Working Women and the Concept of non-Mahrams
Social Issues
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr Farhad Shafti

Islam, as taught to us in childhood and afterward, puts strict restrictions on working and mixing with non-Mahrams. What are the real facts and teachings of Islam regarding that?


(For the benefit of the readers: According to the verse 24:31 , there are certain men who are considered to be very close to a woman, to the extent that the woman may wear a more relaxed cloth in their presence and be more relaxed when interacting with them. Anyone other than these men are called non-Mahrams by some Muslim societies).

I can assure you that there are no strict restrictions on working women outside and mixing with other men. This is a concept that has been developed among Muslims gradually, and only after the demise of the Prophet (sws), for various reasons. When you read the history and note how some Muslim women were active outdoors at the time of the Prophet (sws) you may agree with me that it seems like some Muslims at our time are more sensitive about gender interaction, compared to our beloved Prophet (sws)!

All the limits on women that have been prescribed by the sharī‘ah or have been advised by the Prophet (sws), are due to one or the combination of the following considerations:

a. Safeguarding the status of the family (e.g. the ruling of the Qur’ān about women in principle being obedient to their husband).

b. Safeguarding the moral values in the society (e.g. the verse that instructs women to only display those ornaments that are normally revealed when in the presence of a stranger).

c. Keeping women out of danger and humiliation (e.g. the verses of the Qur’ān about a particular situation that emerged in Medina, resulting in advising women at the time to cover up themselves in order to be recognized – obviously this also relates to the aforementioned considerations – or the Prophet (sws) –advising women not to travel without a Mahram, as this was not safe at the time).

As long as the above considerations are fulfilled there are no issues (in terms of gender interaction) about women working outside.

Many Arab women used to work and be active both economically and socially before Islam. No directives of the Qur’ān and no instructions of the Prophet (sws) forbade them from continuing to do so.

I very briefly mention some of the examples of women from among the female companions of the Prophet (sws) who used to work alongside men:

Samrah bint Nahik al-Asadiyah (rta), a female companion of the Prophet (sws) used to act as an inspector for businesses at the time of the Prophet. She used to walk in the shopping areas of the city of Madīnah and advise people to be good and avoid evil with regard to their work. She had a whip with which she would warn people.

In his book, Al-Radd Al-Mufhim, Imām Albānī refers to her and other active women at the time and then makes an interesting comment. He writes:


هذه وقائع صحيحة تدل دلالة قاطعة على ما كان عليه نساء السلف من الكمال والسماحة والتربية الصحيحة حتى استطعن أن يقمن بما يجب عليهن من التعاون على الخير

These are authentic incidents that firmly prove the state of the women of salaf (i.e. era of the companions and their followers) in terms of their perfection and magnanimity and good upbringing to the extent that they were capable of doing what they had to do in contribution to good causes.1


We know the name of some of the female companions of the Prophet (pbuh) who used to work and carry out businesses at the time, for example Umm al-Munzar bint Qays (rta) used to sell dates while Asma bint Mukhribah ibn Jundal (rta) used to buy perfume from Yemen and sell it in Madīnah. Umm al-Mu’minīn Zaynab bint Jahsh (rta) used to make handicrafts, then she would sell them and give the money to the charity. We also know that Umm al-Mu’minīn Khadijah (rta) was a business woman.

Apart from the above examples of working women, many of the female companions and the members of Ahl al-Bayt used to be present in the battles to support men. Some of these women would occasionally get involved in the battles as well like Umm ‘Umārah and Nusaybah bint Ka‘b.

I can assure you that if legally women could not work outside, then none of the above would have happened. I can also assure you that if some of the baseless limitations that some Muslims today impose on women were applied at the time of the Prophet (sws) again none of the above would have taken place.

Nadhīrah Zayn Al-Dīn (d. 1976) who is a female Muslim scholar from Lebanon wrote a very thought provoking and scholarly book on the status of women in Islam and challenged the baseless views on seclusion of women. She gives a number of examples of women participating in outdoor and social activities in the early days of Islam. The title of the book is Al-Sufūr wa al-hijāb. In agreeing with her views, ‘Abd al-Halīm Abū Shiqqah (b. 1924) writes in Tahrīr al-mar’ah fi ‘asr al-risālah (The Freedom of Women during the Time of the Prophet):

Through my study of the time of the Prophet I found texts and sayings of the Prophet which show women acting in all kinds of professions in total difference to what we see, understand and interpret today. This great discrepancy explained to me why so many women got away from [Islam] because it simply deprived them of the rights of life; that is why I felt it my duty to free the women from the habits and rules of jāhiliyyah which are mistakenly thought to be Islamic.2


The above is my view of the subject from the religious point of view. I do think that in principle and in balance it fits better for men to take care of the responsibilities outside [of home] while women taking care of the responsibilities inside [home]. However this by no means should be seen as a law, it is not always possible in our current economic system and I do not make this statement as a restricting statement.

I end this answer with a verse of the Qur’ān that itself shows that both women and men are responsible for their social duties (which by the same token would indicate the permissibly of women taking care of matters outside their homes):


وَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ  يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَ يَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَوةَ وَ يُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَوةَ وَ يُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَ رَسُولَهُ  أُوْلَئكَ سَيرَحَمُهُمُ الله إِنَّ الله عَزِيزٌ حَكِيم (9: 71)

And the believing men and the believing women, they are guardian friends for each other They enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor rate, and obey God and His Messenger These, God will show mercy to them Surely, God is the Mighty, the Wise. (9:71)









1. Muhammad Nāsir al-Dīn al-Albānī, Al-Radd al-Mufhim, vol 1 (Amman: Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyah, 2000), 155.

2. Shaaban, Bouthaina, The Muted Voices of Women Interpreters. in Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World, Afkhami, M. ( NY: Syracuse Publishers, 1995), 74.

For Questions on Islam, please use our