The Shari'ah has placed restrictions on men meeting strange women privately. Similarly no man other than her husband is allowed to touch any part of a woman's body. The following traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are worth noting in this connection:
"Beware that you do not call on women who are alone," said the Messenger of Allah. One of the Companions asked, "O Messenger of Allah, what about the younger or the elder brother of the husband?" The Prophet replied, "He is death." (Tirmidhi, Bukhari and Muslim)
"Do not call on women in the absence of their husbands, because Satan might be circulating in any of you like blood." (Tirmidhi).
According to 'Amr ibn al-'As, the Prophet forbade men to call on women without the permission of their husbands. (Tirmidhi)
"From this day no man is allowed to call on a woman in the absence of her husband unless he is accompanied by one or two other men." (Tirmidhi)
The Prophet said,
"The one who touches the hand of a woman without having a lawful relationship with her, will have an ember placed on his palm on the Day of Judgment." (Takmalah, Fath alQadir)
'A'ishah says that the Prophet accepted the oath of allegiance from women only verbally, without taking their hands into his own hand. He never touched the hand of a woman who was not married to him (Bukhari). Umaimah, daughter of Ruqaiqah, said that she went to the Prophet in the company of some other women to take the oath of allegiance. He made them promise that they would abstain from idolatry, stealing, adultery, slander, and disobedience to the Prophet. When they had taken the oath, they requested that he take their hands as a mark of allegiance. The Prophet said, "I do not take the hands of women. Verbal affirmation is enough." (Nasa'i and Ibn Majah).
According to Maulana Maududi these commandments apply in respect of young women. He says, "It is lawful to sit with women of advanced age in privacy and touching them is also not prohibited. It has been reported that Sayyiduna Abu Bakr used to visit the clan where he had been suckled and shook hands with the old women. It has been reported that Sayyidina 'Abdullah ibn Zubair used to have his feet and head pressed gently for relief by an old woman. This distinction between old and young women itself shows that the real object is to prevent such mixing of the sexes as may lead to evil results.''
It is most unfortunate, however, that in spite of this guidance from the Prophet (peace be upon him) many Muslims have adopted the Western system of shaking hands with women, using these traditions in respect of old women as a justification. This is clearly an unreasonable extension of the permission. It is, therefore, submitted that the Muslims the world over, and 'ulama in particular, must pause to reflect and stop this un-Islamic practice which has crept into our society. There cannot be a better form of greeting than uttering 'as-salamu 'alaikum ' (peace be upon you) and greeting back with 'wa alaikum as-salam '(and peace be upon you too).
The Shari'ah wants people to live in their houses in peace and privacy. It therefore commands a Muslim, when visiting friends, relatives or strangers not to enter their houses without seeking their permission. The Qur'an particularly forbids him to enter their houses without alerting the women of the house so that he does not surprise them in a condition in which he would not normally see them. However, children do not have to seek such permission until they reach the age of puberty and sexual awareness stirs in them:
When your children attain puberty, they should ask for leave before entering the house, just as their elders asked it before them... (24:58)
The Holy Qur'an also gives categories of people who should not enter anybody else's house without permission:
O believers! Do not enter houses other than your own until you have taken permission; and when you enter a house, greet the people therein with salutation. (33:33)
At the beginning of Islam, the Arabs could not grasp the real significance of these commands. Therefore they used to peep into houses from the outside. Once when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in his room, a person peeped through the lattice. The Prophet said:
"If I had known that you were peeping, I would have poked something into your eye. The command to ask permission has been given to safeguard people against the evil look." (Bukhari) Then the Prophet publicly announced: "If a person peeps into somebody else's house without permission the people of the house will be justified if they injure his eye." (Muslim)
No matter how urgent the need is, no-one is allowed to enter anyone else's house without permission. The Qur'an says:
...and when you ask women for an article, ask for it from behind a curtain; this is a purer way for your hearts and theirs. (33:53)
These restrictions also apply to household servants. Once Bilal or Anas asked Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet, to hand him her child. She handed it to him by stretching her hand from behind a curtain. It is noteworthy that both these men were the personal attendants of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and he used to affectionately address them as "Ya Bunayya" (O my son). The real purpose behind those restrictions is to safeguard men and women against evil inclinations. By keeping a safe distance between them, the Shari'ah ensures that they do not grow too familiar and free with one another which may make them drift towards sexual intimacy.
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