Verses from Surah Al-Noor [30 -31]

[30] Say to the believers that they lower their gazes50 and guard their private parts.51 That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is Aware of what they do.


50. According to the majority the min of the textual “min absarihim” has been declared as “tab`idiyyah” – meaning, “lower some of your gazes,” i.e., those that are cast at the forbidden. A minor opinion is that the min here is “za’idah” such as in, “ma min ilahinghayruhu;” while a few others have treated it as a “silah” (conjunctive). –Razi

Our translation at this point is more to attain fluency rather than accuracy (Au.).

Ibn `Abbas explained that the instruction is to lower the gaze from every unsightly thing. Obviously, it is not possible to walk about with the sights fixed to the ground. The meaning is, do not look at things unlawful to look at (Ibn Jarir).

The first fall of the sight on an undesirable thing is forgiven, but, as a hadith of Muslim asserts, it must be taken off quickly. In this vein we might quote a tradition preserved in the Sahihayn. The Prophet said, “Be you warned of sitting at the roadsides.” They protested, “But we need to get together and chat.” He said, “If you do not wish to do without those assemblies, then give the roadside its due.” They asked, “And what’s its due?” He replied, “Lower your gaze, hold back any harm (to passers-by), return salutations, enjoin the virtuous and prohibit the wrong.”

Accordingly, when during a campaign, Ghazwan was staring at a girl with uncovered face, Abu Musa Ash`ari hit so hard on his eye that it got swollen. “You are looking at something that can only harm you and not benefit you.” Now, Ghazwan was a sensitive man. It is reported that he was not seen smiling thereafter until his death. In fact, Sha`bi has said – although his times were better than ours – one might not stare hard and long at his mother, sister or daughter. (Qurtubi)

We have seen how free license has led girls in Western households to fear their own fathers and other close relatives (Au.).

According to a hadith in Bukhari, Muslim and others the Prophet (saws) said about one’s wandering eye: “Allah has written on Adam’s son his share of adultery which he commits inevitably. The adultery of the eyes is the sight (that gazes at the forbidden), the adultery of the tongue is to talk, the inner self wishes and desires and the private parts testify all these or deny them.”

Another hadith says: “Let not a glance follow another; for you have the first (as excusable) but the second is not for you.”

It has been said about guarding one’s gaze against falling on undesirable things that as a reward Allah (swt) bestows Light to his eye and (wisdom) flows through his heart. Hence, many scholars have discouraged men from staring at (handsome) boys. In fact, the Sufiya have written against it in very strong terms. (Ibn Kathir)

51. That is, not uncover their `awrah (parts of body to be necessarily covered). A hadith in Tirmidhi, (which is declared Hasan and translated freely here: Au.), says that the Prophet was asked about one’s `awrah. He answered, “Guard your `awrah save from your wife or what your rights hands own.” He was asked, “Man to man?” He replied, “Try and see to it that he does not see your `awrah.” He was asked, “What about when a man is alone?” He answered, “Allah is more deserving that you should be shy of Him.”

Nevertheless, scholars have allowed a man and wife to see each other’s private parts (Qurtubi); but not the anus (Au.).

[31] And say to the believing women that they lower their gazes52 and guard their private parts53 and not reveal their adornments except for what (ordinarily) appears thereof,54 and (that) they draw their veils over their bosoms,55 and reveal not their adornments except to their husbands,56 or their fathers,57 or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women,58 or those their right hands own, or male attendants free of desire,59 or children who have no knowledge of women’s hidden parts, and that they should not strike with their feet in order to draw attention to what they conceal of their adornment.60 And turn to Allah, all of you, O believers, haply that you will prosper.61


52. The preferred opinion about women looking at non-closely-related men (ghayr mahram) is that it is disallowed for them to look at them with carnal desires, but allowed if the look is not carnal. This is supported by the hadith about Ibn Umm Maktum entering upon the Prophet and he asking Umm Salamah and Maymuna (his two wives) to move away. They said, “But he is blind who can neither see us nor recognize us?” He replied, “But, are you two also blind?” Tirmidhi rated this hadith as Hasan Sahih. As for women allowed to look at men’s faces without carnal desire, that is supported by the report preserved in the Sahihayn that a group of Abyssinian circus men were allowed to perform in the yard of the mosque and the Prophet (saws) allowed `A’isha to look at them from behind him (Ibn Kathir).

