Islamic periodicals and Islamic law: the case of gender segregation

By Aaron Rock-Singer

The opening essay of this series provided an overview of the pros and cons of studying Islamic law from the perspective of varied media sources, with a particular focus on Islamic print media and its internal dynamics of authority. This essay, derived from my recent book, In the Shade of the Sunna: Salafi Piety in the 20th-Century Middle East, expands on the value of Islamic periodicals to the study of Islamic law through the prism of Salafī debates over gender segregation.

A story of gender segregation that did not consider periodicals would likely begin with a text such as ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Bāz’s (d. 1999) al-Tabarruj wa Khaṭar Mushārakat al-Marʾa li-l-Rajul fī Maydān ʿAmalih (Cairo, Egypt: Maktabat al-Salām, 1980).  In this pamphlet, originally published in Egypt in 1980 by a now-defunct Islamic publishing house, Maktabat al-Salām, this leading Saudi Salafī scholar made a novel textual claim: that the Qur’ānic injunction against “flaunting” (al-tabarruj, Q. 33:33) refers not to individual female conduct but rather to “gender mixing” (al-ikhtilāṭ). And, were we to focus solely on such a text or on the canonization of the prohibition against gender mixing in longer legal works, we might assume that such a position reflected the inevitable result of a particular hermeneutical approach.

Let us begin with the origins of Ibn Bāz’s interpretive stance. In March 1974, he first sought to link flaunting and gender mixing in the Kuwaiti Islamist magazine, al-Mujtamaʿ, arguing that flaunting leads to “fornication and obscenities” (al-zināʾ waʾl-fawāḥish), including gender mixing (ikhtilāṭ al-jinsayn).[1] Ibn Bāz would only take the leap to arguing that flaunting was equivalent to gender mixing four years later in a lengthy article published in the journal of the Islamic University of Medina. In this piece, Ibn Bāz sought to provide a textual justification for separating men and women in both educational and professional environments through recourse to Q. 33:33. Specifically, he argued: “the meaning of the prohibition against flaunting is a prohibition against mixing”  (nahyhā ʿan al-tabarruj maʿnahu: al-nahy ʿan al-ikhtilāṭ).[2] Then, just a few months later, Ibn Bāz published a revised version of this article, serialized in three parts, in Anṣār al-Sunna al-Muḥammadiyya’s official journal al-Tawḥīd (the successor to al-Hadī al-Nabawī), repeating the conflation of flaunting and mixing.[3]

If periodicals provide a persuasive basis for looking beyond an interpretive approach in understanding the origins of gender segregation within Salafism, then what other influences on Islamic legal development might these same periodicals help us uncover? Zooming out conceptually, the core issue at stake in this legal debate is that of women’s public presence, a concern shared by Salafī thinkers such as Niʿmat Sidqī (d. 1977), who understood flaunting as a question of individual female conduct throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Sidqī is often depicted as published her pamphlet on tabarruj in 1971, and her vision of female modesty is thus contextualized within the changing religious winds of post-1967 Egypt. [4] Yet, close attention to periodicals reveals that parts of it were first serialized in two leading Salafī journals in Egypt and Syria (al-Hadī al-Nabaī and al-Tamaddun al-Islāmī), respectively, beginning in the 1940s.[5] Moreover, advertisements in Anṣār al-Sunna al-Muḥammadiyya’s journal, al-Hadī al-Nabawī, reveal that a full edition of this text was published in Cairo by this organization’s publishing house, Matbaʿat al-Sunna al-Muḥammadiyya, in 1951 only to return to print in the early 1970s.[6] Islamic periodicals thus enable us to reconsider the origins and core concerns of this second key text.

This alternative dating also enables us to understand Salafī concern with public conduct within the broader context of Jamāl ʿAbd al-Nāṣīr’s (d. 1970) project of secular nationalism generally, and state feminism in particular. In her fascinating study of gender in ʿAbd al-Nāṣīr’s Egypt, Laura Bier argued that the project of state feminism posited women as both objects and agents of development.[7] While state feminism rejected sartorial veiling (e.g. the ḥijāb or niqāb), it trumpeted the “veiling of conduct” as a solution to the sexual tensions of a mixed gender workplace.[8] Put differently, looking back to the 1950s and 1960s enables us to see that Salafī calls for female self-regulation through both individual comportment and gender segregation – and its linkage to the broader moral fate of society – are ideological cousins of a secular-nationalist project that posited women’s public presence as a key marker of the success or failure of a secular nationalist public sphere.

