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Fatwa: Barrier Separating Men and Women Not Recommended by Dr. Muzammil Siddqi

Fatwa: Barrier Separating Men and Women Not Recommended by Dr. Muzammil Siddqi

Question: As-Salamu aaykum. We have a big controversy going on in our Masjid. Some brothers want to build a wall in the prayer hall musalla to separate men from women. Is that required in Islam? What are the basic rules of Shariah on this matter?

Response by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi:

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.  All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Both men and women are allowed to pray in the Mosque in the same Jama`ah (congregational prayer). When men and women are together in the Masjid then we should have first men’s lines behind the Imam, then children and then women. This is the way Muslims used to pray behind the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He did not make or ask his Companions to have a curtain or wall between the lines of men and women. (See Al-Sindi’s Commentary on Sunan An-Nasa’i, p. 798)

According to the Shari`ah, it is not required to have a partition, neither of temporary nor of permanent nature, between men and women in the Masjid.

It is perfectly Islamic to hold meetings of men and women inside the Masjid, whether for prayers or for any other Islamic purpose, without separating them with a curtain, partition or wall.

It is, however, very important that Muslim women come to public gatherings wearing proper Islamic dress, for it is Haram (forbidden) for a Muslim woman to attend a public gathering without a full Islamic dress. She must cover her hair and neck with a scarf, which should also go over her bosom. Her dress should be modest and loose enough in order not to reveal the shape of her body.

It stands to reason that partitions were introduced inside the Masajid later in Islamic history. This was done, perhaps, because some women began coming to Mosques without observing proper Islamic dress, or perhaps, some men wanted to discourage them from coming to Mosques. In the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) there was no curtain or partition in his Masjid, although women used to come to the Masjid almost for every prayer and for many other gatherings. It is, however, reported that they used to come to the Masjid dressed up in long clothes. `A’ishah, the Mother of the Believers (may Allah be pleased with her) said that the believing women used to attend the Dawn prayer with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). They used to come wrapped up in their long garments and then they used to return to their homes after the prayer, no one could recognize them because of the darkness. (Reported by Al-Bukhari)

Jamaah</em> means a congregation of people who are praying behind one Imam in continuous lines without any barrier or interruption. As for people who pray behind the Imam, they should either see the Imam or see those who are in front of them. There is no <em>Jamaah when a person is in one room and his/her Imam in another room, the lines are not continuous and the people behind the Imam are also not visible, otherwise people would not have to come to the Masjid for Jamaah</em> prayer. They would stay home and pray listening to the loudspeakers from their <em>Masjid</em> or through intercoms. They could nowadays even pray <em>Jamaah prayer in this way in their own homes listening to the prayer broadcasts coming from Makkah and Madinah on their radios, television sets or through the Internet. But no jurists have ever allowed a Jama`ah prayer in this way.

The definition of Jama`ah that I gave above is a general one and it is applicable to both men and women. Only in the case of necessity this rule can be relaxed. For example, if the Masjid was too small and people had to pray on different levels or in different rooms to accommodate every person then this would be permissible because of necessity. Muslims should not deliberately and for no reason bifurcate their congregation in their Masajid.

If there is a concern that the lines of men and women will mix inside the Masajid, then there is no harm in putting a lower barrier, only to demarcate the separate area for women. But women should not be put in a totally separate room in the Masajid unless there is a shortage of space and no other proper arrangement can be done for them.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, President, Fiqh Council of North America

BA, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama (India); MA, Islamic University of Medina; PhD, Harvard University



  1. Subhanallah well said

  2. This an excellent article. We must ask ourselves how we have gotten so far away from the practice of the Prophet(PBUH) and have innovated so many practices that ultimately may lead us away from the path.

  3. salam and thank you for publishing this response. If separating the woman folk was an issue then certainly Allah swt, or our beloved Prophet (saws) would have been the wisest to do so. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) took the Bayaa’ Pledge from women as he did from men to establish the allegiance to the first Islamic State in Medina al Munawar. In the tradition of Ahlul Bayt – Jaffari Madthab, indeed the fatwa is correct. It should be noted that many of the masjids who claim to follow the Ahlul Bayt school of jurisprudence also build these walls and partitions, yet the Ullama have cautioned not to practice a cultural Islam for there is no haram in women joining the congregational prayers. Wasalam and Many thanks.

