“To be clear, Islam does not forbid women and men from talking to one another, but asks that they practice modesty and remain within the limits that Sharia has set.”
Walking down the school hallways as a young Muslim girl I used to see guys and girls holding hands, or a girl standing by her locker crying as her boyfriend talked to her. I would be confronted with questions and statements about dating that took different forms and styles, starting from elementary until I graduated high school. Both guys and girls would ask questions like,” Why aren’t you allowed to go out with guys?” or in a shocked tone would ask, “You’re not supposed to like someone?” “Why can’t you go out with me?” And the popular one, “Your religion is no fun!” Answers would begin with “I am Muslim….!.”
Growing up, I never minded answering these questions with a full explanation as to what Islam allows and forbids when it comes to dating. Through my observations, for some young Muslims, these dating questions became sort of an invitation to the system of dating itself. This means they would take these questions and actually sit there and tell themselves, “Really, I should go out with her!, or “Islam should not forbid us from liking someone!” All of this turns into peer pressure and the concept of trying to blend into a society or the views of the majority.
At some points in school, it was difficult to give explanations or to ignore guys who would keep asking questions about dating because sometimes these questions would turn into teasing me or the other Muslims. There were also certain situations in class where it was encouraged to have a partner or the teacher would encourage and put out ideas about dating and having a relationship with the opposite gender. I can never forget when Valentine’s Day came along every year and the class had to give cards with candy to each student. It’s funny because it was hard to give them out. When I used to sit and write guy’s names on the cards, I would always avoid the cards that had messages like, “Be My Valentine,” or “Hearts and Kisses to You.”
This culture of dating has gone global; it’s not only a part of the West. It was my faith and strong understanding that helped me go through school without going out with anyone and without even starting a relationship with a guy. But what some do not understand is that it is difficult a for a teenager growing up these days, especially Muslim girls, to know why Islam has forbidden dating or just simply mixing between the opposite genders.
Today, religion for some is taken as a very casual concept. The beautiful religion Islam is a complete way of life and teaches us about every step in it. This includes teachings on the relationship between a male and a female, the ‘halal’ way, which means something that is approved as religiously proper for a Muslim. In today’s contemporary Western societies, it is unrealistic to try to avoid any and all interaction with members of the opposite sex. The issue between both sexes is a very serious and sensitive issue; however, nobody seems to be taking it seriously. Through examples of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and verses of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, there are a few points we can draw from to better understand why dating or unnecessary mixing between sexes is forbidden.
Firstly, we should understand that Islam does acknowledge the concept of desires in both genders. Also, we are allowed to like someone but not to discover or begin a relationship with them through dating. One of the great scholars of Islam, Ibn Taymiyyah (ra), discussed two fundamental obstacles that get in the way of people who are looking for the truth. These obstacles are known as doubts (shubuhat, in the Arabic term) and desires (shahawat). This means some people do not know that the Islamic rules are the truth. If they did, they would surely follow them. For others, even if they are sure of a truth, it is difficult for them to follow because they have a hard time giving up their desires. The major issue when it comes to dating is overcoming desires.
The Sharia, or Islamic law, has set certain guidelines that should be followed by every male and female, old or young, married or single. These guidelines explain how to deal with any relationship, whether at work, school, with relatives, friends, or even in markets. There are rules in relation to how to speak, dress, and behave, as well as what to prevent from happening in case of contact with the opposite sex. Nowadays, it is very common for Muslims to have boyfriends and girlfriends and/or to be best friends with the opposite sex, even in Muslim countries. This is even though Sharia has restricted the relationship between unrelated men and women, which is only allowed in specific circumstances (“Islamic revival”). The Quran says, “And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) for anything you want ask them from behind a screen” (Al-Ahzab 53).
Free mixing between members of the opposite sex is only allowed with permanently or blood-related Muslims, known as ‘mahrams,’ i.e. people of the opposite sex who have reached puberty that a Muslim is not allowed to marry. Mahrams to women are the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, son, brother, grandson, great-grandson, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, stepson, stepfather, and rada, people who have become mahrams because of being nursed by the same mother. This also applies for mahrams to men, who would include their aunt, grandmother, sister and so on. If a Muslim or a Muslimah (a female Muslim) is a non-mahram (ghayr mahram), not a relative within the prohibited degrees in seclusion, all the rules established by Sharia about separation of both sexes apply. All these rules apply when dealing with both Muslims and non-Muslims of the opposite sex.
