As Muslim children become older, they develop their own worldviews and ways of navigating their faith.
Parents of teens, young and new adults must find ways to negotiate a transition in relationships as kids increasingly embrace their autonomy and take more responsibility for their personal and social lives.
Outside of gender-divided Muslim spaces, young Muslims will often need to navigate through less restrictive social spheres that may involve interacting and developing relationships with people from an array of backgrounds and regardless of gender.
Some relationships may burgeon into friendships with members of the opposite gender, making it necessary for Muslim youth to determine how to engage with them and parents to offer support and advice.
“I advise her to stay within Islamic boundaries when dealing with men,” dentist, Khadijah told AboutIslam.
She encourages her thirteen-year-old daughter to refrain from touching male classmates and to restrict interactions to “as needed” and “for the purpose of learning.
“No, she cannot go to hang out for leisure with boys or go and catch a movie.”
“My advice to my daughter is that I don’t expect her to completely avoid boys or that she will never talk to boys,” editor, Dilshad Ali told AboutIslam.
“She goes to a public co-ed high school and has almost always been in public school. I do advise her to not become close friends with boys, as too many times close friendships can lead elsewhere.”
Embed from Getty Images
Young Muslim Women and Male Friends
Some Muslim teens and new adults share similar views about inter-gender friendships while others do not. The young Muslim women we interviewed shared thoughts and processes they use when it comes to developing platonic relationships with young men.
“I think that it is totally okay for a Muslim woman to have male friends so long as she keeps the relationship safe, public, and within her own boundaries,” said student Amal (16).
“The friendship should not make her feel unsafe or as if she is betraying her religious/family values – if she is, then it is not a good friendship. It should be a public friendship. If she feels as if she needs to keep it private, then it is clear that it is not a friendship that should be happening.”
“A friendship between [people of] opposite genders would be something platonic and genuinely supportive but distanced,” writer and student, Juwayriyah (18) told AboutIslam.
“I have people I go to class with, people I’m friendly with and I joke around with, but outside of school, I don’t really communicate with any of them so I wouldn’t call them friends.”
Blogger, Maryam (24) described her friendships with Muslim male peers as she was growing up. “It was the same as when I was with my female friends. I wouldn’t mind going out with them. We would go to eat dinner or text regularly, but we mostly hung out in groups.” She expressed that she did not have non-Muslim male friends.
“I grew up being told I couldn’t have male friends, but I was in school classrooms with boys. So, my parents were telling me one thing, but I’m around all of these boys, and there nothing weird about it.”
Her parents did not approve of her relationships with young men, and there were some tensions. “My mother would tell me the hadith that if you are alone with someone, the third person was Shaytaan. I got that, but I didn’t see why I couldn’t be friends with [a boy] if we weren’t alone. The problem comes when they are alone.”
Maryam’s friendships with Muslim men shifted when she married. “All of my male friends are mutual [ones with my husband] or married and we are friends with the couple. I don’t have as many one-on-one male friends that I am close to anymore.”
The young women interviewed expressed the need for solid boundaries when it comes to inter-gender friendships.
When asked how she kept friendships with young men platonic, Maryam explained the limits she would set. “After I was told, ‘I like you’ or ‘I’m interested in you,’ I made it clear that I was only interested in a friendship.”
“You should also feel as if your boundaries are being well respected,” said Amal. “If the conversations that you are having with someone of the opposite gender are not conversations that you would be willing to have with your parents, then your friendship might not be very safe for you.”
“Personally, I do appreciate having boundaries set from the get-go because it protects me from a lot of other problems that other teenage girls struggle with: boys not respecting their boundaries, relationship issues, intercourse before marriage, etc.
“I can focus on what I want to do in my life without worrying about all the things some other girls might worry about if they choose to have romantic relationships with people of the opposite gender. It helps me stay more centered and dedicated to my personal goals not only as a high school student but also as a good Muslimah.”
Muslim Mothers Give Cautionary Advice
Author and educator Umm Juwayriyah and her daughter have varying opinions about a Muslim woman’s ability to have platonic friendships with men.
“She believes that platonic relationships can be had. I err on the more cautious side in my own life simply because I have lived as a Muslima through all of the stages that she hasn’t yet.”
She added, “I attended public school (my daughter was homeschooled) and college. I know how easy intentions and actions, when not mindful, can go on separate paths – especially if the guy is nice and has similar interests.”
“As much as we say that men and women can be friends, proximity and closeness can at some point present some situations you don’t want to be in,” explains Dilshad.
“I tell her to be careful how she speaks to boys and girls especially with texting, as nothing is private, and anyone can screenshot and share anything.”
“We all have to work with, study with, and learn with non-Mahram males – even in the Muslim world,” said Umm Juwayriyah.
“As long as you remember Allah and remain mindful of the limits set by Allah for males and females – not being alone, not touching, not getting too personal (making dates to meet up outside at places by yourselves) – you can have a platonic or professional friendship with people of the opposite gender. And Allah knows best.”