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The Command to 'Cast Down their Look'

"Say to the believing men that they cast down their look and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. God is aware of the things they do."1

"Say to the believing women that they cast down their look and guard their private parts and reveal not their adornment except such as it outward and let them cast their veils (khumar) over their bosoms and reveal not their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, or their husbnad's fathers or their sons or their husband's sons, or their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons or their women or what their right hands own, or such men as attend to them, not having sexual desire, or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women's private parts; nor let them stamp their feet, so that their hidden ornaments may be known. And turn all together to God, O you believers, so you will prosper."2

In the phrase, "tell the believing men to cast down their look", there are two words which we have to define. One is ghadh and the other is absar. A person who might say absar, the plural of obsar, needs no explanation because it means eyes but absar, essetially means 'sight'. If it had said 'ain as in ghamadh'ain it would have meant 'close their eyes'. It would have had a particular meaning in this case. What does ghadh basar mean? Ghadh means 'lower', 'cast down', not 'cover' or 'close'. We see this in another verse, "Be modest in thy walk and lower (yaghaddwu) thy voice; the most hideous of voices is the ass's."3 This does not mean to be silent. A person's voice should be moderate. In the same way, 'to cast down one's look' means not to look in a fixed way, not to stare.

In a famous tradition of Hind ibn Abi Halah which describes the Holy Prophet, it is recorded, "When he was happy, he would cast down his glance."4 It is clear it does not mean he closed his eyes.

Majlisi in Bihar interprets the sentence about the Holy Prophet thus: "He would cover his gaze and put down his head.

He did this so that his happiness would not show."

Hazrat 'Ali in the Nahj-ul-Balaghah says to his son Imam Hasan, when he gave a banner to him in the battle of Jamal "Even if the mountains are uprooted, do not leave your place. Clench your teeth (so that your anger increases), bare your head to God and nail your feet to the ground. Survey the enemy's forces and cast down your look"5 That is, 'do not fix your gaze on the enemy'.

There are essentially two ways of looking. One is to look at another with care as if you were evaluating the person by the wasy he looked or dressed. But another kind of looking is in order to speak to that person and you look since looking is necessary for conversation. This is a looking which is introductory and a means for speaking. This is an organic looking while the former is an autonomous kind. Thus the sentence means: "Tell the believers not to state at or flirt with women."

1. Quran, 24 : 30.

2. Quran, 24 : 31.

3. Quran, 31 : 16.

4. Tafsir ul-Quran, Safi, 24 : 31, narrated from a tradition of 'Ali ibn Ibrahim Qummi.

5. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 110.

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

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