Rafed English

Is 'Looking' Permissible for Men?

In this area there are two points to be recognized and separated, at least mentally. One is what is obligatory for women to cover and what is not. If we say that it is not obligatory for women to cover their face and hands, does this agree with the saying that it is advisable for men to lower their gaze? Or is that something separate? Is it something whch needs to be discussed separately? Is it possible that it is not obligatory for women to cover, even though this is definite in jurisprudence, but that it be advisable for men to lower their gaze?

We know from the life-style of the Holy Prophet that it is not obligatory for men to cover their head, hand face or neck. Does this mean that it is also not advisable that men lower their gaze if they are walking down the street and women are passing? These are two different issues and must be discussed separately.

Another issue is that in areas other than the ones we mentioned as exceptions which the traditions have commented upon and in which the verse itself states what the limitations are, the face and the hands are among the absolute necessities of Islam whereby covering everything but them is obligatory for women. Of course, this itself has an exception which we will discuss in the next verse which is that if women reach beyond a certain age, it is no longer obligatory for them. But in general, covering the hair of a woman is among the compulsory precepts of Islam. It is clear that much of the hair which shows by which one would conclude that a woman's head is 'uncovered' is clearly not permissible to show in Islam. Covering the neck, the chest, the arms above the wrists, the feet (which is debated) from the ankles above are all among the obligatory aspects of Islam. There is no controversy here.

But there is another point. We said that we have to discuss separately whether or not lowering the gaze is advisable. If the look is of a flirting nature, looking with the anticipation of pleasure, this is another clear issue which is among those which are forbidden. Not only is it forbidden to look at strangers or persons to whom one is not mahram, but even those who are mahram as well. If a father was to flirt with his daughter, it is forbidden and perhaps an even greater sin. It is forbidden for a father-in-law to look at his son's wife with lust. It is forbidden for a man to look at another man with lust. That is, in Islam, lust is exclusively allowed between marital parents. It is not permissible in any form anywhere else between anyone else.

But this should be distinguished from rabi' which means to look but not with the intention of lust nor to really see or view the other person. It is a special state which could be dangerous. That is, the fear exists that look will cause a person to deviate to a forbidden state. This, then, is also forbidden and there is no difference of opinion on this.

Thus, if a person says it is advisable to look, a lustful look is not meant or a look which holds the fear that it may lead to something forbidden.

Now we will discuss 'looking'. We have a tradition recorded by 'Ali ibn Ja'far, the brother of Imam Riza. He asks to what point a man can look at a woman who is not permissible to him?

He said, "Her face and her hands and her feet."1 Of course, face and hands are clearly so but the jurisprudents have not issued edicts about the feet.

There is another tradition about a man who is on a trip and dies. There is no man present to give him the obligatory bath for the dead nor are any mahram women present. What should be done for the obligatory bath? The opposite has also been questioned, a woman on a trip who dies and there are no mahram men present to give her bath. When in both cases they asked the Imam, Imam Sadiq said about the first case. "Those women may touch and wash that part of the man's body which was permissible for them to see when he was alive. "The same thing is said about a woman who has died. The men who were not mahram can only wash that part of her body which they could look at when she was alive. The Imam said that if they touch the face and wash her face and her hands, this is sufficient. It is not necessary to wash her whole body. Thus, a man may look at a woman's face and hands when she is alive.2

We also find this in the tradition in Mustamsak which Ayatuallh Hakim relates about Hazrat Fatimah, peace be upon her. One is the tradition regarding the companion Salman who once entered her house and saw that she was grinding barely and her hands were bleeding. This tradition makes it clear that the hands were not covered and that it was not forbidden to look at her hands because if it had been, neither, would Salman have looked at them nor would Hazrat Fatimah, peace be upon her, have left them uncovered.

Authentic than this is a tradition of Jabir that appears in Kafi, in Wasa'il and all of the reliable books on traditions which the ulama narrate. Jabir narrated that he went with the Prophet of Allah to enter Hazrat Fatimah's house. The Holy Prophet had said that a person should seek permission to enter another's house, even if it belonged to one's mother and that the only exception is that one need not seek permission to enter one's wife's room. "When he arrived at her house, he did not enter but called out, 'Assalamo alaikum y Ahl-al-Bait. Hazrat Fatimah answered from inside the house. The Holy Prophet asked, "Do you allow us to enter?" She said, 'Yes enter.' He asked, "Should the person with me enter?" She said, 'No. Then wait until I cover my head.' Then she said, 'Enter.' Again the Holy Prophet asked 'Should the person with me enter?' And she said, "Yes." Jabir says that when he entered he saw that Hazrat Fatimah's face was sallow coloured. "I become very sad when I realized it was because of lack of food. I said to myself, "Look at how the caliph and a king's daughter is brought up and the daugther of the Prophet of God!"3

This shows that Hazrat Fatimah neither covered her face nor her hands. Otherwise Jabir's look would have been forbidden.

