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

  1. Quran, 24 : 30.

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."1 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."2 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."3 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.

  1. Quran, 24 : 31.

  2. Quran, 31 : 16.

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

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"1 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."



In the next sentence it says, "Tell the believing men ... to guard their private parts." (24 : 30) To guard from what? From everything which is not correct, guard against both corruption and the glance of others.

As you know, it was not the custom among Arabs in the Age of Ignorance to hide their private parts. Islam came and made it obligatory to cover this area.

It should be noted that the present western civilization is moving directly towards the habits of the pre-Islamic Arabs in the Age of Ignorance and they are continuously weaving philosophies justifying that nakedness is a good thing. Russell in "On Discipline", says that another illogical ethics or taboo is

  1. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 110.

that a mother and father tell their children to cover themselves which only creates a greater curiosity in children and parents should show their sexual organs to children so that they become aware of whatever there is from the beginning. Now, they do this. But the Holy Quran says, "And guard your private parts", both from corruption and from the view of others. Covering one's private parts is obligatory in Islam except, of course, between a husband and wife and it is among the most disapproved acts for a mother to be naked before her son or a father before his daughter.

"That is purer for them. God is aware of the things they do"1. The Holy Prophet said that from childhood a certain event occurred several times. He sensed that there was another kind of power within him and it would not allow him to do things that were being done during the Age of Ignorance. He said once when he was a child he was playing with the children. Masons were building a house for one of the Quraish nearby. The children enjoyed helping the builders by bringing them stones, bricks, etc. The children would carry them in their long white skirts (underneath which they wore nothing) and then place them before the builders. In doing so, their private parts would be revealed. The Holy Prophet related that he went and put a stone in the skirt of his long chemise and when he wanted to rise, something stopped him and hit against the skirt of his dress. He repeated it and he had the same feeling. He then realized that he should not do this and he did not try again.2

"Say to the believing women that they cast down their look."3 You see that in these two verses, the ruling particular to men. For instance, if women were forbidden from ruling for a

  1. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 227.
  2. Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharhe Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 190.
  3. 24 : 31.

men and women is the so me this is not something looking and not men, there would have been a distinction that such and such ws allright for men but not for women. It is clear, then, that when there is no distinction made between men and women, it has another purpose which we shall discuss in the next lesson.




The word farj is used in Arabic to refer to both a man and a woman's private parts. The fact that men and women have both been commanded to guard their modesty, to guard their private parts is in relation to two things: the view of others and this includes everybody except a husband and wife, and the other is that one should guard one's modesty from corruption, from adultery. If we look at the external form of the verse, perhaps we would conclude that it only refers to corruption but because, from the time of the prophet's companions and the very first commentaries up the Holy Quran, it has been clearly recorded that wherever the Holy Quran says, "guard their private parts," it means from adultery except in those verses where it is to guard the private parts from the view of others. Thus, this verse, either refers to the collective view or it refers to the view of others if we take the traditions into account. There is no difference of opinion here.

The third duty is not to reveal "their adornment ..." which refers to that which is separate from the body like jewels and gold as well as things that are attached to the body like hena and collyrium.


As to the fact that they should "reveal not their adornment", there are two exceptions in the Holy Quran. The first is "except such as is outward" and the second is "except to their husbands ... etc." Both of these have to be discussed further, in particular, the first exception.

Women should "not reveal their adornment ... except such as is outward." What does this refer to? Is it beauty which is most often hidden under clothes that must not be revealed? Then what is that which "is outward"? From the beginning of Islam, many questions arose in relation to "except such as is outward" which were asked from the companions of the Holy Prophet and the helpers and many Shi'ites asked the infallible Imams. There is almost total agreement regarding this point. That is, whether one is Sunni who refers to the companions and helpers of the Holy Prophet or one be a Shi'ite who refers to the recorders of those traditions, there is more or less agreement that which "is outward" is collyrium, a ring and, in some an anklet.

That is, adornments which are used on the two hands and the face. This then shows that it is not obligatory for women to cover their face or their hands. Things which adorn them may appear as long as they are part of common usage. The adornments which are applied to the hands and the face are not obligatory to be covered.