  4. Assalam o alakom,
    Regarding above subject or any matter we have to look into WAHI(REVELATION from ALLAH),i mean QURAN,which is Book of HADAIT,pure and protected(ALLAH himself is protecting Quran) and unchanged since more than 14 centuries.It is not only Hadait for whole mankind till Qiamat but it was also hadiat for Rasol Muhammad,peace be upon Him.
    So this first most certified guidance,then after that comes in less certified Suunah of Prophet,who not only elaborated Quran but also explained practically to Ummah but because ALLAH is not protecting it,so we see difference of opinion here.
    After that comes followings of Sahabah of Rasol(saw).
    In QURAN we see in sura NOOR and sura AHZAB that ALLAH discourages mixing of men and women,not only for common muslim but also emphasize more on wives of Prophet(SAW).

    • One of the points of fatwa is that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) did not have a barrier in his own masjid. Surely he is the best of examples.

    • I do hope you aren’t implying that the Messenger of Allaah did not follow the Quran, because that’s what it sounds like. The women’s section does not mix with the men’s section. The article is about putting up walls etc.

  5. Alhamdulillah. Nice article. This’ll help me put my point forward. And Jazakallah there’s no point left now in this context on which people can argue.

  6. Well written and well backed up. Forgotten past !

  7. Salaams. In our mosque men and women pray in the same room with only a light rope separating the sections with the men in the front. I am often asked by non-Muslim visitors to the mosque, “why are the men in the front and women behind?” I give two reasons. First, it is showing symbolically that men are the leaders and out front and secondly, the way we pray bending over and kneeling down, it is impractical for men to be behind women. It’s common sense.

  8. What a sobering and intelligent rational reasoning. This is much needed in structive message that deserves Universal dissemination. I have known Dr. Muzammil for many years and listened to his lectures, and, as usual, he expressed great wisdom. He is the sort of Muslim.intellectual that the U.S. and western media outlet run from and bar from debate on the merits and principles of Al Islam; but the seek out the most extreme Muslims who generally are little educated about Islam…which is usually the cause of their extremism. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Great knowledge of haidth.

  10. asa…Question if this is Islamic history…Whay has it taken over 30 years to bring this to the attention of Muslims?

  11. asa…Whenever we see women relegated to an inferior status in a Muslim society, we should be aware that it is practicing unenlightened traditions rather than the religion of Al-Islam.

  12. A step in the right direction, although this is not new in practice today. Instead of painfully trying to explain why women should sit at the back, why not simply have men and women sitting in parallel sections without a barrier? In this way, no one looks into the backs of the opposite sex (as if this is a problem). “Men are leaders over women” is a weak argument, since “responsibility” does not imply “leadership”, and the Quran accords the same rights to spiritual development and accountability to both genders (33:35; 49:13; etc).

  13. Slm. While this is a valid arguement as it was the ruling in the time of the Prophet, it must be noted that Our Prophet(s.a.w) said that ‘My sahaba are like guiding stars whomsoever you follow you will be rightly guided’ and it was in the time of Umar (r.a) that he passes the ruling of women no longer mixing with mmen in the Masjid because of the Fitnah the women began to cause, and that was in the blessed era of the illustrious Sahaba,how can our Era even hold a light to those times?we are in one of the worst eras of corruption,with Qiyamah just a breadth away(as wecan see all the minor signs are apparent) if Umar(r.a) passed this decision those years ago don’t u think his ruling stands in a time of utter corruption?The Prophet lived in the best of eras, and he instructed us to follow his sahaba as they may pass rulings that would be valid for the time after the Prophethood,and as time changed and fitnah became more rampant this was a ruling of one of the Khulalfa -e -Raashideen,one of the people guarunteed Jannah,and the Prophet instructed us not to go against if we love Allah and we love his Prophet, in the light of this,I think there should be division seperating men and women.

    • What proof do you have that Umar (ra) was the one who forbade women from coming to the masjid or that he put a barrier in the masjid? Even if he did, his words are not authoritative in and of themselves. We should take his actions/words into account because the Companions are special, but we must keep the Prophet’s (SAWS) example uppermost and then look at our situation. When we look at our situation, it seems to me that the corruption is outside the masjid and not so much inside, and we need to strengthen ourselves–men and women–against the attacks on our faith in the world. We need the masjid to tie our women (and men) closer to our deen and to strengthen their faith. Especially if our young women are unmosqued it will be disastrous for our community.

      • To add, it is compulsory for women to attend Friday congregational prayers in a mosque, if you follow the Quran (62:9), which does not distinguish between men and women. Unless, of course, you follow Hadith that contradicts this verse.

