Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gender Segregated Weddings

Have you ever been to a super boring wedding? When you sit apart from your wife, in different halls, and don't know anybody else, so you converse via sms, wait for the food and then leave? Where the only sign that it's a wedding is the one printed on the notice board?

Welcome to your traditional gender segregated wedding.

Now if you ask anyone who prefers a gender segregated wedding, here's what they will say - it's more "Islamic". Is it though?

Remember, Islam DOES discourage free mixing between men and women but ONLY when they are ALONE; Islam does not prohibit ALL interactions between men and women in a public setting.

I find it hypocritical too. To paraphrase Wood Turtle's status, so you can talk to a girl at work or on the street, but you can't talk to her at a wedding without losing all control and giving in to your "impulses"?

Here's the three basic myths about a gender segregated wedding:

1. It's Islamic.

Not it's not. The concept of gender segregation is a Middle Eastern patriarchal practice called Namus which predates Islam. There is no evidence from the Quran or Hadith that enforces segregation of sexes[2].

The Prophet attended a wedding that was NOT gender segregated. It was Abu Usaid As-Saidi's wedding, and his wife served the Prophet (and his Companions) with food, and even brought him his drink[3]. There are plenty of examples from his life where men and women, not related to each other, ate at the same table.

2. A mixed wedding may lead to men and women flirting

There is even the idea that if something bad can happen from a permissible act, then we should prohibit the permissible act, even if there is good in it. This incorrect idea is taken to extremes in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive lest something bad happens. The ridiculousness of this is proven by a Saudi study that says if women are allowed to drive, there will be a loss of virginity in the kingdom and more homosexuals [4]. Dr Taqir Suwaidan at RIS specifically rebutted this idea. If the idea was true, then the whole incident of "Aisha and the Necklace" would never have happened.

As long as there is no obscenity, touching, secret meetings and any sexual contact, go ahead and maintain healthy social interaction with the opposite gender. It's the Islamic thing to do.[1]

In Bengali circles, it's well known that men and women meet up at weddings. I attended two weddings this year, the second one was of the groom and bride who got to know each other well during the first wedding. And what's wrong with that?

If your society is already so segregated (I am looking at you Saudis) that it's unhealthy and where a woman's eyes now make you crazy[5] then you gotta wonder how on earth will a man and woman meet up. Maybe the driving ban IS the reason you have more homosexuals (something to think about?).

My personal theory is that societies with gender segregated weddings (Pakistanis? Arabs?) have more cousin marriages. I am sure there is a research paper somewhere here, but what is so wrong with a young man and a young woman getting to know each other, and then getting married?

And if you think a gender segregated wedding prevents men and women from flirting, you don't know your young men and women.

3. Women show their hair and dress up all slutty at these mixed weddings

First, why are you looking at these women anyways! Lower your gaze, men! Second, see first.

I am not responsible for what anyone does. I am only responsible for my own actions. At my own wedding, I had a simple additional line in the invite.

"Since this is a Muslim wedding, guests are kindly requested to observe Islamic sensibilities and dress modestly. Your cooperation is this regard will be highly appreciated."

Or something to that affect. It was a mixed wedding. And you know what? Almost everyone complied with the request. My non-Muslim friends even called me up to ask what would be acceptable. That's because in general, people are nice. I find that hardcore so-called religious people treat everyone else as assholes who need to be 'guided', and therefore controlled.

My view is that it's your wedding, so if you want it to be gender segregated it's your choice. My faith compels me to attend a wedding once I get an invitation and have no excuses, so I will attend. But please, don't call it "Islamic". Because it's not, and you do a disservice to all those men and women who get married in a decent mixed wedding ceremony.


References:

1. Sexuality in Islam, referencing Surah Hujarat from the Quran.
2. Segregation of the Sexes.
3. Bukhari, Vol. 7, No. 111
4. Saudi Arabia: Driving a 'threat to virgin brides', The Independent
5. Saudi to ban women with alluring eyes

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to drop a line, because I think this was a fabulous, wonderfully written post. Thanks for putting it so sensibly and logically.

- Sim

Safiyyah said...

Great post - also applies to most other "Islaamic" events. Hubby goes one way and I go another. Why attend? Especially, like you said, if you don't know anyone.

mezba said...

@Sim, thank you.

@Safiyyah, exactly. I can say that almost 100% of these type of weddings I have attended were so dull and boring.

Why can't we just be mature about this?

nadia said...

