Islamic Guidelines for Gender Interactions


(part 1 of 2) Description:  This lesson focuses on the Islamic standards of modesty as it relates to gender interactions.  Objectives: ·    ...

(part 1 of 2)

Description: This lesson focuses on the Islamic standards of modesty as it relates to gender interactions. 
·       To learn the meaning of ikhtilaat.
·       To develop an awareness of the issue of free-mixing between genders.
·       To learn how the Prophet of Mercy controlled mixing between men and women in the mosque.
Arabic Terms:
·       Imaan – faith, belief or conviction.
·       Ikhtilaat – physical presence of men and women at one place.
·       Haya - natural or inherent shyness and a sense of modesty.
·       Riba – interest.
·       Mahram – a person, man or woman related to a particular individual by blood, marriage or breastfeeding.  One he or she is not permitted to marry, such as the father, nephew, uncle, etc
·       Masjid – the Arabic term for mosque.
·       Sahabah – the plural form of “Sahabi,” which translates to Companions.   A sahabi, as the word is commonly used today, is someone who met Prophet Muhammad, believed in him and died as a Muslim.
·       Sunnah - The word Sunnah has several meanings depending on the area of study however the meaning is generally accepted to be, whatever was reported that the Prophet said, did, or approved of
Let us first discuss three preliminary points:

1.  Modern society lacks guiding principles regarding morality.

A “virtue” is a moral standard which a society holds as something worthy to aspire towards.  But in the modern world virtues change with time.  Old virtues are questioned, new virtues are introduced.  Moral standards once praised and valued are questioned and ridiculed today.  Pre-marital relations and homosexuality would be two examples.  Virtues are shaped and formed by one’s beliefs.  As beliefs change, so do the virtues that society upholds. 

2.  The teachings of Islam are a port in the storm. 

Islam is a port in the storm of moral degeneration and permissive attitude.  Only by referring to genuine revelation - to Islam - can people determine what is right and what is wrong.  Islam is a religion of unchanging ethics,morals and virtues such as honor, dignity, haya and respect.  Referring to the Quran andSunnah can save us from the chaos that surrounds us and the confusion that exists in so many minds.   

3.  In Islam certain things are more intensified than others.

In Islam, we find certain things that have been made easier and certain things have been intensified.  We can generally say that one of the things that has been intensified is the rules of conduct between the sexes.  Intoxicants and riba would be two other examples.
While Muslims and some non-Muslims embrace modesty as a virtue, is “modesty” culturally interpreted? In other words, is the standard of modesty different across cultural lines? Some aspects of modesty are clearly spelled out in the Quran and Sunnah that must be adhered to, whereas others are developed and practiced by Muslim culture in their own ways.  Some are clear rules, whereas others are guidelines.  Yet, some matters are products of the lands where Islam flourished.
The Arabic word ikhtilaat means ‘mixing,’ Islamically, it means unrelated men and women mixing, non-mahram men and women being physically at one place.  It results in their meeting, conversing, and looking at each other. 
What does Islam say about this?
The first point to understand is that every form of ikhtilaat is not forbidden.  Some are permissible and some are forbidden.
When Muslim scholars caution against the “free” mixing of men and women, they are not talking about the mere presence of men and women together in the same place.  This in of itself is not prohibited.  Men and women gathered in the same place at the time of the Prophet of Islam, for instance, in the mosque and in the marketplace.  Men and women walked down the same roads and streets.
For instance, a Muslim woman is allowed to attend the mosque, even though it is mainly populated by men.  So, it’s a form of ikhtilaat, but the Prophet of Mercy gave guidelines on how to organize and structure it. 
First, men are to pray in their own rows and women in their own.  They do not stand next to one another. 
Second, the men’s rows are in the front and the women’s rows are at the back so men’s eyes won’t fall on women during prayer. 
Third, Prophet Muhammad declared that the best rows for men are the first ones, the worst are the rear most ones and the best rows for women are the rear most ones, and the worst are the first ones (Muslim).  He said this to keep men and women separate when they are physically gathered in one place.
Fourth, the Prophet of Mercy made men wait until the women had left the mosque to prevent their crowding around the doors.  Later, when the Muslim population increased, Prophet Muhammad designated a separate entrance for women.  If you visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina today, it is known as Bab un-Nisa’ (The Women’s Gate). 
Keep in mind that these precautions were taken with people with the most perfect imaan, the purest hearts, and the best intentions, the Sahabah.  Moreover, these measures were taken in the presence of the noble Prophet.  Not only that, but  the Sahabah were around him, and their respect for the Prophet is well known.  More so, these steps were initiated in the Prophet’s Mosque which Allah has honored and given special merit.  Going even further, these precautions were during prayer in which one stands in front of his Master and is least likely to be distracted! Despite all that, these instructions from our beloved Prophet were taken to prevent enticement toward sin.
Whenever we talk about this issue, we should keep in mind the precautions taken by our beloved Prophet and weigh what we say and do in its light and judge how close or far we are from his guidance.

