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IslamQA: Public interactions between the sexes in Islam

Salaam. Would you explain why in some Islamic sources that men and women should not be allowed to be together alone or mixed in some places or situations (e.g. markets, streets, or party, meetings, etc.)? I was studying Islam and they try to apply this in real life, only to be resulted as when the men and women in the same jama'a met, they interacted minimally (as to prevent further unnecessary interaction) yet came across as awkward to my observation. Your thoughts, please? Jazakallahu khayr.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are no strict rules on the mixing of men and women in Islam in public. The one strict rule is that a marriageable man and woman should not spend private time together unless there are others present. Each culture does things in its own way. The awkwardness usually comes from people of different cultures meeting and not knowing what level of interaction the other person is used to. But when it comes to Muslims of the same culture (as in people of the same village), then public interactions can be very comfortable and lack awkwardness.

In large cities where most people are strangers and come from different cultures, devout Muslims often choose to do what is “safest”, which is to keep interactions to a minimum, and this leads to awkwardness. I don’t know if there is a solution for this. In the United States when interacting with Muslim women I do my best to avoid eye contact, while back in my home town in the Middle East, since I speak the same “cultural language” as the women I meet, I have to follow different rules. My female relatives and neighbors there would find it strange and even insulting if I do not look directly at them when interacting.

So Islam has very little to say on the way public interactions should take place between men and women. If you read a Victorian novel and note how the men and women interact in public, their behavior is often perfectly “Islamic”. The point is to avoid sexually objectifying people of the opposite sex and to avoid situations where lust could become a factor. Apart from that we are free how we interact.

And God knows best.
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