women of Makkah do today, in terms of mixing with men in that area” as “a great abomination”. (al-Maslak al-Mutaqassiṭ, p79) Another great Makkan Ḥanafī scholar before him, Ibn al-Ḍiyā’ (789 – 853 H), writes in his detailed work on Ḥajj: “From the vilest of abominations is what the ignorant women amongst the commoners do during Ṭawāf, mixing with men together with their husbands while their faces remain uncovered.” 
Ibn al-Ḍiyā’ has another work listing the ills that occurred in the Ḥaram, called Tanzīh al-Masjid al-Ḥarām ‘an Bida‘ al-Jahalat al-‘Awāmm. Amongst these ills, he mentions women coming into the Maṭāf and the Masjid on auspicious nights and mixing with men. (ibid. p34) A similar complaint was made even before by the Shāfi‘ī imām, al-‘Izz ibn Jamā‘ah (694 – 767 H), who added: “We ask Allāh to inspire the ruler to eradicate these abominations.”
Avoiding Intermingling on the Roads
Ibn Ḥibbān narrates in his Ṣaḥīḥ that the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:
“Women do not have the middle of the path.”
Ibn Ḥibbān explains that when a woman comes out for a need, she should not walk in the middle of the path. This is because men walk in the middle, and doing so may result in men and women coming in very close proximity to one another. This is the teaching of Islām in the case of the road, so it would be even more emphasized in the case of closed environments.
Women Taught Behind Screens
‘Ᾱ’ishah (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhā), perhaps the greatest female teacher amongst the ṣaḥābah, would teach from behind a screen (ḥijāb/sitr) as mentioned in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. Aḥmad ibn Hanbal narrated that a group of students of ḥadīth came to the great muḥaddith, Abu l-Ashhab (70 – 165 H), and did not know which ḥadīth to ask of him until his daughter informed them from behind a screen of a ḥadith to learn from him. (Musnad Aḥmad, 33:401) From the blessed time of the Salaf, immense care would be taken to avoid intermingling – and this was despite the fact that their hearts were infinitely purer than ours.
The Qur’ān says that if men (i.e. the male ṣaḥābah) are to ask something of the wives of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), they are to do so “from behind a screen” because “that is purer for your hearts and their hearts”. (Qur’ān, 33:53)
If the purest of hearts, that of the male companions and the wives of the Prophet, are affected by such interactions, people after them are in far greater need of such measures.
Not Intermingling at the Funeral Procession
According to a group of the imāms, it is recommended to stand behind the bier as it is being carried to its burial place. However, al-Ṭaḥāwī recorded from ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) and his student, al-Aswad ibn Yazīd, that they would at times walk in front of the bier because women were following it from behind. This was done in order to avoid mixing with them.
Al-Ṭaḥāwī says: “[The students of Ibn Mas‘ūd] would discourage [walking in front of the bier] and then would do it for an excuse, as that is better than mixing with women when they are close to the bier.” (ibid.) Badr al-Dīn al-‘Aynī al-Ḥanafī adds in his commentary: “because mixing (mukhālaṭah) with non-related women is ḥarām, while going ahead of the bier is permissible.” 
Shāfi‘ī Imāms Forbidding Intermingling
Abū ‘Abdillāh al-Ḥalīmī (338 – 403 H), one of the major early Shāfi‘ī mujtahids, said: “Allāh says: ‘O you who believe, protect yourselves and your families from the Fire.’ Included in the totality of this is that a man protects his wife and daughter from mixing with men and conversing with them and being alone with them.” 
Al-Māwardī (364 – 450 H), another major early Shāfi‘ī authority, said: “A woman is forbidden from mixing with men and is ordered to stay in the house [when there is no need to come out].” 
Abū Isḥāq al-Shīrāzī (393 – 476 H), another major Shāfi‘ī authority, states: “[Jumu‘ah] is not obligatory on a woman because of what Jābir (raḍiyallāhu ‘anhu) narrated…and because she may mix with men and that is ḥarām.” 
Imām al-Ghazālī (450 – 505 H) said: “When the speaker is a non-elderly man (shābb), attractive to women in dress and appearance, with plenty of poems, gestures and movements, and women attend his gathering, this is an abomination (munkar) which must be prevented, since the corruption in this is greater than the benefit…It is obligatory to erect a screen/barrier between men and women that prevents seeing [one another], as that is also an anticipated cause of corruption. Norms bear testimony to these abominations.”  Note, al-Ghazālī wrote this more than nine-hundred years ago.
Imām Mālik on a Woman Eating with her Husband’s Friends
Some refer to the statement of Imām Mālik in his Muwaṭṭa’ on a woman eating with her husband or brother along with their male companions who are unrelated to her. However, an early Mālikī authority from ‘Irāq, Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn al-Jahm (d. 329 H), explains that Imām Mālik is here referring to an elderly woman (‘ajūz/mutajāllah). 
This is consistent with Imām Mālik’s other remarks, as he clearly opposes intermingling and makes distinctions between elderly and non-elderly women. It is narrated in the ‘Utbiyyah that Imām Mālik said: “I believe the ruler is to head towards workers on account of women sitting with them, and I believe he is not to leave a non-elderly woman sitting by these workers; as for an elderly woman and a lowly slave, who would not be suspect for sitting, and nor would the one sitting next to her be suspect, I see no problem with that.” 
Ibn Rushd al-Mālikī (450 – 520 H) comments on this passage from al-‘Utbiyyah: “Indeed the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘I did not leave a temptation more harmful for men than women,’ and he said: ‘Create distance between the persons of men and women.’” 
