Why Do Muslims Behave As if They Are Afraid of the Opposite Sex?
Gender relations is one of the most misunderstood and abused topics in our communities. We often curtail the rights of women and shame and blame both men and women in its name.
But how did the Prophet ﷺ train the Companions [God be pleased with them] when it came to making gender relations mistakes in the greatest community?
A beautiful woman used to pray in the masjid of the Prophet ﷺ. There were no physical barriers and some of the men would go to the front rows to ensure they wouldn’t look towards her. “Others would pray in the last row and would look underneath their armpits to see her. Because of this act, God revealed, “Verily We know the eager among you to be first, and verily We know the eager among you to be behind,” (Qur’an 15:24) [Tirmithi- classified Sahih by Albani].
From this narration, we learn that the young men who lived in the very city and attended the very masjid of the Prophet of God ﷺ slipped and checked a sister out…in the masjid. And yet what did the Prophet ﷺ do about it?
Did he create a wall between the men and women’s sections? Nope. Did he prohibit women from going to the mosque, lest they “tempt the men” who attend? No. In fact, he ﷺ did the exact opposite and commanded that women not be stopped from going to the Houses of God [Muslim].
And as a methodology, instead of blaming and shaming men or women for making a mistake, he ﷺ trained his community to keep themselves in check. He taught them personal responsibility and professional interaction with one another.
Women: Not a Source of Temptation
Take the example of the Prophet’s ﷺ cousin Al-Fadl, who was checking out a beautiful woman who came to ask the Prophet [p] a question during the days of Hajj. The Prophet caught Al-Fadl checking her out and instead of yelling at her, he turned towards Al-Fadl, caught his chin and turned his face [Bukhari].
Look at how the Prophet ﷺ trains Al-Fadl to be a responsible young man. He does not shame him. And more importantly, he does not utter words that would make Al-Fadl believe that the source of the problem was the existence of the woman. On the contrary, he gently turns Al-Fadl’s face away, teaching him that he is the one who needs to be responsible for his actions.
The Prophet ﷺ also does not curse the woman’s existence; he doesn’t scold her for catching his cousin’s gaze or command her to find a male relative to ask the question on her behalf. She was wearing hijab without covering her face and yet the Prophet [p] did not command her to cover her face lest another man be tempted by her beauty even though she caught Al-Fadl’s gaze. He [p] simply facilitated for her to be able to ask a question without being checked out in a respectful, accessible, comfortable environment.
This doesn’t mean if a woman wants to wear niqab and feels it is an obligation or more rewarding, that she should not do so. It also doesn’t mean if a man or woman doesn’t want to interact even with an actual reason and with modest Islamic guidelines, they must. May God reward them all greatly for their personal striving for His sake. Each person’s personal preferences should be respected. But those personal preferences should not be what makes policies that effect an entire community if that isn’t what’s most effective for that community.
Prophetic Wisdom & Example
In another example, a male companion kissed a woman, so he came to the Prophet [s] seeking help. God revealed this verse, ‘And perform the prayers, between the two ends of the day and in some hours of the night. Verily, the good deeds efface the evil deeds,’ (11:114). The man asked the Messenger of God ﷺ if the revelation of this verse applied only to his situation. The Messenger of God responded, ‘It applies to all my ummah.’” [Bukhari]
This incident teaches us that the way that God, our Creator, our Loving Sustainer, taught us to deal with slipping by connecting back with Him. When we mess up, we should regret it, ask for God’s forgiveness, resolve not to slip into it again and make up for it by doing good deeds. And if we do slip again? Start the cycle of asking for forgiveness over. We are going to make mistakes as individuals and as a community. When we do, come back to God. His door is always open.
Once a young man came to the Prophet ﷺ requesting permission to have sex outside of marriage. Like, would you ever feel comfortable asking a Shaykh for permission for that? Look at how accessible the Prophet [s] was and how comfortable people felt around him!
The Prophet ﷺ asked the man a series of questions. “Would you like it for your mom?” He ﷺ continued to ask if this man would like it for his daughter, sister or other female relatives. The man continually responded in the negative, intellectually convinced by the logical argument of the Prophet ﷺ. Finally, the Prophet placed his blessed hand on the man and prayed to God, “Dear God! May you forgive his sins, purify his heart and make him chaste.” [al-Hakim].
We need to learn to be like the Prophet ﷺ when it comes to dealing with discussions on sex. Sex is such a taboo topic in our community, yet many in our community hook up on the regular. On the flip side, some folks are so terrified sometimes of even having a conversation with someone of the opposite sex within our faith community because it’s made to be so hypersexualized and awkward that it’s impossible to be anything but uncomfortably robotic. But then at work, it seems super easy to connect with coworkers who aren’t Muslim. We’ve made one another afraid of our own brothers and sisters in faith.
Part of the problem is we often teach complete isolation instead of respectful, kind, professional interaction. There is a time for brotherly and sisterly separation and a time for professional integration. We often shame and blame and guilt instead of providing spaces for discussions and solutions when mistakes are made. The Prophet ﷺ clearly provided guidance for when his companions made mistakes as well as mentorship to help them make the right decisions from the beginning. He was open to even the most intimate conversations in public settings because he knew that was a critical source of education. In our families and communities, we must have open, honest conversations; Islam doesn’t make learning taboo.
But even with some members in his community making a mistake and going all the way outside of marriage, the Prophet ﷺ did not ban men and women from working together and interacting with one another. Instead, he taught the men and women in his community to work together with proper guidelines, professionally and respectfully, with the warmth of true brotherhood and sisterhood. [Read “10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam” here.]
Most of the examples I have chosen with regards to gender-relation scenarios explicitly mentioned men as those who acted upon or wanted to act upon their desires, but the same applies to women.
Ladies are often put under the bus when it comes to talking about women’s sexual desires, minimizing the reality that many women do in fact have strong urges and fight themselves not to act upon them or not to take that second glance.
Women and men alike can learn from the lives of those living in the society of the Prophet ﷺ and actualize the concepts of self-responsibility, continual connection with God and intellectual and spiritual strength to overcome desires or repent and turn to Him continuously when falling.
The companions [God be pleased with them] actualized a Qur’anic axiom describing gender interactions. It is the very one we must continue to work towards:
“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey God and His Messenger. Those – God will have mercy upon them. Indeed, God is Exalted in Might and Wise.” [9:71]
Men and women need one another. We need to support each other to ensure our communities thrive. The Qur’an describes us as ‘allies.’ Not as those who are constantly pointing fingers at one another and tearing each other down and apart. We’re allies who got one another’s backs. Let’s work to actualize that description.
This post was taken from Ustadha Maryam Amir’s Facebook post.