Editor's note: This post is part of a Haute Hijab Academy series we're doing this month to help us all get ready for school, work, home stuff and whatever we have coming up as the summer winds down! This particular article is geared towards girls/women/moms/daughters, but also the advice can be applied to boys/men/sons.
Laughter filtered through the front door as I balanced a tray of snacks, walked by the living room sofa and stepped onto the porch. I squeezed past my daughter and her girlfriends seated in a semicircle and put the tray on the table in front of them. The young women, some Muslim and some not, kept talking and giggling as they reached for the food. My daughter craned her neck to look past me, calling to her male friends sitting at a distance on the other side of the porch.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw the two young men lift their heads from their phones, smile and nod. I went into the kitchen and returned with more food for the young men. They thanked me and stuffed their faces, talking to each other and the girls on the other side. After everyone emptied the trays, the crew of friends got up, thanking me as they headed toward the cars in the driveway and an afternoon of group fun.
When my children were younger, I had a more significant influence on their friendship circles. Like many parents, I mainly scheduled playdates with my own friends who had kids. As a result, my kids’ social circle included friends similar to mine, which were mostly (but not exclusively) Muslims and gender-specific. The boys hung out with the boys and the girls with the girls.
As they got older and transitioned into adulthood, my daughter and her brothers expanded their social lives and made connections with people and their own friendships independent of their father and me.
These circles of friends had some differences from when they were children: Their friendship groups became gender-inclusive. My grown sons had women friends and my daughter had a few male friends. Initially, I had a difficult time knowing my children had casual cross-sex friendships
My ex-husband and I did our best to raise them in an environment that observed gender separation, but I had to come to grips with their new social circles. I did not want to be judgmental and risk them shutting me out. Instead, I accepted it and supported them while providing them with reminders of the importance of engaging in their friendships with the opposite sex while maintaining their religious convictions.
Image source: MYNA (Photographer: Shayan B)
Many Muslim teens and young adults are taught to observe strict gender segregation according to interpretations of Islamic teaching about men and women remaining separate in social circles
(more on this later in this article). However, we have to expect that as our children traverse through life and participate in social events and venues, many of our Muslim youth may have platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex due to their social spheres. A young Muslim woman may make male friends at school, work or when volunteering. Our daughters will move through the world, making connections with people, including young men.
Some of these connections will remain professional and distant while others transfer into a casual acquaintance or even friendship. While it may seem frightening to us as their parents, we need to adjust to the ways young people connect and concentrate on equipping our young women (and men) with the emotional and social tools that help them stay aware of potential challenges that may arise from having friends of the opposite sex as well as ways for them to establish boundaries to safeguard any compromises to their deen.
Why Muslim Women May Want Male Friends
The word friend can be broad in its application and unique to everyone. We all “friend” total strangers on social media, and we may call someone a friend for lack of a better word that demonstrates a certain level of familiarity. Friends can be categorized in our minds at different levels of closeness as well. We have our best friends, to whom we tell everything, and there are friends with whom we only connect through shared interest. Whether a bosom buddy or social media acquaintance, these friends play an important role in our lives and have influence over us.
While most people have more friends of the same sex
, women and men can also have cross-sex friendships based on their compatibility with someone. Your Muslim daughter will have seemingly unlimited access to be friends with whomever digitally through social media. She will also potentially make friends in her religious, professional, personal and educational spheres, gravitating to and forming bonds with people at the masjid, Muslim events, work and at school.
Image source: Pexels; photo by mentatdgt
Depending on the cultural atmosphere of where she goes, she may generate friendships with Muslim and non-Muslim men. Now, this may not worry you as a parent. You may not consider cross-sex friendships as a big deal and think your daughter can handle it. However, if you worry about observing Islamic principles and your daughter potentially getting tempted into haram behavior, then her relationship dynamics may produce some concern.
Having friends of the opposite sex may raise eyebrows and set tongues yapping in certain social settings, and it may not have the same scandalous connotations in some of the other spaces and places your daughter navigates. These friendships may have specific dynamics that parents will want to appreciate.
A young Muslimah may have a cross-sex friendship for a variety of reasons, including:
1. Honesty: A male friend may tell you the truth when a female friend will want to spare your feelings. He will tell you exactly what he thinks.
2. Protection: A male friend may protect you like he would his own sister.
3. Male Perspective: A male friend will give you a guy’s take on things.
Since much of friendship is about compatibility, your daughter may not consider gender as a factor and allow herself to have a guy pal who will provide her with things her girlfriends may not. Now, please understand that I’m not encouraging cross-sex friendships, but parents should understand that they are real, and their daughter may have at least one male friend. Instead of her hiding him from you, consider letting her be open so you can provide her with guidance. It’s much better to be in the know.
