Gender-interaction in Islam

September 26, 2008 at 11:22 am 20 comments

Taken from one of my most favourite reading places and


“Alhamdulillah, I am a convert to Islam and have been in the deen for about 2 years. As of yet no one has explained to me about khalwa between the sexes, interactions with women, the lawful and unlawful interactions, dealings etc. that happen between sexes. Could you please provide me with a very detailed response on these things as this is a very confusing issue for me and when ever I am put in the situation with women I have no idea what to do.”

(Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari)

In Islam, interactions between the sexes are permitted within certain limits specified by the Quran and the Sunna. To some, these limits might appear to be very strict. However, there is a divine wisdom underpinning the limits set down by the Shari’ah. In adhering to the boundaries set by the Shari’ah, we can uphold the Quranic command to the believing men and women to be awliya of one another, or protecting friends, while at the same time maintaining the modesty and purity of heart that come from obeying Allah and His Messenger in this regard.

In brief, when interacting with a woman who is not a member of your unmarriageable kin or your wife, you must avoid khalwa, or seclusion; guard your gaze; and obviously, avoid any physical contact.

In more detail:

1. Khalwa takes place when one man or more than one man are alone with one woman in a place where no one can see them or enter. If there are two women and a man, for example, this is not khalwa. However, when there is only one woman, this situation is considered as seclusion, and becomes unlawful. Obviously, this is for the protection of the woman and the man (or men) so that a situation will not arise where the male becomes tempted and the woman possibly harmed.

If you are in a situation where you are in a room with two or more women, this is not khalwa and there is no need for you to be uncomfortable.

2. Guarding your gaze is a good practice that fosters modest interaction between the sexes. The Quran commands both believing men and women to guard their gaze. Unfortunately, many Muslims have lost this practice.

What guarding the gaze means is that you should refrain from staring at a woman’s face (if she’s not a member of your unmarriageable kin or your wife). It does not mean keeping one’s eyes glued to the ground.

In Western societies (Singapore included), guarding one’s gaze can sometimes be interpreted as a lack of assertiveness or respect for the other person. However, with Muslims, guarding one’s gaze indicates respect for the other person’s space and modesty of intention.

Our scholars have said that looking at a woman’s face is permitted in certain occasions. For example,

– if you are seeking a woman in marriage, it is permitted to look at her face.
– If you work in any type of job that requires you to look at people and interact with them, looking is permitted as long as you don’t look with desire.
– If you are a teacher, looking at your female students is permitted as long as you don’t look more than necessary or with desire.

In short, be modest and respectful.

3. According to the Shari’ah, where looking is not permitted, then touching is also unlawful. This can be a sensitive topic for Muslims living in the West (Singapore included) where handshaking is commonplace and is considered a polite thing to do. Shaking the hand of someone from the opposite sex is unlawful. According to our scholars, the Prophet, peace be upon him, never shook the hand of a woman who was not a member of his unmarriageable kin or his wife. So you should do your utmost to avoid shaking hands. But try to do it in a way that does not offend the other person. For many non-Muslims, if you simply explain to them that your religion (or culture) does not permit shaking hands and that you mean no offense, then usually people are okay with that.

4. Covering the awrah or one’s nakedness. Another requirement of interaction between the sexes is that everyone should observe Islamic modesty or covering the awrah.

For men, this means covering what’s between the navel and the knee.

For women, this means covering the whole body except the face and hands.

Obviously, if you live and work in the West (Singapore included), everyday you will see women who are not properly covered. What you need to do here is to simply be modest, behave respectfully, and avoid looking at women without need.

In conclusion, when you find yourself in a situation with women, Muslim or otherwise, simply be modest and respectful. There is no problem with talking to a member of the opposite sex or working with that person when there is a need.

As long as we adhere to these boundaries, inshallah everything should be fine.

What’s important to remember here is the example of our Prophet, peace be upon him. He was modest, respectful, and kind to everyone. He also interacted with women when there was a need to do so. He is the best example for us.

And Allah alone gives success. And Allah knows best.


Entry filed under: interaction between sexes, Links, men, Posts, Prophet SAW, readings, women.

True Happiness A Seeker’s Prayer

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. redtide  |  September 26, 2008 at 3:26 pm


    Good reflection.. rarely see these kind of entries in Singapore blogs especially from those with a secular background(or maybe I haven’t bloghopped enough)..

    The sad reality is that many(not all), coming from a religious background have also turned a blind eye towards this fact..

    Instead of leading by example they are conforming with the un-Islamic practice prevalent in this society which could lead to misintrepetation to the idea that it’s not a big issue..

    Let’s campaign for NO to BGR but YES to promote the beauty, benefits and successes of relationships the Islamic way through early Marraiges!!

