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Males and Females – “Just Friends”?

After a long day of hard work with your peers on a project, a sister suggests that all of you hang out at the pizza place nearby for a late lunch. The problem is, your group of peers is made up of both guys and girls. “But we’re all friends!” protests the sister when you, as a brother, bring up the issue. So you think about it and agree, because after all, you say – “She’s like a sister to me.”

Key phrase here: “like a sister.” She isn’t really your sister, which means that there are limitations in how you relate to her. Nowadays, under the guise of Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood, many are unfortunately committing sins in the name of friendship. Islam, however, does not permit such close relationships between non-Mahrams.

Of course, living in the West, there are times when non-Mahrams do interact – but there is a difference between how we do so with our colleagues and with our friends. We interact on a regular basis with our colleagues regarding the work that has brought us together on a professional level. We also interact regularly with our friends, but our topics of conversation are not restricted to just business. Furthermore, we spend time with our colleagues at university or at the workplace – basically, any place that is relevant to business meetings. However, we can meet our friends in both formal and informal settings.

Our colleagues and friends are not one and the same. Keeping that in mind, we are supposed to interact with non-Mahrams as colleagues, not as friends. Unnecessarily spending time with non-Mahrams – doing things like hanging out or having long conversations just to kill time – is out of the question, because that is what we would do with a friend.

Islam on Cross-Gender Friendships

As Muslims, everything we do is with the intention of gaining the pleasure of our Creator. We are supposed to be constantly aware of the presence of Allah, and to strive to get closer to our Beloved by following the teachings of the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). In line with those teachings, the concept of Hijab for men and women is one of the fundamental aspects of Islam. When it comes down to the core of the matter, all forms of Hijab are for the purpose of maintaining God-consciousness and respect when we interact with non-Mahrams out of necessity.

However, mixing with non-Mahrams and going out of our way to spend time with them obviously defies those ideals of Hijab. It’s as simple as this: brothers and sisters who are not Mahram to each other are not supposed to interact when there is no point in doing so, and any interaction that does take place is supposed to be done in a professional manner. Conclusively, the idea of non-Mahram guys and girls spending time together as “friends” is not endorsed by Islam.

Also, we need to realize that being Muslim doesn’t make us immune to falling into sin. Just because a sister wears a headscarf and a brother sports a beard does not mean it is okay for them to become friends. As Muslims, we are instructed to follow guidelines for our own benefit, and in this situation too there is wisdom. Just as we are to abstain from sitting at a table that has alcohol bottles on it and just as we are to abstain from listening to music, we are to abstain from developing non-Mahram friendships because of the greater sins that we could be led to commit.

Studies on Cross-Gender Friendships

Allah is the One who created us, and He knows the details of the human system better than we can ever discover. It stands to reason that whatever He commands us to do and to stay away from is logical, because He would not ask of us something that is impossible to do or that is harmful for us.

Whether or not we acknowledge it, there is a scientific aspect of attraction in cross-gender “friendships”. Our brains release chemicals upon interaction with others, and the amount released increases as we spend more time with a person of the opposite gender. We are fooling ourselves if we try to ignore these facts and be “just friends” with non-Mahrams, because then we will be treading thin ice over a sea of sin in which we will lose focus on our journey of getting closer to the Almighty.

Published in Psychology Today, Camille Chatterjee’s article, “Can Men and Women be Friends?” (2011), sets out trying to prove that non-Mahrams can indeed be just good friends. However, the evidence that she presents counters her own arguments. Chatterjee says: “The reality that sexual attraction could suddenly enter the equation of a cross-sex friendship uninvited is always lurking in the background. Unwelcome or not, the attraction is difficult to ignore.” Citing poll results, Chatterjee’s article also shows that even though 83 percent of the 1,450 poll participants believed that non-Mahram friendships can be successful, 62 percent of the participants admitted to their friendships having “crossed the line and [become] romantic or sexual.”

Even when it comes to people who do not give in to their desires, there are still problems with their non-Mahram friendships. The details of Linda Sapadin’s study were released in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, under the title of “Friendship and Gender: Perspectives of Professional Men and Women” (1988). Sapadin mentions: “Both sexes generally kept their friendships and sexual relationships separate though sexual feelings and tensions still existed in many cross-sex friendships.” On top of that, her study reveals that of the 156 questionnaire participants, 62 percent reported that there was sexual tension in the air with their non-Mahram friends.