There are great many traditions in relation to this. It was asked from Imam Sadiq what may be displayed of adornments. That is, those things which are not obligatory to cover. He said, "It refers to collyrium and a ring and they are on the face and hands."1 Abi Basir said he asked Imam Sadiq about the exception and he said a ring and bracelet.2

  1. "Kafi", vol.5, p.521 and Wasail", vol.3, p.25.
  2. Ibid.

Threre is a tradition recorded by a person who was not a Shi'ite but because of his reliability, he is referred to and quoted by the 'ulama'. He says that he heard from Ja'far ibn Muhammad (A.S.) that the exception is the face and the hands. These are all similar in what they say. When the face and hands do not need to be covered, then their adornment, even more so.

There is another tradition narrated by 'Ali ibn Ibrahim from Imam Baqir, peace be upon him. He was asked about this exception and he said it includes the woman's clothes, collyrium, ring and colouring of the palms of the hands and a bracelet.1 Then the Imam said that we have three levels of adornment, the adornment all people may see, the adornment which mahram may see and the adornment for one's spouse.

That which may be displayed for the people is the face and hands and their adornment such as collyrium, a ring, a bracelet but the adornment which may be displayed before someone who is mahram is the neck and above including a necklace, an armlet, hands plus an anklet and anything below the ankles. There is, of course, a difference of opinion as to what can be revealed before someone who is mahram. That which can be concluded from the totality of the traditions and according to the edicts of the religious jurisprudents is that no one is mahram other than one's husband from the navel to the knees. That is, a woman must cover herself from the navel to the knee from even her father or brother and from the navel above, it must be covered from everyone except one's father. But for the husband, a woman may display her whole body.

We have other traditions in this area as well such as the fact that women must 'veil their bosoms'. Before the revelation of this verse, women would wear a scarf but they would place the ends behind their head so that their earrings, neck and chest would show sinc their dresses were most often v-necked. With

  1. "Tafsir ul Quran, Safi", 24 : 31.

the revelation of this verse, it became clear that they had to cover their ears, neck and chest with their head covering. There is a tradition recorded by Ibn 'Abbas, the well known transmitter of traditions, that it is obligatory for women to cover their chests and necks.1

The first exception we have referred to relates to what is not obligatory to be covered. The second exception refers to those before whom it is not obligatory to cover such as fathers, husbands, children, etc.


In this area there are two points to be recognized and separated, at least mentally. One is what is obligatory for women to cover and what is not. If we say that it is not obligatory for women to cover their face and hands, does this agree with the saying that it is advisable for men to lower their gaze? Or is that something separate? Is it something whch needs to be discussed separately? Is it possible that it is not obligatory for women to cover, even though this is definite in jurisprudence, but that it be advisable for men to lower their gaze?

We know from the life-style of the Holy Prophet that it is not obligatory for men to cover their head, hand face or neck. Does this mean that it is also not advisable that men lower their gaze if they are walking down the street and women are passing? These are two different issues and must be discussed separately.

Another issue is that in areas other than the ones we mentioned as exceptions which the traditions have commented upon and in which the verse itself states what the limitations are, the face and the hands are among the absolute necessities of Islam whereby covering everything but them is obligatory for women. Of course, this itself has an exception which we will

  1. "Majma' al-Bayan" Quran 24 : 31.

discuss in the next verse which is that if women reach beyond a certain age, it is no longer obligatory for them. But in general, covering the hair of a woman is among the compulsory precepts of Islam. It is clear that much of the hair which shows by which one would conclude that a woman's head is 'uncovered' is clearly not permissible to show in Islam. Covering the neck, the chest, the arms above the wrists, the feet (which is debated) from the ankles above are all among the obligatory aspects of Islam. There is no controversy here.

But there is another point. We said that we have to discuss separately whether or not lowering the gaze is advisable. If the look is of a flirting nature, looking with the anticipation of pleasure, this is another clear issue which is among those which are forbidden. Not only is it forbidden to look at strangers or persons to whom one is not mahram, but even those who are mahram as well. If a father was to flirt with his daughter, it is forbidden and perhaps an even greater sin. It is forbidden for a father-in- law to look at his son's wife with lust. It is forbidden for a man to look at another man with lust. That is, in Islam, lust is exclusively allowed between marital parents. It is not permissible in any form anywhere else between anyone else.

