Confusion on Limits to talking to the opposite sex
Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, SunniPath Academy Teacher
I have read up on talking to the opposite sex but have experienced very different views on this matter. I wanted to know the exact rules to conversing with a member of the oppposite sex, preferably supported with quotes from the hadith/quran.
As it stands the situation is; i have met a brother and speak to him on the intention of inshallah marriage, we regularly chat on msn in order to get to know one another better. Could you please confirm if this is allowed as we have heard that it is not allowed unless i have asked permission from my Wali.
I also wanted to clarify whether it is permissable to talk on the phone with one another (once again without permission from Wali) and whether meeting up publicly is allowed (where ther would be many other muslims present but not a mahram).
In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
I pray this message finds you well.
The Islamic paradigm for gender relations comes from the Qur”anic verse, “The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey God and His Apostle. On them will God pour His mercy: for God is Exalted in power, Wise.” (Al-Tauba, 9:71).
Here, the word used for protectors is awliya”. This word connotes friendship and cooperation on the basis of faith in Allah and His Messenger, piety, and righteousness.
The Qur”an also gives us details on how to interact with each other. For example,
“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 well 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; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…” [Al-Nour, 24: 30-31]
Finally, here is an example of a pious young woman:
“Afterwards one of the (damsels) came (back) to him, walking bashfully. She said: “My father invites thee that he may reward thee for having watered (our flocks) for us…” [Al-Qasas, 28: 25]
Qur”an commentaries note that the young woman approaches Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, to make her request. However, she does so shyly. She speaks directly and courteously.
There are also hadiths on gender interaction, one of the most serious of which is:
“When a man and woman are alone together, Satan is the third.” [Tirmidhi]
Ibn ”Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) reported: I heard Allah”s Messenger (may peace be upon him) delivering a sermon and making this observation: “No person should be alone with a woman except when there is a Mahram with her, and the woman should not undertake journey except with a Mahram…” [Sahih Muslim, Book 7, Number 3110]
“Tirmidhi reports from al-Mughira that when he got engaged to a woman, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ”Look at her, for it is likelier to last between you.”” [Reliance of the Traveller, m2.2]
Please keep in mind that these are individual verses and hadiths. There are many more texts that relate to gender interaction.
The best way to understand how to implement these texts is to look to the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who was very respectful and cautious in his interactions with the opposite sex. Consult reliable scholars about the limits of gender interaction. There are a lot of relevant articles available here at SunniPath. Additionally, I recommend reading Reliance of the Traveller, a classical manual of Sacred Law, particularly the chapter on marriage.
Here are some general guidelines to be aware of:
- It is unlawful for you and the brother to be alone with each other. You should always meet in the presence of your mahram, unmarriageable male relative, such as your father, brother, grandfather, or uncle. If you do not have a mahram, then he should meet you in the presence of your mother. If none of these people are available, then you should appoint a wali: an upright male member of the community.
- Instant messaging is highly problematic and I would advise you to leave it alone. Essentially, it is cyber khalwa, or seclusion. What may start out as an innocent enough chat can turn into something else if you are not extremely cautious. If you have a romantic interest in one another, online chats should definitely be left alone. The temptation for prospective couples to engage in romantic conversations is heightened by the mere fact that there is no supervision.
- It is crucial to get to know one another. However, this must be done within certain limits. For example, it is fine for you to get to know each other in the presence of family members. However, be cautious about online chatting, as mentioned before. Also, be cautious about unsupervised telephone conversations. In principle, there is nothing wrong with talking on occasion, particularly if you have something important to discuss. However, the limits of propriety must be observed. If you talk on the phone, it should be with the permission of your wali. Furthermore, you should avoid talking to him when you are alone.
- As far as meeting up in public places is concerned, once again be cautious. It”s fine to give salaams and inquire about each other”s health. What you do want to avoid is hanging out or anything that gives the appearance of dating. On the other hand, if you are accompanied by a mahram, then seeing the brother outside of the house should not be an issue.
To sum up, just remember that getting to know the brother is permissible. What is not permissible is being alone together, flirting, or any type of physical contact.
Here are some relevant posts from SunniPath”s Fiqh section:
“Instant messaging with the opposite sex”
“Interaction limits for engaged couples…”
May Allah bless you and your marriage.
And Allah knows best.