Islam encourages gender segregation at the mosque or other places of gathering with the intention to provide a ‘safe space’ to women. There is no ill-intent nor is it a way to ‘suppress’ women as critics of Islam like to suggest. Provision of such spaces is actually a right that women are entitled to, and that Islam granted to them 1400 years ago.
In the West, segregation already exists, albeit to a lesser extent. Locker rooms, washrooms, and sports activities are a few examples where segregation already exists. Islam only goes the extra mile in ensuring that the intent of this kind of segregation, that is, modesty, is achieved with greater caution. However, what is interesting is that many in the West are now inclining towards increasing the segregation between genders.
At the New Year’s celebration in Berlin, a “safe zone” was set up for women only, due to a large number of sexual assaults reported in the past.[i] The world’s first women-only music festival was held in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2018 due to reports of sexual abuse at previous festivals.[ii] Women-only ride-sharing apps are becoming more and more popular, and are becoming the norm, as women feel safer with other women during rides.[iii] Women-only office spaces are also becoming increasingly popular, and in demand in the business world.[iv] These trends demonstrate that they are only going to grow in the future. This is just the beginning.
Allah says in the Holy Quran:
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw close to them portions of their loose outer coverings. That is nearer that they may thus be distinguished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful” (33:60). Hence, an essential goal of purdah in Islam is to safeguard women from being molested, harassed or assaulted. Segregated spaces have the same purpose. The Promised Messiah(as) notes, “What ails our people is that they do not reflect upon the consequences of things. Let them at least take counsel with their consciences whether the condition of men is so much improved that women may go about among them unveiled”.[v]
We ask, do the benefits of free mixing of genders outweigh the harms and disadvantages? Islam contends that even if one woman in a 1000 is harassed in the slightest manner due to being in a gathering where men and women interact freely, it is not okay. Islam takes the dignity of women with utmost seriousness. What is more is that women who experience such spaces feel that they have much more liberty and freedom, and are much less conscious of looking attractive in front of men.
[i]. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/berlin-new-years-safe-zone-1.4467574, Retreived April 2, 2019
[ii]. https://globalnews.ca/news/4780537/swedish-women-only-music-festival-discrimination/#_=_, Retrieved April 2, 2019
[iii]. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-australia-47503777/women-only-ridesharing-restored-my-hope, Retrieved April 2, 2019; see also: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/driveher-launch-1.4578541, Retrieved April 2, 2019
[iv]. https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2018/09/26/4-female-focused-coworking-spaces-women-entrepreneurs-should-join/#28ed75de477a, Retrieved April 2, 2019
[v]. Essence of Islam, vol. 3, p. 330