Also found in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships are the results of Daniel Kaplan and Christopher Keys’ study “Sex and Relationship Variables as Predictors of Sexual Attraction in Cross-Sex Platonic Friendships between Young Heterosexual Adults” (1997). The results of the surveys show that a significant number of women and men (the number of men being higher) consider befriending non-Mahrams as the first step towards developing a romantic relationship with the person. This in itself shows that it is difficult for non-Mahrams to be “just friends” because the relationship doesn’t even start off with straightforward intentions.

Published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, Rivka Tuval-Mashiach, Sophie Walsh, Shirley Harel, and Shmuel Shulman’s study focuses on the behavior of 142 participants. Entitled “Romantic Fantasies, Cross-Gender Friendships, and Romantic Experiences in Adolescence” (2008), their results strongly indicate that one of the ways which adolescents get to experience romance is through cross-gender friendships, in addition to their romantic relationships.

More often than not, it seems that befriending someone of the opposite gender has become the first step to eventually turning the friendship into a more intimate relationship. So whether or not it is clearly stated aloud by the non-Mahram individuals themselves, studies show that non-Mahram friendships are, in reality, made for inappropriate reasons.


“What’s so wrong about it?” That question is usually followed by excuse after excuse, yet each reason that is always given has many flaws. Non-Mahram friendships are not permitted in Islam, no matter how much one may try to justify them by saying, “But…”

“It’s a normal thing these days.”

Everyone is best friends with a person of the opposite gender these days, so what’s the big deal if we go with the flow? The big deal is that it’s wrong. Just because everyone else is doing something, that doesn’t make it right.

In order to promote a lifestyle of selfishness and immorality, society pressures the public from all around. Be it through sit-coms, books, movies, or real-life examples, we are faced with a smorgasbord of practices that have become common. This idea of “friends with benefits” – the concept of having a friend of the opposite gender with whom one has physically intimate relations, while both still consider each other to be “just friends” – has permeated the fabric of our society, so much that it is no longer considered wrong. Yet the relation of “friends with benefits” does not truly provide anything but momentary pleasure; it destroys the moral compass by promoting easy indulgence in carnal desires, it shatters the honorable concept of being committed to one person, and it severely blackens the soul by gaining the displeasure of Allah.

As mentioned in the above scientific studies, the question of “what if we were more than just friends?” is always in the air. So why go through all that doubt and put ourselves in a situation that has a great potential to become sinful?

“I know my intentions are pure.”

First of all, what does it even mean to “have a pure intention” when it comes to being pals with a non-Mahram? Second of all, even if you have no ill intentions, Shaitan has promised to mislead any person that he can, so what makes you think you’re immune to his whispers? We have already been clearly warned in the Holy Qur’an, “Did I not charge you, O children of Adam, that you should not serve the Shaitan? Surely he is your open enemy.” (36:60) We have to be on guard and be able to abstain from situations that are not only spiritually harmful but even potentially spiritually harmful.

Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani’s response to this can be found in his book, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West:

328. Question: Is it permissible for a Muslim youth to accompany the girls who study with him in foreign universities for walking together, in vacation tours, etc.?
Answer: It is not permissible, except with surety that he will not commit a forbidden act.

To have absolute surety of oneself is the condition here, and not everyone can claim this sense of surety. In order to qualify for such a claim, one would have to be the kind of person who – at the very least – has impeccable God-consciousness and Hijab in that (s)he keeps the gaze lowered, does not participate in idle chatter, and has control over his/her thoughts from wandering into inappropriate territory. Even then, the manner in which such a person would interact with non-Mahrams would end up falling under the “colleague” category and not that of “friend”. Recalling the manner of our Infallibles (peace be upon them all), they fit this pious description perfectly and had the strongest of faith, yet we do not see evidence of them ever having befriended non-Mahrams or having spent time with them without official reasons.

