Smiling Decently at Opposite Gender to Avoid Rudeness OK?

14 August, 2019
Q Assalamu 'alaykum. In a typical work or school situation, is it OK to smile decently to teachers or coworkers when talking to them? If I don't smile I seem rude especially if I am greeted. It's not a tempting laugh or smile with eye contact, just a decent one to show a pleasant person. Also if I am working and I am left with a male coworker/client in the room, what should I do? Jazakum Allahu khairan

Answer

Short Answer: Some scholars say whether a smile is haram depends on intent. Prophet Muhammad said that a smile is charity. Smiling in politeness and friendliness should be regarded as an act of sadaqah – not as one of fitnah. If it is necessary that you meet with a male colleague, try to do so in a public area, such as a cafeteria if your work has one. Otherwise, try to keep the meeting to an open space.

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Alaykum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

Thank you, sister, for submitting this question.

It is definitely one that is relevant to many of us, as the vast majority of modern workplaces are mixed.

I will start out by saying that there is a difference of opinion on the matter.

There are, in fact, some shuyukh and scholars who say that smiling at the opposite sex is haram, full stop.

Some others say that working in a mixed-sex environment is also haram.

There are others, whoever, who take a different view. They say that whether a smile is haram depends on intent. These are the scholars that I agree with, and I will illustrate why.

Yes, it is true that women and men can smile at one another as a way of flirting. I don’t think anyone denies this possibility.

Deeds Are By Intentions

However, we also know that what matters most is our niyyah or our intent.

What is problematic is when people start to police intent.

Those scholars I mentioned above tend to argue that because one might have flirtatious intent when smiling, it should therefore be forbidden. They also argue that if a man sees a woman’s smile he will become overcome with sexual desire and there will be fitnah.

First and foremost, it is not up to scholars to make rules in order to try to control intent. If you smile at someone out of friendliness, Allah knows what is in your heart. It doesn’t matter whether it is interpreted as flirting – as long as your intent was good then insha’Allah, there will be no sin on your part.

Secondly, if all it takes for a man to be overcome with desire is to see a woman’s smile, then he is not fit for the workplace and should probably seek medical treatment. This is not a normal reaction to have and there may be something wrong with him.

It is also important that we do not forget that smiling is an act of charity. It is documented in At-Tirmidhi that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that a smile is charity.

Smiling in politeness and friendliness should be regarded as an act of sadaqah – not as one of fitnah.

Alone With a Male Colleague

As for finding yourself alone with a male colleague, that can be a tricky subject. It is known that if a non-mahram woman and man are alone together, then Shaytan (Satan) is the third one in the room with them.

Setting aside obvious exceptions to this, such as emergency situations, it is something that we as Muslims should take our best care to observe. This does not mean that it is not possible to function in a modern workplace.

Consider, for example, the role that an imam of a masjid plays. Oftentimes, at least in North America, he acts as a counselor. He meets with people regarding private and personal issues and advises them. In this context, confidentiality is important. But as an imam he must also take care to follow the laws of Islam.

I have been to some mosques where the imam will meet with you, but will leave the office door open. I met with one imam who had a secretary outside his office and a window looking in, so that his actions would always be visible to a third person.

Similar concepts can be applied in an office setting. If it is necessary that you meet with a male colleague, try to do so in a public area, such as a cafeteria if your work has one. Otherwise, try to keep the meeting to an open space, or, if this is impossible, leave the door of the office in which you are meeting open.

This is important, not only from an Islamic point of view, but also for your own safety. Unfortunately, some men (most likely those same ones who think that a smile is a sexual invitation) seem to believe that being alone with a woman gives him some sort of right to her body. So please, protect yourself and protect your deen.

Insha’Allah this has been helpful to you, sister.

Thank you and please keep in touch.

Salam.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity and find more info in the following links:

How to Smile Like the Prophet Muhammad?

Even a Smile is Charity: A Life Example

The Genuine Power of a Smile

 

About Leah Mallery
Leah is a Muslim convert of almost a decade. She has two kids, an intercultural marriage, and half of a French degree in her back pocket, looking to switch gears to science and medicine. She has lived abroad for over a decade, having just recently become reacquainted with her roots in America. She currently lives in Michigan near her family and – masha’Allah – a sizeable Muslim community.