Evidences for the Issue of Gazing


Ml Yusuf Karaan

7 August 2023


  1. Please can you help us understand why some of the earlier Ulamā deemed it permissible to look at the opposite gender, if there was no desire?
  2. How is the above position reconciled with aḥādīth such as the Messenger ﷺ commanding his wives to lower their gazes & telling ʿAlī RA not to look a second time?
  3. As a result of this, is it considered a sin for a man to look at a woman (without desire) and a woman to look at a man (without desire).


السلام عايكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

You first inquired as to the reason many early scholars deemed permissible a man gazing at members of the opposite gender, so long as he did so without lustful intent. To answer this, we turn our attention to the verse:

﴿ وَلَا يُبۡدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنۡهَا ﴾

“…and not expose their adornment, save what is revealed thereof [by necessity]”

النور: ٣١

In the interpretation of “what is revealed thereof [by necessity]”, four views existed among the fuqahāʾ of the Ṣaḥābah and Tābiʿūn:

  1. The face and hands, held by Abdullāh b. ʿAbbās, Abdullāh b. ʿUmar, ʿIkrimah, Saʿīd b. Jubayr, Mujāhid b. Jabr, ʿAṭāʾ b. Abī Rabāḥ, Mak-ḥūl RA, and the majority of subsequent fuqahāʾ.
  2. The hands and eye slits, held by Sayyidah ʿĀʾishah RA, and Muḥammad b. Shihāb al-Zuhrī.
  3. The face only, held by Ḥasan al-Baṣrī.
  4. Neither face nor hands, only the exterior of her robes, which was held by Abdullāh b. Masʾūd, ʿĀmir al-Shaʿabī, Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī, and Abū al-Aḥwaṣ al-Ashjaʿī RA.

As indicated above, the first view was adopted by most, and served as the basis for the views found in the four madhāhib regarding the wilful, chaste gaze of a male at the face and hands of a female. The carried view in both Shāfiʿī and Ḥanbalī madhāhib, as well as an alternate view in the Mālikī madhhab, forbids such gazing, while the carried view of the latter permits it, in addition to the Ḥanafī madhhab.

Both these views conflict with the ostensible meaning drawn from the narration of ʿAliyy b. Abī Ṭālib  you mentioned: the first in that the narration insinuates the permissibility of the first gaze, and the second in that the second gaze is insinuated to be impermissible. This issue is easily solved for the first view by interpreting the first gaze as ‘accidental’, and the second as ‘wilful’. The evidence for this interpretation lies in another narration transmitted by Imām Muslim in his Ṣaḥīḥ:

عَن جَرِيرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللهِ رضي الله عنه قَالَ:《 سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللهِ ﷺ عَن نَظَرِ الْفُجَاءَةِ فَأَمَرَنِي أَن أَصْرِفَ بَصَرِي 》 

“I asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ about accidental gazing, where he then instructed that I avert my gaze.”

مسلم (الآداب ب ٤٥|ح ٢١٥٩)

For the second view, however, one is further compelled to interpret the impermissibility of the second gaze as due to being “most likely impassioned” (مَظِنَّة الشَّهْوَة), such that the gazing itself is not forbidden.

عن أم سلمة رضي الله عنها قالت: كُنْتُ عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ﷺ وَعِنْدَهُ مَيْمُونَةُ، فَأَقْبَلَ ابْنُ أم مَكْتُومٍ وَذَلِكَ بَعْدَ أَنْ أُمِرْنَا بِالْحِجَابِ، فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ ﷺ: 《 احْتَجِبَا مِنْهُ 》، فَقُلْنَا: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، أَلَيْسَ أَعْمَى لَا يُبْصِرُنَا، وَلَا يَعْرِفُنَا؟ فَقَالَ النَّبِيُّ ﷺ:《 أفعمياوان أَنْتُمَا؟ أَلَسْتُمَا تُبْصِرَانِهِ؟  》

“I, along with Maymūnah, was with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ—after the mandate of Ḥijāb—when Ibn Umm Maktūm sought an audience, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ commanded: “Conceal yourselves behind the veil.” We asked, “O, Messenger of Allah, is he not blind, unable to see or recognise us?” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ chided: “Are you blind too? Are you not able to see him?”

أبو داود ٤١١٢؛ والترمذي ٢٧٧٨

عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: كَانَ الحبش يَلْعَبُونَ بِحِرَابِهِمْ، فَسَتَرَنِي رسول الله ﷺ وأنا أَنْظُرُ، فَمَا زِلْتُ أَنْظُرُ حَتَّى كُنْتُ أَنَا أَنْصَرِفُ، فَاقْدُرُوا قَدْرَ الجَارِيَةِ الحَدِيثَةِ السِّنِّ، تَسْمَعُ اللَّهْوَ.