And assuming that our intentions are pure, what about the intentions of our non-Mahram friend? We cannot claim to be absolutely sure of his/her intentions, so it doesn’t make sense to put ourselves in that situation. It’s one thing to be confident in the strength of our faith in the face of temptations that may arise; however, it is entirely foolish (not to mention outright vain) to be so confident in the strength of our faith that we voluntarily dive right into a situation that is wrought with potential sin.

Ultimately, all our actions are supposed to be based on whether or not they will please Allah and take us closer to Him. Having a non-Mahram friend does neither.

“I’m engaged/married/older than him/younger than her, so it’s okay.”

All those factors make no difference. Again, we are reminded by Allah, the Prophets, and the Ahlul Bayt that Shaitan is our open enemy who attacks from all sides. He targets everyone, so being engaged, married, older than the brother, or younger than the sister does not make a difference.

In fact, for an engaged/married person to befriend a non-Mahram would only cause misunderstandings and problems. In the study by Kaplan and Keys, participants who were already involved in a relationship reported that their attraction towards non-Mahram friends was less, relative to those who were single. A point worth noting is that the word used in reference to the level of attraction was “less” not “none”, so there is still the potential for falling into sin. Just as the engaged/married factor, the older/younger factor would cause a person to let down his/her guard, leaving an opening for Shaitan to easily enter through.

“It’s a good way to learn how guys/girls think so I can relate with my future spouse better.”

A practice spouse? That’s just plain wrong. Many of the official studies, such as April Bleske and David Buss’ “Can Men and Women be Just Friends?” (2000) in the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research, as well as informal interviews all reveal that men and women see this as one of the main beneficial reasons for having non-Mahram friends. By spending time with a non-Mahram friend, people claim that they can pick up tips on how to improve their relationship with their partner. So a person spends time both with a non-Mahram friend and with his/her spouse, talks over important issues with both, and is intimate with both – and according to the studies already mentioned, the level of intimacy with both is actually equal for a majority of cases. But then what’s the difference between your close friend of the opposite gender and your spouse?

Prevention, Not Cure

There is no truth to this fashion of non-Mahrams being just good friends. Getting into such a tainted “friendship” will only cause problems on multiple levels. A person may be able to control their thoughts and desires, but after repeatedly meeting a non-Mahram in an unstructured setting to spend time as friends, the battle against the self becomes increasingly difficult. With regard to one thing leading to another, the Leader of the Pious, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said: “Simply thinking about sinful carnal deeds encourages you to commit them eventually.” (Ghurar al-Hikam, p. 518) Islam is about looking ahead and being wise to the on-goings around us. Some things are forbidden to us because they are harmful in essence, and other things are forbidden because they lead to harmful things. Here, we have a situation that is harmful in itself and that will also lead us to even greater harm in this world and in the next.

We are taught to surround ourselves with friends who inspire us to strive even closer towards Allah, not with those because of whom we risk falling into sin. We must not let our desires direct our actions; rather, we must let our God-consciousness guide us towards what is pleasing to Him and thus beneficial for us. So let’s not fool ourselves, because non-Mahram guys and girls can’t be “just friends”.

About Nabila Rizvi

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  • Jabeen

    MashAllah a very good article sister. It is a good eye opener to all of us. You have covered all the details, provided all the possible explanations and also negated all the possible esxcuses. May Allah bless you.
    JazakAllah for such a good write up.

  • RJ

    [quote]Yet the relation of “friends with benefits” does not truly provide anything but momentary pleasure; it destroys the moral compass by promoting easy indulgence in carnal desires, it shatters the honorable concept of being committed to one person, and it severely blackens the soul by gaining the displeasure of Allah.[/quote]

    Thank you for writing about this topic sister Nabila. I think you hit the nail on the head with the above comment. It is also very unfortunate that sometimes this friendship is justified by young people as a means of “getting-to-know” each other better as a marriage compatibility check before they can actually decide to get married, whereas from the Islamic standpoint friendship with non mahrams is always haraam.

    • masooma

      Not to open a can of worms, but if that is really someone’s intent, they could contract mutah with certain conditions to avoid haram.

      • Younus Ali

        Better way too keep away from harm, you are right sis.

