Misconception: Women confined to houses
Background: Some think that in Islam a woman’s place is in the home and they are not allowed outside or without the permission of their husbands or male family members. Some also think that women should not be allowed out by themselves unless chaperoned.
The Quran has several examples in which women are able to go freely and be amongst the community. The most clear example are in the references to Mary, some of which are shown below:
And relate in the Scripture Mary, when she withdrew herself from her family to a place which was to the east. [19:16]
So she was pregnant with him, and she retired to a far place. [19:22]
“So eat and drink and be happy. If you see any person, then Say: “I have made a vow of abstention for the Almighty, and I will not talk today to any person.”
Then she came to her people carrying him. They said: “O Mary, you have come with something totally unexpected!”
The above verses prove beyond doubt that she was alone in a location where it was possible other people may have met her, and then she returned to her people.
The example of Mary is very important because The Quran gives her a special status:
And when the angels said: O Mary! surely God has chosen you and purified you and selected you above the women of all the beings. [3:42]
The Quran also gives an example in which believing women were allowed to be amongst the community even in times of hostility:
And those who harm the believing men and the believing women, with no just reason, shall bear the guilt of slander and an evident crime.
O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they should lengthen upon themselves their outer garments. That is better so that they would be recognized and not harmed. God is Forgiver, Merciful.
If the hypocrites, and those with disease in their hearts and those who spread lies in the city do not refrain, then We will let you overpower them, then they will not be able to remain as your neighbours except for a short while.
Women were also free to petition and interact with the prophet directly (who would have been the leader of the community at the time):
God has heard the woman who pleads with you regarding her husband, and she complained to God. And God hears the argument between you. God is Hearer, Seer. [58;1]
O you prophet, if the believing women come to make allegiance to you that they will not set up anything beside God, nor steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill their children, nor fabricate any falsehood, nor disobey you in any matter which is righteous, then you shall accept their allegiance, and ask God to forgive them. God is Forgiver, Merciful. [60:12]
There is also an example in which an engaged couple may meet in secret if they have something righteous to discuss:
And there is no sin upon you if you openly propose marriage to these women, or you keep it between yourselves. God knows that you will be thinking of them, but do not meet them secretly, unless you have something righteous to discuss… [2:235]
There is also a clear example in The Quran of Moses speaking to two unmarried women in public, one of whom he married later:
And when he came to the water of Madyan, he found on it a group of men watering, and he found besides them two women keeping back (their flocks). He said: What is the matter with you? They said: We cannot water until the shepherds take away (their sheep) from the water, and our father is a very old man. So he watered (their sheep) for them, then went back to the shade and said: My Sustainer! surely I stand in need of whatever good Thou may send down to me. Then one of the two women came to him walking bashfully. She said: My father invites you that he may give you the reward of your having watered for us… [28:23-25]
Also see 48:25 and 2:187.