Mosque imams teaching women without a screen separating them
What is the ruling for women being taught by a mosque imam without a screen separating between them? Some people disapprove of this and claim that it is prohibited.
Muslims, past and present, have maintained that the mere presence of men and women in the same place is not prohibited per se. The prohibition only arises if there is anything that contravenes the Shari'a such as women exposing their 'awra (those parts of their bodies which must remain concealed), men and women meeting over some prohibited act or for the purpose of committing one or if they are in khulwa (being alone together such that no person can enter upon them without their permission). Moreover, scholars determined that forbidden mingling occurs when it involves touching and not by merely being in the same place. The sunnah attests to this opinion by the following evidences:
• Sahl Ibn Sa'd al-Sa'di (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "Abu Asid al-Sa'di invited the Prophet and his Companions to his wedding and it was Abu Asid's wife who prepared the food and served it to them herself" [Recorded in the Sahih of Bukhari and the Sahih of Muslim. Bukhari included the hadith in a chapter entitled "A woman Serving Food to Men at Weddings"].
• Al-Qurtubi mentioned in his Tafsir: "Our scholars have said that it is permissible for a bride to serve food to her husband and his guests at her wedding."
• Ibn al-Batal wrote in his commentary on Bukhari's Sahih: "It indicates that it is not obligatory to separate between men and women when they are in the same place or during direct interaction. This separation was restricted to the Prophet's wives as mentioned in the Qur`an,
When you ask his wives for something, do so from behind a screen. [Ahzab, 53]
• The hadith scholar, Ibn Hajar wrote in Fath al-Bari: "The hadith attests to the permissibility of a woman serving [food and drink to] her husband and his guests. There is no doubt that this is only permissible when there is no fear of temptation and when a woman conceals those parts of her body which must be concealed. It also demonstrates the permissibility of a man asking his wife to do this."
• Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated the story of Abu Talha al-Ansari's generosity to his guest and said, "Since they did not have enough food in the house, Abu Talha and his wife pretended to eat before their guest and spent their night hungry." Ibn abu al-Dunya mentioned in Hospitality to Guests that Anas narrated that Abu Talha told his wife, "Take this loaf of bread and crumble it with butter and tell the servant to put out the lights." They then pretended to lick their lips so that the guest would think they were eating. The obvious and straight-forward reading indicates that they were sitting in the same place with their guest. The Prophettold Abu Talha, "Allah is pleased with what you did tonight" and a Qur`anic verse was revealed in reference to this incident,
They give preference over themselves, even if they too are poor. [Al-Hashr, 9]
• Abu Juhayfa (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "The Prophet established a bond of brotherhood between Salman and Abu al-Darda`. Once when Salman visited Abu al-Darda`, he found him away. He found his wife disheveled, so he asked her about what was troubling her. She replied, "Your brother, Abu al-Darda` has no worldly desires… " [Recorded in the Sahih of Bukhari]. Commenting on this hadith in Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar said: "This hadith contains some beneficial information … the permissibility of talking to non-mahram women (those with whom marriage is impermissible) and asking about what concerns them."
Women receiving knowledge from men
It is permissible for men to teach women Islamic law and give them scholarly direction. This is attested to by the hadith narrated by Abu Sa'id al-Khudry (may Allah be pleased with him) who narrated that some women approached the Prophetand said, "The men have more access to you than we do so appoint a day for us." The Prophet then promised to set a day to instruct them on matters of religion [Recorded in the Sahih Bukhari and the Sahih of Muslim]. In Abu Huraira's narration of the hadith, the Prophet told the women, "We will meet at the house of so-and-so" [Al-Nisa`i and Ibn Haban].
At the Prophet's time, women used to participate in the public life of the society while observing the teachings of Islam concerning their dress code and etiquettes. Some females from among the Companions were even in charge of the hisbah [regulation of economic, commercial and public affairs]. Abu Balj Yahya Ibn abu Selim said, "I saw Samra` bint Nahik—a woman who lived at the Prophet 's time, wearing heavy armor and a thick face veil and holding a whip in her hand … she was directing the people, commanding the right and forbidding the wrong" [ Recorded by Al-Tabarani in Al-Mu'jam Al-Kabir from a trustworthy chain of transmitters].
Based on the above, no one can deny such events that are established in the sunnah and Islamic history. Moreover, it is impermissible to let customs and traditions prevail over religion since Islamic law takes precedence over all else and not vice-versa. It is impermissible for a person who is overly cautious in matters of religion to obligate others to emulate him, be prejudiced against them, or restrict and narrow for them what Allah has left capacious and undemanding.
It is permissible for women to receive lessons and instruction from mosque imams without a screen separating them.
Allah the Almighty knows best.