  • cynthia

    no, mutah is not acceptable. mutah was used in the old days when islam was just getting started. the pagans were very open and sexual with one another, so to try and help them change their ways, mutah was created. they could still sex each other up without sin. but now, it is unacceptable because we are more educated islamically than the pagans.

    • dot

      Cynthia, actually what you’re saying is incorrect. Mutah is part of Islam.

      There is no instance of the Prophet endorsing a behavior and then later forbidding it. If there was reprehensible actions that were not part of Islam, but for which there was no action directed by Allah yet, he simply stayed quiet. So at most, Islam would not address a situation. For example, there is no instance where Islam explicitly allowed alcohol or said it is ok and then later said “nope, actually it’s forbidden”.

      In the case of mutah, all Muslims agree that the Prophet allowed it. Then there is a disagreement over whether it is allowed now or not because the second caliph, Umar, banned it. But just because Umar banned mutah doesn’t mean that’s what the Prophet said or wanted.

      Anyway, mutah has a lot of other issues that also need to be addressed (e.g., diseases, children born and then need taking care of, how some people get used to the lifestyle and won’t settle down, marriage being more difficult due to reputation) and I agree that people should not look at it as a first option, but it is hardly an un-Islamic action. Mutah is halal.

      • masooma

        To be clear, intimate relations are not a requirement of mutah. People can and often do put a condition when it is pronounced that no such relations take place when the purpose is initial meeting to decide spouse suitability or to ease some difficulty when people need to be in close proximity for some reason.

        • dot

          Sure, but that’s not what Cynthia is talking about. 🙂

  • yasir

    Indeed, one of the best peace of writing which explains the limits of non-mahrams. It has really answered all the excuses that common people make in today’s moderized world. Thank you v.much Ms Nabila Rizvi.

  • tehsee

    Indeed a very Nice article,
    and courage to talk on a issue which we are facing in todays world…

  • Faiz


    Good Article!!!!!

    But what about trans-gender attractions & what about gay & lesbian attraction?

    Even male-male &/or female-female interaction/friendship may not be fee of sexual attractions.

    So, Are Males-Males and/or Females-Females – “Just Friends”?



    • dot

      All lust outside marriage between a man and a woman is forbidden. Furthermore, we are not supposed to be friends with sinful people, which is what individuals who engage in homosexual activities are known for. Of course such male-male and female-female friendships is problematic. The fact that Allah destroyed entire nations for engaging in homosexuality should be enough proof that we should stay far, far away from people engaging in such behavior.

      Regarding the issue of transgender friendships, the only real question is whether the person is now a man or a woman. Otherwise, the issue of lust being forbidden still stands.

      • Faiz

        That is the point. You should refrain from sin.

  • redha

    Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said, “Every Muslim should try to select the best companion for the life span. A companion could be a friend from the same gender. If the companion is to be from the other gender, then that companion should be a spouse to live together within the confines of rules and regulations.” 

    alhamdulillah, thanks for writing this article sis! may Allah bless your effort!

  • Ibne Hasan

    One of the most “liked” articles on this entire website = success 😀

  • sid

    ….another brilliant article Nabila!!!!

    “Whether or not we acknowledge it, there is a scientific aspect of attraction in cross-gender “friendships”. Our brains release chemicals upon interaction with others, and the amount released increases as we spend more time with a person of the opposite gender. We are fooling ourselves if we try to ignore these facts and be “just friends” with non-Mahrams, because then we will be treading thin ice over a sea of sin in which we will lose focus on our journey of getting closer to the Almighty.”

    The studies you’ve discussed are quite intriguing.
    It has definitely sparked a thought. Where exactly to draw the line between friendship. The Steve Harvey interview is quite interesting as well. It’s interesting though how many excuses we come up with to justify our actions. We are so consumed by norms the western culture imposes upon us..

    “In order to promote a lifestyle of selfishness and immorality, society pressures the public from all around. Be it through sit-coms, books, movies, or real-life examples, we are faced with a smorgasbord of practices that have become common. This idea of “friends with benefits” – the concept of having a friend of the opposite gender with whom one has physically intimate relations, while both still consider each other to be “just friends” – has permeated the fabric of our society, so much that it is no longer considered wrong. Yet the relation of “friends with benefits” does not truly provide anything but momentary pleasure; it destroys the moral compass by promoting easy indulgence in carnal desires, it shatters the honorable concept of being committed to one person, and it severely blackens the soul by gaining the displeasure of Allah.”