“[On the day of Eid], the Abyssinians would perform with their spears, and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ would cover me while I looked on, until [my curiosity was sated and] I wished to leave. So, accommodate your young daughters who wish to listen to some idle amusement.”

البخاري (النكاح ب ٨٢|ح ٤٨٩٤)

عن فاطمة بنت قيس قالت: أَرْسَلَ إِلَيَّ زَوْجِي أَبُو عَمْرِو بْنُ حَفْصِ بْنِ الْمُغِيرَةِ، عَيَّاشَ بْنَ أَبِي رَبِيعَةَ بِطَلَاقِي،
وَأَرْسَلَ مَعَهُ بِخَمْسَةِ آصُعِ تَمْرٍ وَخَمْسَةِ آصُعِ شَعِيرٍ، فَقُلْتُ: أَمَا لِي نَفَقَةٌ إِلَّا هَذَا؟ وَلَا أعتد في مَنْزِلِكُمْ؟ قَالَ: لَا، قَالَتْ: فَشَدَدْتُ عَلَيَّ ثِيَابِي، وَأَتَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللهِ ﷺ فَقَالَ:《 كَمْ طَلَّقَكِ؟ 》قُلْتُ: ثَلَاثًا، قَالَ: «صَدَقَ لَيْسَ لَكِ نَفَقَةٌ، اعْتَدِّي فِي بَيْتِ ابْنِ عَمِّكِ ابْنِ أُمِّ مَكْتُومٍ فَإِنَّهُ ضَرِيرُ الْبَصَرِ تُلْقِي ثَوْبَكِ عِنْدَهُ، فَإِذَا انْقَضَتْ عِدَّتُكِ فَآذِنِينِي» … الحديث

“Spend your waiting period at the home of your cousin, Ibn Umm Maktūm, for he is blind, that you may cast off your robes there.”

مسلم (الطلاق ب ٦|ح ٤٨)

As with the previous discussion, scholars have interpreted these three reports in different manners. The first report suggests that women may not gaze at men at all. The second implies they may, while the third has been used by some to demonstrate this. Imām al-Nawawī, in representing the Shāfiʿī position, argues that the first report should be interpreted as is, that women may not gaze at men, just as men may not gaze at women. For the second report, he attempts to reconcile by suggesting that Sayyidah ʿĀʾishah RA was a minor at the time of these events, or, in the event she was not, that she was looking only at the Abyssinians’ performance, and not necessarily their physiques. On this issue, Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī points out that supplementary information obtained from other versions of the report prove the possibility of her being a minor quite implausible. That being said, he does somewhat acquiesce to the second suggestion. For the third report, al-Nawawī asserts that Fāṭimah b. Qays RA spending her waiting period at the home of her cousin, where she could cast off her garments, in no way translates to her gazing at or interacting with him. Rather, it means she did not have to worry about other men visiting his home, since she would have to constantly veil herself, as was the case in the first home she was sent to, that of Umm Sharīk RA. Finally, he argues that the directives for men and women to lower their gazes in the Quran are practically identical:

﴿ قُل لِّلۡمُؤۡمِنِـينَ يَغُضُّوا مِن أَبۡصَـٰرِهِمۡ ﴾

النور ٢٤: ٣٠

﴿ وَقُل لِّلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ يَغۡضُضۡنَ مِن أَبۡصَـٰرِهِنَّ ﴾

النور ٢٤: ٣١

Scholars who allow for women gazing at men argue that the third report particularises (تخصيص) the first, resulting in the latter addressing specifically the wives of the Prophet ﷺ, while the second and third represent the law for ordinary females, that they may gaze, chastely, at anything other than the ʿawrah of males. Some go this way, while others simply reject the first report based on, firstly, its perceived conflict with the following two reports, and, secondly, that its narrator, Nab-hān, is not very known among the scholars of Hadith. They further substantiate this with the fact females are encouraged to veil their faces coupled with the prohibition on males gazing at their faces, whereas males are never encouraged to veil their faces for fear of females gazing thereupon. Furthermore, they argue the harms in allowing men to gaze at women freely are far greater than in allowing it for women. As a result, some will interpret the prohibition in the above verse as a heavy discouragement (karāhah).

To answer your final inquiry, this is straightforward. Whosoever chooses to practice the lenient view on men gazing at women and vice versa, will not have committed a sin by doing so. Inversely, those who choose to practice the more stringent view will have sinned by needlessly and wilfully gazing at members of the opposite gender.

وﷲ تعالى أعلم

And Allah knows best

Y Karaan
DUAI Fatwa Department