A day of hard work with your peers on a project, a sister suggests that all of you hang out at the pizza place nearby for a late lunch. The problem is, your group of peers is made up of both guys and girls. “But we’re all friends!” protests the sister when you, as a brother, bring up the issue. So you think about it and agree, because after all, you say – “She’s like a sister to me.”
Key phrase here: “like a sister.” She isn’t really your sister, which means that there are limitations in how you relate to her. Nowadays, under the guise of Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood, many are unfortunately committing sins in the name of friendship. Islam, however, does not permit such close relationships between non-Mahrams.
Of course, living in the society, there are times when non-Mahrams do interact – but there is a difference between how we do so with our colleagues and with our friends. We interact on a regular basis with our colleagues regarding the work that has brought us together on a professional level. We also interact regularly with our friends, but our topics of conversation are not restricted to just business. Furthermore, we spend time with our colleagues at university or at the workplace – basically, any place that is relevant to business meetings. However, we can meet our friends in both formal and informal settings.
Our colleagues and friends are not one and the same. Keeping that in mind, we are supposed to interact with non-Mahrams as colleagues, not as friends. Unnecessarily spending time with non-Mahrams – doing things like hanging out or having long conversations just to kill time – is out of the question, because that is what we would do with a friend.
ISLAM ON CROSS-GENDER FRIENDSHIPS
As Muslims, everything we do is with the intention of gaining the pleasure of our Creator. We are supposed to be constantly aware of the presence of Allah, and to strive to get closer to our Beloved by following the teachings of the Prophet and his companions (peace be upon them). In line with those teachings, the concept of Hijab for men and women is one of the fundamental aspects of Islam. When it comes down to the core of the matter, all forms of Hijab are for the purpose of maintaining God-consciousness and respect when we interact with non-Mahrams out of necessity.
However, mixing with non-Mahrams and going out of our way to spend time with them obviously defies those ideals of Hijab. It’s as simple as this: Brothers And Sisters Who Are Not Mahram To Each Other Are Not Supposed To Interact When There Is No Point In Doing So, and any interaction that does take place is supposed to be done in a professional manner. Conclusively, the idea of non-Mahram guys and girls spending time together as “FRIENDS” is NOT endorsed by Islam.
Also, we need to realize that being Muslim doesn’t make us immune to falling into sin. Just because a sister wears a headscarf and a brother sports a beard does not mean it is okay for them to become friends. As Muslims, we are instructed to follow guidelines for our own benefit, and in this situation too there is wisdom. Just as we are to abstain from sitting at a table that has alcohol bottles on it and just as we are to abstain from listening to music, we are to abstain from developing non-Mahram friendships because of the greater sins that we could be led to commit.
STUDIES ON CROSS-GENDER FRIENDSHIPS
Allah is the One who created us, and He knows the details of the human system better than we can ever discover. It stands to reason that whatever He commands us to do and to stay away from is logical, because He would not ask of us something that is IMPOSSIBLE to do or that is harmful for us.
Whether or not we acknowledge it, there is a scientific aspect of attraction in cross-gender “friendships”. Our brains release chemicals upon interaction with others, and the amount released increases as we spend more time with a person of the opposite gender. We are fooling ourselves if we try to ignore these facts and be “JUST FRIENDS” with non-Mahrams, because then we will be treading thin ice over a sea of sin in which we will lose focus on our journey of getting closer to the Almighty.
Published in Psychology Today, Camille Chatterjee’s article, “Can Men and Women be Friends?” (2011), sets out trying to prove that non-Mahrams can indeed be just good friends. However, the evidence that she presents counters her own arguments. Chatterjee says: “The reality that sexual attraction could suddenly enter the equation of a cross-sex friendship uninvited is always lurking in the background. Unwelcome or not, the attraction is difficult to ignore.” Citing poll results, Chatterjee’s article also shows that even though 83 percent of the 1,450 poll participants believed that non-Mahram friendships can be successful, 62 percent of the participants admitted to their friendships having “crossed the line and [become] romantic or sexual.”
Even when it comes to people who do not give in to their desires, there are still problems with their non-Mahram friendships. The details of Linda Sapadin’s study were released in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, under the title of “Friendship and Gender: Perspectives of Professional Men and Women” (1988). Sapadin mentions: “Both sexes generally kept their friendships and sexual relationships separate though sexual feelings and tensions still existed in many cross-sex friendships.” On top of that, her study reveals that of the 156 questionnaire participants, 62 percent reported that there was sexual tension in the air with their non-Mahram friends.
Also found in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships are the results of Daniel Kaplan and Christopher Keys’ study “Sex and Relationship Variables as Predictors of Sexual Attraction in Cross-Sex Platonic Friendships between Young Heterosexual Adults” (1997). The results of the surveys show that a significant number of women and men (the number of men being higher) consider befriending non-Mahrams as the first step towards developing a romantic relationship with the person. This in itself shows that it is difficult for non-Mahrams to be “JUST FRIENDS” because the relationship doesn’t even start off with straightforward intentions.
Published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, Rivka Tuval-Mashiach, Sophie Walsh, Shirley Harel, and Shmuel Shulman’s study focuses on the behavior of 142 participants. Entitled “Romantic Fantasies, Cross-Gender Friendships, and Romantic Experiences in Adolescence” (2008), their results strongly indicate that one of the ways which adolescents get to experience romance is through cross-gender friendships, in addition to their romantic relationships.
More often than not, it seems that befriending someone of the opposite gender has become the first step to eventually turning the friendship into a more intimate relationship. So whether or not it is clearly stated aloud by the non-Mahram individuals themselves, studies show that non-Mahram friendships are, in reality, made for inappropriate reasons.