Gender separation in Islam – a response to the Daily Mail

London School of Economics Islamic society holds a segregated dinner, whilst London’s Islamic societies fail to crack down on extremism!

Sorry, did I miss something? Was the Islamic society dinner linked to extremism in universities simply because men and women were separated at the event? Yes, I believe it was. At least that is what the Daily Mail headline read. And make no mistake, this was not a dig at a mere dinner, it was another low blow in a continuing trend that is attempting to tear Islamic principles apart – shoving liberalism down the world’s throat regardless of whether the people like it or not.

And we will not stand for it.

The practice of gender separation was mocked heavily in the past week as the article went viral. People expressed their concerns for the lack of opportunities for women due to such events, and even likened the separation of people ‘based on their sexual organs’ to black and white segregation.

Whilst reading all the feedback, I was not sure where to start in trying to correct all the misguided beliefs about the true Muslim faith. It seemed to me people no longer wanted to understand, and only wished to attack. At a time when the Islamic faith is facing a multitude of enemies masked behind headlines, Muslims must be well equipped to defend their principles.

The true face of Islam must be shown to the world if we are to halt these misconceptions, and it is on us as a collective family to show its true face and defend these beliefs that we deem sacred. When – on a biological premise – they conclude that the separation of men and women at an event due to their organs is the same as the separation of black and white people of colour, we must recognize and highlight the fallacy in their argument. They are two different concepts linked to two different causes, not the same cause. Separation based on skin color is not due to the potential desire a white person feels towards a black person, while gender separation in Islam is linked to that reason; this is, hence, not a correct place of comparison. Logical fallacies are often used to confuse us and if we are not careful and critical we may fall into this trap.

The fact is, a lot of the time, we are being misunderstood on purpose. I’d like to read an article from the Daily Mail where it is outraged that gyms have different changing rooms for men and women. I would like to read about the abolishing of segregated male and female toilets. Why is that okay? Where are the freedom fighters to defend the poor women in the ladies changing rooms or even women-only gym sections that can’t speak for themselves? Is that the same as black and white segregation too? What about children and their PE classes, they’re only kids right? Shouldn’t they just all share changing rooms? What about this country’s single sex schools, should there be a ban on them too, whilst a commonly known opinion is that women flourish better within them? I understand that these are all logical fallacies too, but I wanted to point out the sadness of the matter. Why is it different when it comes to Muslims?

In the article, quotation marks were placed around the terms brothers and sisters, almost as a mockery of the family outlook Islam has for its followers. But truly, you are my brothers and sisters, and whilst we are under attack we must stand strong, be confident, and prepare ourselves.

These very small notions make the biggest differences. Even words with negative connotations such as ‘segregation’ should be watched out for as the image of our religion is painted with any brush ill-minded artists wish to splash on their canvases. I have only used the term separation to define this Islamic practice which is so severely misunderstood. When words such as ‘segregation’ are used, reply in the words of Malcolm X when he said;

“We are for separation not segregation. Segregation is that which is forced on inferiors by superiors. Separation is done voluntarily by two equals”.

The real question is, why is this such a big issue now? Why has it not been an issue in recent decades when such events were taking place?

It is clear what separation means. No one is forcing anything on anyone else. It is clear that we live in an integrated society. No one is calling for genders to use different roads on their way to the lecture and we all know we will end up in class or at work together the next day. But for an Islamic society, at an Islamic event, what is wrong with them wanting to hold the event according to their religious tenets? Regardless of this though, David Cameron has explicitly stated he is against even the voluntarily separated events. Has he not silenced the women who organize such events, and who they themselves wish not to mix with men in such events? It is safe to say no other religious societies have eyes on them with such intensity as Muslim societies do.

Gender equality in Islam?

When we come to the root of the issue however, we are not merely talking about a religious event. In truth we are discussing the issue of Islamic gender separation as a whole, and people’s dislike for or misunderstanding of it. These people may be Muslim or not. For those who sincerely seek the truth and are worried about patriarchy and gender equality within Islam, it is upon us to show them the true Islamic beliefs. Whether they are Muslims with distorted beliefs on Islam – be it the extreme feminist or the sexist male who believes he is God’s gift to women – it is upon us to offer the Islamic evidence to show them all what Islam truly preaches about men and women.

