General / Motivational

Lowering the Gaze (ghadd al-basar)

LOWERING THE GAZE:

A LOST VIRTUE 

In the Name of Allah the Beneficent and Merciful. Peace and blessings upon our Master Muḥammad, his family, Companions and all those who follow them in earnest until the Day of Judgment.

It is the design of Allah (SWT) that he created human beings with specific needs and these needs prompt urges. Human beings are not held to account for having these natural needs that give rise to urges but they will be accountable for the manner in which these urges are agitated, aroused and then gratified. Although urges are natural, their constant agitation and arousal are not. And it is the normal fact of our social experience here in the West that every possible promotion of sexual arousal in particular is evident. Very rarely is there an image, photo, programme, website, text or audio piece that does not contain an illicit and sexual content – whether explicit or implicit. As members of this society, therefore, we are continually exposed to stimuli that agitate and arouse our base sexual urges.

Such exposure can be especially difficult for a Muslim whose entire religious teachings emphasises control, moderation and virtue and can easily become the means to direct disobedience (ma`iyah) to Allah (SWT) such as fornication (zīnah) or unlawful relationship and contact with the opposite sex. For preventing this, Allah (SWT) has prescribed an immediate and effective way of blocking the initial avenue to arousal of sexual desire and lust and this is achieved through lowering the gaze (ghaḍḍ al-baar) to what excites, attracts and lures. This act of modesty is a lost virtue in Muslims and it is an act that a da`wah carrier in particular must revive and uphold. Allah (SWT) says:

(Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts; that will make for greater purity for them. Indeed Allah is well acquainted with all that they do).[1]

The command to lower the gaze (and indeed to protect one’s private parts) refers to averting the sight from anything that is forbidden and unlawful (haram)[2] and hence becomes a command that is obligatory in nature (wujūb).[3] Also, the command is directly connected to spiritual growth and augmentation (that will make for greater purity for youdhālika azkā lahum)[4] which is another obligatory aspect of a Muslim’s development.[5] Lowering the gaze is a lost virtue and often it is forgotten just how immensely deserving of reward it is. One easy aversion of the glance, one simple lowering of the sight and one effortless turn away carries huge rewards and benefits (fā’idah).

A da`wah carrier, however, first and foremost must know the basic obligations and duties pertaining to sight (far al-baar). Imām Abū ’l-Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī (Allah be pleased with him) succinctly summarises this duty in his epistle entitled Risālat al-Mustarshidīn:[6]

“The duty to the eyes include lowering [the gaze] from unlawful things and to refrain from looking at that which is hidden and covered.[7] Ḥudhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The gaze is one of the arrows of Iblīs, so whoever leaves it out of fear of Allah, Allah will grant him [firm] faith the sweetness of which he will experience in his heart”.[8] And Abū ’l-Dardā’ (may Allah be pleased with him) said: ‘whoever lowers his gaze from looking at what is unlawful, he will marry any of the Paradisal beauties (ḥūr al-`ayn) he wishes and whoever looks into the houses of people, Allah will raise him up blind on the day of Judgement!’ And Dāwud al-Ṭā’ī said to a man who was staring at someone: ‘O You! Avert your sight for it has come to me that a man will be questioned about his excessive looking just as he will be asked about his excessive actions.’ It was also said: You are permitted the first look, but not the second.[9] Whatever falls unwittingly onto a person’s gaze, it is overlooked for the servant but that look which is continual and [the servant is] aware of it, then [he] will be taken to task for that.”

Related to this is the serious realisation of the responsibility (mas’ūliyyah) and trust (amānah) given by Allah (SWT) especially concerning one’s body and organs. Imam `Abd Allāh b. `Alawī al-Ḥaddād calls this the “the specific responsibility of guardianship” (al-ra`iyyah al-khāṣṣah) and summarises this responsibility as follows:

“What I mean by your specific responsibility of guardianship are your seven bodily organs which are: the tongue (al-lisān), hearing (al-sam`), sight (al-baar), stomach (al-baan), the private parts (al-faraj), hands (al-yad) and feet (al-rijl). All these bodily organs are your responsibilities which have been given to you and a trust with which Allah has entrusted you; hence you must restrain them from disobedience to Him and instead use them in His obedience. Allah (Most High!) has only created them for you so that by them you might worship Him and they are of the greatest blessing from Allah given to you for which you should be grateful to Him for by using them to obey Him and not to disobey Him whatsoever. If you ignore that and do not do this, you will be turning Allah’s blessing into ingratitude (kufran) …”[10]