Challenges to Cross-Sex Friendships And Islamic Principles
Cross-sex friendships can be complicated, especially for a Muslimah. Our deen has components that encourage separation between the sexes, and she should be encouraged to respect those religious protocols while having a male friend. She will also want to interact with her male friend in a way that avoids things getting weird.
Here are few things you may want to talk with your Muslim daughter about when it comes to having guy friends and interacting with guys in general:
1. Contact: Islam prohibits casual physical contact with the opposite sex. If your daughter’s male friend is Muslim, he may seek to maintain a respectful distance. However, if the friend is not Muslim, she may want to make sure he is aware of her culture and desire to avoid contact. Discuss with your daughter how she can set boundaries with her male friends when they are together so he can respect her need for personal space and no touch.
2. Solitude: No matter how close, a Muslimah should avoid being alone with a male friend. The Prophet (saw) said: “No man is alone with a woman but the third one present is the shaytaan.” [Saheeh at-Tirmidhi].
Being alone with a person of the opposite gender may be necessary at times, but Muslims avoid those types of situations as much as possible to prevent shaytaan’s (the devil) whisper and any chance of increased intimacy. According to Islamic teachings
, when two people spend time alone, it may raise the potential for things changing from something professional or platonic to a romantic interaction and engaging in zina
(illicit sexual relationships).
This can even goes for texting/messaging. My HH editor Dilshad tells me that as her children gained access to electronic devices, she advised them to keep texting and messaging with friends of the opposite sex to group messages. If one-on-one messaging had to happen for whatever purpose, keep it brief and non-intimate was her advice.
Image source: Pexels; photo by August de Richelieu
Many times young Muslim women spend time with male friends in a group. Unlike female friends, who can stop by and join your daughter in her bedroom, you should advise your daughter to try and spend time with male friends when there are other people around. Enjoying time with him and the crew will allow her to have fun without finding herself alone with him and at a level of intimacy that she doesn’t want.
Talk to the young women in your life about keeping things public with her male friends so they can observe Islamic protocols and prevent her being in an uncomfortable position.
3. Conversation and unintentional flirting: Friends share things all the time. Your daughter may feel more comfortable talking with a friend than you. That’s fine, but it is important that she assess what she shares with her male friends. It’s one thing to talk about common interests (including faith), but she should establish a boundary about what she and her guy friend discuss.
Talk with her about avoiding flirting with guy friends and to be on the lookout if she sees them doing it to her. Talk with her about how she may not think she is flirting and that she is being friendly, but her guy friend(s) may not interpret it as that. Spoken and unspoken boundaries should be established early on in these friendships.
3. Developing feelings: A big challenge to cross-sex friendships is keeping things platonic. Because friends may grow closer through conversations and time spent together, your daughter may discover that she has feelings for her guy friend, which he may or may not reciprocate. The potential for friendships to transition into something romantic does exist. However, just because your daughter experiences increased attraction to a guy friend, it doesn’t mean she must act on them.
Let your daughter know that she is safe to come to you and talk about any feelings she has that may mean her friendship is changing from platonic to romantic. If she does come to you, offer her tips to help keep him in the friend zone or gently create some distance if necessary.
Advise her to explore her boundaries that respect Islamic teachings and to stick to them. If these boundaries have been blurred, then it is time for her to reestablish them. She may also want to examine the activities she engages in with her male friend to make sure they aren’t interacting in a romantic setting or alone with more intimacy.
Invite her to explore her feelings. Has she become more jealous of her guy friend as he gets close to someone else? Is she just getting too close? She will want to think about how the friendship has changed for her, if she is comfortable with it, and if it may be better to back away a bit.
Image source: Pexels; photo by RODNAE Productions
Your daughter may notice that her male friend exhibits signs that his feelings for her changed, which may leave her uncomfortable. She may come to you for ways to let him down easy or explore changing their friendship. If your daughter comes to you, listen to and validate her feelings. Do not rush to judge or offer quick solutions. Guide her with love and care. Hash it out together so she can feel confident about her final decision.
Our Muslim faith and culture generally discourages cross-sex friendships, but we as parents must recognize the reality that our daughters may have a male buddy. We must brace ourselves for some hard conversations and give them productive advice. By being there for them, we can be both (and first) their parent and probably one of their most important friends.
Please know that this advice works in large parts for boys/men as well in regards to their possible friendships with women. What advice would you give on this matter? Share with us in the comments below.