One of the current problematic issues in mosques that give access to women is the excessive sensitivity towards, and sometimes the strict banning of, ordinary interaction between men and women inside the mosque. Interestingly, the same groups of men and women do interact normally and with other men and women in all other contexts of social and professional life.
Referring again to the Sunnah, we find that interaction between men and women in the mosque did exist during the Prophet's time. It was a “normal” interaction that involved various religious and social affairs.
True, some violations were reported in the Sunnah, but they were viewed as individual cases and produced no change in the original rules of interaction between men and women, let alone in the architecture of the mosque itself.
The following hadiths are only a few examples of how men and women interacted in the mosque in the presence of the Prophet (s) as narrated by both male and female companions. They define what we may call a “normal” interaction between men and women in the mosque. The hadiths are clear enough and require no further elaboration.
We mentioned earlier the narration in which Asma, may Allah be pleased with her, recounted:
“I asked a man sitting in front of me, "May Allah bless you, what did the Messenger (s) say concluding his sermon?’ … ”[i1]
Abdul Rahman reported on the authority of Malik from Nafi from Ibn Omar:
“The companions would perform ablution together. Abdul Rahman said, I asked Malik, ‘You mean men and women?’ He replied, ‘Yes’. I further asked, ‘Was this during the lifetime of the Prophet, peace be upon him?’ ‘Yes,’ he affirmed.”
Jabir (r) reported the following incident:
“The Prophet (s) used to stand on a tree trunk while he delivered his sermons. One day, a woman from the Ansar said to him, ‘O Messenger of Allah! One of my servants is a carpenter. Shall I get him to construct a pulpit for you?’ The Prophet (s) responded, ‘Yes’. She did, and the Prophet started using the pulpit. One Friday, while he was delivering a sermon standing on the pulpit, we heard a groaning sound coming out of the tree trunk. The Prophet (s) commented, ‘This trunk is weeping because it misses my standing on it while praising Allah.’’’
Aisha (r) reported,
“How good the women of Al-Ansar are! Their bashfulness never stopped them from asking any type of question about the faith (in the mosque) and acquiring a good understanding of it.”
Abdullah Ibn Mas`ud (r) reported:
“Once the Prophet (s) entered the mosque accompanied by some women from Al-Ansar. He talked with them for a while, and eventually said, ‘Any of you who loses three children will surely be rewarded for her patience by entering Paradise.’ A woman – who was one of the most revered among them – stood up and asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah! What about a woman who loses two children?’ The Prophet said, ‘And a woman who loses two children too.’”
Asma bint Yazid (r) narrated:
“One day, the Messenger of Allah talked to us about Ad-Dhajjal (Anti-Christ), and then a woman said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, how weak we would be in the face of Ad-Dajjal!’ The Prophet said, ‘If he comes out while I am amongst you, I would argue with him, and if he comes out after me, then Allah will take care of every Muslim on my behalf.’”
Abu Hurairah (r) narrated:
“The Messenger of Allah said, ‘Perhaps a man amongst you tells what he did with his wife in their privacy, or a woman tells others what her husband did with her in their privacy?’ A black woman stood up and said, ‘Yes, by Allah, O Messenger of Allah, women do that, and men do that’. He said, ‘Do not do that. It is like a male devil having an intimate act with a female devil on the road while everybody is watching.’”
Aisha (r) narrated:
“Sa`d Ibn Muaz was wounded on the Battle of the Al-Khandaq [The Ditch] … Then, the Prophet (s) set up a tent in the mosque for Sa`d to be able to visit frequently. Commenting on this particular narration, Ibn Hajar stated that: the Messenger of Allah (s) actually let Sa`d stay in Rufaydah’s tent near his mosque. She was known for her skills in treating the wounded. The Prophet said, ‘let Sa`d stay in her tent so that I can visit him from a close distance.’“
The practice of what we call here a “normal interaction” between men and women in the mosque continued throughout the times of thriving in Islamic history. Women continued to voice their opinions freely, including correcting what the imam said.
One example is the story of Omar and the dowries. Omar ascended the Prophet's pulpit when he was caliph, and said to the people, “Why do you go to excess in women's dowries even though during the lifetime of the Prophet, the companions used to pay 400 dirhams or less in dowry? If the increase in the dowries were a sign of piety or honour in the sight of Allah, you would have not surpassed the companions in this regard. So, let me not hear that a man paid a woman a dowry of more than 400 dirhams.” When he descended from the pulpit, a woman from the Tribe of Quraysh (described in another narration as a flat-nosed, tall woman) intercepted him and said, “O Commander of the Believers! Do you forbid the people to pay more than 400 dirhams as women's dowries?” He answered, “Yes”. She replied, “Did you not hear what Allah said in the Quran about dowries?” He wondered, “Which verse do you mean?” She answered, “Did you not hear Allah's saying, ‘if you have given one of the women a qintar (great amount) in gifts, then do not take back from it anything. Would you take it in injustice and manifest sin?’” (4:20). He said, “O Allah, I ask You for pardon! Everybody is more knowledgeable than Omar... The woman was right while the man erred.”