    Still, for Singaporeans championing this cause..due to traditions more than sunnah, parents with a lesser understanding about this and the high cost of living..

    money no enough lehh.. =)

    Allah ma’ak.

  • 2. faruq  |  September 26, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    In this day and age, it’s pretty hard NOT to have to keep the eyes glued to the ground – for guys especially.

    It doesn’t take a pretty face to have to ‘lower the gaze’.

    The way women dress nowadays, the ‘form’ and ‘shape’ can already be seen. Like how the Prophet (saw) described them: “wearing clothes but naked.”

    Here, there, everywhere. The trial of the Dajjal sure is great. Add that to the Prophet’s (saw) saying the greatest fitnah for the ummah is women.

    A potent combo for the Muslim guy.

    If you don’t mind me linking, here’s a related post:

  • 3. Redwan Ahmed  |  September 27, 2008 at 1:00 am

    i would appreciate it if you put these islamic posts in my website please.

  • 4. Redwan Ahmed  |  September 27, 2008 at 1:27 am

    you know your username alfaqeer change it to ameera aslam please by going to users then going to profile then go down until you see nickname put your name ameera aslam in it.

  • 5. Redwan Ahmed  |  September 27, 2008 at 3:45 am

    you got a new comment in your post in my website check it out and reply to the comment.

  • 6. ameera  |  September 27, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    I think my secular background has made me see with my own eyes (and also based on my own experiences astag) how wise Islam is to have set limits between gender. After going through what I’ve had to go through, I am convinced now that these qualities are really precious and I hope everyone could cherish it. (Therefore, posting it here.)

    And as always, I totally disagree with giving the bulk of the responsibility to those from the ‘religious background’. We are Muslims, so start behaving like one, no matter where you were from. Just because they were there does not guarantee them ‘hidayah’. Surely, it’s a blessing for them to be where they are but I too am blessed to be where I am. I think carrying that responsibility on our shoulders would be a good way to lead by example. There shouldn’t be a ‘we’ VS ‘them’ mentality when it comes to our different backgrounds.

    But yes, YES YES to early marriage! Haha. ;)

    Money can find lehh. Parents can talk to mahh. When there’s a will, there’s a way! InsyaAllah. Doing it for Allah, surely He’ll make it easier, no?

    faruq:Hey, I face the same problem too.

    There’s aurah between ladies too, which many do not know actually. Even ladies are not allowed to look at other ladies between the navel and the knees. But nowadays girls wear shorts and hotpants (hot hapa, macam sejuk aje diorang) and miniskirts and I go “Astaghfirullah” every few seconds and have to keep changing where my eyes are resting at. But yeah, you guys have it worse I must admit.

    Greatest fitnah for the ummah is women, but so is the greatest prize. :)

    “’Abdullah b. ‘Amr reported Allah’s Messenger Pbuh) as saying: The whole world is a provision, and the best object of benefit of the world is the pious woman. (Hadith – Muslim, #3465)

    (I can’t help it. I’m so proud I’m a woman from the ummah of Sayyidina Muhammad SAW. Just HAD to include that hadith hehe.)

    Redwan Ahmed: InsyaAllah.

  • 7. Redwan Ahmed  |  September 27, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    It is alright sis, you don’t need to change the nickname, but you just need to put the posts in my website that’s all sis.

  • 8. Huda Lee  |  September 28, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Assalam Wr Wb,

    Masha’allah, I was just discussing this with my Ustaz. The concern now is the gender interaction in the midst of youth activism especially during meetings in Ms’s and muslim organisations. Are we behaving the right way and doing the right thing?Yes, we do have segregations and such. However, lowering our gaze seems unavoidable.

    And if you know, BGR do occur in Ms’s. And it always upsets me and questions our actions and intentions in having such meetings. If BGR can occur in Ms’s, then does it show that we are not conscious enough in our limitations between genders? And if we cannot maintain good practices, are we even fit enough to be role models for the muslim youths we are trying to reach out to?

    Oh ya sis! This is random and irrelevant but I hope you remember me! Haha!

    Forgive me sis if I said anything offensive. Whatever good comes from Him and whatever bad comes from me.


  • 9. alfaqeer  |  September 28, 2008 at 1:54 am

    Salam sis,

    Of course I remember you! I hope you are doing great and that I will meet you again soon insyaAllah. :)

    Anyhow, about BGR, you see… what is their intention? What happens in their relationship? Does it consists of dates with just them two? Do their parents know?

    When it comes to BGR, i think the forbidden fruit theory comes to play. The more its prevented, the more attractive it seems. Is it fair to generalise and say all forms of BGR is prohibited? How do you define a BGR and what are the characteristics of a BGR?

    When BGR occurs in Ms, is it a reflection of their lack of taqwa and iman? What if they are planning to get engaged/married soon but have not enough funds at the moment?