The da`wah carrier must be extra careful in controlling his sight and gaze being conscious of this responsibility and more concerned about never turning a huge blessing and favour given by Allah into a sign of ingratitude. The da`wah carrier must also remind himself of the criteria of his actions which is the alāl and arām as delineated by theShari`ah. This requires constant evaluation and re-examination of one’s self in order to ensure that actions, thoughts and behaviour are strictly in line with what Allah (SWT) and Messenger (Allah be pleased with him) demand and have dictated. Imām al-Muḥāsibī warns:

“The source for the corruption of the nafs is to discard the act of taking it to account (muḥāsabat al-nafs) as well as being deluded by long [and false] hopes. If you desire your heart to be sound, stop with determination and reflect upon your thoughts. Hold on to everything that is for Allah and leave that which was for anyone other than Him. And seek help in lessening [false] hopes by continually remembering death”.[11]

Moreover, the great Shāfi`ī jurist (faqīh) and pious scholar Imām Aḥmad b. Raslān (Allah have mercy upon him) said in a few lines of poetry:[12]

Weigh every thought with the scale of theShari`ah.

وزن بوزن الشرع كل خاطر

If it is commanded [by theShari`ah], then hasten towards it.

فإن يكون مأموره فبادر

If it is something you have been prohibited from,

و إن يكون مما نهيــــــــت عنه

Then it is from Shayṭān and you must guard yourself against it.

فهو من الشيطان فاحذرنه.

Realising the points above, the da`wah carrier ought to take comfort in the reward associated with lowering the gaze. He ought to dwell in the delight that leaving the temptuous gaze solely for the sake of Allah (SWT) is more beautiful and pleasing than the object of the gaze itself. Indeed, “whosoever leaves something for the sake of Allah then Allah, the Mighty and Magnificent, will replace it with something better than it.”[13]

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah also reports the following from Ibn Shujā` al-Kirmānī (Allah have mercy on him):

“Whoever builds his outward form upon following the Sunnah, his internal form upon perpetual contemplation and awareness of Allah, he restrains his soul from following desires, he lowers his gaze from the forbidden things and he always eats the lawful things then his perception and insight shall never be wrong.”[14]

Thus, not only is lowering the gaze highly rewardable, it is a means of attaining control and firmness of resolve. It is also a means of attaining clear insight and pureness of heart which becomes a clean vessel for receiving Allah’s mercy and help. Imām Ibn al-Qayyim mentions the dangerous consequences that one simple glance can generate. He explains:

“… the sight gives birth to love (maabbah) and thus the relationship by which the heart and the object of desire are bound duly begins. Then, it intensifies and becomes fervent longing (sabābah) and the heart attaches to it entirely. Thereafter, it intensifies [further] and becomes unrelenting infatuation (gharāman) clinging to the heart like a debtor who is unable to let go of his debt (al-gharīm alladhī la yufāriqu gharīmahu). Then, it intensifies [yet again] and becomes passionate love (`ishqan) which is love that has no bounds (al-ubb al-mufarra). And then it intensifies [even further] and becomes crazed love (shagafan) which is the love that has filled the enamored heart completely. Then it intensifies and becomes enslavement (tatayyuman) and [the word] ‘tatayyum’ means ‘worship’ (al-ta`abbud) and it is said regarding this that ‘love had enslaved him when it causes him to worship’ (tayyamahu al-ubb idhā `abbadahu) and ‘tayyama Allāh’ means ‘`abada Allāh’ (‘he worshipped Allah’). Therefore, the heart becomes a slave to that which it ought not to. And all this is [the result] from a sin of a gaze where the heart now is enslaved becoming the captured where once it was the ruler and imprisoned where once it was free. It suffers and so complains to the eye (al-arf) and the eye says: ‘I am your guide and messenger and you were the one who sent me!’ This is the fate suffered by the hearts of those who are empty of any love for Allah or sincerity to him. The heart necessarily clings to what it loves so he who does not take Allah alone as his Beloved (mabūbahu), Deity (ilāh) and Object of worship (ma`būdahu) then his heart will of necessity bind itself to something other than [Allah] …”

What then can the believer do (especially the da`wah carrier) in order to minimize the difficulty in controlling hiss gaze? The following are some devotional suggestions: 

1. Awareness of Allah: Allah (SWT) says in the verse mentioned above that He is (aware of all that you doinna Allāha khabīrun bi-mā taṣna`ūna).[15] Whether or not another sees us cast a secretive glance at something desirous or unlawful, a believer ought to always be aware that Allah (SWT) observes everything. He (SWT) says in sūrat al-Ghāfir:19: (Allah knows the fraud of the eyes and all that the hearts conceal).[16] Awareness of Allah is heightened by contemplating over His attributes and directing study and thought to their implications for us as His servants and worshippers.

2. Remembering Allah: Remembering Allah (i.e. doing dhikr) often reduces the exposure of shayṭān’s whisperings and insinuations (waswasah) and is the only means of securing tranquility within one’s self. A heart attached to Allah (SWT) and a mind that is occupied with nothing else except the remembrance of Him leaves little room for anything else. The excellence (faḍā’il) of dhikr is enumerated many times in the Qur’an[17] and the books of the noble scholars greatly elaborate on their different types and rewards.[18] Some of these excellences include:

1. The value of dhikr is given precedence over Ṣalāh in that the Ṣalāh is the means and the remembrance of Allah (SWT) the goal.[19]

2. Dhikr is more meritorious (afal) than adaqah (voluntary charity).[20]

3. Dhikr is more meritorious than Jihād in the path of Allah.[21] 

3. The comfort of Reward: The da`wah carrier must take comfort in the fact that anyone who takes refuge in Allah (SWT) and seeks Him as a protector and friend, Allah (SWT) ennobles them and exalts them and any who disobeys Allah (SWT) is making Him an enemy and is thus susceptible to humiliation. This is encapsulated in the Du`ā’ al-Qunūt where it is said: “…the one who You take as a friend is not humiliated and the one who You take as an enemy is not ennobled”.[22]

Some practical ways to defeat the dangerous gaze are:

1. To avoid places where there is an over exposure for temptations such as Market places, Shopping malls, parks (especially in the hot summer weather), unnecessary events at work or even idle loitering on the street. Places where there is excessive exposure to attraction and temptation (fitnah) generates a difficult environment and often unavoidable inconveniences.

2. To greatly reduce idle and excessive internet browsing where pop-ups, darting adverts and links can bounce the browser from perfectly permissible sites to unlawful ones. The danger is also compounded by social websites where networking can give rise to means of contact and looking at intimate and inappropriate pictures.

3. Marriage. The virtues and reward of marriage are many and it is an effective remedy for uncontrollable desire as mentioned by the Prophet (SAW): “Whoever can afford it, let him marry, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and in guarding one’s chastity. And whoever cannot afford it, let him fast, for it will be a shield for him”.[23]

4. To alert family and friends to the importance of modesty and the serious consequences when not observed – especially in the Hereafter. A family and private atmosphere where Islamic modesty exists may reduce any excessive temptations and agitations. A da`wah carrier in the best possible way seeks to change the atmosphere around him and not be made to succumb to it.

5. To keep the company of good and pious people – particularly people of knowledge who constantly remember Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (ṢAW) and exhort to good actions and remember the Hereafter. It was related from the great Tābi`ī al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (Allah be pleased with him) when a person came to him and asked: What should we do with people who cause us to have fear to the extent that our hearts fly out [out of fear]. Al-Ḥasan replied: ‘By Allah! To remain in the company of those who cause you to have fear until you are overcome with [a sense] of safety is far better than [the company] of those people who continue to tell you that you are safe until fear overcomes you.’[24] Moreover, Imam al-Haddad advised the following:

            “You must keep the company of the best of people (al-akhyār) and you must avoid the worst of people; to sit in the gatherings of the righteous (al-ṣāliḥīn) and to avoid the unjust. He (upon him be blessings and peace) said: “A person’s religion is that of his close friend, so let each of you consider who to be intimate friends with”. And [The Prophet said]: “A good companion is better than solitude and solitude is better than an evil companion”. Know that associating with the best of people as well as keeping their company implants the love of the good in the heart as well as love of practicing it and the one who associates with bad people as well as keeping their company implants the love of the bad in the heart as well as love of practicing it. Moreover, whoever associates with a group of people and stays with them, will inevitably come to love them regardless of whether they are good or bad and a person is with those he loves both in this world and the next.”[25]

Finally, a poet wrote the following lines:

It is by your remaining in the company of the righteous that you will be counted amongst them.

