Whatever we look at or even see, enters our mind and soul, and sticks to them. Imam Ali (AS) said: “The eye is the reporter of heart and the messenger of mind.” . It means that every act of looking profoundly affects our heart and soul. The prophet (PBUH&HP) said: “Avoid unnecessary excess looks as they grow lust in your hearts and make you heedless.” .
In another saying from Imam Ali (AS), we read that: “The eyes are the snares of Satan” . That is why Islam has special guidelines and rules about at what or whom, one is allowed or not to look. And, this is more pressing in case of Muslims living in a non-Muslim society, where they are constantly exposed to both men and women freely and improperly dressed in the streets, TV, magazines, web pages, etc. Islam has regulated looking at the opposite gender according to the two categories: Mahrams and non-Mahrams .
A man is permitted to look at the body of a woman who is his Mahram, except her private parts (Awrah). And he must not look at her body from the navel down to the knee. This means that a woman should dress decently even in the presence of her Mahrams. One’s wife is an exception to this rule; married couples are allowed to look at the entire body of each other.
It is forbidden for a man to look at the body of any non-Mahram woman but he can look at her hands and face as long as they do not have any decoration. If the woman is Muslim, then he is not allowed to look at her hair. But if she is not Muslim, looking at her hair is not forbidden as long as it is not for pleasure.
Generally, there is no sin on a man for the first involuntary look at any non-Mahram woman, but the second look should be avoided . In any case, men should remember that: “Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. That is more decent for them.” (24:30).
This rule also extends to adolescent boys and even younger ones, who understand women’s physical attributes and might be attracted to them. They should be taught to lower their gaze, too. Since children’s minds and souls are clear lands ready to be cultivated with several types of thoughts and ideas mostly captured by eyes, we need to teach them which seeds they should plant in their lands to attain Allah’s eternal satisfaction.
A man is not allowed to look at another man’s private parts, nor a woman at those of another woman; whether Muslim or not. Besides, looking at any parts of the body of another man, even the face and arms, will be forbidden for a man if done with the intention of having pleasure. The same ruling applies to a woman towards another woman. This also means that one should always cover his/her private parts in the presence of others, even of the same gender.
A woman is allowed to look at the body of a man who is her Mahram, except his private parts, if it is not for having pleasure. One’s husband is an exception to this rule as mentioned earlier.
A woman is not permitted to look at the body of a non-Mahram man, except for the face, hands, and that amount which men usually [i] do not cover and if it is not for pleasure.
One is permitted to look at the entire body of a child until he/she reaches the age when the child’s consciousness of sex has developed, or when evidence of sexual urge is noticed on him/her; even if it is before reaching puberty. However, it is better to accustom the child to always dress properly.
As a general rule, it is forbidden (Haram) to look at anyone (even at one’s own body) or anything (including people’s photos and films, statues, etc.) with the intention of having pleasure (with the exception of one’s spouse), even if one is looking at a Mahram.
In cases of “necessity” such as in administering first aid, medical treatment [ii] or during a trial testimony where the judge requests the witness to look at a non-Mahram to identify him/her , all the rules of the prohibition of looking become void. As an instance, if a doctor is compelled to look at a part of the body of a non-Mahram woman, he must only look at that part necessary for the treatment, but not more than that. Also, if possible, the examination or testing must be performed over the clothing. Other exceptions are looking at one’s spouse as explained above.
[i] This, although following a definite limit indicated in Islamic ruling that should be respected, is based on the normal condition of each society to some extent.
[ii] In the case that a doctor of the same skill and with the same gender is not available.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 104, p. 41, T. 52.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 72, p. 199.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 77, p. 294.
- Ibn Babawayh, “Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih”, vol.3, p.474, T. 4658.
- looking to others
Eid al-Ghadir is one of the most important historical events celebrated by many Muslims on the 18th day of the last Islamic month, Dhu al-Hijjah. Ghadir Khum is the name of a pond near Mecca. It was a place for pilgrims, who had attended the ritual of Hajj, to greet and rest a short while before taking different routes to their homes.
