Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: What is the real meaning of khalwa (seclusion) with the opposite gender? Does this concept apply to any kind of seclusion like email or SMS? Is it permissible for a woman to communicate to a teacher or co-worker through email or SMS for work related purpose?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
Seclusion (khalwa) with the opposite gender has been prohibited in sound prophetic traditions. Ibn `Abbas stated, “I heard the Prophet (God bless him and grant him peace) give a sermon. He said, ‘A man should not seclude himself with a woman except that there be with her someone who is of unmarriageable kin (mahram).’” [Bukhari, Muslim]
The definition of seclusion (khalwa) that jurists provided was for a man being alone with one woman who is not of unmarriageable kin (mahram) within an enclosed area in such a way that a third party is unable to see or enter upon them.
The legal cause for the prohibition of seclusion is the physical presence of specific individuals within a particular setting. The wisdom of the ruling is to prevent individuals from potentially engaging in unlawful actions.
It is important when determining whether the ruling of seclusion applies to virtual contexts to clearly differentiate between the legal cause of the ruling and the wisdom underlying it. The legal cause for the rulings on seclusion is essentially linked to being in a physical setting. When the legal definition of seclusion is realized (i.e. the legal cause), the prohibition would come into effect regardless of whether the potential to engage in unlawful actions is deemed high or low (i.e. the wisdom).
This is not the case when it comes to two individuals speaking over the internet through email or chat messages, since there is no actual common physical setting wherein which they are interacting. The prohibition established in the prophetic hadith does not apply to such non-physical modes of “seclusion”. The ruling of such non-physical modes of seclusion would not be unconditional prohibition as in the case of physical seclusion. Rather, it would vary from context to context.
For example, a setting that is reasonably conducive to inappropriate behavior would take the ruling of impermissibility. Chatting through a dating website is such a setting and would not be allowed as the primary purpose of such a setting is to engage in acts that the religion deems impermissible. Similarly, any sort of flirtatious interaction would also be impermissible.
Privately communicating in professional and educational settings with colleagues and teachers is permissible. This is not considered seclusion, and as long as the interaction itself is proper there is nothing that would render it impermissible.
Our religion does not prohibit normalized gender interaction as long as it is done with proper etiquette and within the guidelines that the religion has prescribed. It is perfectly fine to be courteous and friendly when interacting with others.
I would recommend you read the following for more details on the manners of interacting with the opposite gender:
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani