A Quick Guide to Gender Interactions for Young Muslims

This was a question I was asked via the anonymous Q&A system of my school. It was by someone who was wondering why the gender interaction rules at the high school were a little more lenient than at the elementary/middle school of the same organization, and this was an attempt to answer it as well as give a quick guide to gender interactions in Islam in general. I thought it might be useful for other young Muslims in Islamic schools or MSAs so I posted it here.

Q. What is the ruling against the interaction between boys and girls? (A few years ago when I was in [redacted] , it was like a taboo to interact with the other gender, but now here, it seems normal).

A. Before I address the question about [redacted] itself, let me explain how gender interactions work in Islam. Gender Interactions are not all the same, and saying that Islam is ‘against gender interactions’ or Islam is ‘ok with gender interactions’ are both inaccurate.

In fiqh we can divide gender interactions into 3 different categories:

1) Impermissible

The starting point for this category is usually Khalwah (seclusion) and is followed by everything that khalwah leads to such as flirting, touching, zina etc. It is haram (impermissible) for an unrelated man and woman to be in the same physical space without any third party. In professional or school environments this can be enforced by keeping open door policies or ensuring that a third party is in the room when meeting the opposite sex. This also applies to phone and text conversations where there is no third party.

Why is Khalwah impermissible? Firstly because of the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ in which he commands us not to do so, and where he describes that in Khalwah, the third participant in the gathering is Shaytan. Secondly because it often leads to speaking with the opposite gender in inappropriate ways that eventually end in Zina.

2) Permissible

These are natural human interactions that people have on an everyday basis. We know they are permissible because many of the Companions used to engage in them and they were not reprimanded by the Prophet ﷺ. As is known the rules of interpretation of the Sunnah, the silence of the Prophet ﷺ in a given circumstance indicates his approval.

Examples where the Companions interacted include:
– In the marketplace, where females and males both engaged in trade with each other, and browsed each other’s wares in a mixed space.
– In the mosque where the women prayed right behind the males. Once Asma bint Abi Bakr couldn’t hear the Prophet ﷺ speaking during the khutbah for the eclipse prayer and she asked the man sitting in front of her to repeat what the Prophet ﷺ said. He obliged and no one reprimanded either of them for speaking to each other. [Sunan al-Nisai]
– On the battlefield where many of the female Companions participated as nurses, tending to the injured male Companions.

Islam does not forbid males and females from having natural human interactions. It instead tries to strike a balance between preventing the spread of sexual immorality in society, while still keeping human relations practical and constructive.

As many [redacted] students are aware, we can use a special rule to ensure our interactions stay in this category: the PPL rule. As Muslims our interactions with the opposite gender should be Public, Purposeful and Limited. Whenever they become private, purposeless (i.e. casual banter) or go beyond the limits of what is necessary we start to fall into the Gray area which I have highlighted next.

3) The Gray Area

This is where things may become difficult to determine, and each Muslim must make their best judgement as to how to conduct themselves, balancing their modesty, chastity and practical concerns. Sometimes interactions in this zone may be permissible, sometimes they may be disliked, sometimes they may even be recommended or obligatory!

For example, Muslim youth should normally avoid contact with the opposite gender as much as they can, even if not acting flirtatiously as it is difficult for young people to control themselves. For many young Muslims interactions with the opposite gender can very easily slide into being disliked or impermissible, even in public. During adolescence human beings are physically adults and their hormones are in full effect, but at the same time because they are still maturing intellectually and missing important life experience(s) they are unable to fully calculate the consequences of their actions. Flirtatious behavior with the opposite gender is an example of gender interactions that can cross over from the Gray Area into the Impermissible zone.

At the same time however when you go to university or work in Canada, you will sometimes have to work in group projects, meetings or be in proximity with the opposite gender. Sometimes if you opt out, you may significantly damage your well-being in ways that the Shariah does not demand of you. In such situations Muslims young and old must make their utmost effort in ensuring that they are keeping their interactions as halal as possible, while not forgetting their practical needs.

Do your best to always ensure there is a responsible and effective 3rd party in the room when interacting with the opposite gender at work or school. Avoid gatherings where gender interactions are known to cross appropriate boundaries and become informal or flirtatious.

For many young Muslims it often feels like Islam places difficult restrictions on them in gender relations, but all this is for a reason. Wisdoms of gender relations rules in Islam may include:

1) Protecting women from being taken advantage of, or sexual harassment and assault. Consider how the #Metoo movement has exposed the dangers of being taken advantage of by immoral men.
2) Protecting Muslims as individuals and societies from zina and all the problems that come with it such as lewdness and immorality, STDs, being overly occupied with relationships/dating, unwanted or extramarital pregnancies and single parent families.
3) Protection of the institution of marriage which enforces rights between spouses and regulates sexual relations as a transaction between individuals so that human relationships do not become purely physical ones without consideration of other aspects of their humanity such as emotion, rights, responsibilities and social effects.

Gender interactions at [redacted]

As for [redacted], then we must remember that all the children of Adam make mistakes. What matters is that we help each other to worship and obey Allah. We must ensure that we as Muslim students are reminding each other with love and wisdom of these rules when we slip up, and reminding each other of the importance of obeying and worshiping Allah. Using harsh or unwise ways of reminding people of Allah and the wisdom of Islamic rulings can turn them away from the very ideal we are calling them to! Always try to look at the good in people and you will see the good in your own heart towards them manifest itself in your words and actions.

Please remember that all interactions between genders at [redacted] must be supervised by a teacher. [Redacted] recognizes that both genders need to eventually learn how to interact responsibly with each other, which is why supervised interactions between the genders in clubs and school activities are allowed. Unsupervised interactions are not allowed in the school and disciplinary measures may be applied. In instances where students may be violating rules to the extent that the Islamic culture of the school is being affected, more severe penalties may be applied.

We are always looking to strike the balance between helping you to learn how to interact responsibly with the opposite gender while still ensuring that Islamic codes of conduct are being followed. We are constantly trying to improve this balance. If you have any suggestions, please speak to a member of staff.

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