But this should be distinguished from rabi' which means to look but not with the intention of lust nor to really see or view the other person. It is a special state which could be dangerous. That is, the fear exists that look will cause a person to deviate to a forbidden state. This, then, is also forbidden and there is no difference of opinion on this. Thus, if a person says it is advisable to look, a lustful look is not meant or a look which holds the fear that it may lead to something forbidden.

Now we will discuss 'looking'. We have a tradition recorded by 'Ali ibn Ja'far, the brother of Imam Riza. He asks to what point a man can look at a woman who is not permissible to him?

He said, "Her face and her hands and her feet."1 Of course, face and hands are clearly so but the jurisprudents have not issued edicts about the feet.

There is another tradition about a man who is on a trip and dies. There is no man present to give him the obligatory bath for the dead nor are any mahram women present. What should be done for the obligatory bath? The opposite has also been questioned, a woman on a trip who dies and there are no mahram men present to give her bath. When in both cases they asked the Imam, Imam Sadiq said about the first case. "Those women may touch and wash that part of the man's body which was permissible for them to see when he was alive. "The same thing is said about a woman who has died. The men who were not mahram can only wash that part of her body which they could look at when she was alive. The Imam said that if they touch the face and wash her face and her hands, this is sufficient. It is not necessary to wash her whole body. Thus, a man may look at a woman's face and hands when she is alive.2 We also find this in the tradition in Mustamsak which Ayatuallh Hakim relates about Hazrat Fatimah, peace be upon her. One is the tradition regarding the companion Salman who once entered her house and saw that she was grinding barely and her hands were bleeding. This tradition makes it clear that the hands were not covered and that it was not forbidden to look at her hands because if it had been, neither, would Salman have looked at them nor would Hazrat Fatimah, peace be upon her, have left them uncovered.

Authentic than this is a tradition of Jabir that appears in Kafi, in Wasa'il and all of the reliable books on traditions which the ulama narrate. Jabir narrated that he went with the Prophet of Allah to enter Hazrat Fatimah's house. The Holy Prophet had

  1. "Qurb al-Asnad", p.102.

  2. "Wasa'il", vol.17, p.135.

said that a person should seek permission to enter another's house, even if it belonged to one's mother and that the only exception is that one need not seek permission to enter one's wife's room. "When he arrived at her house, he did not enter but called out, 'Assalamo alaikum y Ahl-al-Bait. Hazrat Fatimah answered from inside the house. The Holy Prophet asked, "Do you allow us to enter?" She said, 'Yes enter.' He asked, "Should the person with me enter?" She said, 'No. Then wait until I cover my head.' Then she said, 'Enter.' Again the Holy Prophet asked 'Should the person with me enter?' And she said, "Yes." Jabir says that when he entered he saw that Hazrat Fatimah's face was sallow coloured. "I become very sad when I realized it was because of lack of food. I said to myself, "Look at how the caliph and a king's daughter is brought up and the daugther of the Prophet of God!"1 This shows that Hazrat Fatimah neither covered her face nor her hands. Otherwise Jabir's look would have been forbidden.

Among the traditions, we have great many which, when they ask of the Imam, he says that one cannot look at the forearm of a woman or at a woman's hair. All of these are mentioned but nowhere does it say about the face and hands. Another issue is ihram (Hajj pilgrim's garb) where it is forbidden for women to cover their face and therefore we realize that it is not obligatory. It could not be that there be something which is obligatory. It could not be that there be something which is obligatory but not so in the ihram and forbidden here.

"Let them cast their veils over their bosoms", the verse itself expresses the limits and does not include the face and hands. On the other hand, those who say 'looking' is absolutely forbidden have given as a reason the very thing which has been given for it not being forbidden. They refer to the verse, "say to the believing men to cast down their looks." He answers that in the 1. "Kafi", vol.5, p. 528 and "Wasa'il", vol.3, p.28.

first place, the verse does not say what not to look at. Secondly, it says min which means 'from something', and thirdly, ghadd means 'cast down' or 'lower'.