Well-written, Mezba! There were only three segregated weddings that I've attended: a friend of Masood's in Sharjah, a blogger friend of mine in Dubai, and then Masood's younger brother's in Hyd. What I liked about these weddings is that I could "let my hair down" and wear a short-sleeved sari. Oh, and I made sure I brought along someone I know (sister or friend)so that I don't die of boredom. Otherwise, I'd prefer to attend mixed wedding where I can sit next to my husband.

Anonymous said...

I came across your article and it is a common debate amongst many Muslims. However you have to keep one thing in mind that as Muslims we submit and that means total submission. What has unfortunately happened is that we have extremes of both sides. One that is like the state of Saudi and the other which says lets all apply what we have in Western ideologies.

And why is it that weddings only seem to be exempt from the rule of segration and one that causes so much problems? Look back in history during the time of the Prophet even though women came in hijab
to the masjid for prayers, the Prophet preferred that at the time of leaving the mosque, the men stay
behind so that the women can exit the mosque before the men. It was later on that a separate entrance
was made for ladies.

Furthermore lets look at the Qur'an and the example of Prophet Musa and the daughters of Prophet Shu'ayb. After Musa
fled Egypt and reached Madyan, the Qur’an (28:23-28) says:
And when he came to the watering well of Madyan, he found on it a group of men who were drawing
water, and he saw besides them two women holding back their flocks. He went to the two ladies and
asked: “What is the matter with you that you are holding back your flock?”
They said, “We cannot draw water until the shepherds move away with their sheep from the water well.”
Then as if to answer an unspoken question that ‘why you, as ladies, are doing this job which should be
done by the men in your family,’ they continued: “and our father is a very old man so he cannot do this
himself.”

Prophet Musa realized the modesty of the ladies which is a lesson for all of us. Prophet Musa offered to help them.

On returning home, the daughters narrated the event to Prophet Shu'ayb and he wanted to thank Prophet Musa and asked one of them to come to him.

Then, one of the two women came to him
walking modestly. She said, “My father invites you so that he may recompense you with the wage
of drawing water for us.”
She led the way. Musa said to her that let me go forward and you walk behind me and guide me from
the back “because we of the household of prophets do not look at the back of women.”

There is a LOT of stuff on this but the above highlights modesty. The Qur'an is a great resource for us to learn from. The stories are not merely for storytelling but there for a reason for us to learn from.

-SAJ

woodturtle said...

Lovely post!

People are always shocked to learn that the Prophet and the Companions went to female "hairdressers" who would remove lice from their scalp.

Or that, you know, a woman was in charge of the marketplace and roamed the stalls with her bull whip ready to chastise moneylenders and businesses who cheated customers.

Or that men (who had no physical attraction to women) hung out in the Prophet's wives' living quarters.

But, you know, they were SO MUCH MORE PIOUS back then, so it was okay. We're ignorant heathens today and can't possibly be trusted to be in the presence of the opposite gender.

I knew segregation was a joke when I attended my first segregated wedding. A week later the bride called me asking if I was interested in marriage because someone told her husband he was interested in me. When I asked how, she said that he caught a glimpse of me, "... and sister, LOOKING at a wedding is halal."

Azra said...

LOL! Amen brother. I find that people all over no longer teach or put any emphasis on "controlling oneself"... it's more "avoid altogether". The irony is that the latter's sentiments are often to blame for the "animalistic" behaviour in our youth.

Metis said...

Great post, Mezba - one again! Bravo! Publicising it.

'liya said...

Very good post Mezba! As usual :)

Your writing is so interesting!

Anonymous said...

commenting as a girl who loves to dress up at weddings..and do my hair...which i normally cant do ....I love segregated weddings I dont think they are boring for women at all!!...

Cosat Rica law firm said...

Mezba, I really appreciate for your great sharing.

Misha said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I also think strict segregation in Muslim gatherings prevents Muslim youth from seeking out potential partners... not that they should be flirting/chatting each other up but where else are you supposed to meet your future husband/wife esp. if you don't have the means of meeting through family?

P.S. All the links you footnoted about Saudia Arabia? Seriously -- that country is going to the dogs...

Misha said...

P.P.S. I couldn't resist.. but the article that calls for women to cover their eyes if they appear too alluring, perhaps Saudi men should just wear blindfolds. I'm sure half the problems in that country would stop then.

era said...

you forgot one main reason. Most of these women walk around in hijab and nikkab everyday. At their friends wedding they would like to have fun, "let their hair down", dress up in glittery cloths, & dance the night away. If it is mix wedding the bride along with all her female attendies will have to be covered up just like every other day. What is the fun in that?