    On the other spectrum, yes, just the mere mention of BGR will make someone think ‘less’ of Ms and our position as a role model is threatened.

    I still think it depends on individuals and their plans and… a lot of other things really. I know of couples who do not get distracted in their duties, are focussed on getting to their final goal i.e. marriage, are able to motivate each other to goodness and to forbid evil, and do not go on dates. So how?

  • 10. Redwan Ahmed  |  September 28, 2008 at 5:35 am

    someone wrote a comment in your post in my website. write a comment replying to that person please

  • 11. redtide  |  September 28, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Salam bro Redwan, just wondering.. doesn’t it seem that you’re being a little too forceful?


    Hm Amee, about BGR..

    let’s be clear, when we talk about BGR, we are referring to an INTIMATE relationship between 2 people before marraige..

    of course there are exceptions where nothing goes wrong in a ‘controlled’ BGR relationship like you suggested..

    but we have to consider this, what does Islam say about BGR? That’s first and foremost. It doesn’t matter what others say. We place the Qur’an and Sunnah first and foremost. We have to live under the rules and guidelines that have been set by Allah SWT. Thats the concept of worship, it encompasses every aspect of our lives.

    Secondly, where did this BGR culture come from? Are we allowing it just because it is the trend nowadays? That it is a part of modernisation?

    Or is it actually westernisation? Islam doesn’t restrict modernisation or different cultures as long as it doesn’t go against its principles. However, we can’t really consider BGR as modernisation and it’s not even a healthy culture.

    Lastly, if we allow BGR for exceptions where it is practiced in a safe, controlled situation, how can we guarantee that it won’t spiral into a worse situation? How many of these exceptions can actually last and guarentee success?

    And there have been cases where couples who practice such forms of BGR, slowly regress to include more and more unlawful acts in their relationship.. When their nafs emotions have empowered them, in addition to the endless whisperings by Syaitan.. they just can’t help it!

    That is why Islam sets strict guidelines. The feeling of love is natural, we all just can’t help falling in love but without guidance and control, it can be destructive. Islam acknowledges it but disciplines it by allowing it to happen only after marraige.

    And Allah knows best.

  • 12. faruq  |  September 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Of course, blessed is the man who finds himself a virtous wife! The three most beloved things of this world for the Prophet (saw) were the prayer, perfume and women.

    As for BGR, let the Prophet (saw) conclude: “He who hovers about a forbidden thing is in danger of falling into it.”

    Leave no breathing room for the Avowed Enemy!

  • 13. alfaqeer  |  September 28, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    redtide:Yeah you see, that’s where it really matters. The definition itself of BGR. If its an intimate relation between 2 ppl, how do you define intimate? Spiritually intimate? Physically intimate? Emotionally intimate? What activities are included? Dates? Physical contact?

    I was merely trying to highlight the exceptional state where it’s controlled, because it exists. So from the very beginning, my definition of BGR was to a very elite, specific group.

    But yes, definitely I agree with you that to open the door (no matter how slight), is already troubling and it will only invite other haraam acts. Its just the transition period between meeting that right someone, and finally settling down. How long is ‘okay’? And how long is too long? Some people find their right someone when they’re 18 or something. What’s your take on that?

    faruq: Well said bro! :)

  • 14. redtide  |  September 29, 2008 at 3:45 am

    Salam again..(“,)

    to be honest, i’m no expert at this, my views are on what i’ve researched about and experiences i’ve had myself or what i’ve learnt from others’ experiences..

    like you, I was also from a similar background so I understand where you are coming from.. I had so many questions back then and found it hard to grasp that there shouldn’t be BGR before marraige. Alhamdulillah, bi’iznilLah, all that changed after a few years of on/off research and reflection. Just to share that it’s not an easy transition to how I view BGR now compared to years ago when I began re-learning Islam.

    So far, from what I’ve learnt, the closest form of pre-marital relationship that is similar to BGR that is suggested but still not recommended goes something like this..

    The guy could search for a potential mate in view of marrying her within a short term. However, this means that he should be in a state of being ready for marraige in terms of knowledge of his responsibilities and role and of course being financially and mentally prepared. If he’s not, there’s no way he would be able to meet the goal of that ‘short term’.

    How long should it be? It is best that it is as short as possible, the shorter the better as the longer it is, the higher chances that it may spiral out of control negatively.

    Seriously, how can we ever know that we have found our right someone?

    But of course Islam provides a way to this and it is through ‘istikharah’ prayers. Both the guy and the girl, should perform it to seek guidance and assurances from Allah.

    Thats the best way to know, not through a total reliance on the outcome of what we experience in pre-marital relationship. Is what we experience really true love? or it is actually the deceitful ‘blind’ love?

