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Dating & Islam…to Me It’s an Oxymoron

11 April 2012 16 Comments

Dania Shahzad

“To be clear, Islam does not forbid women and men from talking to one another, but asks that they practice modesty and remain within the limits that Sharia has set.”


Walking down the school hallways as a young Muslim girl I used to see guys and girls holding hands, or a girl standing by her locker crying as her boyfriend talked to her. I would be confronted with questions and statements about dating that took different forms and styles, starting from elementary until I graduated high school. Both guys and girls would ask questions like,” Why aren’t you allowed to go out with guys?” or in a shocked tone would ask, “You’re not supposed to like someone?” “Why can’t you go out with me?” And the popular one, “Your religion is no fun!”  Answers would begin with “I am Muslim….!.”

Growing up, I never minded answering these questions with a full explanation as to what Islam allows and forbids when it comes to dating. Through my observations, for some young Muslims, these dating questions became sort of an invitation to the system of dating itself. This means they would take these questions and actually sit there and tell themselves, “Really, I should go out with her!, or “Islam should not forbid us from liking someone!” All of this turns into peer pressure and the concept of trying to blend into a society or the views of the majority.

At some points in school, it was difficult to give explanations or to ignore guys who would keep asking questions about dating because sometimes these questions would turn into teasing me or the other Muslims. There were also certain situations in class where it was encouraged to have a partner or the teacher would encourage and put out ideas about dating and having a relationship with the opposite gender. I can never forget when Valentine’s Day came along every year and the class had to give cards with candy to each student. It’s funny because it was hard to give them out. When I used to sit and write guy’s names on the cards, I would always avoid the cards that had messages like, “Be My Valentine,” or “Hearts and Kisses to You.”

This culture of dating has gone global; it’s  not only a part of the West. It was my faith and strong understanding that helped me go through school without going out with anyone and without even starting a relationship with a guy. But what some do not understand is that it is difficult a for a teenager growing up these days, especially Muslim girls, to know why Islam has forbidden dating or just simply mixing between the opposite genders.

Today, religion for some is taken as a very casual concept. The beautiful religion Islam is a complete way of life and teaches us about every step in it. This includes teachings on the relationship between a male and a female, the ‘halal’ way, which means something that is approved as religiously proper for a Muslim. In today’s contemporary Western societies, it is unrealistic to try to avoid any and all interaction with members of the opposite sex. The issue between both sexes is a very serious and sensitive issue; however, nobody seems to be taking it seriously. Through examples of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and verses of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, there are a few points we can draw from to better understand why dating or unnecessary mixing between sexes is forbidden.

Firstly, we should understand that Islam does acknowledge the concept of desires in both genders. Also, we are allowed to like someone but not to discover or begin a relationship with them through dating. One of the great scholars of Islam, Ibn Taymiyyah (ra), discussed two fundamental obstacles that get in the way of people who are looking for the truth. These obstacles are known as doubts (shubuhat, in the Arabic term) and desires (shahawat).  This means some people do not know that the Islamic rules are the truth. If they did, they would surely follow them. For others, even if they are sure of a truth, it is difficult for them to follow because they have a hard time giving up their desires. The major issue when it comes to dating is overcoming desires.

The Sharia, or Islamic law, has set certain guidelines that should be followed by every male and female, old or young, married or single. These guidelines explain how to deal with any relationship, whether at work, school, with relatives, friends, or even in markets. There are rules in relation to how to speak, dress, and behave, as well as what to prevent from happening in case of contact with the opposite sex. Nowadays, it is very common for Muslims to have boyfriends and girlfriends and/or to be best friends with the opposite sex, even in Muslim countries. This is even though Sharia has restricted the relationship between unrelated men and women, which is only allowed in specific circumstances (“Islamic revival”). The Quran says, “And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) for anything you want ask them from behind a screen” (Al-Ahzab 53).

Free mixing between members of the opposite sex is only allowed with permanently or blood-related Muslims, known as ‘mahrams,’ i.e. people of the opposite sex who have reached puberty that a Muslim is not allowed to marry. Mahrams to women are the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, son, brother, grandson, great-grandson, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, stepson, stepfather, and rada, people who have become mahrams because of being nursed by the same mother. This also applies for mahrams to men, who would include their aunt, grandmother, sister and so on. If a Muslim or a Muslimah (a female Muslim) is a non-mahram (ghayr mahram), not a relative within the prohibited degrees in seclusion, all the rules established by Sharia about separation of both sexes apply. All these rules apply when dealing with both Muslims and non-Muslims of the opposite sex.

Islam directed that a man and a woman should avoid being alone with one another. The Prophet Mohammad (May peace and blessings be upon him) has said, “No man should be alone with a woman except when there is a mahram with her” (Sahih Muslim), (“Reading Islam”). This is of course to avoid any sin through action or thought. The Quran says,

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them. And Allah is acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof” (Surah Al-Noor 30-31).

This verse from the Quran discusses the idea of modesty and how both men and women must act to avoid any unwanted attention, especially in a mixed environment. In a mixed society, as long as women do not portray seductive behavior, such as wearing sensual clothes,  sinful behavior can more easily be avoided. He has also commanded men to lower their gazes when in the presence of women.

