When people became Muslim, they were eager to know more about Islam. During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him), he was the only source from which they could learn their faith. They realized that by adopting Islam, they committed themselves to a fundamental change in their life pattern and the way they conducted their affairs. Hence, they went to him asking about everything that occurred to them. Men and women sought his guidance. Therefore, it was not uncommon that they should meet and exchange information, or discuss matters. They found nothing wrong with that. Nor did the Prophet at any time point to any need of separation between men and women. We will cite some examples of this, making clear that such exchanges occurred all the time in the early period of Islam. The first is the case of Asma’ bint Umays. She was visiting Lady Hafsah bint Umar, the Prophet’s wife when she had a bit of an argument with Umar about their relative positions. Asma’ had been among those who emigrated to Abyssinia and stayed there for many years until the Prophet instructed them to come back. She was upset by Umar’s remark and she went to seek clarification from the Prophet.
Abu Musa Al-Ashari reports: When the Prophet came in, she said: “God’s Messenger! Umar has just said, ‘We have had the honor of emigrating with the Prophet before you. We have a better claim than yours to the companionship of God’s Messenger (peace be upon him).’ The Prophet asked her, ‘What was your reply to him?’ She reported her answer in the following words: ‘No, by God. You were with God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) who fed those of you who were hungry and admonished the ignorant, while we were in the land of hostile strangers, staying there only for the sake of God and His Messenger… We were often abused and we were scared.’ The Prophet said: ‘He does not have a better claim to me than you. He and his fellow Muslims have the reward of one emigration, while you, the people of the boat, shall have the reward of two emigrations.’ Asma’ added: ‘Abu Musa and the people who came on the boat from Abyssinia came in groups to see Asma’ and ask her about this Hadith. Nothing in this world gave them more joy and greater happiness than what God’s Messenger said to her.'” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
Amir Al-Shaabi was a famous scholar of the Tabieen generation, which followed that of the Prophet’s companions. He said to Fatimah bint Qays, who was one of the early Muslim women to emigrate: “Tell me a Hadith which you yourself had heard from the Prophet, not reporting it through anyone else.” She said that she could easily do that if she had a mind to it. He insisted and she reported to him the following Hadith: “I heard the caller announcing prayer to be held shortly (which meant that a public meeting would be held). I went out to the mosque and joined the Prophet’s prayer. I was in the women’s row that was immediately behind the men’s rows. When the Prophet finished the prayer, he sat on the pulpit smiling. He said: ‘Let everyone stay where they are. Do you know why I have asked you to come?’ They said: ‘God and His messenger know best.’ He said: ‘I have not asked you to come in order to announce anything pleasant or unpleasant. I only want to tell you that Tameem Al-Dari was a Christian man who came forward and declared himself a Muslim, pledging his loyalty to me. He told me something that was in agreement with what I had told you about the Impostor who would claim to be the Messiah. He said to me that he went on a boat in the sea with thirty people…'” (Related by Muslim.)
The Hadith goes on to report what the Prophet said, but we are now interested only in this first part which makes clear that men and women were equal in seeking knowledge and that they met as they pursued what they wanted. Here Fatimah mentions that she was in the first of women’s rows and listened to the Prophet as he gave them this information.
In fact, the Prophet’s companions did not find it odd that they should seek knowledge from the opposite sex. Tawoos, a famous scholar of the Tabieen generation, reports: “I was with Ibn Abbas when Zayd ibn Thabit said to him: ‘Did you rule that a woman pilgrim who is in her period could leave before she had performed the tawaf of farewell?’ Ibn Abbas said: ‘If you are unsure, then go and ask this Ansari woman (he named her) whether it was God’s messenger who ordered her to do so.’ When Zayd ibn Thabit came back to meet Ibn Abbas he said to him: ‘I see that you have said the truth.'” (Related by Muslim.)
This is just one example of men seeking to learn from women. We mentioned many other examples when we discussed how the Prophet’s companions sought to learn from his wives what he said about different issues. Needless to say, when the Prophet traveled for his pilgrimage, there were many occasions when men and women met and exchanged information, or learned together from the Prophet. Here are three examples, the first of which suggests that the Prophet gave a general order, applying to men and women alike: Lady Ayesha reports: “We went out with the Prophet on his farewell pilgrimage. We all declared our intention to do the Umrah. Then the Prophet announced: ‘Whoever has brought his sacrifice with him should declare their intention to do the pilgrimage and the Umrah together. They must not release themselves from consecration until they had done their duties for both.'” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
Yahya ibn Al-Hussayn quotes his grandmother as saying: “I went out with the Prophet on his farewell pilgrimage. I saw him when he did the stoning at Jamrat Al-Aqabah and then left. He was on his camel, and Bilal and Usamah were with him. One of them was leading the camel and the other holding his robe above the Prophet’s head to shelter him from the sun. The Prophet said many things before I heard him saying: “If a slave whose ears and nose have been cut (and the reporter thought that she described the slave as ‘black’) is appointed your leader and he implements God’s book, then you must listen and obey him.” (Related by Muslim.)
Ibn Abbas reports that “the Prophet met a group of travelers at Al-Rawha’ and asked them who they were. They said: ‘We are Muslims. Who are you?’ He said: ‘I am God’s messenger.’ A woman lifted her baby son and asked him: ‘Can this one perform the pilgrimage?’ He said: ‘Yes, and you earn a reward.'” (Related by Muslim.)