Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razack

Question: What are the limits of the relationship between male and female (non-mahram)? For example, can they talk to each other about knowledge in a room on their own without a third party, or teach each other? Would the ruling be the same if one was with two or more girls or vice versa, or they are on their own in a public place like in a coffee shop or in a library or in a cinema to watch a decent film? If you could possibly give a detailed answer with the other scenarios possible on this with the four madhaheb, I would be thankful.

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

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah descend on the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and those who follow them.

Dear Brother,

Thank you for your questions.

I am not knowledgeable enough to give an answer according to all four madhahib. For the purposes of your question, however, my answer covers what I have studied from the Hanafi and Shafi’i schools.

The definition of unlawful seclusion, or khalwa is that it occurs when a man and a woman are alone in a place that is either inaccessible to others or nearly so, for example, in a room with the door closed but not locked. Please see Shaykh Faraz’s definition of khalwa here. In other words, it is being in a place where the man and woman feel comfortable enough to commit indecency.

Let’s look at the above scenarios:

1. A man and woman, with no other, in a room discussing knowledge or teaching each other: This situation constitutes khalwa and is unlawful. If the man and woman have legitimate business to discuss, then they need to do so in the presence of their mahrams, or unmarriageable relatives. Otherwise, they need to talk in a public place. Human nature is human nature. Why would a man and a woman want to have religious discussions or teach each other in private? The hadith about shaytan being the third is no exaggeration. Why set yourself up for trouble?

2.   A man and two or more women is not khalwa. However, from an Islamic social standpoint, how appropriate is it for a young guy to hang out with a bunch of young girls? If there is a legitimate need for the young people to meet, then the meeting needs to be chaperoned.

3. Two or more men and one woman is khalwa and is unlawful.

4. Being in a library, cinema, or coffee shop: Even if a man meets a group of women at a library, there’s still plenty of opportunity for socializing and free intermingling. And let’s not even mention the coffee shop and cinema. Those places are purely for socializing and entertainment. You need to be more specific. It’s one thing if you’ve been assigned to work on a project with a group that includes women and a completely different thing if you purposely hang out with women in social settings.

The bottom line is: If it looks like a date and feels like a date, it probably is a date. And I don’t mean the kind you eat! If you feel the need for female companionship, then it is time to get married.

May Allah reward you,

Zaynab Ansari Abdul-Razacq

October 6, 2009
Shawwal 17, 1430

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

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