Why does Allah command people

The Details of the Question

Why does Allah command people “not to draw near to unlawful sexual intercourse” instead of “not to commit unlawful sexual intercourse”? Why is “not gazing at haram” insisted so much? What does religion consider about gazing at the obscene images? Why does Allah command people “not to draw near to unlawful sexual intercourse” instead of “not to commit unlawful sexual intercourse”? Why is “not gazing at haram” insisted so much? What does religion consider about gazing at the obscene images?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Here is the painful scream of an eighteen-year-old boy: “Dear brother. I am writing this mail with my eyes full of tears. One of my teachers used to tell me to take Joseph (pbuh) as a model. However, I could not be as obedient as he was to God. I betrayed my eyes. I made them dirty. I regret so much. Now I am trying to clean this dirt with my tears. I request you to pray for me. May God save today’s Josephs for the sake of Joseph (pbuh).”

The Qur’an reminds us that the creator of the universe and the creator of man in this universe and the one who bestows “eyes to see” is Allah and It calls to us: ”They should restrain their gaze” ( the Qur’an, an-Nur, 24:30). The One Who gives this command is the creator of man with this nature. Who else can know better than Allah, the most natural and suitable state for man? Who can speak a word over the One Who bestows this nature?

The Sublime Creator invites us to the state which is the necessity of our nature, with this command of His. Not restraining the gaze from forbidden, gazing at whatever one sees is something that conflicts with the nature the Divine wisdom deemed appropriate because it makes one single emotion rule over the infinite emotions bestowed upon man. It leaves the will inoperative. It causes personalities which focus their world and their thought on a single point.

Gazing at haram is caused by a weakness of belief and it feeds this weakness; besides, it has a feature which degrades people in humanity. It is because it makes people who are equipped with emotions and abilities whereby they can surround the universe slaves for lustful desires and emotions; and it shows the opposite sex as if they were only sexual objects. It reduces the description of man to this simple and absurd state.

In addition, a meaningful side of the command “restrain the gaze from haram” is its commanding an internal endeavor. The first word for both believing men and women is not “destroy harams which you may gaze at” but “restrain your gaze”.

This is a meaningful reflection of the general approach of the Qur’an which gives the priority to man and which undoes the tie in individuals because, the root of the problem is not in the outer world but inside us. A person whose inner world and whose fortress of belief is strong does not deviate even if the whole world is full of forbidden images and scenes.

As a matter of fact, the parable of Joseph (pbuh) is an example for this. Against a very beautiful woman who offered herself with all the charms she had, Joseph’s reaction was to turn his gaze away. Joseph (pbuh) gives this lesson to humanity: If people know the Owner of their eyes and His commands correctly, they are not tempted by the most tempting scenes.

As eyes see…

The most critical point in all the lustful things is approaching it. Once the threshold is passed, the rest comes easily and quickly. For example, eyes which gaze at bare legs are not satisfied with that and they seek for more because in thresholds like not restraining the gaze from haram, there is an evil gravity which inactivates the will and which pulls man to the lowest level of sin even if he does not want it in his heart and conscience.

Generalization of a specific shame comes into existence by means of seeing. With eyes seeing, the wrong becomes the rule and what is abnormal becomes normal. This command of restraining the gaze addressing both men and women ceases this general degeneration right from the beginning.( Metin Karabasoglu)

The 30th and 31st verses of the surah an-Nur in the Qur’an, presents us an enlightened way based on conscious believing against the delusion of obscenity which damages many believing hearts. Our Lord commands: 

“(O, My Messenger), Tell the believing men that they should restrain their gaze (from looking at the women whom it is lawful for them to marry, and from others' private parts), and guard their private parts and chastity. This is what is purer for them. God is fully aware of all that they do. And tell the believing women that they (also) should restrain their gaze (from looking at the men whom it is lawful for them to marry, and from others' private parts), and guard their private parts, and that they should not display their charms except that which is revealed of itself; and let them draw their veils over their bosoms.” ( the Qur’an, an-Nur, 24:30-31)

The verses above informs all Muslims either men or women that unlawful sexual relationship is forbidden. Also, both men and women are commanded to restrain from actions which may lead them to an unlawful sexual relationship. Furthermore, we learn that one of the most important things that lead people to unlawful relationships is gazing at haram. Stating in a hadith “the fornication of the eyes is gazing lustfully”(Bukhari, Istizan,12), the Prophet (pbuh), describes gazing at haram as the fornication of the eyes.

Depending on the verses mentioned above and hadiths regarding the issue, scholars of Islam are in an agreement on the matter that lustful gazing of both men and women at haram save for their husbands and wives is forbidden. Necessary gazing in situations like medical treatment, witnessing or marital purposes is permitted within the conditions and measures stated in the Islamic Jurisprudence. 