  • Ahmad

    Salaam Alaikum Sr Nabila,

    Allah (swt) asks us, “Afala ya ta dabbaroon?” In this spirit, two questions:

    1. In your 3rd and 4th paragraphs you argue that as Muslims living in the west, “professional” or “business-related” interaction between the genders is allowed by Islam, presumably because it is necessary. Which ayah or hadith supports this contention?

    2. Under the “I know my intentions are pure.” subheading you quote one of Ayatullah Sistani’s responses to a question in his book, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West. After I read the question, I couldn’t help but think, “what in the world is a ‘vacation tour’?” The answer Ayatullah Sistani provides to the question is understandably vague — almost a default sort of answer for any number of different questions. The question and answer that were quoted from the book lead me to have two thoughts: One is that something is severely lost in translation — how useful is a Q&A that obviously has been butchered going from one language to the next? His response is so vague, he doesn’t really provide any insight. I could interpret his answer dozens of ways. You obviously did yourself immediately in the next paragraph — although his answer clearly did NOT forbid friendship. Otherwise, his answer would’ve been a simple “No”.

    I have a bunch of other questions, but I thought I’d limit myself to just two. I look forward to hearing your clarification sister Nabila. Thank you.

    • sm

      I will let the sister answer your first question. In regards to question #2, please realize that this book is written for Muslims living in the West. Maybe you don’t live in North America/Europe, but over here, schools often organize social outings for students to amusement parks, ski resorts, camps, etc. That is what a vacation tour is. And if you read the rest of the book, you would know it is actually quite well-translated. You can find it here, if you are interested: http://www.najaf.org/english/book/5/

      As far as why Ayt Sistani didn’t give a straight-forward “No”, the Marja’s purpose is not to make up the Shariah. A Marja is supposed to give his rulings in light of Quran and Hadeeth, and if the teachings of the Aimma (as) are telling us that it is haram under certain circumstances, the Marja cannot exceed his authority and say it is unconditionally haram (or halal).

    • dot

      I’m not the sister, but I’ll just briefly mention that the Qur’an as well as the traditions allow for interaction between the genders, provided that the interaction is respectable and modest. See the verses in the Qur’an about Moses (peace be upon him) drawing water for the women for examples.

      You can read more about the topic in more detail here:


  • Wid

    I agree with your wise words sister.
    Only, how many people will actually put it into consideration?
    It isn’t a cultural concern that a female should not interact a male unless of work, emergency or intention of marriage, rather it is a worthy religious concern to prevent harram from occuring as you mentioned, shaitan targets all of us. Relationship statuses will not save you from his sinful whispers.
    One may have the intention to keep contact for bloodship or just to keep a slight friendship desire that is disguised to be the intention of her being his sister. Truth is every relation begins with her or him being like “family” or a “friend.
    It is best to avoid these situations. Don’t feed your desires with harram. Regardless of the western modern life, wherever you are, these things occur everywhere.
    It only results with harram, false emotions and heartbreaks.
    Bless you all and in the best of Allah’s protection, ameen.

  • Hadid e Haq

    If more people took heed to such articles all the pain and suffering caused due to so many foolish practices could be prevented. Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

    @ br. Ahmad: Our blessed Prophet (SW) had a formal business relationship with Hadhrat Khadija (AS) before marriage.

    I might very well be mistaken, but as I understand it is probably impractical, in the West at least, to expect having no formal, and often regular, interactions with unrelated people of opposite genders.

    But I understand that, due to our severe limitations, it can certainly get “hairy” determining the best course of actions to take in our daily lives regarding such scenarios. Hence the importance of the wise Islamic Guidelines, and crucial reminders such as this article, that aid us in keeping safe from sin.

