This is a follow-up post to one I wrote not too long ago, asking the members of my gender to behave in a manner more becoming of a Muslim gentleman when dealing particularly with Muslim women. But on a broader scale, there are certain defining characteristics of a man that set him apart from just mere males. One of these timeless characteristics is chivalry, which unfortunately is found to be sorely lacking in today’s day and age.
I cannot possibly write an exhaustive list covering all the situations which would call for gallant and chivalrous behavior, but the general idea as you’ll see from the suggestions below, is to be courteous and respectful, generous, and sensitively aware of others’ comfort – in most cases below it refers to women – without them having to actually ask you or request such.
Here then, is a short and unfinished list.
- Don’t stare. I actually find it somewhat alarming that many men don’t even realize they’re staring. Anything beyond two full seconds is going to begin making her uncomfortable.
- When greeting a non-mahram Muslim woman: You want to say salaams out of formality and respect but you want to avoid giving the impression of flirting, or hitting on her, or giving any kind of potentially uncomfortable or unwelcome attention. What do you do? Direct your gaze to the bridge of her nose – as opposed to making direct eye contact – and give a polite nod of the head with a closed moderate smile [no teeth showing], followed by a simple and steady “salamualaikum”. Don’t elongate or linger on any part of the verbal greeting. Just say it with a measured pace, and please don’t lower your voice an octave or two either. The idea is to keep it formal and respectful. Redirect your eyes to whatever you were doing previously after about one second after finishing your salaams.
- As for greeting people in general – Always greet the elderly first, and if you are at a wedding or at the masjid or some other event, you should go to them rather than they come to you. If you are entering a home or office, then you should greet those who are already present. If you are walking and come across a seated person, then greet them first. And remember, say it clearly. Don’t mumble. The other party should not have to guess, or strain to hear, what you said.
- Out on the street: If you are walking in the same direction as on a sidewalk, or walking in the other direction, and will be passing a woman or group of women [Muslim or not] try to pass by them with yourself closest to the street, and her on the inside of the sidewalk. But don’t deliberately cross her path to do so, if you’re going in the other direction. The idea is that you would rather a passing car or vehicle splash water or snow onto you than the woman. Your comfort comes second to hers. And if you’re walking with your mom, sister, wife, or daughter, you should definitely be on the side closest to the street.
- If you’re going out for dinner, pull the chair out for your wife, take her coat and hang it on the back of the seat or a nearby coat rack, and let her sit down first before you do. If you are with your mom and siblings, then pull a chair out for your mom, and let others take their seat, and then take yours. If there seems to be fewer chairs than people, let the women sit down first. You go find another chair or remain standing.
- Getting on public transport: Let the women board first. Many times I’ve seen at a bus stop, guys [young and old] are standing waiting and when the bus [or subway car] comes, they rudely barge ahead without any consideration to women or seniors standing in immediate proximity. Let all the women and children board first, as well as the elderly if any, and then you get on. If the bus stops at the bus shelter and the front doors are directly in front of you, step back politely to give ample room for women and elderly to board first.
- Same applies in other instances, for example when boarding an elevator or escalator, or when entering a hallway – step back and let the women go first.
- On the bus or subway: If you see a visibly pregnant woman come on board, or a woman with young kids, then look around quickly but discreetly to see if there are enough empty seats for them available. If not, especially during the crowded rush hours, DO NOT WAIT for others to get up – be a man, stand up and gesture with your hand, palm facing up, to your seat for her or for her little child. If she is within close proximity, you can add a verbal “Please” along with your gesture. If she says thank you, reply with “you’re welcome” or “wa iyyak” if she says “jazakallahu khayran”. The same applied if a senior / elderly person comes on board. Offer your seat and help them with any accessories they may have if necessary, such as a walker, a cane, or a wheelchair. Note: If its a young or healthy-looking woman, then there is no need to offer your seat because it then comes off as being patronizing or overbearing – in such a case your gesture actually becomes somewhat of an insult, as if she’s not healthy or strong enough to stand on her own two feet.
- If you are walking anywhere – at school, at the store, in the mall, at work, etc. and you see that your path will intersect with a woman or an elderly person [as in, it may result in a possible collision] then slow your pace as you approach and then stop, and allow her to pass. Be mindful of other traffic around you, obviously you don’t want to stop in the path of someone else walking in the same direction as her, or someone walking fairly close behind you (hence the reason why you slow your pace first before stopping).
- If you see her carrying visibly heavy grocery bags or heavy belongings? Offer your assistance – standard. Same with seniors. Yes, often some people will refuse your offer because you are a stranger, and in some areas of some cities they might even think you’re there to run off with their belongings. Regardless, make the offer so that if in case they do need help, they can now accept your assistance without having to worry about asking someone to help in the first place.
- If you are walking with a buddy / friends and you pass a woman or s sis who is walking alone in or near deserted places like empty parking garages, poorly lit walkways, in abandoned areas, particularly at night, then offer escort assistance. Ask her very clearly if she needs any help walking to her car or apartment building. Some sisters or women will recognize immediately the offer and will say thank you and accept. Keep your distance and wait until she says “thank you” indicating that she is near or at her destination. Some women may understandably be suspicious, and in that case don’t be afraid of saying very clearly that your only intention is to make sure she felt safe while walking to her destination. If she declines, accept politely with a slight nod and reply with “No problem. Enjoy your evening.” and then be on your way.