بعشرتك الكرام تعد منهم

Hence, you should not be seen committed to any other [crowd] but theirs.[26]

فلا ترين لغيرهم ألوفا

6. Engaging in additional voluntary acts of worship (mandūbāt). One can only draw closer to Allah (SWT) through extra acts of devotion and this must be the continual practice (`amal) of the da`wah carrier who ought to have not only a more sharpened consciousness and awareness of his state and relation to his Lord but be more desirous in seeking His (SWT) proximity and love. 

Being aware, therefore, of all the above, the da`wah carrier must strive to embody the command of the verse to lower the gaze. He must wear the armour of taqwa and draw the sword of muḥāsabah in order to slay his own internal pressures and promptings as well as to combat the external difficulties thrown up by society. The lowering of the gaze is a virtue he should revive, defend and uphold. He must also be astutely aware that his work and struggle to revive the Islamic way of life through re-establishing the Khilafah becomes even more urgent as not only is the absence of the Khilafah an irrecoverable detriment to humanity in general, its absence is a continual detriment to his very own self. Without it, there is no environment in which to cultivate himself into a true servant worthy of Allah’s (SWT) mercy and grace.

And in Allah (SWT) we have complete trust and with Him is all success.

 

S.Z.C.

London.

January 2008. 


[1]See Q. 34:30.

[2] See al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmi` li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, vol.2, p.2180-2182.

[3] According to the scholars of Uūl al-Fiqh, whenever Allah (SWT) issues a command related to avoiding something prohibited, that command carries an obligation and hence there is no choice in the matter. See Shaykh `Aṭā’ b. Khalīl, Taysīr al-Wuūl ilā ’l-Uūl, pp.18, 19-25.

[4] See Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Ighāthat al-Lahfān min Masā’id al-Shayān, pp.47-48.

[5] Allah (SWT) says in sūrat al-Shams:7-10: (By the soul and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds that purifies it and he fails that corrupts it!). Here the pronoun ‘it’ (-ha) is said to refer to the word nafs (‘soul’, ‘self’, ‘person’ and ‘ego’) and therefore its ultimate salvation lies in if one spiritually augments it with knowledge and righteous action, raises it from disobedience to Allah (SWT) and thoroughly instills it with taqwa. This means that one must know one’s nafs and hence one’s weaknesses, failings and insincerities. See al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmi` li-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, vol.2, pp.3326-3327; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād al-Masīr, pp.1555-1556; Ibn Kathir, Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-`Aīm, vol.8, p.258-259; al-Bayḍāwī, Anwār al-Tanzīl, vol.2, p.599-600 and al-Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, pp.1940-1941.

[6] See al-Muḥāsibī, Risālat al-Mustarshidīn, pp.118-120.

[7] Cf. the comments of Ibn Mufliḥ al-Ḥanbalī in his book al-Furū`, vol.5, pp.151, 155 and 158.

[8] Narrated by al-Ḥākim in his Mustadrak, vol.4, p.314.

[9] This is a reference to the ḥadīth in Tirmidhī (no. 2777) and Abū Dāwud (no. 2149) in their Sunan as well as Aḥmad in his Musnad, 5/353 where the Prophet (ṢAW) permitted the first glance or look as long as it was sudden, accidental (fujā’atan) and without intent but forbade the second intentional one.

[10] See al-Ḥaddad, Risālat al-Mu`āwanah, p.129 as well as his Risālat Ādāb Sulūk al-Murīdīn, section: ‘Restraining the bodily organs form disobedience and the sedition of the world’, pp.18-19.

[11] See al-Muḥāsibī, Risālat al-Mustarshidīn, pp.110-111.

[12] From the Matn al-Zubād of Aḥmad b. Raslān as quoted by Shaykh `Abd al-Fattāḥ Abū Ghuddah in Risālat al-Mustarshidīn, pp.110-111.

[13] Narrated by Aḥmad in his Musnad, 5/363; al-Marwāzī in Zawā’id al-Zuhd (no. 412) and Nasā’ī in his Sunan al-Kubrā as mentioned by al-Ḥāfiẓ al-Mizzī in Tufat al-Ashrāf, vol.11, p.199.

