Islam is more than just a religion: Allah describes it in the Quran as a deen – a complete way of life. It determines not only the beliefs and practices of its adherents but also prescribes ethics and values that they must follow. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.” (Bukhari) A believing man is particularly mindful of the way he behaves towards women. Let us study some of the qualities that must be reflected in his demeanor towards women, particularly those who are strangers to him, in the light of the Quran and Hadith.
He guards his speech in their presence
A Muslim must avoid abusive or foul language at all times. However, a Muslim man must be especially careful with his choice of words in the company of women in order to avoid causing them offense. Some might consider obscene language as fashionable these days, but a believer is far above imitating others senselessly. A Muslim also avoids all shameful and indecent talk, and does not join frivolous conversations. Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (RA) states that the Prophet ﷺ had even more haya (shyness or modesty) than a virgin girl. (Bukhari)
He avoids staring at them
Staring at a woman in public is not just unethical, but also blatant disobedience of Allah. A Muslim man should be particularly cautious about lowering his gaze when he comes across a woman. He should neither prolong his first gaze nor cast her a second look. Unfortunately, many men in Muslim societies are in the habit of shamelessly staring at women. This does not only make the women feel uncomfortable but can even amount to harassment if done consistently. Staring at a woman is not justified even if it is out of pure curiosity or if the woman is dressed immodestly – a Muslim man’s conscience should command him to do his part and look away. Allah says in the Quran, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do.” (Al-Nur 24:30)
He is courteous and helpful
A true believer is well-mannered and courteous towards women, always willing to lend them a helping hand. Once, the Prophet ﷺ was riding his camel in Madinah when he saw Asma Bint Abu Bakr (RA) walking alone. He knelt his camel by her and offered to ride her home. This was the sort of chivalrous attitude that the Prophet ﷺ adopted and also inculcated in his companions. The Quran narrates an incident involving Prophet Musa (AS) who once sat near a well, and some men were gathered around it with their flocks. He noticed two women who held their flock back as they did not want to intermingle with the men. Musa (AS) approached them, offering to take their flock along, and they agreed. He completed the task without asking for anything in return or making them feel like he had done them a favor.
He is easily approachable
True believers are humble and polite, which makes them easily approachable to others. There are more than a handful of examples when the Prophet ﷺ was directly approached by women who sought his help or questioned him regarding issues specific to them. Moreover, he never refused an answer even if the question was of a highly personal nature. According to Anas (RA), “A slave-girl of Madinah would take hold of the hand of the Prophet ﷺ and take him wherever she desired.” (Bukhari) This shows how the Prophet ﷺ devoted his time, and showed his care, for even the slave girls who had constituted the most degraded and oppressed segment in the pre-Islamic Arab society.
He is considerate towards their needs
A Muslim man must be caring and considerate toward the needs of women. Whenever women accompanied the Prophet ﷺ on a journey, he would make special arrangements to ensure that they were at ease. Once, a man named Anjasha was driving the camels on which the women sat, and the Prophet ﷺ instructed him to slow down the camels lest the women might be discomforted. (Bukhari) Anas (RA) narrates that Safiya (RA), the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, once accompanied him on a journey. Anas (RA) saw the Prophet ﷺ kneel on the ground beside his camel and Safiya (RA) placed her feet on his knees in order to ascend the camel. (Bukhari)
We have seen from the above examples how a Muslim man should make it his utmost priority to be respectful and well-mannered when engaging with women, whether they are related to him or not. At the same time, however, his acts of chivalry must not make him view women as inferior; he must not sympathize with them merely out of pity. On the other hand, as the example of the Prophet ﷺ shows, his courtesy and kindness towards them should emanate from genuine respect towards them. And he treats them with utmost dignity not because they ask him for it; instead, he does so because it is a requirement of his faith and something that elevates his status in the sight of Allah.