Are Muslims permitted to chat on the Internet with the opposite gender?
Answer: Unlike medieval Christianity, Islam has never been opposed to technology and modern inventions – in fact, it encourages the study of ‘natural’ phenomena for the purpose of subjugating the forces of the universe to benefit the mankind. Inventions and technology are deemed beneficial, as long as they enhance the purpose of man’s creation on earth. If, however, they obstruct and distract from this purpose, then Islam does not take a favourable view of such inventions.
The use of the Internet may be evaluated on the basis of the above principle. If it proves to be beneficial for its user, its use is permissible and in some instances meritorious, especially for Dawah and educational purposes. But if it distracts its user from the purpose of his creation, i.e., “Who has created death and life that He may test you which of you is best in deed” (Al-Mulk 67:2), then not only is its use frowned upon but may even be deemed unlawful in certain instances.
Early Muslims used to say that “this world is a harvest for the hereafter,” taking this from the words of Allah (swt), the Most High: “Whoever desires (by his deeds) the reward of the Hereafter, We give him increase in his reward and whosoever desires the reward of this world (by his deeds), We give him thereof (what is decreed for him), and he has no portion in the Hereafter.” (Ash-Shura 42:20)
Hence, a person must use his time beneficially in this world for the sake of the hereafter and take account of himself every day. Each moment spent in useless activities is time away from the remembrance of Allah (swt) and other beneficial work.
The scholars have clear rulings regarding useless talk and gossip. Many Ahadeeth have been related in this regard. The Prophet (sa) said: “It is from the excellence of a man’s Islam to leave that which does not concern him.” (At-Tirmidhi)
Furthermore, the limits of interaction between the sexes have been laid down by the scholars. The same limits and rules also apply to the informal exchange of letters between members of the opposite sex, as well as through the systems of MSN and Yahoo Messengers, which has made it supposedly ‘safer and more permissible’ to converse with people, while sitting in the safety of one’s home. People feel safer in chatting this way than on the phone, since there is usually no physical sound being transferred and the whole issue of Fitnah from the opposite sex does not seem to arise.
However, as research shows, addiction to chat rooms and cyber friendships is on the increase. Many people become besotted with the person on the other end, without even seeing them. It is also known that a lot of inappropriate and often completely impermissible conversations take place amongst people through such online systems. It is impermissible to have an informal conversation over the Messenger services or through email for that matter, just at it would be over the phone or in person.
Lastly, we all need to remember that everyone will die, but what a person has written will remain after him. Keeping all of the above in mind, each person must judge his individual intention for chatting, whether it really is a useful tool, a waste of time, or an alley to Fitnah and Allah’s (swt) displeasure.
We need to pray to Allah (swt) to guide us towards those deeds, which please Him.
Allah (swt) knows best.
Note: The above information has been derived from articles by Abdurrahman Ibn Yusuf and Mufti Zubair Bhayyat.