Co-Education and Islam

    Question: What does Islam have to say regarding co-education in schools? What are your viewpoints regarding this? Please elaborate on the pros and cons of such a system. Two popular arguments in favor of co-education are:
    1. Coeducation builds confidence in a person and makes him/her a more complete person to live in a real world. In other words, studying in the same-sex education system makes a person lack in self confidence.
    2. Another argument given by the proponents of co-education is that a person’s moral and Islamic values are built at home, thus neither co-education nor same-sex education plays any part in damaging or improving these values.
    My personal argument is against co-education and I say that in co-education environments students have more opportunity and temptations to go astray. They cannot maintain the right etiquette of intermingling as prescribed by the Islamic Shari‘ah, at all times during school hours. Also, students in a co-education school might become more consumed by how they appear or present themselves to the opposite sex as compared to their studies. Please comment.
    Answer: I think you yourself have well described the pros and cons of subjecting students to co-education. I however would like to mention that co-education is not an issue that has specifically been addressed by the Shari‘ah. In other words, what we should keep in mind is the fact that co-education has not categorically been proscribed by the Almighty. However, there is no question about the view that it should be avoided, keeping in view the essence of the Islamic teachings regarding gender interaction and also the dictates of our intuition.
    As far as the arguments in favor of co-education are concerned, I believe that the strongest argument put forth by its proponents, who also have little knowledge about Islam, is the exhortation that Islam has extended to Muslims to allow their women into mosques and let them offer prayer in congregation if they want to. Why on earth should it not be allowed in schools and colleges then? To my mind, this seems to be the strongest of all arguments offered by them since, through this, they manipulate a religious directive in their own favor.
    A little deliberation here will reveal that there is a world of difference between the environment of a mosque and that of a school. In mosques, we indeed have an overwhelming feeling of the presence of the Almighty. Moreover, our intentions to visit and our concept regarding the sanctity of the mosque make a real difference in this respect. In spite of all this, Islam further enjoins certain etiquette to be observed by both Muslim men and women while they are in their Lord’s House. They are never allowed to intermingle freely or sit side by side. Ladies are directed to cover themselves properly and men have been directed to lower their gaze of which they become profoundly aware when they enter the sacred house. Is the situation with schools the same? Of course not. It is for this reason that co-education in schools and colleges must not be extrapolated on the basis of the permission given to women to attend mosques.
    As you have pointed out, the tremendous loss caused by co-education is moral degeneration. The students are completely exposed to the opposite sex. Curiosity plays its role well in this regard. The wrong ideals set by the media and the awful bombardment of immoral images and characters fill the space left out by the germs of curiosity implanted by Satan. This reality coupled with the fact that they are mostly devoid of the supervision of any true and sincere mentor at school in that their teachers themselves do not present their students with a role model of morality, cause the innocent students to fall prey to the deadly predator of sexual impurity.
    Thus, the ideal situation that springs to mind when one takes into consideration the spirit of Islamic teachings and dictates of common sense is that provision of separate class rooms for male and female students is imperative. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to make necessary arrangements in order to realize this end. However, in my opinion, if in a developing country like Pakistan, the government is unable to provide separate classes for both sexes, they must take necessary steps to ensure that morality still plays an important role while deciding the curricular and extra-curricular activities of the institute in question. The underlying reason for this allowance is the stark reality that it is better to have some female doctors educated in an environment of co-education than to have our mothers and sisters be compelled to expose their private parts to male doctors in the time of ailment. Another step that the government must take in this regard is that they should very carefully choose the faculty of their institutes. All the teachers must be an embodiment of the values of decency and goodness. If these measures are taken, I am hopeful that the possibility of going astray will greatly decrease; though those at the helm of the state affairs will still be required to sincerely strive to provide separate campuses to their scholars, as soon as their funds allow them to.

 (Jhangeer Hanif)