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Regardless of what you’ve heard or seen, when you come to the correct and true Islamic texts you will find the throne that the Muslim woman sits on, and it would be ludicrous to suggest such a thing as unequal opportunity due to the lack of mixing between men and women. Growing up in western society we have all heard the phrase ‘behind every great man there is a great woman’, but how many of us know the Islamic phrase that was coined by Shaheed Mutahhari as he stated, “standing next to every great man there is a great woman”

Or what about during the speeches of the leader of Iran, Sayed Ali Khamenei, where he constantly mentions the quality or greatness of women:

“If we adopt a comprehensive outlook, we see that there is no difference between men and women. Certain privileges have been granted to women and certain others have been granted to men. And this is based on their natural characteristics, which Allah has bestowed upon them. There are no differences in terms of human qualities. There are no differences when it comes to human rights, social rights, spiritual values and spiritual perfection. A man can become Ali and a woman can become Fatima. A man can become Jesus and a woman can become Mary.”

In another instance, he stated the following: “I always tell my relatives and friends that contrary to the idea that has been established, women are the stronger gender. Women are stronger than men and this is a reality. Women can completely control and influence men with their wisdom and delicacy.”

If I wanted to find the outlook on women from an Islamic perspective, shouldn’t I refer to one of their leaders? If we have enough time, ink, and money to report things like a gender separated Muslim dinner then why can we not report something positive about Islamic values too? When was the last time you read an article which showed a positive view on gender equality coming from an Islamic source? Of course you haven’t, because there is no controversy, benefit to a hidden agenda, or money when it comes to the truth of the matter.

The reason for gender separation in Islam

No doubt Islam teaches the separation of men and women, and it does so for the benefits of mankind. Maryam Namazie, a critic of Islam, has stated that it is because of ‘Islamists views on women’. Now I would expect her to be referring to certain sexist or patriarchal views but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I will state only one reason for gender separation.

Islam is a religion which considers the benefits of the individual and society. Gender separation is due for the betterment of both. We have narrations that tell us that the human being has the potential to be greater than the angels, or lower than the animals. This is because the angel has only intellect and so it does not disobey God due to the lack of free will. Likewise, the animal only has desire, and so it cannot control its desire and there is no limit to its indulgence in food, sex, and sleep. The human being however has both the intellect and the desire. With both faculties, the intellect must control the desire and express it where Islam states it is lawful to. Desire within marriage is praised, but with a stranger it is looked down upon. If your desire overtakes your intellect, then you are lower than an animal in the eyes of Allah (swt). And if your intellect overtakes your desire, then you are higher than an angel in the eyes of Allah (swt). This is true for the individual.

In His wisdom, He created us in order to reach our goals of spiritual perfection, and the laws He set down for us are to aid us in our journey. Gender integration makes it harder for men and women to control their desires. Islam intends to protect the woman in such a way that any attempt to turn her into a mere sex object is blocked. In most of today’s societies, you find women decorate themselves and parade their beauty to men, and with most men – unfortunately being lower than animals – relationships which end with illegitimate children and single parents are a common thing now. A broken home is likelier to lead to broken children, which is likelier to lead to a broken society. Marriage is a core component of a healthy society, and unlimited gender interaction is a detrimental effect because of the nature of man and the nature of woman.

A few words to my Muslim brothers and sisters

On a final note, a few words to my Muslim brothers and sisters that we should keep in mind and reflect upon. Sometimes we apply gender separation in a wrong way. We end up not knowing how to connect to each other, and we sexualize everything from the opposite gender resulting in the opposite effect of the intended outcome. This is not due to the concept of gender separation but to our outlook, and it is something we must act upon and purify within ourselves. Sisters, not every time a brother says “salamun alaykum” does it mean that he wants to marry you. And brothers, when you walk by and completely ignore the sisters as if they don’t exist, you may be hurting them. In such a testing time, show them their brothers are always there for them and be as respectful as you can. We are truly one family, one nation, and our nation is going through a difficult phase. We are being attacked from all angles; we have to look out for one another. Most of the time people cannot tell if a man is a Muslim, but they identify a Muslim woman quickly.

To all the dear sisters suffering from the stares of those around them; know that, as the one who wears the garment on her hair and covers her body, you are the flag bearer of Islam. Know that in every war the enemy tries to take out the flag bearer first, because they know if the flag bearer is killed the army will perish. You are half of our nation, and you raised the other half… so know that the other half that you raised will protect you with their lives. You have brothers that will lay down their life for anyone of you, whilst your Infinite Lord is watching over you.

‘Even if they were a number which would fill the earth, I would neither care nor feel lonely.’ – Imam Ali (as)

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