The community of the companions was an outstanding one in human history. Yet, they were not inviolable to mistakes, unlike the Prophet (s). And the companions were not all at the same level of faith. While some were willing to give up their lives for the sake of Islam, others were not willing to give up an unlawful gaze, even in the mosque.
It was reported in a number of authentic sources that Ibn Abbas (r) reported:
“A pretty woman, who was described as one of the most beautiful women, used to perform prayers in the Prophet’s Mosque in the women’s line. Some men used to go into the first row to avoid seeing her, and some others used to lag behind so that they would be in the last row. When the men in the last row bowed, some of them would look behind in order to stare at her. They continued to do that until Allah revealed: ‘And indeed, We know those of you who hasten forward, and indeed, We know those of you who lag behind.’” (15:24).”
Notice here that when some men did that indecent act in the mosque, they were blamed and advised. There is no mention in any narration of any kind of blame that was put on that “pretty woman,” let alone women in general; contrary to what typically happens when a similar incident takes place today. Today, in the name of avoiding mischief (fitnah), it is women who are sent to side rooms or even kicked out of mosques. It is clear, however, that such mistakes at the time of the Prophet (s) had no impact on the rules that he set for the interaction between men and women in the mosque, let alone the design of the mosque itself.
Some argue that allowing such normal interaction will increase the chances of “temptation” between young men and women. The reality is that, in today’s world, young men and women do not come to the mosque, out of all places, to get “tempted” in any wrong way. In fact, there is a real need, recognised by anyone dealing with the youth, to allow young men and women to see and get to know each other, within the rules and regulations of Sharia of course, to facilitate marriage prospects for them.
The Prophet's Sunnah does not teach us to block the means of decent interaction towards marriage, but rather to open these means. It was narrated that Al-Mughirah Ibn Shu`bah told the Prophet (s) that he proposed to marry a woman. The Prophet asked him, “Did you look at her?” He answered, “No”. The Prophet said, “Look at her, for this is more likely to maintain a good relationship between you both.”
If temptation is feared, then the Prophetic way in handling such an issue is gentle advice. Abdullah Ibn Abbas (r) reported a story concerning his brother, Al-Fadl, with the Prophet (s) during pilgrimage:
“The Prophet (s) let Al-Fadl Ibn Abbas ride behind him on his she-camel, on the Day of Nahr [10th of Dhul-Hijja during the Pilgrimage Season]. Al-Fadl was a handsome man. Then, the Prophet stopped to answer people’s questions about pilgrimage. A beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath`am came to ask Allah's Messenger. Attracted by her beauty, Al-Fadl started staring at her. The Prophet looked behind and gently turned Al-Fadl’s face away from her.”
Then, there is no evidence in the Prophet's Sunnah to indicate any difference between women's, or men’s, Islamic dress code in public, and what they should wear during prayers or when they visit the mosque.
It is true that Aisha (r) said:
“May Allah have mercy on the early immigrant women. When the verse ‘they should draw their veils over their bosoms’ (24:31) was revealed, they tore their outer garments and made veils out of them…The believing women used to attend the fajr prayer with Allah's Apostle covered with their veiling sheets, and after finishing the prayer they would return to their homes.” 
However, this Quranic instruction, for the covering of a woman’s ornaments and charms, is for all public places, including mosques, “except for what normally appears” (24:31), as the Quran states.
When it comes to mosques, the Quranic special recommendation is to dress well and to “take adornment” when one goes to the mosque, man or woman. Allah says: “O Children of Adam, take your adornment at every mosque.” (7: 31)
But Islam, being the middle path, encourages believers to take a moderate position between two extremes; the extreme of no adornments whatsoever and the other extreme of taking excessive adornments. This is the balanced conclusion from studying all narrations related to this issue and integrating their meanings in one holistic view.
If we take one form for adornment that has to do with wearing perfumes, we will see from the collective logic of all narrations that the Prophet (s) encouraged the same middle path.
On the side of excess, the Prophet (s) forbade a woman to wear too much perfume or incense in public to the extent of drawing the attention of men with her intense smell or to arouse desires by her fragrance. Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari narrated that the Messenger of Allah (s) said: “If a woman puts on perfume and walks by men with an intention to make them smell her fragrance, then she is so and so.”