  14. Assalamu-alaikum,

    This is an issue since most put their feet in the Good ol’ America.
    Anyway, is this a personal opinion of Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi? Or is this a FATWA from the Fiqh Council of North America?

    • This fatwa comes from Dr. Siddiqi, but the Fiqh Council of North America gave a similar fatwa back in the 1980s. The Fiqh Council has recently been requested by ISNA’s Masjid Development Committee to issue another, more comprehensive joint fatwa on this issue. They have agreed.

  15. As salaamu a’laikum,

    At times, it seems we understand that if men see women, then all our acts of devotion during the day, week, year, life, quickly comes to naught. As if right there in masjid, without barrier, we would be compelled to turn our sacred space into some Haram use.

    But what is the fatwa on Hajj? The Nabi (saw) nor Sahaba (raa) recommended a separate hajj day or time of day to separate women from men at the most sacred masjid of all. Men and women side by side worshipping in perfect equality their Lord without violation.

    So I’m curious of what has been written by the ulema to explain the difference between hajj and prayer at Allah’s house in comparison to when done at other masaajid in regards to men and women.

    I believe anything of Quraan and Sunnah can be clearly explained as to its benefits. The prohibitions of women in Islam is an issue I struggle with, lust being my only retort. But privately I ask, all these observances and we still not have the resolve to lower our gaze?

  16. Assalam o Alaikum – With due respects to Dr Muzammil Siddiqui – can he give Fatawa? Is he a Mufti by training – if he is – which School of Higher Islamic Studies did he get trained to become a Mufti ? – pls enlighten us. Thanks.

    • Dr. Muzammil has a degree (equivalent to a BA) from Nadwa in India, a Masters from U of Madinah and PhD from Harvard. He sits on international fiqh councils and he is Chair of the Fiqh Council of North America. He is definitely qualified.

  17. Jazakallah for response. I have great respect for all Scholar’s including Brother Muzammil. I am told by many in my community that after becoming Alim – like from Nadwa – additional 5 to 7 years are spent to become Mufti – only then – u r allowed to give Fatwa’s. Pls dont mind – but I have to ask this , if brother Muzammil completed these ? I do not dispute his education but wish some clarification for my understanding. Is his Phd from Harvard in Islamic Studies taught by muslims? We see in many western universities PHd in Islamic studies being taught by non muslims – this is concerning as the light of deen has not reached the teacher – how can he deliver that to his students as comes our minds naturally. Will appreciate further clarification . Wa’ssalam.

    • I don’t know the details of his study but I am confident that he has put in the necessary time and effort in study.

    • @SK Masood: you have been misinformed. There is no Mufti course for 5 to 7 years in any institute of the world. I know Muftis who are as young as 20! Many institutes have a one year Mufti course. The current Mufti course is not as rigorous as it was previously. Dr. Muzzammil is more than qualified to give his ruling on the issue. The default ruling is that any physical separation is not mandatory. If it is there, it is for other reasons. Women have been marginalized enough in many Muslim countries from being barred intentionally or unintentionally from the Masjid. Whoever wants to sit behind a barrier needs to be accommodated and whoever doesn’t want to, they should not be forced to sit behind a barrier.

  18. I have no doubts about his scholarship. Having said that most Scholars – who stop at Alim course – DO NOT GET AUTHORITY / R NOT CAPABLE of giving Fatwa. It is just like – a General Doctor – trying to do surgery or heart angiogram – he will create huge problems. I think it will be useful to know qualifications of anyone who gives Fatwa to say the least. Would u or anyone else not want to know qualification / training of the Doctor u go to get cure of your diseases medically – same analogy applies to spiritual healers called Mufti in our Deen. Now this is my basic understanding Sir – pls help me understand more . Will appreciate your guidance – I am sure Brother Muzaamil can respond as well. I have high regard for him but facts need to be known. Jazakallah.

  19. If the Mufti course is not properly supervised and syllabi doctored with – unfortunately – the product of that institution will be ‘suspect’ . Do u think Doctor from Harvard would be same as from a medical college in Montana ? Who would u go to get treatment? Dont under value the correct Scholarly course and correct Scholars. There is no 1 year Mufti course at any reputable institution in the world where higher islamic studies in its classic form is taught.
    With many Pseudo Maulvi’s and Mufti’s as products of sub standard institutions, one can get any fatwa of your liking . Understanding of the Deen cannot just come by self study otherwise no medical school will be needed in this day and age as all syllabi are available digitally – same rules apply for attaining supremacy and correct understanding of higher knowledge of Deen. Dont undervalue this knowledge which would be the gateway to the everlasting life of AKhira.

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