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Gender Interactions…Are We Too Strict?

Editor’s note: The following text is not strictly verbatim transcript of the video. Some editorial modification were made to make the text publishable as an article.

There is no doubt that this is one of the most difficult issues to navigate in the modern workforce. Those who are not yet in the workforce, don’t presume that you know how you will act when you get to that arena.

It is very easy to be hardcore in university but when you get to corporate world; when you get to the job situation; when you understand the dynamics then things will change a little bit.

The fact of the matter is that we are surrounded by areas that are difficult for us such as this one and this has resulted in a counter reaction to the dominant narrative.

Stricter Within Islamic Settings?

In my humble opinion, many of us tend to react within our Islamic settings, even stricter than what Allah and His Messenger have intended for us. For them, any type of interaction with opposite gender Muslims becomes totally haram and totally problematic.

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Interestingly, we don’t have a problem in` interacting with the opposite gender in our classrooms or in our settings, I mean, look at your underground tube, how close are you to the other gender.  I took your tube the other day and my God! It is crazy! You are literally packed like sardines and you don’t choose the gender you are standing next to. Isn’t it right?

So, the point is how can we reach a healthy compromise?

This is an ongoing debate for which I don’t have solutions,  but what I do know is we do see extremes. On the one hand, in many masajids the segregation become strict to an extent that Sahabah and early generations would not even conceive.

We become even stricter than the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Companions themselves. And this is demonstrated in a million and one ways, I mean to have a physical barrier every time, which I am against because that barrier is an imaginary one…as soon as you walk out, it doesn’t exist. So why create a false bubble?

Communication failure

Frankly, and let me again be very blunt here, one of our biggest problems when it comes to these inter-gender relationships is that because we are segregated so viciously within the circle of Islam, we don’t learn how to actively and respectfully dialogue with a Muslim from the opposite gender, while we do not have this problem with the non-Muslims.

When a non-Muslim person of the opposite gender comes and says, ‘Hello’, ‘How are you doing’, ‘Good afternoon’, ‘Good morning’, you all know what to say, how to say it, and how to be proper and respectful without being flirtatious. Isn’t that correct? Right!

Yet, in the Islamic conventions, if a veiled sister says salam, we immediately wonder whether she is proposing and seeking marriage… etc. It is really a problem that you cannot interact with the other in this case without sexualization.

Root of the Problem

Why that happens? Because we are the ones who have created that. Do you really think that the Prophet’s Companions, male and female, behaved like that? If you read the Prophet’s Seerah, it is very clear that they had a different attitude: they used to greet one another in a respectful manner and they knew their boundaries.

We fail to teach our youngsters this and that is, in my opinion, one of the biggest problematic legacies of ultra-conservative Islam; we become stricter than the Shari`ah wants. Once you become stricter than the Shari`ah requires then there will be consequences.

We do not know how to treat each other; our brothers do not know how to treat our sisters with respect that they deserve. They completely ignore them as if they don’t exist. If a non-Muslim colleague of yours or a lady with whom you take a class passes, you will find no problem to say ‘Good afternoon’ or ‘Good morning’. If it is the cashier or the bus driver, you will say, ‘Hello!’.

By Allah, does not your Muslim sister deserve more respect from you? Is not she worth to say As-salamu `alaykum to her so that she knows you are there; if she faces any harassment she knows that there is a brother in the vicinity.

But, unfortunately, we have been taught to completely ignore as if she doesn’t exist and it’s a two-way street as well. If you read the Prophet’s Seerah, you do not find this fanaticism; the two genders were not living in such absolute fears from each other. Now this is in the Seerahin Madinah, imagine what’s going to happen when we bring about a false segregation in England, where there is no segregation in the first place.

A call for indulgence?

Does that mean I call for brothers and sisters have a party together? No, of course I’m not saying that.

Actually, that is the problem: when people like myself start speaking in these topics, the traditionalists start getting a little bit worried about where you are heading with this talk. That is called in the floodgate argument; if I open the door an inch I open it all the ways. But this logic is very shallow. I am not saying we cross the line. What is the line? Obviously, flirtation and haram relationship is the line.

So, if we don’t teach our young men and women to respect one another regardless of the gender, how could we expect to have a positive society? We go to such an extreme that to mention her name becomes a taboo; she is just anonymous sister. Compare this with the hadith in Al-Bukhari when Zaynab knocks on the Prophet’s door, and `A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) tells that Zaynab is knocking. She does not say it is a sister! And then the Prophet asks, “Which zaynab?”, that is, I know a number of Zaynabs, so which one of them is outside?

When it comes to gender interaction, you know it is almost impossible for us to lower the gaze one hundred percent in a professional environment. So, what does Allah say? He says, {fear Allah as much as you can} (At-Taghabun 64: 16) What does that show us? Honestly, we have an issue about becoming stricter than Islam wants us to be and that will lead to a backlash; your reaction is going to have a counter reaction. The way forward is to promote a healthy, applicable understanding of Islam.

So, look in the direction but don’t stare at her body; don’t stare at her as an object of beauty. Act in a dignified manner –and everybody here knows how to act in a dignified manner when it comes to interacting with a non-Muslim lady.

If she wears clothing that is very difficult for you to concentrate, don’t look at that portion of her body. True, it is difficult to control your gaze at that level but that is also will show her that you treats here  like a human being.

I know a sister who converted 35 years ago because the way a young Muslim gentleman treated her. She was very beautiful, dressing provocatively, and this young man would always deal with her in a manner of dignity without being vulgar or flirtatious. She was curious why this man did not behave just like other men who would stare and comment.

When she asked him about that, he answered that he was Muslim; he was taught not to stare and not to have vicious looks. She was so impressed; she started learning Islam and she converted to Islam and became a very active lady.