It all begins with a “gaze”

Gazing at haram is the beginning of fornication. For this reason, it is important to restrain our gazes. Those who are careless by saying “What could happen with a single gaze?” end up with great destruction.

People are not held responsible for the first indeliberate gaze. However, repeating the gaze is forbidden. The Prophet says to Ali “ O, Ali! Do not add another gaze over a gaze. The first is for you but the second is against you.” ( Tirmidhi, Manners, 28)

However, we should state this right away : This first gaze is the one which a person needs to look when in marketplace or on a street, which his eyes encounter unwillingly. Since man cannot walk with his eyes shut, gazing for necessary issues, indeliberate but necessary situations and situations in which he is unwillingly need to look at is considered to be the first gaze. This case, is especially in question in the Era of Bliss.

However, gazing with consideration that “ the first gaze is permissible” like monitoring all around is wrong because, today a case like encountering suddenly and unawarely is not in question; we may encounter forbidden scenes anywhere anytime. For this reason, we should take control of our gaze.

God commands “ do not draw near to any unlawful sexual intercourse”, not “ do not commit it”

In Islam, there are prohibiting decrees regarding weaknesses and habits which lead people to evil deeds. Those who obey these decrees can save their life in the hereafter as well as in the world. They protect themselves and their children against the negative habits which are getting commoner. We should listen to the warning of our Lord: “Do not draw near to any unlawful sexual intercourse; surely it is a shameful, indecent thing, and an evil way (leading to individual and social corruption).” (the Qur’an, al-Isra’, 17:32)

God commands “ do not draw near to any unlawful sexual intercourse”, not “ do not commit it”. For this reason, gazing at tempting and stimulating scenes which might be a leading or and invitation to an illicit relationship is not permissible in our religion because the main issue is not to draw near. If you do not approach it, it will be easier for you to be saved from it. It becomes difficult to endure the stages after approaching; a person who approaches the fire may fall into it. 

Eyes should restrain the gaze from the obscenity so that imagination will remain clean and minds will be protected from being polluted. Great scholars: “ People should not only shut their eyes of their minds and only avoid but they should also not let forbidden images into their minds; imagination should be protected as well.” 

Why is “not gazing at haram” insisted so much?

Because all the sins and moral corruption begin with gazing at the obscenity, develop due to insisting on it and turn to active sins.

Moreover, eyes take the picture of what they see and they store it in their archives of imagination. No matter where they go and where they are, these pictures they have taken are in front of the eyes of their minds.

The student becomes unable to study his lesson, workers cannot do their jobs and intellectual people cannot come to their minds to think clearly; and in every matter people can have a drawback and a decrease. In order to protect people from this state, religion has prescribed rules against obscenity and saves the believers from such degradation.

According to Islam, taking photos or filming a video which exceeds the bounds of nudity whether they aim at temptation or not, is forbidden. Looking at such images or videos and marketing them is forbidden as well.

They are forbidden because direct nudity and nudity by means of images and videos fundamentally aims at the same illicit purpose. It only differs in effect. Direct nudity is more effective than indirect one. However, indirect nudity has continuality and commonness.

We should not limit nude pictures to only those of women. There is not such a thing that looking at the nude images of a woman is sin whereas looking at those of a man is not. Displaying private parts and gazing at them is forbidden and sin whoever is in the picture. However, being forbidden and sins increase and become strong by getting close to the most private parts.

Is gazing at the beauty rightful or a betrayal of the eyes?

What is beautiful, who is the beautiful, according to whom is it beautiful and for whom is it beautiful? Is the beauty the object that the soul like? Or, is beauty the thing the heart acquires through a pure mind and knowledge? We should deal with the question in the title in accordance with these questions.

The first one of them is the beauty according to the soul which suggests evilness and the second is the one according to the heart. In the first one, the soul looks at the beauty it sees on its own behalf and uglifies it. And in the second one, the heart looks at it on the behalf of Allah and makes it more beautiful.

In the first one, the starting point of the soul is its own view; its intentions and sight are its own pleasures and infinite desires. Here, the eyes are reduced to an instrument of temptation. There is no goodness in this look. This look is thankless and ungrateful and that is why it is forbidden. No matter if non-mahram is covered or uncovered, beautiful or ugly; looking at it on the behalf of the soul is forbidden.