    Still, does the role of ‘istikharah’ apply in any situation even when we’re not fully prepared for marraige? What’s the use of doing it when we are not even prepared and know that marraige within a short period is not even possible at that point of time?

    So yea.. thats just my two cents at the topic..hmm.. maybe this article may help too..

    And Allah knows best

    wassalaam wr..

  • 15. siswand  |  September 29, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    i refer to point no. 3 you wrote about the shaking of hands between non-mahrams.

    while it is accepted that the unneccessary shaking of hands between a marriable male and female is prohibited, it should also be noted that during the time of the Prophet saw, the female companions treated the war wounds of the males, out of necessity, and in other instances they kissed the Prophet’s hands/feet and took his hands, and this of course is for barakah.

    i cant imagine if i were a woman during the Prophet’s time and i am not allowed to kiss his hand.

    for this, i refer to the Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine, Book 7, The Forgotten Aspects of Islamic Worship Part II, by Shaykh Hisyam Kabbani, pages 47-48 and 188-189.

    Truth comes from God and He knows Best

  • 16. alfaqeer  |  September 29, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    redtide: Yes I agree with you fully. Thanks for taking the time to reply with such a long reply! Haha. I appreciate it. It definitely depends on the readiness of a person to get married. Readiness in all senses of the word. For the man, to be confident enough to lead, to know his rights over his wife, and her rights over him, to know his responsibilities and his duties as a husband and a son-in-law.

    Its just that youths nowadays get into it so much earlier and you can be pretty sure most of them are not ready for marriage.

    About knowing who is your right someone, there is always istikharah and of course, your parents. Its just that in this age of “freedom of choice”, people want to make an “informed decision” and to know the person inside out first. I don’t exactly agree with that. I mean, its great if you know the person inside out. But its great if you don’t too. There’s always that element of surprise and to make the institution of marriage all the more sacred.

    What I’m saying is this: I don’t agree with BGR unless both of them are ready for marriage and their only purpose is to motivate each other towards their shared goal which is marriage, in the very near future.

    Thank you for the link too! It was a good read. (albeit a long one heehee.)

    siswand: MasyaAllah, what a pleasant surprise! I was just over at your blog earlier today. :)

    Anyway, yes I cannot imagine being a woman in the Prophet’s time and not being able to touch his hand!!

    By the way, I did not write the above article. I was just reposting something.

    But since you have mentioned about the shaking of hands, I will highlight this in my next post. Shukran ya akhy! I love your blog by the way. I will link it here soon insyaAllah.

  • 17. Huda Lee  |  September 30, 2008 at 2:31 am


    Yes I agree with redtide about setting a period of communicating or “getting to know” the potential mate with the intent to get married and being mentally and financially ready.

    In fact, it is encouraged and at the same time, should be supervised.

    Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported: I was in the company of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) when there came a man and informed him that he had contracted to marry a woman of the Ansar. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Did you cast a glance at her? He said: No. He said: Go and cast a glance at her, for there is something in the eyes of the Ansar. (Muslim, Book 8, No. 3314)

    Obviously, if the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, advised men to look at their prospective wives, then it follows that meeting with one’s prospective spouse and talking to him/her is also a good practice. Cutting off the avenues to zina does not mean avoiding any and all contact with your intended spouse. It means that when you are together, you observe the boundaries of gender etiquette.

    Obviously, if the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, advised men to look at their prospective wives, then it follows that meeting with one’s prospective spouse and talking to him/her is also a good practice. Cutting off the avenues to zina does not mean avoiding any and all contact with your intended spouse. It means that when you are together, you observe the boundaries of gender etiquette.

    Taken from here:

    Allah knows best. May He forgive me.

  • 18. alfaqeer  |  September 30, 2008 at 3:32 am

    Huda Lee: Salam dear. :)

    Thanks for that contribution. I think that the main thing here is to be fully responsible and aware of your goal.

    I can only hope and pray that Allah opens the heart of the Muslim youth to see and understand this and in time, to start practising it.

    And as always, we should be leading by example. Lets pray Allah help us to be good leaders who would show a good example to anyone who watches us and our actions. May we never disappoint Him and His Messenger in our duties. Amin!

  • 19. Shaking hands with women « amee al-faqeer  |  September 30, 2008 at 8:01 am

    […] men, Prophet SAW, women, Yusuf al-Qaradawi |   This post is a result of a comment from a previous posting of mine. Here’s the comment: “i refer to point no. 3 you wrote about the shaking of hands […]

  • 20. Shaking hands with women - Response « amee al-faqeer  |  April 1, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    […] received an email recently with regards to my previous post. One was about gender interaction in Islam and the other was about Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi’s fatwa on the permissibility of shaking hands […]

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