After completing his last pilgrimage, which was the first Muslim’s great gathering -with more than 70 thousand people- in the presence of their leader, the Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) arrived at Ghadir Khum on the 18th of Dhu al-Hijjah where he received another revelation from God saying:
“O, Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord, and if you do not, you will not have delivered His message, and Allah shall protect you from the people. Indeed Allah does not guide the faithless lot” (5:67)
Allah in this verse commanded the Prophet (PBUH&HP) to clarify what had been previously revealed regarding Ali (AS) [i] and told him not to worry about the reaction of the people in delivering His message, for He would protect His Messenger from them.
Upon receiving the above verse, the caravan stopped in the valley of Ghadir at Prophet’s command. According to some sources, about 12,000 people from Yemen had come to attend that year’s Hajj, which was known as “The farewell pilgrimage” (Hajj-at-Alvida). Despite the different route that they had to take to their homes, they were asked by prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) to choose the way which passed the place of Ghadir, so that they could be present at the time when the incident of Ghadir was taking place.
Then he sent for all people who had gone ahead to return and waited for those who had fallen behind to arrive and gather. At noon that day, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) performed the prayer in congregation with a great population of people behind him. When the prayer was finished, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) ascended the pulpit his followers had set up from the camel saddles and gave his famous sermon in a loud voice. He started his speech by praising Allah, announced the heart-breaking news of his oncoming death and then stated:
“Verily, I am leaving behind two precious things (thaqalayn) among you: The Book of God (Quran) and my kindred (itrah), my household (Ahl al Bayt), for indeed, the two will never separate until they come back to me by the Pond (of al Kawthar on the Judgement's Day)” .
The Prophet (PBUH&HP), in an attempt to remind Muslims of his own authority over them, asked: “Who has more of a right over the believers than their own selves?” Everyone present proclaimed: “Allah and His Prophet know better.”
The Prophet (PBUH&HP) then said: “Allah is my master and I am the master of all the believers, and I have more right and authority over the believers than they have over their own selves.”
Thereupon, he took Imam Ali (AS)’s hand, raised it up and continued:
“Whomsoever I am his leader (Mawla), Ali (AS) is also his leader (Mawla). O’ Allah! Love those who love him (Ali (AS)) and oppose those who oppose him” .
The Angel of Revelation, Gabriel, once again descended by the order of Allah and revealed the following verse of the Quran:
“Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion” (5:3).
This day has been marked in history as a Grand Eid for many Muslims since then. It is also known as the Day of Leadership (Imamate) and Mastership (Wilayat), which is among the critical beliefs of Islam and the axioms of this holy religion.
A large number of Muslims around the world hold special celebrations, congratulate one another on this day and say:
“All praise belongs to Allah who has made us amongst those who hold firm to the Mastership (Wilayat) of the Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Muminin) -Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS)- and the Imams” .
[i] According to the narration of Yawm al-Dar (The Day of invitation to his Home), the Prophet(PBUH) was commissioned in the third year of his prophethood to declare his call to Islam openly. This is clearly stated in the Holy Quran:
وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الأَقْرَبِينَ.
“Warn the nearest of your kinsfolk” (26:214).
After this, the Prophet(PBUH), invited his close relatives to his uncle Abu Talib’s house, after having their meal, he started to say: O Children of Abd al-Muttalib. I swear to God I know of no one among the Arabs who could have brought anything better than I have brought for you. I have brought for you prosperity here and your future. God has ordered me to invite you to my religion. Who among you will assist me in being my brother, helper, and successor?
No one showed any interest except for Ali (AS) who was the youngest. He rose up, saying: “O Messenger of God. I will be your assistant in this affair.”
The Prophet (PBUH&HP) put his hand around Ali’s neck and said:
إنَّ هَذا أَخِي وَوَصِيِّي وَخَلِيفَتِي فِيكُمْ فَاسْمَعُوا لَهُ وَأَطِيعُوا.
“This brother of mine is my helper, and successor. Listen to him and obey his commands” .
“Modesty and faith are connected with one another just like two things fastened by a rope. If one of them is gone, the other is also lost” . Imam Baqir (AS). Modesty is a special sense that prevents one from saying inappropriate words and making mistakes. It refers to an uncomfortable feeling accompanied by embarrassment, caused by one's anxiety about being exposed to some unworthy or indecent conduct. This concept, as one of the highest and most fundamental moral qualities, is known as Haya in Islam. Modesty in Islam describes shyness and shame, but Haya represents a more profound implication that is based on faith. In many sayings (Hadiths), it has been quoted that modesty is linked with faith and originates from it [1, 2]. Hence, it is one of the most important characteristics that every Muslim should acquire and possess ; particularly Muslim women (“haya is a good characteristic for all, but is better for women” ).
