The Gaze and the Cover

There is a deeply embedded and intricately weaved rhetoric about gender roles in Islam, especially as they relate to men and women’s rules of social interaction.

Surah An-Nur was revealed with many of these rules:

“The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes…” (24:2)

Many scholars of the past have interpreted this ayah and have derived an understanding that in our society would probably be considered “sexist” or “misogynist” and that is this: Allah mentioned the female fornicator (in Arabic: “az-zaaniyah”) in this ayah first because females are attractive and carry the power to either entice a man with their charms and lead him into fornication or to help control his gaze by covering up, as is later instructed in the surah.

Hold that thought. And let’s move on to the ayah of lowering the gaze.

“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them…” (24:30)

About this ayah we always hear from females (or from feminists) that Allah has told men to lower their gazes first because they have a harder time controlling their gazes. And many misinformed people like to add that a woman’s hijab has nothing to do with gaze, and that men are solely responsible for their actions, regardless of a woman’s hijab. 

Hold that thought, too. Let’s move on to the ayah of hijab.

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment…” (24:31)

Here, Allah tells the women to also lower their gazes because afterall, men and women get attracted to each other by looking at one another. But Allah knows that He has made one of His creatures attractive (women) and one weak, or should I say passionate (men)? So He ordered the women to wear hijab. And this protects them from ogling men (at least to a certain degree) because some men will ogle no matter what.

Now, my point here:

Allah is trying to tell us (from the first ayah and the third ayah’s interpretation-quoted above) that a woman does have in her power whether to entice a man or to keep him at bay. This is achieved by her hijab first and foremost and then by her manner of speech and behavior in interacting with men. It is as if Allah is saying to the Muslim women: “I have created you as attractive so cover yourselves up for your own protection, and save yourselves from sin by guiding others to sin.”

Then, it’s as if Allah is telling the men: “You have been created weak. You have certain desires which are so strong that you may or may not have control over them. So lower your gaze. Stop the evil before it begins. Respect your sisters; don’t treat them like a piece of meat. But recognize them as believing slaves of Allah who have respect.”

One Sided Rhetoric:

People love to quote the story in which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) saw a young companion looking at a woman who was not properly covered and they say: “Look, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) didn’t tell the woman to cover; he told his companion to look away!”

And I say fine, okay, but why ignore this story then?

Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:

I was with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) along with Maimunah (May Allah be pleased with her) when Ibn Umm Maktum (May Allah be pleased with him) (who was blind) came to visit him. (This incident took place after the order of Hijab).The Prophet (ﷺ) told us to hide ourselves from him (i.e., observe Hijab). We said: “O Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), he is blind and is unable to see us, nor does he know us.” He replied; “Are you also blind and unable to see him?”

[Abu Dawud and At- Tirmidhi].

So when talking about men, women and hijab, let’s try to be fair in our approach. Let’s remember that Allah reveals His Laws not from a patriarchal nor from a feminist perspective. He is Al-‘Alim (All Knowing) and Al-Hakeem (All Wise).

So let’s put our trust in Him.

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