Islamic periodicals also enable us to identify key drivers of interpretive change external to the Islamic legal tradition. Specifically, the call by Saudi and Egyptian Salafīs alike for gender segregation – and the welcome that Ibn Bāz found in a leading Egyptian Salafī periodical – can only be understood within the context of state-sponsored modernization efforts, specifically the expansion of female education and employment. Such developments, however, are not specific to the 1970s and here, again, Islamic periodicals cast light on the specific challenges faced by Salafī elites in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, respectively. In the Egyptian case, Salafīs sought to compete with a variety of other Islamic movements, including the Islamic Student Movement and Muslim Brotherhood, for the mantle of public piety under the rule of Anwar al-Sādāt (d. 1981). By contrast, Saudi Salafī scholars, working as a minority within a Wahhābī-Ḥanbalī majority, were in the position of needing to justify prior gender segregation efforts by the late doyen of the Saudi religious establishment, Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm (d. 1969). Ibn Ibrāhīm, as a traditionalist scholar committed to the Ḥanbalī madhhab, could more easily justify gender segregation through appeal to the “objectives of the Sharīʿa” (maqāṣid al-sharīʿa).[9] As a Salafī scholar, by contrast, Ibn Bāz was in need of explicit proof texts from the Qur’ān and Sunna, hence the latter’s unusual interpretation of Q. 33:33.

The abbreviated story that I have outlined here centers on a key methodological question: what can the use of periodicals add to the study of Islamic law generally and Islamic law and society in particular? Calls for gender segregation among Salafī scholars in 1970s Egypt and Saudi Arabia cannot be understood primarily from the prism of a particular interpretive tradition due to the novelty of the conflation of flaunting and mixing. Neither can they be understood as a reflection of a distinctly Salafī logic – what one might call a “literalist approach” – because the absence of explicit proof texts on this topic in the Qur’ān and Sunna makes a literalist interpretive approach difficult if not impossible for Salafīs. Yet, if we were to solely focus on Ibn Bāz’s 1980 pamphlet on co-education and employment, we would have little knowledge of the political, social and economic drivers of this position’s emergence in the 1970s and it would be easy to assume that Salafīs simply had long embraced a rather unusual interpretation of flaunting. Similarly, one could have quite reasonably assumed that Niʿmat Sidqī’s pamphlet, al-Tabarruj, was a reaction to the questions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, rather than the product of longer debate within Salafī circles that was reprinted as a pamphlet in 1971.

My focus on periodicals as a source for Islamic legal development stands in contrast with the standard focus of scholars of Islamic legal historians on the multi-volume fiqh texts and fatwā collections. Yet, as I hope to have shown in brief form in this essay, and have explored in more detail in my recent book, it is not possible to fully understand the origins and development of Salafī legal thought without use of such periodicals, a dynamic which I would suggest is also true of other Islamic reformist movements.


[1] “Liqāʾāt al-Mujtamaʿ,” al-Mujtamaʿ, 7 Jumādā al-Ūlā 1394/28 March 1974, 15-18.

[2] Ibn Bāz, “Khaṭar Mushārakat al-Marʾa li-l-Rajul fī Maydān ʿAmalih,” Majallat al-Jāmiʿa al-Islāmiyya bi-Madīna al-Munawwara, Spring 1398/Spring 1978, 15:334-46, at 15:346.

[3] ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Bāz, “Khatar Musharakat al-Marʾa li-l-Rajul fi Maydan ʿAmalih,” al-Tawhīd, Ramaḍān 1398/August 1978, 14.

[4] Ellen Anne McLarney, Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), 13.

[5] Aaron Rock-Singer, In the Shade of the Sunna: Salafi Piety in the 20th-Century Middle East (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2022), 142. Cf. ibid., 21.

[6] “al-Tabarruj,” al-Hadī al-Nabawī, Rajab 1370/April 1951, 51.

[7] Laura Bier, Revolutionary Womanhood: Feminisms, Modernity, and the State in Nasser’s Egypt (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 24-25.

[8] Ibid., 92.

[9] Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm, Fatāwā wa Rasāʾil li-Samāḥat al-Shaykh Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm, ed. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qāṣim (Mecca, Saudi Arabia: Matbaʿat al-Ḥukūma 1399), 10:35-41.

(Suggested Bluebook citation: Aaron Rock-Singer, Islamic periodicals and Islamic law: the case of gender segregation, Islamic Law Blog (Feb. 16, 2023),

(Suggested Chicago citation: Aaron Rock-Singer, “Islamic periodicals and Islamic law: the case of gender segregation,” Islamic Law Blog, February 16, 2023,

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