A prominent British imam has said that gender segregation has no basis in the Quran.
Ahtsham Ali, who is the Muslim adviser to the Prison Service and a former president of the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), said that making men and women sit in separate rooms was not justified in the Quran.
To explain his point of view, Ali said that the passage of the Quran which asks women to stay at home is addressed only to the Prophet Mohammed’s (saw) family.
“Stay in your houses and do not display yourselves like [women used to] in the time of ignorance [before Islam],” was intended specifically to the prophet’s wives, Ali said.
The imam said he started to grow concerned over the matter as a result of pressure to sit female Islamic scholars in a separate room during a seminar.
“A few days later I had fatwas flooding into my inbox,” Ali said.
The imam also warned against emulating the Prophet and his family.
“Emulation is not an absolute,” he told the Living Islam festival. “You don’t emulate except what [the Prophet] asked us to emulate. Wasn’t he allowed to have the culture of his time in 7th century Arabia?”
During his remarks, Ali urged Muslims to think more critically about Shariah and verdicts given by Islamic scholars.
Gender segregation is an orthodox mainstream position held by the four Sunni schools thought.
There are exceptions to the rule whereby men and women can free-mix for example in business transactions, pilgrimage, times of war and in public areas like markets, shopping malls and academic institutions.