Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
Responding to your question, Dr. Hatem Al-Hajj, Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Mishkah University and a member of the Permanent Fatwa Committee for the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America (AMJA), states:
When such need exists, the scope of the correspondence should be limited to that need and pertinent issues, and should not drift into personal matters, such as inquiring about one’s age, condition, climate, place of work, study or residence…etc.
The meeting of a man and a woman alone in those virtual rooms should be limited to rare cases for a significant need, and they may not exceed the time required to realize that need.
It is also impermissible for them to socialize or chat about matters not directly pertinent to the business at hand.
I do not see harm, however, in the coexistence of men and women inside a virtual classroom or a virtual meeting for some online dawah functions. This would even be permissible in reality; given there is a reasonable distance between the sexes. Thus, its permissibility online would be even more obvious. All of this would certainly be contingent upon the attendees’ observance of the proper Islamic etiquette and absence of obscenity, etc.
Finally, I must caution that many righteous of males and females take a more permissive stand towards online chatting and correspondence. They act in that virtual world, as they call it, in a way completely different from how they conduct themselves in the real world. This is mainly due to their sense of safety that the other correspondent is unable to see them, and even if or when they do, they are far away.
This results in the deterioration of modesty and the audacity to do or speak impropriety. All people by now have realized that such interactions frequently lead to infatuation and temptation. Moreover, they may lead to the commitment of enormities. That could happen even without physical meeting. Therefore, caution must be exercised and the encounters must be limited to the true needs. Once one feels drifting, it is his or her obligation to promptly stop that form of communication for the safety of their religion.
As for the evidence on the permissibility, Al-Bukhari reported from Anas that a woman from Al-Ansar came to speak with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he took her to a side where they were alone. This is by the agreement of the scholars a form of seclusion different to the forbidden one where they could be seen but not heard. Ibn Hajar commented on this by saying, “It indicates that having a private dialogue with a foreign woman is permissible whenever there is safety from temptation.”
The proofs on the need to exercise caution are plentiful; here are some of them:
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “I have not left after me any fitnah (trial) more harmful to men than women.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
He also said, “The best of the men’s rows are the first ones and the worst are the last, while the best of the women’s rows are the last and the worst are the first.” (Muslim)
Imam An-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said,
“Indeed, the last rows of the women attending [the prayer] with the Prophet were preferred due to their distance from intermixing with men, and the criticism of the first rows is criticized for the opposite.”
Almighty Allah knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.