53. Abu al-`Aliyyah has said that every “guard their private parts of the Qur’an alludes to ‘safeguarding against illicit sex,’ except for this instance where it means to say, ‘let no one see the private parts.’” (Ibn Kathir)

54. (The exact implication of the textual word “zeenah” [adornment] has been widely disputed). But there is no difference in opinion that by “ornaments” the allusion actually is to the organs of ornament. (Shafi` from Alusi)

Ibn Jarir writes: Ibn Mas`ud is widely reported to have said that of adornments there are two kinds: the apparent and the non-apparent or the visible and the invisible. The allusion here is to the apparent adornment. It is applicable to clothes. As for what is non-apparent, it is bangles, anklets, necklaces etc. Hasan and Ibrahim were also of the same opinion. Abu Is-haq substantiated this opinion with another verse wherein the word “zeenah” is used in the same sense (7-31): “Adam’s children! Put on your (best) attires at every Prayer.

Ibn `Abbas on the other hand believed that the apparent adornment applies to the jewelry in public, and the face in the privacy of homes. Sa`id ibn Jubayr said the allusion is to palms and face (without specifying whether in public or private). Dahhak, and Awza`i held the same opinion.

A third opinion, that of Hasan, is that the allusion by the textual “zeenah” is both to the clothes as well as the face. “My own opinion,” writes Ibn Jarir, “is that the allusion is to the face and hands.”

Ibn Khuwayzmandad was of the opinion that if a woman is beautiful she ought to cover her face and hands in public – a rule that does not apply to old, or ugly looking women (Qurtubi).

55. The textual word is the plural of “jayb” which is for pocket which used to be on the breast in earlier times, and even during our own times both in Spain as well as in Egypt. In fact Bukhari has a chapter-heading which says, “Shirt pocket on the breast.” A hadith (of the Sahihayn: Au.) which gives examples of a miser and a charitable person, implies that the Prophet’s own two pockets were on the breast (Qurtubi).

`A’isha is reported to have praised Ansari women who, when they heard of this revelation, tore their cloaks to cover themselves up thoroughly with one half of the torn cloaks (Ibn Jarir). The report is in Bukhari (Ibn Kathir).

56. The “zeenah” of this occurrence was explained by Ibn Mas`ud as meaning, earrings, necklace, etc. Ibn `Abbas however added that apart from earrings, necklace, bangles, they should not show anything else of their ankles, neck or hair to anyone apart from their husbands and others mentioned here (Ibn Jarir).

57. A common rule applicable to all the categories of the verse is that progenies below and progenitors above are included by default. Further, maternal or paternal uncles have not been mentioned because they are, in reference to these commandments, like their sons who have also not been mentioned. These are all the mahaarim whom a woman can never marry (Qurtubi).

58. That is, Muslim women. Non-Muslim women should not see Muslim women’s adornments as stated above, unless they happen to be their slave-girls. Hence `Umar ibn al-Khattab wrote to Abu `Ubaydah (the Syrian governor), “I have been told that Muslim women enter into public bathrooms along with those of the People of the Book. Prevent them from that, otherwise they will (get used to) going in (freely).” – Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir.

As for the oft-quoted hadith by those contentious of ‘Niqab’ viz. `A’isha says that Asma’ bint abi Bakr entered upon the Messenger of Allah clad in thin clothes. The Prophet told her: “O Asma’, when a woman attains puberty, it does not behoove her that she should expose anything except this and this,” … pointing to his face and the two palms. Well, this hadith cannot be used as evidence because Abu Da’ud has himself declared it weak.

59. Ibn `Abbas and several of the early commentators have explained “ghayruuli al-irbahmin al-rijal” as those men who are not in the right state of mind and hence have no desire whatsoever for women and women have no desire for them (Ibn Jarir). In Majid’s words, “ghayruuli al-irbah signifies both ‘wanting in intelligence’ as well as ‘wanting in sexual desire.’”

