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Elevators and Impermissible Seclusion (khalwa)

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
Translated by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher

If a man and a woman are alone in an elevator when moving between floors of a buliding, does this constitute unlawful seclusion (khalwa)? 
The amount of time that they are alone with one another is normally extremely small, especially when moving between a small number of floors, and especially in the West, where elevators move rapidly between floors. Another factor that is important to keep in mind is that it is impossible to predict when the elevator will stop and accept another passenger. This unpredictability reduces the feeling of “safe and uninterrupted seclusion”, making it less likely that the two passengers will commit anything unlawful in the elevator.
Please keep in mind that many buildings in the West are extremely tall, making it difficult to walk up the stairs to one’s home or place of work if one’s lives or works on a high floor. Please also keep in mind that one may initially get on an elevator with many men and women, only to find towards the higher floors that all the passengers have disembarked except a single unrelated member of the opposite sex. For one to disembark on a floor in the middle of the building and then get another elevator is also difficult.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The Default Ruling

The definition of impermissible seclusion (khalwa) is: for an unrelated man and woman to gather in a place where it is normally possible for them to engage in indecency, even if this indecency is of a lower degree than actual intercourse, such as kissing, looking at what is unlawful to look at, or touching.
Based on this definition, it appears to this needy soul that for a man and a woman to be alone in a modern elevator does constitute impermissible seclusion, even if the seclusion only lasts a short time. This is because during the short time it takes to travel between floors, it is not possible to open the door [h: and the two are hence guaranteed this duration of seclusion], and it is possible for them to engage in an act of indecency that is of a lower degree than actual intercourse [h: such as kissing or touching]. 
If, however, the elevator is made of glass and is in a public area through which many people pass (as is often the case), then for a man and a woman to be alone in it is not impermissible.
The Exceptional Circumstance
As for the hardship that the questioner has mentioned, what I say about it–seeking the help of my Lord that He guide me to what is correct–is that the default ruling is what has been mentioned above. Allah Most High has, however, said, “He has not placed any hardship for you in your religion.” (22:78) Based on this [h: and also based on a number of related issues mentioned by our scholars in classical manuals of Islamic Law], getting on an elevator with an unrelated member of the opposite sex will be permissible if the following conditions are met:
(1) The need that needs to be fulfilled by getting on the elevator must be a significant need. [1] 
(2) There must be no other way to fulfill the need other than getting on an elevator with an unrelated member of the opposite sex to reach the place that one needs to get to. [2]
(3) Not getting on the elevator must result in either (a) losing the opportunity to fulfill the need, or (b) climbing many flights of stairs, such that this would be commonly acknowledged as posing a hardship. [3]
(4) One must have confidence in one’s own ability to restrain one’s gaze and to avoid falling into temptation.
And Allah Most High knows best, and to Him is the final return.

Amjad Rasheed

Translator’s Notes
[1] Getting on an elevator to reach a coffee shop where one plans to relax, for example, would not constitute a “significant need,” but getting on the elevator to meet an important work-related appointment would.
[2] If there is an alternative permissible route whose traversal does not pose great hardship, then it would be obligatory to take that route. 
[3] If one only has to climb a single flight of stairs, and one is not handicapped in any way, then it would be obligatory to take the stairs instead of the elevator.
السؤال: هل يعتبر اجتماع المرأة و الرجل في الأسونسر (المصعد الكهربائي الذي هو مثل الغرفة الصغيرة يصعد وينـزل) خلوة محرمة نظراً إلى أن مدة الاجتماع تكون قليلة جداً خصوصاً في الغرب حيث تكون سرعة الصعود و النـزول عالية جداً، و نظراً إلى أنه قد يقف المصعدُ في أيِّ وقت لإركاب شخصٍ آخرَ مما يجعل الشخصين على خطرٍ دائمٍ في أن يدخل عليهما شخصٌ آخر، و نظراً إلى أن كثيراً من البنايات في الغرب عالية جداً يصعب الصعودُ إلى الدار أو العمل من غير هذا المصعد، ويكثر الطارقون جداً و يصعب ركوبُه من طابق إلى طابق من غير هذه الخلوة في وقت من الأوقات لعدم ضبط مَن يركبُ ومن ينـزل في طابق من الطوابق؟
الجواب: ضابط الخلوة الحرمة هو: اجتماع رجل وامرأة أجنبيين في مكان يمكنُ فيه وقوعُ الفاحشة عادةً ولو دون الجماع كتقبيل ونظر ومسٍّ، فالذي يظهر للفقير في اجتماعهما في المصعد المعروف أنه خلوةٌ محرمةٌ ولو قصر زمنُ سيره؛ لما لا يخفى من أنه في فترة سيره بين كلِّ طابق لا يمكن فتح بابه مما قد يمكن فيه وقوع ما دون الجماع، نعم إن كان المصعدُ مكشوفاً كمصعد الزجاج المعروف اليوم في بعض البلاد فلا يعدُ اجتماعهما فيه خلوة إن كان في محلٍّ مطروق؛ أي: يكثر داخلوه بحيثُ نأمن وقوع الفاحشة عادةً.
أما بالنسبة لما ذكره السائل من وقوع مشقة ونحوها، فالذي أقوله مستعيناً بربِّي على الهداية للصواب: الأصل في الحكم هو ما سمعته من التحريم، لكن يقول الله تعالى :(وما جعل عليكم في الدين من حرج) فإذا كان للشخص حاجةٌ لها وقعٌ يتوقفُ حصولها على الركوب في المصعد مع أجنبية للوصول إلى المكان الذي يقصده لذلك، والحالُ أنه إن لم يفعل هذا فاتته تلك الحاجةُ أو كان في تركِ الركوب في المصعد وارتقاءِ السُّلَّم مشقةٌ عرفاً جاز له الركوب مع الأجنبية إن كان يأمن على نفسه الفتنة ويقدرُ على غضِّ البصر ونحوه، والله أعلم بالصواب وإليه المرجع والمآب. 

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