It is in this context that we understand the instructions of forbidding women from wearing perfume when they visit the mosques. Zainab, the wife of Abdullah Ibn Mas`ud, reported: “The Messenger of Allah (s) said to us: ‘When any one of you comes to the mosque, she should not apply perfume.’”A number of other narrations from Abu Hurairah addressed the same issue including, “any woman who has been perfumed with incense should not attend the night prayer with us,”and, “The prayer of a woman who uses perfume for this mosque is not accepted,” and so on.
Some scholars took these instructions to the other extreme and forbade women from wearing perfume of any kind. Ibn Hazm, the Andalusian, commented on the above narrations by stating that a woman is not allowed to go to the mosque unless she “smells bad” (sayyi’at al-reeh)!  Ibn Hazm is one of the imams of the Literalist (Zahiri) School, and this particular comment is a textbook example of how ugly and un-Islamic a literalist understanding can be.
What Ibn Hazm and other scholars chose to ignore, in the name of literalism, is that the Prophet (s) himself recommended his female companions on a number of occasions to look and smell good, without excess of course. Here are a few examples to reflect upon.
Aisha reported that Asma asked the Prophet (s) about how to wash after finishing her period. He advised her: “Take some water and leaves from a Lote-tree (sidr). Wash your body and hair very well with them, and rinse with water. Then use a piece of cotton with musk.” Asma asked: “Where do I apply the musk?” The Prophet said, “subhanallah!” (glory be to Allah) and did not answer, but Aisha answered: “Where the blood was”.
Anas narrated that the Prophet (s) saw spittle on one of the mosque’s walls, which made him quite angry. A woman from the Ansar stood up, walked to it, rubbed it off and put some perfume on the wall instead. The Prophet said: “How beautiful this is!”
Aisha Bin Abdullah narrated that the Prophet (s) instructed her when they celebrate the birth of a newborn to put perfume on his/her head. 
And finally, Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, narrated that a woman came to the Prophet (s) with a scroll that she gave him from behind a curtain. The Prophet asked: “Is this a man’s hand or a woman’s hand?” She said: “A woman.” He said: “If you are a woman then at least put some henna on your fingers.”
 Bukhari, chapter on Funerals, 479/3, till the word "clamoured", and then An-Nasa'i narrated the rest in his Musnad, 200/7, through the chain reported by Bukhari.
 See Malik's Al-Muwatta, 24/1, and Ahmad's Musnad, 103/2, and the report includes “And they would start it (ablution) together". See also An-Nasa'i'sSunan, chapter on purification, section on men and women performing ablution together, 57/1, and Ibn Khuzaymah's Sahih, 63/1.
 Abu Shaybah's Musannaf, 319/6.as
 Jami` Bayan Al-`Ilm Wa Fadlihi, 375/1.
 Al-Mu`jam Al-Awsat, 158/6. It was also narrated by An-Nasa'i from Anas, 400/2.
 Al-Mu`jam Al-Kabir, 173/24.
 Ibn Abu Shaybah's Musannaf, 391/4.
 Bukhari, chapter on Expeditions, 416/8, and Muslim, chapter on Jihad, 160/5.
 Fat-h Al-Bary, 415/8.
 Ibn Kathir's Musnad Al-Farouq, 573/2, and Abu Ya`la's Az-Zawa'id, 335/2.
 Al-Hakim stated that “this Hadith is of an authentic chain of narration, though Bukhari and Muslim did not reference it.” See also Ibn Khuzaymah'sSahih, 818/2, and Ibn Hibban's Sahih, 2/126.
 Sharh Ma`ani Al-Athar, 3/14. It is also recorded in Al-Mustadrak, 2/179, and Al-Hakim said, “This hadith is authentic according to the criterion set by Ash-Shaykhayn (Bukhari and Muslim), though they did not reference it.” It is also reported in other reference books.
 Nasa’i 2642, Ahmad 2266, Ibn Hazm’s Muhallah 2/248.
 Bukhari, Chapter on Prayer, 2/195, and Muslim, Chapter on Mosques, 2/118.
 Al-Hakim's Al-Mustdrak `ala al-Sahihin, 2/430. Al-Hakim said that this hadith has an authentic chain of reporters though it is not narrated by Bukhari or Muslim.
 Muslim, Chapter on Prayer, 2/31 and Ibn Khuzaimah's Sahih, 3/90..
 Muslim, 1/328, and Abu Na`eem's Al-Musnad al-Mustakhraj `ala Sahih Muslim 2/65 and other sources.
 Abu Dawud 4/79.
 Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhalla, Kitab al-Salah, Hadith 427.
 Muslim 505.
 Ibn Khuzaimah 1229, Ibn Majah 762, Nasa’i 797.
 Ibn Hibban 5308.
[i1]This is the third time this is used - just pointing this out.