  • Zeinab

    Ok so I read this article the other day I and after reading it I was really skeptical and confused. I mean there are lots of people that I know who say you shouldn’t be close friends with the opposite gender, but I always think to myself, “Aren’t you just undermining the power that the human being has to restrain themselves? And secondly, aren’t you just showing that men can’t control themselves and that they are savages who don’t think with their brains, and women don’t know how to speak up and say no and stand firm about what they want?” You’re just telling men that they can’t control themselves when they’re around the opposite sex, and that woman don’t know how to speak up if they don’t like someone. You’re completely disregarding the amount of control a human has and the exponential amount of strength the mind has. I’m sorry but I was offended that you undermined my conscious capabilities and the strengths that God bestowed up on me and the rest of our species. You’re pretty much saying that men can only think with their private parts and that woman are submissive and can’t speak- and you ask yourselves why their is such a stigma on Muslim woman, why they’re so submissive and quiet, and you’re adding to the stereotype that men are pigs and just think of sex. So thank you for adding to the stereotype. Really appreciate it. It’s bad enough I can’t run away from it in the West, and for an Islamic website to post something so backwards and out-dated just makes me feel that much more special.

    • RE:

      The reality and Islamic laws on this subject do not change whether you accept them or not; it’s only to our own benefit if we submit to Allah’s commands. Besides, the article seems to be speaking about the society in general; there might be very few individuals who have very high levels of self-control but there are many more that don’t (there’s nothing wrong with it, that’s the way they naturally are). Either ways it’s better to stick to the safest route to preventing any Haraam by avoiding cross-gender friendships, thereby maintaining a healthy society!

    • S_Muhummad

      Don’t take offense but I’d like to point out an irony in your thinking: you say that this article furthers the stereotype that “women don’t know how to speak up and say no” , however, it is you that introduced the stereotypical thinking since a female could easily be the one to act on the desire first, as is seen in the case of Prophet Yusuf and the King’s wife. Thus, the precautions given in this article are mutual to both genders and do not support the stereotypes you refer to

  • Zeinab

    I’m sorry but I just can’t agree with you. You’re completely discredited the human potential and its ability to control its surroundings. The difference between us and humans is that we have a conscious, and your discrediting that as well. It’s impossible to avoid cross gender relationships, its the 21st century, not the eighteenth. The only way to get to know a man is by speaking and telling them upfront that all you want is a friendship, if you’re afraid of it leading to something further. Put down your cards right away if you fear more than just a friendship. And if you don’t have control, shouldn’t this article speak on HOW TO CONTROL YOURSELF, rather than ignoring half a population? You don’t learn from ignoring the inevitable, you learn how to adapt and control.And don’t tell me it’s impossible. Because my best friend is a male. Yes he is attractive, but do I act upon it? No, because after GETTING TO KNOW HIM, rather than ignoring, I realized we are much better off as friends. I didn’t jump to anything because I know better and I used my brain, rather than my privates. And if you want a healthy society, it needs both sides of the party to work, not just half.

  • truth

    Mutah is equal to prostitution

    • re:truth


  • Ahmet

    You make the problem clear, but dont offer us no solution or advice on how to combat this desires, I take it through Quran and Salah this will only help.

  • Ahmet

    How would you let a non-Mahram you want to marry them if we’re not allowed to be in their presence ?

  • Wendy

    What an absolutely retarded article. I’ve never read so much cultural crap juxtaposed as religion. May Allah guide us.

    • S_Muhummad

      Just letting you know, the word juxtapose is used incorrectly in your comment

  • Ali Al-Musawi

    Watch this link on youtube: Can men and women be ‘just friends’?

    Very Good!

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  • Kiwi_98

    As a religious scholar, I always found Islam “rules” to be very interesting and almost isolating. While studying with hundred and thousands of Muslims across New Zealand and Australia both men and women, we often conversed on subjects such as the ones mentioned above. Many of the Women were in relationships with non Muslim men and many Muslim Men were in relationships with non Muslim women who did not wish to convert. They often expressed their fears in what they were doing, even to their families. Majority of them were all very supporting of their childrens friendships and relationships with non muslims. I know incredibly shocking and painful for traditionalist to hear, but it was the truth. It must all depend on where you live. I lived with two Muslim girls and one Muslim man during my undergraduate years. We were all very close, despite the fact that I wasn’t Muslim. Interesting read! I’ll be glad to send this along to the many interfaith couples I know who don’t follow their own rules but still seem to be living happy and full lives