- If you’re at a masjid or community event where there was lots of food distributed, then make sure you help clean up. If it seems that mostly or only all women are doing the clean-up, then identify who’s the “big aunty” in charge on the scene, give your salaams to her and ask her if she needs any help. She might have you lift and stack / arrange the chairs or tables, or to bring in heavy silverware / pots back to the kitchen, etc. Unless its prayer time, make sure you’re not the kind of guy who just finishes his food and then walks away without cleaning up. At bare minimum, make sure you clean the area where you were sitting. Grab a napkin and wipe your part of the tablecloth, pushing crumbs with one hand over the edge of the table and into the other hand, and then dispose of in the garbage. Wipe up any and all spills in your vicinity.
- If you are sitting at a meeting at the office, or entertaining guests at home, then take care not to show disrespect to others by fiddling with your keys or staring at your Blackberry. Put them away. Period.
- If you’re approaching the checkout counter at the store at the same time as another person – man or woman – then politely offer them access ahead of yourself. Exceptions include if you are genuinely tight on time, or if you have just one or two items and the other person has an entire mountain of merchandise piled up in their shopping cart.
- If you see a sister trying to address a crowd of unruly kids, teenagers, or even young adults and you can clearly assess that she’s not having much success, perhaps due to her smaller voice, then step right in and use your muezzin’s voice to tell the crowd to pipe down, and when you have their attention, tell them to pay attention to what she’s saying. And if you don’t have a muezzin’s voice? Hey, its never too late to start. Try volunteering to give the adhan at the masjid, or give it at home for Maghrib prayer. Heck, just give the adhaan in your bedroom for practice and if your family asks you what you’re doing, then you just tell them plain and simple that you’re getting some practice! Getting used to giving the adhaan helps a lot when you’re in crowd-control situations where there is a need to make the voice of authority heard.
- If you’re out driving with your wife or sister or mother, and you see a Muslim woman walking alone or with a child – particularly in areas where you can see that there is no housing or infrastructure around – then stop or slow down your car if it safe to do so (i.e. no traffic behind you) and have your female relative ask the other lady if she needs a ride. Understandably if you’re driving alone then such an offer would be awkward, but if you have a female relative with you, to neglect making such an offer then, borders on rude and insulting behavior that is unbecoming of a Muslim gentleman.
- Never ask a woman her age or weight, and if she’s pregnant, never ask her what the due date is. Its extremely impolite. (And never ask a man his salary. Its also extremely impolite.)
- Never swear, cuss, or use foul language in front of a woman. Even if she is doing it herself – whether to you or to others. If she’s doing it to you, then excuse her and stay calm.
- Generally speaking, you should refrain from laughing so intensely that your mouth is open wide for everyone to see, or that you’re literally on the floor laughing. But even more so in the immediate proximity of women. Control yourself.
- If you have to physically give something to her, then hand it to her and don’t toss it at her. Let go of the object only when you feel or see that she has a reasonable grip on it herself, but take care not to let your own grip linger before letting go. That’s an awkward situation which may make her feel uncomfortable. If you’re handing a writing utensil to her, then had it to her with the business end towards you – i.e the pencil tip or the ballpoint should be on your side. If handing her a knife or a pair of scissors, make sure the handle end is facing her direction.
- And yes, hold the door open for her. If the door swings out towards you, then open it and hold it open while you stand out of the way until she has walked through. And if the door opens away from you, then open the door and walk through first, and then hold it open until she has walked through.
- You must abide no backbiting talk or gossiping of a Muslim sister in her absence. Bear in mind that its is one of the major sins to accuse a Muslimah of unchaste behavior [its not the same to accuse a Muslim man of such] so you don’t want to let the discourse come anywhere near that, and of course, the gravity of backbiting alone should give you pause. If those in your immediate proximity are speaking personal ill about a Muslim woman, then request them to stop immediately. Exceptions include if there is the genuine need to warn the public about the malicious behavior of that woman [or man] which is causing harm to members of the general public.
- When speaking to a man in public, and you find it necessary for whatever reason to refer to his wife, try not to take her name out of respect for his gheerah. Instead simply say “your wife”. If the said man is your brother-in-law, then its your choice whether to take your sister’s name in public or not. Keep in mind that in some Muslim cultures, it is very much disliked to take the name of the women of your house [or of other houses] in public unless absolutely necessary.
- If you’re arriving at the masjid, or at a store, or for a convention etc. and your car approaches a parking spot at the same time as a car driven by a Muslim woman, then let her have that spot – particularly if its close to the main entrance or concourse.
- If you are coming from a direction where there is some obstruction or danger on the floor, such as spilled liquids, black ice, etc. and you meet a sister going the other way, tell her briefly and politely about it so that she is aware in advance. Keep it brief and simple, and continue in your way. (Of course if you can remove the obstruction easily or without hassle, then do that.)
- If you’re out eating with a group of friends and it includes women, then you and all the other guys should make the offer first to pay for the bill. Some of the women may politely counter-offer to pay for their own meal, but you should politely refuse to hear any of it. Exceptions include if its a company dinner, or if one of the women is your boss, or if the status quo within your group of friends has always has been that everyone pays their own.
As I mentioned, I can’t detail a complete list of each and every possible situation. But I hope you get the general idea. Be aware of others and make way for them, prioritizing their ease and comfort above your own, if you are a man.
Excellent manners, civilized conduct, and chivalry are required of all good men. Here’s to your success in becoming a man amongst males.