During the Prophet’s lifetime men and women met frequently, in all situations. This was accepted as normal. The Prophet did not issue any instructions to prevent such meeting. In fact, he dealt with it as perfectly normal. He only encouraged people to perform their duty of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. Again this applies to all Muslims, in all situations. God describes believers in the following terms: “The believers, men and women, are friends to one another: They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong; they attend to their prayers, and pay their zakah, and obey God and His Messenger. It is on these that God will have mercy. Surely, God is Almighty, Wise.” (9: 71) This verse clearly indicates that there is no difference between men and women in these qualities. Enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong is thus a quality that all Muslims should have at all times. When we consider how life was in the first Muslim society established by the Prophet we find this quality operating all the time. We will cite a few Hadiths in support:
Jabir reports: “The Prophet visited Umm Mubashshir, one of his Ansari companions, in her date farm. He asked her: ‘Who planted these date trees: was he a Muslim or an unbeliever?’ She said: ‘A Muslim.’ He said: ‘Whenever a Muslim plants something and a man or animal eats of its fruit, he will have that fruit credited to him as a sadaqah, or charity.'” (Related by Muslim) The relevance of this Hadith to the question we are discussing is that the Prophet’s statement encourages kindness to all. The farm owner, Umm Mubashshir, is encouraged to give away whatever she could of the yield of her farm, because that would be credited to her as charity, which God rewards at least ten times its value.
Anas ibn Malik reports: “The Prophet passed by a woman who was crying hard near a grave. He said to her: ‘Fear God and be patient in your adversity.’ She said: ‘Leave me alone. You have not experienced the like of my tragedy.’ She apparently did not recognize the Prophet. She was told, however, that he was the Prophet (after he had left). Therefore, she went to see him, but she found that he had no doorkeeper. When she met him, she said to him: ‘I did not recognize you.’ He said to her: ‘True patience is that shown when the first shock is received’.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
It should be noted that Al-Bukhari enters a shorter version of this Hadith under the heading, “A man says to a woman by the side of a grave to be patient.” Ibn Hajar quotes Al-Zayn ibn Al-Muneer’s comment that Al-Bukhari’s usage of “a man” in his heading is intended to indicate that this applies to all people, and it is not a special privilege granted to the Prophet. Indeed it is perfectly permissible for men and women to exchange any words like these, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, or offering condolences, or good words of admonition. This is universally applicable to young and old people alike, because it serves a good religious purpose.
Subayah bint Al-Harith reports that she “was married to Saad ibn Khawlah who was one of the Prophet’s companions who took part in the Battle of Badr. He died during the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage when she was pregnant. It was only a few days after his death that she gave birth. When she was out of confinement after delivery, she put on her makeup, hoping for a proposal of marriage. Abu Al-Sanabil ibn Baakak, a man from the Abd Al-Dar clan, came to her and said: ‘How come you are wearing makeup, hoping to get married? By God, you cannot get married before the lapse of four months and ten days (after your husband’s death’.)” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The relevance here to our point is that Abu Al-Sanabil was admonishing a woman who was not related to him. We learn from other reports that he subsequently proposed to marry her, but she declined. The point in dispute between them here is the length of her waiting period. He thought she had to observe the full waiting period of four months and ten days. She, however, was aware that a pregnant woman finishes her waiting period on giving birth, whether this takes place after a few days or nine months. Indeed she went that evening to ask the Prophet about this point and he confirmed that she was free to marry again.
Another Hadith gives us the opposite situation, with a woman admonishing a man who happened to be the Caliph. “Abd Al-Malik ibn Marwan sent some cushions and other articles of furniture to Umm Al-Dardaa’. One night, he rose up at night and called his servant. It appears that the servant was slow answering him. He cursed him. In the morning Umm Al-Dardaa’ said to him: ‘I heard you last night cursing your servant when you called him. The Prophet said: Those who curse will not be allowed to intercede or act as witnesses on the Day of Judgment’.” (Related by Muslim)
All these Hadiths confirm that men and women exchanged advice, encouraging what is right and forbidding what is wrong. Other Hadiths show that such mixing took place also when providing a service or giving help. Jabir reports : “A woman from the Ansar said to the Prophet: ‘Shall I make something for you to sit on? I have a servant who is a carpenter.’ The Prophet said to her: ‘If you wish.’ She got a pulpit made for him. The following Friday, the Prophet sat on the pulpit made for him.” (Related by Al-Bukhari)
Anas reports: “Any maid in Madinah could come to the Prophet and take him by the hand, taking him wherever she wished.” (Related by Al-Bukhari) Another version of this Hadith is given by Ahmad, stating that such a maid would take the Prophet “to do whatever help she wanted.” Al-Nassaie relates on the authority of Abdullah ibn Abi Awfa: “God’s messenger did not disdain to go with any widow or poor person and do for them whatever they needed.”
A Hadith that is more relevant to the point we are discussing is reported by Asma’ bint Abu Bakr. It shows her pointing the way for a poor man to get round her husband’s opposition to him establishing a position for business next to her home. She said: “…A man said to me: ‘I am a poor person. Can I take a position here in the shade of your home where I can sell things?’ I said: ‘If I were to give you permission now, Al-Zubayr (her husband) would not allow it. Your best way is to come and ask me when he is present.’ He came over and addressed me saying: ‘I am a poor person. May I sit and sell things in the shade of your home?’ I retorted: ‘Is there no place in Madinah where you can sell other than my home?’ Al-Zubayr said to me: ‘Will you stop a poor man trying to earn a living’?” (Related by Muslim)
JAZAK ALLAH KHAIR