The idea that men and women can be in a platonic relationship—a relationship that is only a friendship and nothing more—is a relatively modern concept. More recently, psychologists have started to research this form of relationship and the results are far from promising, at least from an Islamic perspective. One study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, for instance, notes that 62 percent of men and women reported that “sexual tension was present in their cross-sex friendships”.[i] Similarly, a survey of 1450 members of the Match.com dating site revealed that 62 percent of respondents admitted that the platonic friendship “crossed the line and became romantic or sexual”.[ii] Another researcher, Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, writes in Psychology Today:
Can men and women be just friends? In many cases, the answer is no. Sometimes that is a good thing, when both people see friendship as a step to mutually-satisfying love, sex, and/or commitment. At other times, men and women cannot be just friends because only one friend desires something more. Those mismatched desires between men and women lead to unequal friend-zone situations, where one person’s needs are completely satisfied at the other’s expense. Those unfortunate instances and the frustrations around them are the friendship problems we hear so much about.[iii]
The fact of the matter is that research clearly indicates that such friendships are extremely dangerous and can easily turn to adultery.
The Islamic position is quite clear, as the Quran notes:
وَ لَا تَقۡرَبُوا الزِّنٰۤی اِنَّہٗ کَانَ فَاحِشَۃً ؕ وَ سَآءَ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿۳۳﴾
That is, “And come not near unto adultery; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way” (17:33). There is no doubt that a certain number of individuals can maintain a platonic friendship without committing adultery or fornication. However, Islam does not make rules for the minority. Rules are always made for the betterment of the majority. Even regarding alcohol, the Quran states that there are “some advantages” (2:220) in it, but as its dangers are much greater, it is forbidden.
The same is the case with platonic relationships. As there are too many dangers involved, Islam has forbidden them and clearly said that women should guard their zeenah or beauty from men who are outside the prohibited degrees. Such men are called ghair mahram, and those to whom women can show their beauty are called mahram. They have been identified in 24:32 of the Holy Quran. The ultimate goal of this teaching is to promote hayaa or modesty, and to safeguard the society from the spread of lewdness and immorality.
Discussing this issue, the Promised Messiah(as) writes, “A fair-minded person will appreciate that the free mixing of men and women and their going about together would expose them to the risk of succumbing to the flare of their emotions…To avoid such untoward situations from arising, the Law-Giver of Islam has forbidden all such acts as might prove to be a temptation for anyone”.[iv] The Prophet Muhammad(sa) has said:
أَلاَ لاَ يَخْلُوَنَّ رَجُلٌ بِامْرَأَةٍ إِلاَّ كَانَ ثَالِثَهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ
That is, “Beware! A man is not alone with a woman, except that the third among them is Satan”.[v] The above statistics are ample evidence for the truth of this statement of the Holy Prophet(sa) which teaches that relationships between men and women outside the bounds of marriage have a greater potential of Satanic influence which then leads to romance and sex.
The Promised Messiah(as) also notes, “It is necessary therefore, that before granting such freedom as is being advocated, the moral condition of men should be improved and rectified. After men have developed enough self-temperance to restrain their passions, you may consider whether the veil is necessary or not. To insist upon unrestricted freedom in the present circumstances would be like putting sheep at the mercy of lions”.[vi]
[i]. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/articles/200109/can-men-and-women-be-friends, Retreived April 16, 2019
[iii]. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-attraction-doctor/201304/can-men-and-women-be-just-friends, Retrieved April 16, 2019
[iv]. Essence of Islam, vol. 3, p. 327
[v]. Jami At-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Al-Fitn, Chapter: What has been related about adhering to the Jama’ah: https://sunnah.com/tirmidhi/33/8
[vi]. Essence of Islam, vol. 3, p. 329-330