4 Islamic articles on: Islam and friendship with the opposite sex

IslamQA: He hurt his close female friend by breaking off their friendship

Assalamo alaikum. There was this really good and decent person i fell in love with. We talked about work stuff, spiritualism, books and joked. She never found out that i was falling for her. Then i realized that this was wrong. My religion has strict rules about na mehrams so i stopped talking to her. She almost begged to tell her the reason behind this. Because i knew she would find some loophole to resume our friendship, i never told her. I don't talk to her anymore. I hurt her, i know. But i had to choose between Allah and her and to me the answer was clear. Is the way i hurt her worthy of punishment?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Sorry to read about your experience. It would have been better to explain to her why you felt the relationship was inappropriate. And if you considered her a good potential wife, you could have proposed to her and made your relationship with her public. Then with the permission of both your families you could have continued your relationship (if she agreed to get engaged to you).

It is a good thing to try to avoid getting romantically involved with people you are not engaged to. But it is much better if you sincerely express your feelings and give her the chance to decide to get engaged to you or not.

IslamQA: Her friend is too involved with her male colleagues

Assalamualaikum, please I need your help! My best friend has too many male friends from her college, she talks to them and sometimes goes out with them. She knows it's wrong, but whenever I speak to her regard this she tells me "we work on the same college projects together", but she talks to them as friends, not just as her team members! I don't know what to do with her. Any advice, please?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

It appears from your description that she is simply not religious enough to care, and if that is so, then her behavior is just the expression of a deeper ignorance or impiety, meaning that the problem you mentioned may be part of a bigger problem with her understanding or loyalty to her faith.

The thing that could help her most would be to involve her in beneficial activities, for example encouraging her to go with you to a sisters’ halaqa at a mosque. Trying to change a specific behavior does not usually work. But helping her become more involved with Islam through meetings, lectures and so on can affect every part of her life.

My advice is to never make someone your “project” where you try to improve them, that is not a proper attitude to have toward a fellow human. People like to freely reach their own conclusions about how they should behave. At the end of the day nothing you can do will change her unless she decides to change by herself.

IslamQA: On reducing unnecessary physical contact with the opposite sex

Salam. I have a question to ask. I have a friend at school, who is a boy. We have been friends for 3 years, and our friendship has always been respectful and decent, but lately we’ve been having physical touch. For example, his hair was growing out a little, so he asked me if I could help him try tying his hair. I had to touch his hair plus a little bit of his forehead. He’s also held my hand during the cold recently to give me warmth. What should I do? Thank you.

You could politely inform him that you do not wish for any further contact because of your religious views. The things you mentioned are innocent enough. The problem is that as young persons, both of you will probably have a strong desire to keep increasing your physical contact and intimacy, until, like so many others, you end up getting in a situation that you deeply regret later.

IslamQA: Can a Muslim woman have male friends? The Islamic view of having friends of the opposite sex

Salam. I have a question over boy friends? Is it okay to have friends who are boys and you know that they won't do anything with you or take your guys friendship over the line? Or should we Muslim girls have no friends who are boys?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are no texts in the Quran and the Sunnah that apply exactly to having “friends” of the opposite sex. Technically interacting with and talking to people of the opposite sex is not forbidden, and there is nothing wrong with having professional relationships with people of the opposite sex, or having acquaintances of the opposite sex.

When befriending a person of the opposite sex, there are always two factors in play. We want to connect with them soul-to-soul, to know them as fellow humans and to enjoy their companionship. But we also have our brains’ genetic instincts that can get in our way and fight against us. It is impossible to take away the brain’s awareness that we are dealing with a person of the opposite sex, a person who can potentially become our spouse. Even if we try to keep everything professional and platonic, even if we succeed in having a good friendship for months or years, our brains can always slip up so that we start to get romantically involved with them.

Whether a friendship with the opposite sex is appropriate or not depends entirely on the level of emotional connection with them. The stronger the emotional connection, the more inappropriate the friendship becomes. The more we are emotionally involved with a person of the opposite sex, the more this will interfere with our lives. An extreme example is a husband whose “best friend” is a woman other than his wife. This friendship will no doubt interfere with his relationship with his wife, making her feel left out, and making her feel there is another woman competing with her for her husband’s attention and sympathy.

It is equally inappropriate for two unmarried people of the opposite sex to be best friends. The deeper their emotional connection, the more it will interfere with any romantic relationships they may get involved with.

For a man, it is sometimes very easy to slip up and take an interaction in an inappropriate direction. It is so easy to joke with and compliment the woman and sooner or later the man’s brain may start to go into full “courtship” mode so that he starts to treat the woman as a romantic interest. A pious and self-aware man can have good control over himself so that he always tries to treat women as if they were his sisters (and this is what we should always try to do), but always there is the fact that his own brain’s instincts are his enemy. It prompts him to treat the women as more than just friends. This is something that he will always have to battle.

Another issue with befriending women for a man is that he cannot control what is in the minds of his female friends and how they respond to his friendship. They may not have as much self-control as he does so that they may become romantically attached to him.

When dealing with people of the opposite sex, our brains are always fully aware that this person is a potential spouse. Our brains may constantly prompt us to take the interaction in a romantic direction, so that we have to use our souls to overpower our brains to keep things appropriate.

Befriending a person of the opposite sex is therefore risky. It is not forbidden in Islam, but if we engage in it then we are taking a risk. Sometimes a man meets a woman who like him has very good self-control and has zero interest in becoming romantically attached to him. They can develop a good and beneficial friendship. But the more they interact with each other, and the closer they get emotionally, the more they risk letting things develop too much between them. So both of them have to remain self-aware and hopefully make it a practice to read the Quran daily or do other things that ensure they always have God in mind.

The fatwas I have looked at either say platonic friendships are forbidden or strongly discouraged, due to the risks involved. In reality we do not have anything explicit in Islam to forbid such friendships. There are endless shades of friendship between men and women. On the one end of the spectrum there are men and women who know each other professionally and share their work and interests with each other a few times a year. On the other end there are friends of the opposite sex who chat daily and consider each other best friends. While nothing on this spectrum is strictly forbidden, the risks get greater as the relationship becomes more intimate. The two friends are doing something risky, and they should honestly and sincerely look into their hearts and decide if they are able to manage such risk. If the two friends are mature and intelligent, and if they maintain a very close relationship with God through things like daily Quran reading, then they will likely be able to handle the risk.

Note that spending time in private in the same room as a person of the opposite sex is forbidden in Islam. Above, I am assuming that the friendship is mostly maintained through things like email and social media. It’s best that friends of the opposite sex work to maintain some distance, such as by avoiding sending each other photos, and avoiding speaking on the phone or doing video chats.

Only God knows what level of risk we are able to handle. The most pious and admirable thing to do is to always work to keep friendships with people of the opposite sex under good control, such as by avoiding interacting too much, and by imagining that our father, mother or spouse is watching the interaction.

In a perfect world we would have been able to enjoy close friendships with people of the opposite sex without having to worry about anything (and perhaps it is that way in Paradise, inshaAllah). But in this imperfect world, we have to remain aware of our limitations and we have to act accordingly.