There is a method of meeting once significant other and it is not at wedding. It is via reference and setting up proper meeting, no back door sneaking around at someone else wedding.

mezba said...

@Nadia, I once attended a wedding where I knew no one except the bride (a Pakistani colleague) and she invited my wife and I.

So there were we, sitting on either side of the fence, sms-ing each other out of boredom, and waiting for the food so we could leave! A perfect 3 hours wasted.

And weddings here tend to be limited in guests too, so you don't usually have another person you know. And people kept asking me if I was the groom's friend, and I was like no, the bride's!

@Anonymous,

And why is it that weddings only seem to be exempt from the rule of segregation and one that causes so much problems?

There is NO RULE of segregation in Islam. REPEAT. There is NO RULE of segregation in Islam.

"Ladies and children first" when exiting a common space is NOT segregation. Think about it.

The story you mentioned about Prophet Musa, does it have anything to do with segregation? They were still in a common space, in a common environment, interacting with each other. Rather, the story is actually evidence that you do not need segregation to behave in a modest fashion.

mezba said...

@Woodturtle, thanks for the story. At least you got a wedding proposal out of it!

Yes, I am always amazed at how 'normal' the Prophet and his Companions were, compared to some of the 'religious' people today!

@Azra, I find that people all over no longer teach or put any emphasis on "controlling oneself"... it's more "avoid altogether".

Yes! Exactly! And I have to wonder, where is the piety when you are not facing the temptation!

@Metis, thank you! :-)

@Liya, thank you, and coming from a teacher too! :-D

mezba said...

@Anon, I get that part of hijabis having fun, but I think that's what the bachelorette party is for. And what if you don't know anyone!

@Cosat Rica, I am assuming you are not spam, in that case please segregate yourself.

@Misha, Saudi - even after the Final Messenger was sent to them they are still messed up!

Sometimes I wonder, why can't Muslims behave like normal people, you know, like how the Prophet and his folk were! Nowadays people make up all these rules to "ensure piety". Foolish me, I thought that was something that came from oneself.

@Era, if Hijabis want to let their hair down and dance the night away, there IS the bachelorette party for that. Or the holud/mehendi etc.

There is a method of meeting once significant other and it is not at wedding. It is via reference and setting up proper meeting, no back door sneaking around at someone else wedding.

That is a very patronizing statement. You are assuming the country is full of eligible people, wanting to get married and every knowledgeable person is willing to be a reference and set up a meeting.

Come back to reality where the pool of eligible people are very tiny, no one knows enough to be a reference and avenues of meeting other people are not much. There is a crisis in the Muslim community, a crisis of family, and people like you are contributing to it with your attitude.

Anonymous said...

@mezba

Thank you for your comments. I agree there is no rule. But how do you control modesty? What is modest to you may not be modest to others? We also live in a very different era. Think about the weddings today. Forget weddings even for a second. Think of the clothes that we all wear. Hasn't this evolved over time? It has become more of a norm to show your skin and to openly express yourself.

In a wedding, it is known the people in the room will be well dressed that MAY lead to a potentially haraam activity. Think about all the weddings you went to, how are each dressed? For someone who is not married or even for someone who is, that wandering eye itself is a sin for we are told to keep our hijab.

We tend to also forget the Hijab for the Men. The men need to lower their gaze (as highlighted in the Prophet Musa story).

Thus the solution has become to separate the two.

mezba said...

Anon, thanks for commenting.

I don't "control" modesty. I try to be modest myself and tell other people to be modest also.

Whether they listen to me or not is up to them. Even the Prophet was also told by Allah that his job was only to deliver the message.

One cannot use the argument that "Islam is for all time" and then say "we live in a very different era". What was Islamic then remains Islamic today. And it was the practice of the Prophet that there was NO segregation.

During the time of the Prophet (during the days of ignorance) the women used to circumbulate the Kaaba naked. And the Muslims used to pray in the Kaaba (before the Hijra).

It has become more of a norm to show your skin and to openly express yourself.

Somehow I think this was always the norm. There was a Jezebel during the Biblical times.

the people in the room will be well dressed that MAY lead to a potentially haraam activity

Not my concern. There is always potential for haraam activity everywhere.

Thus the solution has become to separate the two.

No, solution is to lower your gaze and be modest. Following your slippery slops is what leads to the madness that is Saudi today.