Muslim women could display their earrings, necklaces and bangles, but, as for their anklets, neck or hair, that they should refrain from displaying to anyone except their husbands and others named herewith. However, although hermaphrodites are naturally included, but, if they have a wicked look, they might also not be allowed free access to women’s quarters. (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi)

Hence, we have reports in Hadith books against such of them. One of them, in (Bukhari and) Muslim, has Umm Salama reporting that she had a eunuch (as a slave) in her house whom they used to consider one of the “ghayr irbah” (of the Qur’an). Allah’s Messenger was once in the house when he (the eunuch) said to Umm Salama’s brother `Abdullah b. Abu Umayyah: “If Allah grants you victory at Ta’if tomorrow, I will show you the daughter of Ghaylan, for she moves forward in fours and backward in eights.” Allah’s Messenger heard this and said: “Do not allow this man to enter upon you again.” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir)

The Prophet has also prohibited that men be put into test through description of another woman to them in a way it provokes their carnal self. He said, “Let not a woman describe to her husband another woman, as if he sees her.”

60. That is, they should not strike their feet adorned with anklets on the ground in order to draw attention to themselves (Ibn Jarir and others).

Also included in the prohibition is women using strong perfumes. The Prophet said, in a report of Tirmidhi declared Hasan Sahih, “Every eye is an adulterer. And when a woman perfumes herself and then passes by an assembly (of men), she is so and so,” meaning, she is an adulteress.

(Then there is a hadith that warns of risks in interactions within the homes with non-mahrams). The Prophet said: “Beware of entering upon women.” One of the Ansar asked, “Messenger of Allah, what about a brother-in-law?” He answered, “A brother-in-law is death.”(Ibn Kathir)

Imam Razi points out that far from displaying their Zeenah, Muslim women are being instructed not even to draw attention to them. Based on this, the jurists have drawn the conclusion that a woman should not raise her voice, for that will draw attention to her. A woman’s voice is more charming than her adornments and this is the reason why it is not allowed for women to say the Adhan.

61. Makki has said that there is no other verse in the Qur’an which has more pronouns than this one, which has in all twenty-five of them (Qurtubi). The lower in order is verse 228 of Al-Baqarah. Both deal with women and both carry alliteration effects (Au.).

Fiqh Points:

The following are from Imam Razi:

  • Of `Awraat there are four kinds: man to man, woman to woman, woman to man, and man to woman.
  • Man to man: It is not allowable for a man to expose to another man anything of his body between the navel and the knees, both included.
  • Woman to woman: The same as above, i.e., it is not allowable for a woman to expose anything of her body to another woman anything between the navel and the knees.
  • Woman to man: Of this category there can be various situations. A woman might not expose anything of her body to a non-mahram except the face and the two hands. On the other hand, it is not allowed for a man to look at a woman’s face unless there is a specific need, such as, e.g., medical examination, identification, or intention to marry, etc. A second look is disallowed.
  • A slave-girl owned by a man is like his wife. But if she is partly owned, (i.e., a joint owner with another person), or she is under contract of freedom (mukaatabah), or kept as mortgage, or a pagan, or married (to someone, slave or free), then, the most she can display are those parts of the body that are visible during work, without exposing which she can do no work.
  • As regards a male slave owned by a woman, there is difference in opinion. Some say he might see her zeenah, but other jurists have said no. There is a report in Abu Da’ud, Ahmad, Ibn Marduwayh and Bayhaqi (and is trustworthy: S. Ibrahim) which says that the Prophet (saws) went to Fatimah with a male slave he had with him as a gift to her. Fatimah had a shroud too short with which if she covered her head, it would not cover her feet, and if she covered her feet, the head would remain out. The Prophet remarked, “You do not have to worry since (in front of you) it is either your father or your slave.” But, Alusi, adds, the slave in question could well have been a boy since the term the Prophet used was “ghulam.”
  • Man to woman: If the woman is not his wife, then his `awrah against her is his `awrah against men: from the navel to the knee. But if he is her husband or Lord (in the technical sense) then there is no `awrah.
  • It is also not advisable to be naked when alone. The Prophet said when asked, “Your Lord is more deserving that you should be shy of him.” According to another hadith, “Beware from nakedness for, with you are those who do not part company except when you are in the water closet or when a man is with his wife.” (The hadith is in Tirmidhi who declared it weak: Au.).
  • (It is in keeping with the Islamic directives with regard to Hijab, primarily designed not to provoke men and women sexually that women have been ordered not to wear perfumes with strong odors. According to a report in Abu Da’ud), once a woman came out of the Prophet’s mosque and passed by Abu Hurayrah. He stopped her and asked, “Allah’s slave, are you coming from the mosque?” When she said yes, he told her, “I have heard my beloved Abu Qasim (the Prophet) say, ‘The Prayer of a woman who wears perfume in a mosque is not accepted until she takes the bath of ritual purification at home’” (from Mawdudi).
  • Touching a non-Mahram’s body is also not allowed in Islam. The Prophet used to take the oath of allegiance from men with their hands in his hand, but not of women, to whom he administered the oath verbally and then said, “Finished. Your oath has been taken.” (From Mawdudi).
  • The Prophet strictly forbade women from traveling without a mahram, or traveling with a non-mahram. There is a tradition from Ibn `Abbas that the Prophet said in his sermon: “No man should meet a woman in privacy unless she is accompanied by any of her mahram, and no woman should travel unless she is accompanied by a mahram. (From Mawdudi).