There is another tradition which is referred to and those who say that it is forbidden to look should note it. A man wrote a letter to Imam 'Askari, peace be upon him, where he said that there is a woman who wants to confess something and others want to listen to her confession to bear witness to it. Must she confess behind a curtain and the others listen from behind a curtain to then justly say that it was her voice. The Imam said, "No. She should come forward to bear witness but she should cover herself so that only the roundness of her face shows."

Another tradition which they present in an often quoted tradition. It is called Sa'd Iskaf interference to a man who went to the Prophet with his face bleeding and said that he had a complaint to make. The Holy Prophet told him to speak. He said he was walking down the street of Madinah and saw a woman coming towards him who was very beautiful and who had tied her scarf behind her head to her chest was visible. As she passed, he turned his head to look at her and did not see what was in front of him.

Something was sticking out of the wall and it struck his face and injured him. The verse was then revealed, "Say to the believing men to cast down their look". But this means women like this and not all women. The verse tells what must be covered and it is not more or less than this.

Another reason they give is that it says in the tradition. "Is there anything which has not committed an illicit act for the illicit act of the eyes is to look?" The answer is that this is referring to looking with lust, not just looking; like the tradition which says "Looking is like an arrow of satan', and, of course, they refer to looking with lust.

There is another tradition which I have read in the books on traditions of the Sunnis. It says the Holy Prophet was on a journey, probably the Farewell Pilgrimage and he placed ibn 'Abbas behind himself. Ibn 'Abbas was a young boy. He continued to look at the women who passed back and forth in the ihram. The Holy Prophet realize that he was doing this and he turned the boy's face away. Ibn 'Abbas then began to look from that direction. The Holy Prophet again turned the boy's face away.

According to the Shi'ite sources, the tradition differs. It says that he was a very handsome young boy and the Holy Prophet was riding, probably on a camel. A woman from the Khasamiyyah tribe came to ask the Holy Prophet a question. She asked and the Holy Prophet answered. Then the Holy Prophet realized that her eyes were fixed upon Fazl ibn 'Abbas and Fazl ibn 'Abbas was starting at her. The tradition states that the Holy Prophet turned Fazl's face away saying. "A young woman and a young man. I am afraid satan will enter.1 They say that because of this, it is clear that it is forbidden to look like this. There is no doubt about it. This is love making and it is forbidden. Shaikh Ansari says that from this tradition it is clear that it was not obligatory for women to cover themselves and it was not forbidden in general for men to look. Otherwise the Holy Prophet would not have looked but he was looking at her as he was answering her questions and saw that her eyes were fixed on Fazl ibn 'Abbas and his on hers.

Ayatullah Hakim narrates another tradition. A man by the name of 'Ali ibn Salah said to Imam Riza, peace be upon him, "I have a problem. I look at beautiful women and it makes me happy to do so but I have no bad intentions". The Imam said, "There is no problem as God is aware of your intentions and you have no ill intentions but fear an illicit act."

  1. "Sahih Bukhari", vol.8, p.63.


We have said that there are two issues involved here. First, what is obligatory upon women and what is permissible for men. Those points which are clear are that it is obligatory upon women to cover themselves except for their face and hands. This is neither compulsory nor in the Holy Quran; nor in the traditions can we find reason to believe that it is obligatory upon women to cover their face and hands.

But as to whether it is permitted for men to look, it is clear and definite that if the look is a lustful one, that is, a look with intention of lust, there is no doubt that this is forbidden. If a look is not a lustful one but the surrounding conditions and situations are such that a fear exist that one may be led to deviate, that too is forbidden. These two are both forbidden, not only towards women, men are not mahram but to women they are mahram with, as well, other than their wife. It is even forbidden for a man to look in this way at another man.

Thus there are only these two questions. Is it obligatory upon a woman to cover her face and hands and secondly, is it permissible or not for a man to look without lust or fear of deviation?