In today’s world, interaction between the sexes cannot be avoided all the time, but even when two students are doing a class project together it is their responsibility to interact in accordance with Islamic rulings on modest interaction. As long as all the rules are in line with the teachings of Islam and there are no bad intentions, it is ok to interact in a public setting for necessary reasons, such as a school project. If the intentions of both the man and woman are pure, nobody can have a ‘haram’ (meaning unlawful or forbidden according to Islam) relationship.

One of the main goals in avoiding relationships between members of the opposite sex is to avoid fornication. Islam forbids all sexual relationships outside marriage. God (Allah, in Arabic) says, “Do not come near fornication, for it is indeed lewdness and an evil life-style”, (Al-Isra’ 17- 32). Both men and women are ordered not to enter houses without permission. As the Quran says, “Enter not houses other than your own until ye have asked permission and salute those in them” (Surah Al-Noor 27). This encourages Muslims to respect each other and to protect the society from sin.

Even acts that are seemingly small, such as staring, can send wrong signals. Given human nature of wanting attention and feeling attraction, lustful thoughts, flirting, and further behaviors cannot be predicted or controlled, so the best approach is to prevent these incidents from happening by avoiding situations that can lead to them. According to Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, Oone recent study conducted about male-female interaction in the workplace concluded that one in every three women had been sexually involved with a co-worker or boss.” He then points out that “If this is the case in a professional, business-like environment, then the potential for illicit relations in more casual circumstances has much greater potential.”

About two people being alone, the Prophet (May peace and blessings be upon him) has said, “If a man or a woman are alone together in an isolated place, then the third is Satan” (Ahmad, as quoted by Qardawi). This is related to the concept of ‘khulwa,’ which means seclusion—where a non-mahram man and woman are in a private place that requires permission to get in, such as a bedroom or a house. This is highly forbidden in Islam and goes against the rules of Sharia.

To be clear, Islam does not forbid women and men from talking to one another, but asks that they practice modesty and remain within the limits that Sharia has set. In the case of talking, one should talk only when necessary about an important and relative matter to a teacher, a coworker, relative, and neighbors as long as conditions are applied and are normal. It is permissible for men and women to mix for a purpose of medical treatment. Also, if the purpose of mixing is to learn about Islam or other education permitted by Sharia, then mixing is allowed. In the case of family,  in ‘Silat ar- Rahm’ which is to keep the ties of kinship or family ties, good relations between all members of the family and taking care of those who are in need is important. In this occasion, mixing is permitted as long as it is not done privately and not for the purpose of entertainment and socializing and is kept within limits.

By following the guidelines of Islam, men and women can achieve positive relationships that incorporate respect and understanding. Muslims must develop a mutual understanding of the limits and rules, which apply to both men and women. The proper contact and cooperation between opposite sexes is nothing if not a test of faith.

Muslims may find it difficult to avoid dating, but it is not impossible! As a young Muslim woman who grew up in a Western culture, I know exactly what it is like to be perceived as someone from outside of the “cool” or “in” crowd but I realized that it was important to me to follow what I believe is the right path according to Islam. Through the halal way, I am living happily with my spouse, and believe it or not, I do interact with men on a daily basis—both Muslim and non-Muslim men—but I always keep in mind the rules that I believe I should adhere to, which were set for a reason. Because of this I am confident that I am always respected when it comes to my dealings with members of the opposite sex.

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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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16 Comments to “Dating & Islam…to Me It’s an Oxymoron”
  1. Rayan says:

    MashaAllah! I like the article :)

  2. Dear Dania,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed reading your article though I differ in my view of the basic premise. My view is that dating is more a cultural phenomenon rather than a religious one.

    I am from India and in my country (and culture) it is not common to date. There is a system of “arranged marriage” where the parents find a good girl/boy from a well-respected family for their son/daughter. Of course in the past 15 years this has changed a good deal, but culturally, this has been the way.

    So, whether someone’s a Hindu or a Muslim or a follower of the many many religions in India, it is not too common for young people to date (more so in the traditional families).

    What do you think?

    Warm regards,

  3. Abdullah says:

    Dear Hari Ravikumar,

    I understand the part that you are coming from in regards to culture playing role in dating system and how far it is accepted. there is a degree of difference here. In most south Asian culture dating is looked down upon but is not rejected. in Islam there is zero concept of this. not saying many people do not still do it but it is not accepted in any form. if a guy likes a girl, there are proper respected ways to get to know her and that is also through her family or appointed guardian. Where in most cultures a person is judged upon family blood line or status in wealth or classicism. Islam shuns such Idea and states that a man or woman is to be judged on few important things. 1 His relationship with lord. 2 his relationship and conduct with family and fellow mankind. 3 his past is not to be used to judge him for you are to build a relationship of two for now and future. unless he is involved in matters that are on going or soon to be part of. being from India i’m sure you see the reality of my words a lot clearer! Again I personally know so many that do not follow such saying of Islam in these matters especially our south Asian community and it is like that with all faiths where not all followers do practice what is the truth stated in their faith. Rather they follow only the parts of it and of which only fits their interest.

    i hope i was a help..