[14] Ibn al-Qayyim, Ighāthat al-Lahfān¸ p.47.

[15] See Q. 34:30.

[16] What is meant by the “fraud of the eyes” (khā’inat al-a`yun) by some is refusing to lower the gaze from what is prohibited and succumb it to one’s whims and desires. See Abū `Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī, Haqā’iq al-Tafsīr, vol.2, p.209.

[17] See for example: Q. 3:191 (O Believers, make abundant mention of Allah); 7:205 (And remember your Lord by your tongue and within yourself, humbly and in awe, without loudness, by words in the morning and in the afternoon, and be not among those who are neglectful) and 33:41 (Those who remember their Lord standing, and sitting, and lying on their sides).

[18] For some of the general virtues of dhikr, see Bukhārī, Sahih (no. 7405); Tirmidhī, Sunan (no. 3377 and 3603); Ibn Mājah, Sunan (no. 3790); Aḥmad in his Musnad, 3/251, 315, 391, 413, 5/195; Mālik in the Muwaṭṭa’, vol.1, p.185 and al-Ḥākim, al-Mustadrak `alā ’l-aīayn, vol.1, p.496. Cf. also Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, al-Wābil al-Sayyib fī Kalim al-ayyib, pp.57-133.

[19] See Q. 20:14 (So, establish prayer for My remembrance); 29:45 (Lo! Worship guards one from lewdness and iniquity, but verily, remembrance of Allah is greater) and 87:14-15 (He is successful who purifies himself, and remembers the name of his Lord, and so prays). See also al-Hafiz Ibn Ḥajar al-`Asqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī SharṢaīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol.11, p.251 where he cites the Mālikī faqīh Abū Bakr Ibn al-`Arabī as saying that for one’s action to be fully valid, it must be with the condition of remembering Allah (SWT).

[20] As narrated by al-Ṭabarānī in Mu`jam al-Awsa (no. 7414). See also al-Hindī, Kanz al-`Ummāl (no. 1804) and al-Shawkānī, Tufat al-Dhākirīn, p.41.

[21] See Tirmidhī, Sunan (no. 3376); Aḥmad, Musnad, 3/438; al-Ṭabarānī, Mu`jam al-Kabīr (no. 11121); al-Bayhaqī, Shu`ab al-Īmān, vol.1, pp.508 and 522 and al-Shawkānī, Tufat al-Dhākirīn, pp.44-45. Cf. also al-Haythamī, Majma` al-Zawā’id, vol.10, p.74.

[22] Narrated by Abū Dawūd, vol.1, p.374 (no. 1420 = English translation); Nasā’ī, vol.3, p.248; Tirmidhī (no. 464) and Ibn Mājah (no. 1178) in their Sunan; al-Dārimī, Sunan, vol.1, p.311; Aḥmad,  Musnad, 1/199, Ibn Khuzaymah in his aī, vol.2, p.151 and al-Zayla`ī, Nasab al-Rāyah, vol.2, p.125 and al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar’s Talkhī al-abīr, vol.1, p.247.

[23] Narrated by Bukhārī in his Ṣaī (no. 5066) and Muslim in his Ṣaī (no. 1018 and 3386). It was also narrated by Aḥmad in his Musnad, 1/387 as well as al-Ḥumaydī in his Musnad (no. 115); Abū Dawūd (no. 2046), Nasā’ī (no. 3209), Tirmidhī (no. 1081) and Ibn Mājah (no. 1845) in their Sunan; al-Bayhaqī in Sunan al-Kubrā (no. 13446) and al-Baghawī in Sharḥ al-Sunnah, vol.9, p.3. For more on marriage, see Taqī al-Dīn al-Nabhānī’s The Social System in Islam (English), pp.113-130 and (Arabic), pp.102-115 and al-Shawkānī, Nayl al-Awṭār, vol.2, pp.1298-1343.

[24] Quoted by Abū Nu`aym al-Aṣbahānī in his Ḥilyat al-Awliyā’, vol.2, p.150.

[25] See al-Ḥaddād, Risālat al-Mu`āwanah, pp.135-136.

[26] Cited by Shaykh `Abd al-Fattāḥ Abū Ghuddah in Risālat al-Mustarshidīn, p.107 f.

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