The main argument that is used to exaggerate gender segregation practices and stifle women’s social life by preventing them from coming to the masajid, attending Islamic lectures or getting educated even though this contradicts the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) is the excuse of widespread corruption (fitnah), or fitnah-phobia.
Phobia means an irrational, unfounded or exaggerated fear. While closing the doors of fitnah is a valid concern in Islamic life, its exaggeration or misapplication becomes quite poisonous in a community that feels insecure and lacks balanced scholarship and proper guidance. This situation has been quite harmful in many Muslim communities across the world.
Today’s societies are full of fitnah, the argument goes, and we must protect our women and ourselves. Some say that there has been a constant increase in fitnah since the death of the Messenger of Allah and his Companions, and use the statement of the Mother of the Believers, Aisha, who said: “If the Prophet (pbuh) saw the behaviour of the women today, he would have forbidden them from coming to the masajid as the women of the Banu Israel were forbidden.”
First, it should be noted that the society that the Prophet (pbuh) lived in was a real human society, and there were incidents of crimes and mistakes of all kinds. Several cases of theft, rape, adultery, fornication and false indictments were reported in his blessed life. Most of the tribes of Arabia had freshly entered Islam towards the end of Prophet’s life and their social life was only beginning to be transformed by Islam; there must have been much fitnah in those regions.
He (pbuh) did order or recommend several precautionary measures to protect us from fitnah, such as prohibiting women from travelling a long distance alone, enjoining that they pray behind the men’s rows and leave the masjid before men if mixing was feared, ensuring that a man may not be alone with a non-mahram woman, and forbidding both men and women from looking at each other in a lustful way and ensuring they both cover themselves properly. But all this never caused the Prophet (pbuh) to issue a general statement about the prohibition of women from coming to the masjid, Eid prayers or other festivities.