Among the traditions, we have great many which, when they ask of the Imam, he says that one cannot look at the forearm of a woman or at a woman's hair. All of these are mentioned but nowhere does it say about the face and hands.

Another issue is ihram (Hajj pilgrim's garb) where it is forbidden for women to cover their face and therefore we realize that it is not obligatory. It could not be that there be something which is obligatory. It could not be that there be something which is obligatory but not so in the ihram and forbidden here.

"Let them cast their veils over their bosoms", the verse itself expresses the limits and does not include the face and hands. On the other hand, those who say 'looking' is absolutely forbidden have given as a reason the very thing which has been given for it not being forbidden. They refer to the verse, "say to the believing men to cast down their looks." He answers that in the first place, the verse does not say what not to look at. Secondly, it says min which means 'from something', and thirdly, ghadd means 'cast down' or 'lower'.

There is another tradition which is referred to and those who say that it is forbidden to look should note it. A man wrote a letter to Imam 'Askari, peace be upon him, where he said that there is a woman who wants to confess something and others want to listen to her confession to bear witness to it. Must she confess behind a curtain and the others listen from behind a curtain to then justly say that it was her voice. The Imam said, "No. She should come forward to bear witness but she should cover herself so that only the roundness of her face shows."

Another tradition which they present in an often quoted tradition. It is called Sa'd Iskaf interference to a man who went to the Prophet with his face bleeding and said that he had a complaint to make. The Holy Prophet told him to speak. He said he was walking down the street of Madinah and saw a woman coming towards him who was very beautiful and who had tied her scarf behind her head to her chest was visible. As she passed, he turned his head to look at her and did not see what was in front of him. Something was sticking out of the wall and it struck his face and injured him. The verse was then revealed, "Say to the believing men to cast down their look". But this means women like this and not all women. The verse tells what must be covered and it is not more or less than this.

Another reason they give is that it says in the tradition. "Is there anything which has not committed an illicit act for the illicit act of the eyes is to look?" The answer is that this is referring to looking with lust, not just looking; like the tradition which says "Looking is like an arrow of satan', and, of course, they refer to looking with lust.

There is another tradition which I have read in the books on traditions of the Sunnis. It says the Holy Prophet was on a journey, probably the Farewell Pilgrimage and he placed ibn 'Abbas behind himself. Ibn 'Abbas was a young boy. He continued to look at the women who passed back and forth in the ihram. The Holy Prophet realize that he was doing this and he turned the boy's face away. Ibn 'Abbas then began to look from that direction. The Holy Prophet again turned the boy's face away.

According to the Shi'ite sources, the tradition differs. It says that he was a very handsome young boy and the Holy Prophet was riding, probably on a camel. A woman from the Khasamiyyah tribe came to ask the Holy Prophet a question. She asked and the Holy Prophet answered. Then the Holy Prophet realized that her eyes were fixed upon Fazl ibn 'Abbas and Fazl ibn 'Abbas was starting at her. The tradition states that the Holy Prophet turned Fazl's face away saying. "A young woman and a young man. I am afraid satan will enter.4

They say that because of this, it is clear that it is forbidden to look like this. There is no doubt about it. This is love making and it is forbidden. Shaikh Ansari says that from this tradition it is clear that it was not obligatory for women to cover themselves and it was not forbidden in general for men to look. Otherwise the Holy Prophet would not have looked but he was looking at her as he was answering her questions and saw that her eyes were fixed on Fazl ibn 'Abbas and his on hers.
Ayatullah Hakim narrates another tradition. A man by the name of 'Ali ibn Salah said to Imam Riza, peace be upon him, "I have a problem. I look at beautiful women and it makes me happy to do so but I have no bad intentions". The Imam said, "There is no problem as God is aware of your intentions and you have no ill intentions but fear an illicit act."

1. "Qurb al-Asnad", p.102.

2. "Wasa'il", vol.17, p.135.

3. "Kafi", vol.5, p. 528 and "Wasa'il", vol.3, p.28.

4. "Sahih Bukhari", vol.8, p.63.

Adopted from the book : "On the Islamic Hijab" by : "Murtaza Mutahhari"

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