Islamic Guidelines for Gender Interactions (part 2 of 2)

Description: The lesson focuses on setting boundaries between men and women as defined by Allah to protect us and to keep our hearts and thoughts pure.


·       To learn about the three types of forbidden ikhtilaat in Islam.
·       To learn four guidelines to be observed when interacting with the opposite gender.

Arabic Terms:

·       Ikhtilaat - physical presence of men and women at one place.
·       Khalwah – a man being alone with a non-mahram woman.
·       Mahram – a person, man or woman related to a particular individual by blood, marriage or breastfeeding.  One he or she is not permitted to marry, such as the father, nephew, uncle, etc
GenderInteractions2.jpgHow do people slip into adultery? Why do office romances take place? How do married men get romantically involved with another woman? The simple answer is that it is a slow process of boundary-less decisions.  It is a gradual thing.  Imagine a little wall all around you, with a gate.  Your heart lives inside the wall and Allah has told you how to control the gate.  Bad things happen when you either do not know what Allah has told you or are careless about what goes in and what goes out of that gate.
There are three forms of ikhtilaat or intermixing that are forbidden:
First, the touch is a form of non-verbal communication.  Islam frowns upon any form of physical contact or touching between men and non-mahram women.  The Prophet, may Allah praise him, said:  “I do not shake hands with women.” (Muwatta, Sunan Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Majah)
He also said: “If one of you were to be stabbed in the head with a needle of iron, it would be better for him than touching a woman who is not permissible for him.” (at-Tabarani) This would include situations where men and women are close enough to lead to physical contact.
Now, there might be an unavoidable situation or demands of a profession like a nurse touching a male patient or crowding during Hajj.  Get clarity on them by referring to a knowledgeable scholar of Islam.  The general rule is clear and has been explained.
Second, being alone with a non-mahram woman.  It’s known as khalwah.  The Prophet of Islam said, “Never is a man alone with a woman except that Satan is the third party with them.”
Khalwah takes place when one or more men are alone with a single non-mahramwoman in a place where no one can see them.  If there are two women and a man, this is not khalwah.  Whether something untoward happens or not is not the point, it is still a sin.  Seclusion of this type is still a sin no matter what happens as a result.  It still corrodes and is bad for one’s intention. 
For example, don’t be in the office alone with a man.  Either leave or ask another female co-worker to stay.
Third, a man being with a non-mahram woman in one place without khalwah, but social controls and restrictions are relaxed and inhibitions are dampened.  The same can be said for any repeated acquaintance between men and women.  Repeated meetings break down barriers and allow opportunities for a relationship to develop.
Two points must be understood here:
1.    There are situations and places we control and there are some we don’t.  We might be excused for what lies outside of our control, and we should ask Allah for His forgiveness.  At the same time we are responsible for the places we control.
2.    How should we act in places we do not control? What are the rules of behavior for a Muslim woman when she meets a man? How should Muslim men and women set boundaries with the opposite gender? Boundaries by virtue of their purpose indicate a clear line of separation.  With this in mind, what is the clear line of separation in our behavior with colleagues or fellow students of the opposite gender? There are four guidelines:

1.  Eye Contact

Lower the gaze, limit eye contact, and obviously do not exchange admiring glances.  Allah tells us in the Quran,
“Tell the believing men that they should lower their gazes and guard their chastity.  This is purer for them.  Allah is informed of what they do (He knows the inclinations of the heart and the secretive glances that men cast).   And tell the believing women that they should lower their gazes and preserve their chastity.” (Quran 24:30-31)

2.  Dress

Both men and women should maintain the Islamic dress code.[1]
“…they (women) must not expose (anything that reveals) their beauty, except what becomes apparent of it (the outer garment which obviously cannot be concealed when a woman leaves her home).  And they should wear their scarves over their bosoms (to cover their heads and breasts)…” (Quran 24:31)

3.  Body Language

Be dignified in your body language.  Watch your movement, gestures, and postures.  Allah says in the Quran,
“…they (women) should not strike their feet on the ground to reveal the beauties (jewellery) that they conceal (they should walk in a manner that does not cause their jewellery to jingle and attract attention)…” (Quran 24:31)

4.  Tone of Voice

Use a serious tone of voice and expression.  Like a spoon of sugar can encourage a child to take bad tasting medicine, so can sweet words seduce a person from the opposite gender.  You do not have to be rude, but speak in a “business like” tone.  Your speech should be direct and to the point so that no desire is aroused in the person.  Allah says in the Quran,
“…do not speak in lowered tones (with a sweet voice) lest he in whose heart is a disease of lust should be moved with desire.  And speak in a befitting manner.” (Quran 33:32)
In practical terms: don’t flirt, make crude jokes, touch, giggle, use suggestive body-language and avoid having a relaxed, informal, social conversation.
[1] For more information on this, please see:



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Jama Masjid: Islamic Guidelines for Gender Interactions
Islamic Guidelines for Gender Interactions
Jama Masjid
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