Anonymous said...

@mezba,

You are absolutely right that we have to lower our gaze and yes it is not up to you to control what others do.

however, if it is an event that you are holding and in this case a wedding, then there has to be some sense of ownership and responsibility. Merely putting up signs to say please maintain Hijab or modesty is not enough. The temptations of the Haraam can be easily triggered by having a mixed environmental.

Now the argument may come up well we all work and are in a mixed environment. But the essence of that is that we are working. A wedding reception is a social gathering.

It comes to the environment, the event of what you are doing. I have been to "mixed" events but these "mixed" events were seminar purposes where the focus was on learning. Weddings, I have never been to a mixed on nor do I plan to.

At the end of the day we are all going to be answerable for what we do and our actions.

Also one best way to look at is to ask yourself. If my Prophet was here today, would he be Happy with me? Would he attend the mixed event?

Anonymous said...

@mezba, one more point.

Many times segreation, lack of mixed = Saudi Arabia.

Saudia Arabia is a whole different league on its own. It has a complete different outlook of Islam but yet their own king, and princes do completely contrary to Islam.

All this really boils down to is Haya-Modesty.

We have to be responsible for our actions and this includes preventing Haraam. Haraam acts are not something that just pop-up at times. It needs a trigger and sometimes events like a mixed wedding reception event MAY lead to a Haraam.

mezba said...

@Anon, noted.

Nigar said...

Why do we have to follow the culture of others? The Christians and the Jews have mixed weddings, so we must too. Why don't we hold fast to our own culture - which is segregated weddings, as mandated by Islam?

"He who imitates a people is one of them"

mezba said...

@Anon,

At the end of the day we are all going to be answerable for what we do and our actions.

If the Prophet felt comfortable attending a mixed wedding, who are you to say we have to be more pious?

Also one best way to look at is to ask yourself. If my Prophet was here today, would he be Happy with me? Would he attend the mixed event?

As I said, the Prophet attended many mixed events. As long as you don't do any un-Islamic activities in the wedding, such as serving alcohol, what's your problem?

We have to be responsible for our actions and this includes preventing Haraam. Haraam acts are not something that just pop-up at times. It needs a trigger and sometimes events like a mixed wedding reception event MAY lead to a Haraam.

Why do people think like this - that a wedding is a "trigger" for a haram activity? It says more about that person than the society.

@Nigar,

It may interest you to know that gender segregation comes from "Namus" (see the link in my original article) which predates Muhammad (peace be upon him). Actually it's a Jewish law.

It's the ultra orthodox Jews who are more into gender segregation. Take a look at this BBC article.

So, actually by practicing gender segregation, we will be imitating the Jews, and your whole argument breaks down.

"He who imitates a people is one of them"

You are using this in a wrong context. Take a look at this link.

Take a look at the section titled "Is the Baby Shower Imitation of the Infidels?"

One excerpt.

The hadith is specific (khaas), and not general (aam). It refers to practices that have religious significance. This is explained clearly by ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani in Fat’h al-Baari. The Prophet (SAWS) continued cultural, ethnic and region specific practices and allowed such, even though the majority of those doing it were non Muslims in the Meccan period. As in the case of clothing; he (SAWS) continued to wear the clothes of the pagan Meccans after he received revelation. He also allowed the Muslims to continue the literary practice of poetic expression as long as it didn’t contain undesirable prose. Umar ibn al-Khattaab instituted the diwaan for pension and salary distribution which was a practice of the Persian Kings. Anyone who thinks that the Prophet (SAWS) contradicted his own statements and performed blameworthy actions is himself an unbeliever.

US Bengali said...

Is your only proof that the Prophet was in non-segregated weddings this Hadith?

"When Abu Usaid As-Sa'idi got married, he invited the Prophet and his companions. None prepared the food for them and brought it to them but his wife. She soaked some dates in water in a stone pot overnight, and when the Prophet had finished his food, she provided him with that drink (of soaked dates)."

I'm not sure if you read the hadith properly or not, but it very clearly says prepared and brought the food. Where does it say that she sat down and ate with all of the men?

You know, the scholars were extremely cautious before taking hadith and stories of the Prophet, and then applying jurisprudence upon them. It's unfortunate we now have the audacity to impose our ethnocentric thoughts onto the divine teachings (I'm talking about this, your post on the ayah in Surah Nisa, and several others here).

