One of the things Muslim women complain about is that they see many Muslim men ignore them in person and don’t extend the courtesy of salaam. Unfortunately, sometimes this results in the inaccurate perception that non-Muslim men are more respectful towards women than Muslim men.
The example of the Prophet ﷺ on the issue is very important. There is a hadith in the Sunan of Abu Dawud where Asma bint Yazid said, “The Prophet ﷺ passed by us women and greeted us with salaam.”
This tradition of greeting other Muslims with salaam, regardless of gender, continued in the era of the sahabah and their successors. In Adab al Mufrad, Imam Bukhari narrates that Al-Hasan al-Basri stated about the Muslims of his era: “Women used to say salaam to the men“.
It is true that many later scholars did caution young men and women from saying salam to each other if they were afraid of temptation. However, in the 21st century, there’s little doubt that not saying salaam is, in fact, a bigger “fitnah” than saying salaam to the opposite gender.
Not greeting Muslim women with salaam can frustrate, anger, and hurt them, making them feel that they are being ostracized by the men who should be the most likely to show them respect. It’s even worse when they see the same Muslim men politely greeting non-Muslim women in a respectful manner. It’s definitely wrong to not extend the same courtesies to your Muslim sister that you would extend to a non-Muslim classmate or coworker. If there’s any double standard, it should be you showing extra politeness and etiquette to a fellow Muslim over a non-Muslim.
However, first make sure that your interactions with your non-Muslim classmates and coworkers actually are appropriate. If you’re feeling awkward around Muslim women because you know deep down inside that your interactions with non-Muslim women are more relaxed than they should be, the solution is to fix your interactions with non-Muslim women. The solution is not to start relaxing your interactions with Muslim women! Make sure to read our The Muslim Man’s Guide to Interacting with Women to see where you stand and what you need to fix.
If you’ve read the article and decided that no, your interactions with non-Muslim women are indeed appropriate, then make an effort to interact with Muslim women in the same manner. When I speak to younger Muslim guys who have this dichotomy, they say that the reason they don’t interact the same is because they feel shy, intimidated, and unsure if they will come across as flirty. You and I may know that you avoid eye contact and don’t say salaam when passing a Muslim woman because you’re unsure of how to act or feel intimidated. To the Muslim woman passing you by, however, it comes across as dismissive and rude.
When you pass a Muslim woman, make a conscious effort to say salaam. No different than if you passed a non-Muslim classmate or coworker and politely greeted them with a “Hi”. If you know that your interactions with non-Muslim women are too relaxed and you need to work on it, don’t use that as an excuse to not show basic courtesy to your Muslim sisters. Ignoring them and not saying salaam does not wipe out the sin of flirting with non-Muslim women.
While a salaam might seem like a little thing, it might actually mean a lot to the person. In my first year of medical school, I was in the hospital shadowing a physician and passed one of my sister’s friends. I smiled and said salaam. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Later that week, she ran into my sister and told her, “I passed your brother in the hospital a few days ago. It’s so nice when a Muslim guy actually says salaam and acknowledges my presence. I can’t count how many guys have totally blown me off but then go say hi to non-Muslim girls. How hypocritical.” Again, you and I know that you’re not being hypocritical, but this is how it comes across. Not that you’re scared or unsure of how to act, but rather that you don’t think she’s worth saying salaam to. Perception is important. You have to be cognizant not only of your intentions but also of how your actions appear to other people. Salaam is not just a greeting, it’s a way of showing unity and connecting the ummah. A Muslim woman might be one of the only hijabis in her workplace. In such an environment, it’s easy to feel alone. Something as seemingly trivial as a salaam can uplift her spirits and let her know that she’s not alone. She knows that if something happens and she needs someone, there’s that Muslim guy who says salaam that’ll have her back.
So spread salaam!