  4. saira says:

    I hab bit of an issue, I’m engaged, (marrying in 2 yrs time)

    Umm, the problem is i talk to my hubby to be all th time, i know it’s wrong im tying to find a way of stopping, i don’t want to break off the engagement due to family and everything and cz i like my future hubby but how do i tell him i csan’t talk 2 him anymore without him getting offended and thinking i dont like him???!!!!!!!!!!! what if he breaks it ogfff!!!


  5. Aminat muhammad says:

    I love this article.its really given me d answers to the question i alwayz thought of when it comes to dating and islam.i nw can boldly answer my non muslims colleagues….hm..i dnt hav a bf,n i arent planning 4 in nigeria,boyfren n galfren tin ix a civilization and a highly regarded .

  6. Alex says:

    Good Read!!

    Thanks for the article Dania. It sure gives Islamic perspective in a very good way.

    @ Saira. First of all, you do not have to feel guilty about anything if you can not talk to your Fiance for reasons to be in strict adherence to Sharia!! Personally speaking, I may say that you two are engaged and I am assuming that when you say talking to him all the time, it does not mean you guys meeting in person alone and talking. I mean to me if you guys talk mostly over the phone or emails/chat etc, than If I am you, I probably would not feel too bad and I think it may be OK Islamically speaking too but again i am not scholar so you may want to check with some Muslim scholar. however, what I do know is that there is great important of ” Intent ” in Islam so Allah Knows your intentions and if you know you two are not going to end up doing something you should not do, than you are porbably fine. However, another important point is that if it so happens that you are not suppose to do any of this before marriage and you want to stick to that, than as your fiance and someone who loves, he should accept and respect your decision and if He can not do that, than I must say that you may want to rethink about going ahead with this marriage caz if he aint OK with your decision now which is by no means anything personal against him but just to do better as Muslim, than what is he going to do when you two do get married.. It will always be going to his way or no way and if he truly loves you, than he will accept you for who you are and be patient with you. I hope this helps n makes some sense.. Good Luck with everything!! n remember.. INA MAAL AH-MAAL0 BIN-NIAAT..( ACTION DEPENDS ON INTENTIONS ) SO Allah knows best.

  7. aisha says:

    Dear Dana,
    I would like to ask you if there are different rules in Muslims about relationships. I used to date a Moroccan guy and he told me It’s not possible to be shown who’s in a relationship with in his Facebook account because it’s forbidden in the first place to have a girlfriend in Muslims in Morocco.

    I respected it and I tried to understand but I cant see the logic. I know there might be something wrong because why put up and say you’re in a relationship but can’t show who is it. I wanna know the truth please.

    thanks so much

  8. Hari Ravikumar says:

    Dear Abdullah,
    Thanks for your explanation. It helped clear a few doubts I had.
    Warm regards,

  9. Dreams says:

    I totally agree with this article. Jazaki-allah khair inshallah! Its really hard to deal with the fitna around especially in high school where the fitna is not from non-muslims but from muslims as well but alhamdulilah I have never dated or been in a relationship at all..! :D

  10. the laughing atheist says:

    Are you all for real? All living things are the same they are on this earth (and many others probably that with technology and science we will in due time find) and are here to reproduce!! Amazing how all religions complicate a simple biological need programmed in to us and all living things.
    Pity all religions pontificate a load of rubbish about what people should and shouldn’t do. We are on this earth such a short time so forget what might (unprovably) happen when we are dead and get on and live your lives to the full by ditching all religion prejudice and have some fun!!

  11. Musaied says:

    REALLY informative topic may ALLAH rewards u for all ur efforts u r doing it for the sake of ALLAH ameen and stay blessed

  12. Azeem says:

    @ athiest: Life without religion is like living in an empty abyss.

  13. Wasiy says:

    thank’s for this article, is what had been searching for. It is better we hold ourselves. and when you see the mate whom you love with the Beauty of believer, talk to her, then go both to their parent, if they are beleiver they we surly bless both of you. Allah explain his law of us in clearance way, pay her (bridal)with whatever you have if she loves you and she is a true beleiver she will surely accept him. tanx

  14. Yasir says:

    I totally agree with this article yet it seems somewhat incomplete. I totally agree with the modesty both muslim men and women should have in a general setting like you described but u failed to then give a proper method of finding a mate. You and I both know (me being a muslim teenage guy living in the West) that Islam does not say we must stay chaste our entire lives; we can have sex with our spouse. But how do we find that spouse without some sort of “halal” dating method?! My parents are from Pakistan and had an arranged marriage of course, but this arranged method is only possible by investigating for a possible spouse through other their relatives and in gatherings in the Muslim community they lived in. In America my parents are cut off from these networks as I dont live in an area with many muslims. Finding my own spouse sort of becomes necessary for me and I plan on doing this in a ‘halal’ way by getting to know other Muslim girls in a non sexual form of dating. What I dont like about this article is the fact that it fails to mention that there is a difference between Islam and cultural traditions making Islam appear as totally denaying dating when in reality it allows it, but with standards.

  15. Maasha Allah ,agree with d article ,highly educatable.

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