I'm surprised you don't even mention the ahadith wherein the Prophet's wives would always be completely modestly covered when outside, that 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab would get enraged to see any makeup on women outside (especially since women who wear perfume outside the house are akin to adulterers). Are you seriously going to proclaim that all weddings should be mixed and that "Oh, I'll just worry about myself and smile benignly at all of the flirting" just based on the experiences of one wedding? Talk to a scholar before making up statements based on your whims.

mezba said...

@US Bengali,

Is your only proof that the Prophet was in non-segregated weddings this Hadith?

No, but even if it is, it's a pretty strong one.

My proof are all the references that I cited at the end of the article. Please read through them, in particular this one.

The fact of the matter is that NONE of the commentators supporting gender segregated marriages could bring forth a single proof that this is the desired position in Islam.

Where does it say that she sat down and ate with all of the men?

So you prefer your women to be waitresses only?

There are ample hadiths about men and women eating together, the most famous being the one where a man and his wife ate with the guest in the dark, so the guest would not notice how little food there was. You can google it yourself if you wish, starting here.

You know, the scholars were extremely cautious before taking hadith and stories of the Prophet, and then applying jurisprudence upon them. It's unfortunate we now have the audacity to impose our ethnocentric thoughts onto the divine teachings

If you wish, you can refer to the views of a scholar yourself. I am talking about Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, the widely respected resident scholar of the Islamic Institute of Toronto. Refer to his fatwa.

I'm talking about this, your post on the ayah in Surah Nisa, and several others here

WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU MEAN BY MY POST ON THE AYAH IN SURAH NISA?

If you have something to say, please say it here clearly.

So to conclude your comment, you prefer your women as waiters, you wish say it's Islamic to beat your women, a woman wearing a perfume is an adulteress ... no wonder people think there's a problem with Muslims.

I am sick of people like you.

youngMuslimah said...

If I get married, Im going to have a segregated one. I want to be able to dress well (just covering your hair is not hijab..you know how desi brides look..all the makeup and jewelery...)

as a muslim, at MY wedding, it's MY responsibility that I dont create a situation of fitnah.

sure the Prophet went to unsegregated weddings. but seriously do you really think the women from that time dressed like we do at weddings???

i dont mind going to mixed weddings, but im keeping my hijab and jalbiya. and where's the fun in that? we women only dress so well on certain occasions..

mezba said...

@Young Muslimah, I believe you should be free to organize your wedding as you see fit. I hope you realize that segregating the wedding so the woman can dress up as they please is the reason you are segregating the wedding - not because it's more or less Islamic!

sure the Prophet went to unsegregated weddings. but seriously do you really think the women from that time dressed like we do at weddings???

Is that even relevant to declaring something is Islamic or non-Islamic?

mezba said...

Women are not for battering

Source: Daily Star

youngMuslimah said...

*not because it's more or less Islamic!* Im not sure what you mean by *islamic* but I definitely find it best. that way we dont have to worry about hijab and clothes and make up.


*Is that even relevant to declaring something is Islamic or non-Islamic?*

again, I dont know what you mean by *islamic*..but look at it this way. back then in the Prophet's time the Prophet ordered men to stay behind and let women use the door first..this by the way at a mosque where all women are covered.
..and we are talking about a wedding here.

mezba said...

@young Muslimah, noted.

Anonymous said...

Two types of gender interaction are being confused here: 1-socialization, and 2-interactions that have a purpose (e.g., speaking to the opposite gender about work, well-being, etc.). What we do at weddings is socialize with other people. In this case, segregation makes sense. For women, it also presents an opportunity to dress-up for the occasion. If you don't know anyone at a segregated wedding, that's a great opportunity to meet new people.
Segregated weddings may have no music, limited speeches, etc. But that's not a product of segregation. The hosts should try to have an interesting wedding program for male and female guests- and this is what I think is lacking among practicing Muslims.

mezba said...

Hi Anon,

Thank you for your comment and welcome to the blog. I am not arguing what makes sense or what doesn't.

All I am saying in this post is that the idea that a segregated wedding = Islamic, a non-segregated wedding = not-Islamic" is false and has no place in Islam.

Anonymous said...

I love segregated weddings. I wouldnt call it islamic. Mehendi just isnt in my culture, neithers a bachelorette party. Not every bride gets that. I did it for my friends to dress up as they wanted and got to wear my beautiful white dress and I'm glad I did it that way. I'm also more than happy to attend these weddings and actually appreciate them.

At the end of the day its the couple's choice, and whatever their decision, there are always reasons behind it.