Furthermore, Imām Mālik states, as reported in the Muwaṭṭa’, that a man may give salām to an elderly woman, but not to a non-elderly woman.
Imām Abū Ḥanīfah Forbids Women from Attending the Masjids
Imām Abū Ḥanīfah and his students did not allow non-elderly women emerging for Ṣalāh (al-Aṣl, 1:365), let alone another activity not sanctioned in Sharī‘ah and not based on genuine need. The reason for this is to prevent men and women interacting or being tempted by one another to engage in the impermissible (e.g. looking with desire, speaking unnecessarily, touching etc.).
Ikhtilāṭ Vs Khalwah
Some people argue that since mixing is not khalwah (being in solitude with a woman), it is not a sin. But khalwah is a separate, graver, sin, while mixing and intermingling is also a sin, though of a lesser category. The fact that intermingling does not necessarily entail khalwah does not mean it is not sinful.
Conclusion: Statement of Ibn al-Ḥājj
In short, it is not permissible for non-elderly men and women to remain unnecessarily in a place where each gender is not designated their own separate area/space. Difficulties encountered in adhering to this principle does not negate its importance. Those engaged in this sin should try to eliminate it from their lives, or at minimum reduce it as far as possible, and constantly turn to Allāh in tawbah and ask Him to make for them a means to leave it completely. The corruption in the present time and the prevalence of such immoral practices and attitudes does not justify becoming lax or complacent about these matters. Rather, because of this prevalence, it would be a greater necessity to draw attention to its prohibition.
In this respect, I end with this fitting quote from the great Mālikī imām, Ibn al-Ḥājj (ca. 657 – 737 H), who lived more than seven-hundred years ago:
[The learned man] should teach [his womenfolk] the Islāmic teaching (sunnah) of coming out when she is compelled to do so. It has been transmitted that a woman comes out in the lowliest and roughest of her clothing, dragging her cloak behind her [to the length] of one hand span or an arm’s length…The Islāmic teaching (sunnah) has stipulated that her walking should be along the walls…Look, Allāh have mercy on us and you, at these teachings (sunan), how they have been erased in our time, to the point that they have come to be like something unknown, because of what [women] do of the opposite of these Shar‘ī states. Thus, a woman sits at home as is known of her normal manner, with lowly garments and avoiding adornment…and then when she wishes to come out, she becomes clean and adorned, looks to the finest clothing and jewellery she possesses and wears it, and then comes out on the road as if a bride that has appeared; and she walks in the middle of the road, mixing with men, and they have a way of walking – to the point that the men, I mean the righteous amongst them, retreat to the walls to make space for them on the road; while others mix with them…All of this is caused by not looking to the sunnah and its principles, and what the Salaf of this ummah (Allāh be pleased with them) have passed upon. When a learned person draws attention to this and its likes, these holes are closed, and the blessing of that would be hoped for everyone. Those who turn back from what ought not be, this is an excellent destination, and those who do not turn back will know that he/she is engaging in sin and so will remain broken hearted due to that. The goodness in being broken is known, and it is hoped the one who is broken will repent and turn back. 
Note: Circumstances and situations which arise in the land of non-Muslims, or in lands that have adopted non-Muslim norms, that are beyond our control, and which might temporarily constrain us to enter into environments of free-mixing to fulfil a genuine personal need (ḥājah), cannot justify introducing such an abomination in places under our control (like private residences or masjids) or entering such places without need. “Need” here refers to something that to avoid would cause unbearable distress and hardship to individuals (Asbāb al-‘Udūl, p261). For example, to not go into the market to purchase basic necessities would undoubtedly cause unbearable distress. There is no ḥājah for introducing free-mixing within homes/masjids/madrasahs, or to enter places where it is taking place without any need.
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 4750; Fatḥ al-Bārī, Dār Ṭaybah, 10:386 ↑
- ibid. 10:395 ↑
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 4750; Fatḥ al-Bārī, Dār Ṭaybah, 10:387 ↑
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6248 ↑
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 865; Fatḥ al-Bārī, 3:109-10 ↑
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 372; Fatḥ al-Bārī, 2:89 ↑
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 850; Fatḥ al-Bārī, 3:89 ↑
- ibid. 3:92-3 ↑
- Sunan Abī Dāwūd, 460; Badhl al-Majhūd, Dār al-Bashā’ir al-Islāmiyyah, 3:186 ↑
- (see: darulmaarif.com/women-attending-the-masjid-a-clarification/). ↑
- Akhbār Makkah, Dār Khaḍir, 1:252 ↑
- Akhbār Makkah, Dār Khaḍir, 1:252 ↑
- Hidāyat al-Sālik, p1022-3; al-Fatāwā al-Kubrā al-Fiqhiyyah, 1:201-2 ↑
- Ṣaḥīh Ibn Ḥibbān, 5601 ↑
- Sharḥ Ma‘ānī al-Ᾱthār, 1:485 ↑
- Nukhab al-Afkār, 7:268 ↑
- al-Minhāj fī Shu‘ab al-Imān, 3:398 ↑
- al-Ḥāwi al-Kabīr, 2:51 ↑
- al-Muhadhdhab, Dār al-Qalam, 1:358 ↑
- Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, Dār al-Minhāj, 4:639 ↑
- al-Jāmi‘ fi l-Sunan wa l-Ᾱdāb wa l-Maghāzī wa l-Tārīkh, 214 ↑
- al-Nawādir wa l-Ziyādāt, 8:243; al-Bayān wa l-Taḥṣīl, 9:335 ↑
- ibid. 9:336 ↑
- al-Madkhal, 1:244-5 ↑