The Face

  • The Malikiyyah and the early Ahnaf are of the opinion that the face and hands are not included in the `awrah of a woman. One of their supporting evidence is the hadith (apart from the interpretation of the Qur’an), which says that once Asma’ bint Abi Bakr came before the Prophet clad in thin clothes. He told her, “When a woman matures she should not expose anything of her body except this – he showed his face and hands” (Sabuni). But the hadith has been unanimously declared weak because a narrator is missing between `A’isha and the next person in the line of narration (Au.).
  • However, so far as rank and file of the Hanafiyyah is concerned, that is their earlier position. Their latter day scholars, especially the powerful Deobandi school, has declared the face and the hands included in `awrah which a woman cannot display before a non-mahram (Au.).
  • The Shafe`iyyah and Hanabilah maintain that the whole of a Muslim woman’s body is `awrah, including her face and hands (Sabuni).
  • The Sunnah also tells us that it is unlawful for men to look at woman’s faces. The Prophet was asked (Muslim) about a sudden look (at a face). He said, “Turn it away.” He also told `Ali (Ahmad, Abu Da’ud), “Do not follow one look with another. For, the first is for you, but the second is not for you.” (The report however is weak: S. Ibrahim). A third is the incident of the Prophet turning away Fadl’s face away from the Khath`amiyy woman during Hajj. Finally, we have a Qur’anic verse (33: 53), “And when you ask them (the Prophet’s wives) a thing, ask them from behind a curtain” (which implies that the face is included in the `awrah) – Sabuni.
  • In any case, Mufti Shafi` writes, there is no difference in opinion between the Fuqaha’ that in situations of “fitnah” the face must be necessarily covered. (And fitnah is defined as that situation in which a man’s look turns towards a woman’s face twice: Au.). There is also consensus of opinion that the face and hands are not covered in the `awrah-requirement of the Prayers, so that, if a woman offers Prayers with the face and hands uncovered, her Prayer is acceptable. Further, there is no difference in opinion that although a woman might offer Prayers with an uncovered face, it is not allowable for men to look at her face, which is `awrah for them, either during Prayers or at any other time (Shafi`). Nevertheless, if the face and hands are covered, then too the Prayer is valid (Au).
  • “The Qur’anic command to lower gazes was prescribed at a time when women were allowed to move around with their faces uncovered. Some have argued, for example, that if the faces of women were already covered, the direction would be pointless. Such a view is irrational and contrary to the actual facts. The assumption underlying this argument is not tenable because even in a society where women kept their faces covered, there were occasions when a man might quite accidentally come face to face with a woman. Moreover, even a woman who kept her face covered might uncover it for one reason or another. Furthermore, even if Muslim women covered their faces, non-Muslim women were likely to move around with uncovered faces” (Mawdudi).
  • “According to (a) tradition (in Abu Da’ud), the son of Umm Khallad had attained martyrdom in a battle. She went to the Prophet to inquire about him with a veil that covered her face. This amazed some Companions who said to her in astonishment, ‘Even in this situation your face is covered?’ She replied, ‘I have lost my son, not my modesty.’
  • “There is yet another tradition narrated by `A’isha (also in Abu Da’ud) that someone presented a paper to the Prophet from behind a curtain. The Prophet asked whether that hand was that of a man or a woman.”

As for the tradition involving Fadl b. `Abbas during the Farewell Pilgrimage according to which he was staring at a woman and the Prophet turned his face away, it might be recalled that it is forbidden in the state of ihram to use a niqab to cover the face. We might also remember `A’isha’s report that during the same Hajj journey, they used to keep their faces uncovered, covering them only whenever a caravan passed by (from Mawdudi).


(To be continued)

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