Islam directed that a man and a woman should avoid being alone with one another. The Prophet Mohammad (May peace and blessings be upon him) has said, “No man should be alone with a woman except when there is a mahram with her” (Sahih Muslim), (“Reading Islam”). This is of course to avoid any sin through action or thought. The Quran says,
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them. And Allah is acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof” (Surah Al-Noor 30-31).
This verse from the Quran discusses the idea of modesty and how both men and women must act to avoid any unwanted attention, especially in a mixed environment. In a mixed society, as long as women do not portray seductive behavior, such as wearing sensual clothes, sinful behavior can more easily be avoided. He has also commanded men to lower their gazes when in the presence of women.
In today’s world, interaction between the sexes cannot be avoided all the time, but even when two students are doing a class project together it is their responsibility to interact in accordance with Islamic rulings on modest interaction. As long as all the rules are in line with the teachings of Islam and there are no bad intentions, it is ok to interact in a public setting for necessary reasons, such as a school project. If the intentions of both the man and woman are pure, nobody can have a ‘haram’ (meaning unlawful or forbidden according to Islam) relationship.
One of the main goals in avoiding relationships between members of the opposite sex is to avoid fornication. Islam forbids all sexual relationships outside marriage. God (Allah, in Arabic) says, “Do not come near fornication, for it is indeed lewdness and an evil life-style”, (Al-Isra’ 17- 32). Both men and women are ordered not to enter houses without permission. As the Quran says, “Enter not houses other than your own until ye have asked permission and salute those in them” (Surah Al-Noor 27). This encourages Muslims to respect each other and to protect the society from sin.
Even acts that are seemingly small, such as staring, can send wrong signals. Given human nature of wanting attention and feeling attraction, lustful thoughts, flirting, and further behaviors cannot be predicted or controlled, so the best approach is to prevent these incidents from happening by avoiding situations that can lead to them. According to Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Oone recent study conducted about male-female interaction in the workplace concluded that one in every three women had been sexually involved with a co-worker or boss.” He then points out that “If this is the case in a professional, business-like environment, then the potential for illicit relations in more casual circumstances has much greater potential.”
About two people being alone, the Prophet (May peace and blessings be upon him) has said, “If a man or a woman are alone together in an isolated place, then the third is Satan” (Ahmad, as quoted by Qardawi). This is related to the concept of ‘khulwa,’ which means seclusion—where a non-mahram man and woman are in a private place that requires permission to get in, such as a bedroom or a house. This is highly forbidden in Islam and goes against the rules of Sharia.
To be clear, Islam does not forbid women and men from talking to one another, but asks that they practice modesty and remain within the limits that Sharia has set. In the case of talking, one should talk only when necessary about an important and relative matter to a teacher, a coworker, relative, and neighbors as long as conditions are applied and are normal. It is permissible for men and women to mix for a purpose of medical treatment. Also, if the purpose of mixing is to learn about Islam or other education permitted by Sharia, then mixing is allowed. In the case of family, in ‘Silat ar- Rahm’ which is to keep the ties of kinship or family ties, good relations between all members of the family and taking care of those who are in need is important. In this occasion, mixing is permitted as long as it is not done privately and not for the purpose of entertainment and socializing and is kept within limits.
By following the guidelines of Islam, men and women can achieve positive relationships that incorporate respect and understanding. Muslims must develop a mutual understanding of the limits and rules, which apply to both men and women. The proper contact and cooperation between opposite sexes is nothing if not a test of faith.
Muslims may find it difficult to avoid dating, but it is not impossible! As a young Muslim woman who grew up in a Western culture, I know exactly what it is like to be perceived as someone from outside of the “cool” or “in” crowd but I realized that it was important to me to follow what I believe is the right path according to Islam. Through the halal way, I am living happily with my spouse, and believe it or not, I do interact with men on a daily basis—both Muslim and non-Muslim men—but I always keep in mind the rules that I believe I should adhere to, which were set for a reason. Because of this I am confident that I am always respected when it comes to my dealings with members of the opposite sex.
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