It is a matter of interpretation of the word
ella (إلا) from the original text of the hadith:
لاَ يَخْلُوَنَّ رَجُلٌ بِامْرَأَةٍ إِلاَّ وَمَعَهَا ذُو مَحْرَمٍ
ella in the Arabic language can be used as an exception word (
estethna'), or as a restrictive or limiting word (
qasr). In this hadith, it is a command not to do an act (negation, command) except when certain conditions are fulfilled (restriction). This means the word
ella is used in its conceptual restrictive form.
In other words, the hadith is saying it is absolutely restricted and not allowed under any condition for a man to be alone with a woman, and that a woman needs to have a Mahram with her when meeting a non-Mahram.
يخلون is a strong form of the command
يخلو (being alone with). The word
لا is a negation (means
Note also that there is a scholarly difference of opinions about:
- What constitutes not being alone: If there is a third person, man or
woman, would that negate being alone in a religious interpretation
of the word (of course, not the linguistic meaning of the word)?
- Which mahrams are qualified (e.g., can the woman bring her baby
brother and then this would be considered as not being alone)?
For further explanation on the classifications of the use of the word
ella, please refer to the brief summary below.
Ella as an exception
Ella acts as exception of what follows it (the exception) from what precedes it (the general basis), and can be an affirmation or a negation (based on common attributes of the general basis and the exception). For example:
Qur'an 2:249: فَشَرِبُوا مِنْهُ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِنْهُمْ
This verse (affirmation) means the majority of the Israelites drank from the river, except very few. The general basis for comparison is the drinking, and the exception is not drinking.
Quran 43:67: الْأَخِلَّاءُ يَوْمَئِذٍ بَعْضُهُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ
This verse (affirmation) means that on Judgment Day, the close friends will become enemies to each other, except the ones who are righteous and fear Allah. The basis is the enmity, and the exception to having this enmity is the righteous people.
Qur'an 4:66: وَلَوْ أَنَّا كَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ أَنِ اقْتُلُوا
أَنْفُسَكُمْ أَوِ اخْرُجُوا مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ مَا فَعَلُوهُ إِلَّا
This verse (negation) means that if Allah had decreed upon the Israelites to kill themselves or abandon their homes, they would not have done it (negation) except for a few of them. The basis is disobedience to the command (killing themselves or abandoning their homes), and the exception is the group that obeys.
In all of the above cases, the general basis precedes
ella, then the exception follows it, with the basis for comparison being attribute(s) mentioned in the preceding phrase(s).
Ella as restrictive or limiting
ella is used as a restrictive or limiting word, it is always preceded by a negation (نفى), a command not to do something (نهى), or a question (إستفهام). The exception does not have common attributes between what precedes
ella and what follows it. For example:
Qur'an 4:171: يَاأَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ وَلَا
تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْحَقَّ
In this verse (command form), Allah warns people of the scripture not to exaggerate in their religion and not to say anything about Allah except the truth. This is restriction: Limit what you say about Allah to being exclusively the truth.
Qur'an 5:99: مَا عَلَى الرَّسُولِ إِلَّا الْبَلَاغُ وَاللَّهُ
يَعْلَمُ مَا تُبْدُونَ وَمَا تَكْتُمُونَ
This verse (negation form) means that the responsibility of the messenger is restricted to (or limited to) notification. The word
ella (except) is used in this case to express a restriction in responsibility, not an exception to what precedes it.
Qur'an 46:35: كَأَنَّهُمْ يَوْمَ يَرَوْنَ مَا يُوعَدُونَ لَمْ
يَلْبَثُوا إِلَّا سَاعَةً مِنْ نَهَارٍ بَلَاغٌ فَهَلْ يُهْلَكُ إِلَّا
In this verse (negation and question), Allah describes what the disbelievers will feel on Judgment Day — had not remained (negation) in the world except an hour of a day, and does any get destroyed (question) except those who defy and disobey.
The restrictive forms can be either conceptual (قصر حقيقى) or contextual (قصر إضافى). In conceptual restrictions, the restriction applies at all times, e.g., if one says there is no creator from nothing except Allah, this is a negation that limits the ability to create from nothing to Allah and no one else. In the case of a contextual restriction, if one says the responsibility of the messenger is restricted to notification, this is applicable to the matter of adoption of the religion (the messenger is responsible to notify, but is not responsible that those notified obey or follow). The messenger is obviously responsible for many matters other than notification: praying, fasting, supporting his family, visiting the sick, etc.