There are two types of modesty: natural and acquired. An example of the former is the feeling of shyness and humility naturally occurring in a young child that makes him/her cover the private parts of the body from others. Or, in the story of Eve and Adam (PBUT) where they realize their nakedness and try to hide their genitals. This kind of modesty is common sense that exists within all human beings, believer or non-believer: “God Almighty divided the modesty among people just as He divided the provision” , and what differentiates them from animals: “If modesty did not exist … the promises wouldn’t be kept … Nobody would do any good, and nobody would refrain from the evil … if it weren’t for modesty, many people wouldn’t stop sinning.” . Modesty serves as a cover on the soul that conceals the defects and calms down wrath and lust . No one can, therefore, justify his/her sins and mistakes because of not being naturally given a sense of modesty.
The latter, on the other hand, can be only attained as a result of knowing and perceiving the Glory of Allah and minding His presence everywhere and in every second. In Islamic ethics, modesty is more than just a question of how a person dresses and acts in social interactions; instead, it is reflected in a Muslim’s conduct before God, before others, and even when one is alone.
Modesty towards others entails that one has decent and reasonable behavior in public, avoids indecent talks and vain activities, and respects everyone around him/her. If one has developed this ethical aspect within him/her and obeyed this sense, he/she will become ashamed when someone notices him doing something wrong. This feeling will be even worse when the other person is in a higher position. This, consequently, stops him/her from repeating that action.
To clarify the importance of modesty towards people, Imam Ali (AS) said that the evilest of all is who is not ashamed of his actions in front of people .
Modesty towards others includes especially the opposite gender and involves not gazing at them , harming them in any way or indulging in any forbidden (Haram) relation with them. In Surah Nur, Allah guides both men and women to the key to modesty by saying that believing men and women should lower their gaze and guard their modesty (24:30-31).
A good instance of modesty in the interactions between opposite genders is described in Surah Qasas, verses 23-26, between the daughters of Shoaib (PBUH) and Moses (PBUH). These verses demonstrate that the daughters of the prophet work and appear in society, but they care about how they interact with others; they concentrate on what they should do without having unnecessary dialogues with men. They communicate as much as necessary, with respect and dignity. Their speech is direct and clear-cut with Moses, so are Moses’s words. Even the way they both walk is with care and shyness .
Modesty towards oneself means that a person treats himself fairly in private. It is caused by the unpleasant feeling that arises when thinking of or doing something improper which consequently stops one from forbidden (Haram) thoughts or illicit acts. It was mentioned that when one does something indecent and suddenly notices the presence of others, he becomes ashamed (if he still possesses the natural modesty that is laid within his soul); a higher level of Haya is being ashamed of oneself when no one else is present. This kind of modesty is known as the yield of faith: “The shame a person feels from himself originates from [his] faith.” .
Modesty towards God is called the best level of modesty : “be modest in front of Allah for He has a right to your modesty” . To accomplish this, one should first believe that nothing can be concealed from God “Does he not know that Allah sees [him]?” (96:14). In fact, Allah sees and knows everything, and is closer to humans more than themselves: “and We are nearer to him than [his] jugular vein” (50:16). Consequently, a modest person toward God will avoid any indecent act, in public or private, and will leave sinful thoughts behind.
- M. al-Kulaynī, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 2, p. 106.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 75, p. 309.
- M. al-Kulaynī, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 2, p. 106, T. 5.
- A. Q. Payande, “Nahj Al-Fasahah”, p. 578, T. 2006.
- S. H. al-Amili, “Wasail al-Shia”, vol. 20, p. 135.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Mofazzal monotheism”, Chapter: Human Senses.
- “Nahj al-Balagha”, no. 223
- “Ghurar Al-Hikam”, no. 5464
- M. B. Majlesi, "Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 101, p. 40.
- N. Makarem Shirazi, “Tafsir Nemooneh”, vol. 16, p 58-59.
- “Ghurar Al-Hikam”, no. 4944.
- “Ghurar Al-Hikam”, no. 5451.
- H. T. Nuri Ṭabarsi, “Mustadrak al-Wasail”, vol. 8, p. 462.