THERE USED TO BE PURDAH…
In the Muslim world, houses were divided into two parts: "harem" and "selamlik." The "selamlik" was the area where the house's man received male guests, and women were not allowed to enter. The "harem" was the section where women lived, and only the house's male occupants were allowed to enter and spend the night. Not even a male fly is allowed in this area. Regarding a woman who said, "My brother-in-law visits our home," the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, "A close relative is like death." Hâlid Ziya's novel "Aşk-ı Memnu" (Forbidden Love) was written to highlight this danger.
Purdah (Turkish "Kaçgöç" - keeping women from being seen by men they are not related to, by having them stay in a separate part of the house) began at the doors of houses. The larger knocker, which produced a deep sound, was for men, and the smaller one that produced a high-pitched sound was for the women. This way, it was understood who had arrived. The Prophet Muhammad ordered that when visiting a house, one should knock on the door, and it was advised to stand to the side at the door, considering the possibility of women coming to the door.
When walking on the street, women and men used to walk on separate paths; women would wait without crossing in front of a walking man. When entering or exiting a place, they would do so separately. During family visits, men would be entertained in the "selamlik," while women would sit comfortably in the "harem" and have relaxed conversations. In a way, this provided freedom and comfort to women. It's astonishing to see that even in modern societies, men and women tend to form separate groups after a while.
Rotten Cherry-Colored Baize Curtain
Women were not often summoned to court; a judge, along with a clerk, would go to her home to take her statement. Women didn't often go to the market; all their needs were provided by the man of the house. Items like clothes and shoes were bought with alternatives, and the woman would choose what she liked. When it was necessary to go out, women wearing a pharaja (a long coat) and veil would be accompanied by a burly eunuch or a male servant. Even if flirtatious individuals attempted to send messages from a distance during outings, they would feel the presence of the police breathing down their necks.
Muslim ladies couldn't appear on stage; this job was done by non-Muslim women. For women, seaside baths were separated by wooden curtains, and guards on boats circled around to prevent curious men from getting close. In elementary schools, girls sat on the right, boys on the left; they left the classroom in intervals without mingling. There were middle schools and high schools exclusively for girls. In universities, girls sat at the back, boys at the front; a thick curtain was drawn in between, and their entrances and exits were separate.
In parks, tea gardens, restaurants, theaters, trams, and ferries, even if they were husband and wife, women and men used to sit separately. Children could be used to deliver messages if necessary. Blind elderly guards would be at the entrance of tea gardens; men or women could send messages inside through them.
In theaters, separate sessions were organized for women. In trams, there used to be special carriages for women initially. Later, due to expenses, they were removed, and the front section for women was separated by a rotten cherry-colored baize curtain. [To prevent harassment, in 2005 Japan, 2007 Egypt, 2009 India, and 2010 Israel implemented separate carriages for women.]
Times Have Changed
In the past, there was a practice of purdah among Orthodox Christians in Europe, as well. Later, it began to be abandoned under the imposition of Tsar Peter the Great. Pushkin references this in his story "Arap Petra Velikogo" (The Arab of Peter the Great). In recent times, influenced by Europe, some families had also abandoned the practice of purdah in the Ottoman Empire. After the declaration of the Second Constitutional Era, purdah began to slacken. Since men were on the front lines in battles, women started to take on their roles. Although Istanbul Municipality allowed mixed seating in Gülhane Park, Enver Pasha issued a decree to prohibit it. The die had been cast by then.
The Republic heralded a new era. During his visit to Adana in 1923, a group of ladies invited President Mustafa Kemal's wife, Latife Hanım. He said, "Where I am not present, my wife won't be either!" With this, the practice of secluding women in the harem and wearing veils came to an end. In December 1923, curtains on trams were removed. Separate spaces for women in public places were now a thing of the past.
While some resisted this new trend, many stopped resisting and began to embrace it, saying, "If the times have changed, adapt to them." Now, women who wonder why men and women are separated in God's house, while being together at home, in the streets, and at work, somehow do not consider questioning the opposite.
Congregation of Women
Due to the new instructions of religion being conveyed, the Prophet Muhammad initially allowed women to come to the mosque. However, after men formed their rows for prayer, children were commanded to stand behind them, and the Prophet said, "The best rows for men are the first ones, and the best rows for women are the last ones" (Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i). After the congregational prayer, the Prophet used to sit for a while and then stand up to allow women to leave before men (Bukhari, Nasa'i, Abu Dawood).
As Islamic knowledge spread, the Prophet Muhammad no longer wanted his wives to join the congregation in the mosque. When Ummu Humeyd expressed her desire to pray with him, saying, "I love to pray with you, O Messenger of Allah," he replied, "I know, but the prayer you perform in your house is better for you than the prayer you perform in the mosque. The most virtuous prayer for a woman is in the innermost part of her home" (Musnad, Ibn Khuzayma, Ibn Hibban). This lady continued to pray in her house until her passing.
The Prophet Muhammad once said to a group of women he encountered at a funeral, "You came for rewards; return with sins" (Ibn Majah). Hazrat Aisha said, "If the Prophet had seen the practices that women introduced after his time, he would have surely prohibited them just as the women of the Children of Israel were prohibited" (Ibn Abidin).
For this reason, Abdullah ibn Umar once said to the women who came to the mosque for Friday prayer, "O women, if you were to leave from here and return to your homes, it would be better for you" (Tabarani). Friday prayer is not obligatory for women, and congregational prayer is a confirmed Sunnah (sunnah mu'akkadah) just for men.
Imam Abu Hanifa initially allowed very elderly women to attend congregational prayers in the mosque except for the Dhuhr and Asr prayers, considering it permissible, while regarding other prayers as disliked (makruh) for them. However, later, when an elderly woman sought a fatwa from him, he prohibited her from attending the congregation. As times changed for the worse, a consensus (ijma) emerged among scholars that women should pray at home instead of attending congregational prayers in the mosque (Ibn Abidin).
During the early days of Islam, women used to approach the presence of the Prophet Muhammad and seek advice on religious matters. However, in the sixth year of the Hijra, when the verse of hijab (veiling) was revealed, he stopped meeting with women directly. Instead, he began answering their questions through his wives. This Quranic verse states: "When you ask [his wives] for anything, ask them from behind a veil (curtain). That is purer for your hearts and their hearts." (Al-Ahzab, 53).
Hazrat Muhammad's wife, Ummu Salama, narrated: "Meymuna and I were with the Prophet Muhammad. Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum sought permission to enter, and when the Prophet saw him, he instructed us, 'Draw the veil!' I said, 'He is blind; he cannot see us.' He replied, 'Are you also like that?'" (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawood, Musnad).
For this reason, social life in Islamic history has been organized in this way. In mosques, women have their own separate galleries or sections to worship without mingling with men. Similar arrangements can be found in Jewish synagogues as well as in the churches of Eastern Christian communities like the Armenians and Syrians. While some may criticize this practice as "Umayyad Islam," it is based on the hijab verses and the practices of the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the early Islamic community.
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