Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

Question: I would like to know how in this day and age, a woman can observe modest behavior and be seen as a normal person. I don’t like sitting with and talking to na-mahram men.  Because I don’t smile at men and talk to them openly I am often told that I lack social skills or that I am austere. Lately, I have been questioning my own acts. Perhaps they are right. I think because I don’t talk to men that often I don’t even know how to interact with them. My awkward behavior makes them feel awkward. How can a single muslimah living in this western society maintain the balance of making people around her feel comfortable as well as maintain the rules of purdah? (Clear cut rules of conduct would help as I often like to think of things in black and white; for example, I can do this but I can’t do that, that sort of thing.)

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Dear Sister,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your question.

I pray this message finds you well.

The first thing I can tell you is that these rules of behavior are not as black and white as you may think. What is considered polite or friendly in one society may be out of line in another.

Just be yourself. Stop feeling uptight or nervous around non-mahram men. If you live in the West, chances are you will have to interact with non-mahram men quite frequently, particularly if you go to school or have a job.

Simply observe your hijab, be pleasant, and don’t engage in aimless conversation. Any Muslims you deal with (whether family or not) should be able to respect this.

But bear in mind that observing Islamic etiquette is not an excuse for rudeness. So give salaams, ask people how they and the family are doing, and keep on going.

I pray this helps.

Related Answers:

Guidelines for Interacting With the Opposite Sex

Women & the Workplace: Is it Impermissible for Me to Work Even If I Observe Proper Limits?

Limits of Relationship between Males and Females

Who is Mahram

Hadith About Seclusion (khalwa) and Unmarriageable Kin (mahram)

A Detailed Exposition of the Fiqh of Covering One’s Nakedness (awra)

Regards,

Zaynab Ansari

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