In the second one, the starting point of the heart, its intention and sight is to reach Allah’s infinite beauty; the deed it does is knowledge, skill and thanking. Its purpose is to gain Allah’s consent. According to Badiuzzaman, if people sell the eye to your All-Seeing Maker, and employ it on His behalf and within limits traced out by Him, then your eye will rise to the rank of a reader of the Great Book of Being, a witness to the miracles of Dominical art, a blessed bee sucking on the blossoms of Mercy in the garden of this globe.(Words, 6th Word)

In this second approach, everything is beautiful. In this sight, blessing is nice as well as grief. Peace is fine as well as trouble. The eye says “He makes excellent everything He creates” (he Qur’an, as-Sajdah, 32:7) like the Qur’an and it seeks His manifestation in everything and finds beauty. He observes Allah’s holy names and attributions in happiness and peace.

In this sight, the heart says like Badiuzzaman “In respect of reality and the face that looks to their Creator, everything is transparent and beautiful” (Words, 22nd Word), and it collects the honey of knowledge, talent and thankfulness from the manifestations of Allah’s names. The heart, in this sight says “Let us see what God does, whatever He does, He does it beautifully” like Ibrahim Hakki and surrenders to God’s deeds.

Gazing at non-mahram on behalf of the soul is not rightful but sin. Looking at the beauty of one’s spouse or looking at the beauties of creation, inborn nature and nature which is not forbidden to look at on behalf of the Creator is rightful.

The Qur’an describes this forbidden gaze as “treacheries of the eyes”. God says: “God knows the treacheries of the eyes and all that the bosoms conceal.” (the Qur’an, al-Mumin, 40:19)

The expression of “treacheries of eyes” means slipping of the eyes to haram secretly, in the Qur’an’s unique language. Here, the despotic soul uses eyes which are divine miracles on its behalf, leading these two pearls to haram.

However, Allah sees the slipping of the eyes to haram. The despotic soul does not consider that or it forgets that Allah sees what the eyes see. The Qur’an describes it as “ treacheries of the eyes”. 

What does the religion say about gazing at the obscenity?

Gazing at obscene images, watching obscene movies and entering the sites which contain such content is forbidden. The Qur’an states clearly that prostitution and fornication are forbidden, using the expression of “indecent, shameful deeds” in two places and using clearly the expression of “illicit sexual relationship”,.

“Say: "Come, let me recite what your Lord has made unlawful for you: that you associate nothing with Him; and (do not offend against but, rather) treat your parents in the best way possible; and that you do not kill your children for fear of poverty – it is We Who provide for you as well as for them; and that you do not draw near to any shameful thing (like fornication, fornication, and homosexuality), whether committed openly or secretly; and that you do not kill any soul, which God has made sacred and forbidden, except in just cause. All this He has enjoined upon you, that you may use your reason (and so believe, know right from wrong, and follow His way).” (the Qur’an, al-An’am, 6:151)

“Say: "My Lord has made unlawful only indecent, shameful deeds (like fornication, fornication, prostitution, and homosexuality), whether those of them that are apparent and committed openly or those that are committed secretly; and any act explicitly sinful; and insolence and offenses (against the Religion, life, personal property, others' chastity, and mental and bodily health), which is openly unjustified; and (it is also forbidden) that you associate partners with God, for which He has sent no authority at all, and that you speak against God the things about which you have no sure knowledge.” ( the Qur’an, al-A’raf, 7:33)

Indecent, shameful deeds mentioned in the verse, are fornication whether they are houses of ill-fame, mistress, secret bedmate, etc. Such secret deeds are the name for all of the things which lead people to unlawful relationships. Both fornication and things that lead people to such relationships, and things which stimulate lustful emotions illicitly are forbidden.

As a matter of fact, numerous scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence since the beginning of Islamic history have dealt this issue in this way. The usage of the plural form of the word fuhush (prostitution) as fawahish (indecent, shameful deeds) shows that there are plenty of ways which lead to illicit relationships.

And the third verse is : “Do not draw near to any unlawful sexual intercourse; surely it is a shameful, indecent thing, and an evil way (leading to individual and social corruption). ( the Qur’an, al-Isra’, 17:32)

Considering it carefully, the assumption anyone can make is the fact that not only unlawful sexual intercourse but also drawing near to it is forbidden. This is to emphasize once more the fact that things that lead to such intercourse are also forbidden along with the intercourse itself.

When we examine the hadiths, we see that the Messenger of Allah indicates that gazing at the obscene images is forbidden and even if people are not held responsible for the first gaze since it is unwilling, the second gaze and the next gazes are forbidden. (Tirmidhi, Manners, 28)

In a sacred hadith, it is stated that gazing at the forbidden is like a poisonous arrow of satan; if people avoid this, God will make them taste the belief in the depths of their heart due to their attitude. (Munziri, at-Targhib wa’t-Tarhib, III:63)

Another hadith is more general: “There is no doubt that Allah has written for man his share of fornication which he will commit inevitably. The fornication of the eyes is the sight (to gaze at a forbidden thing), the fornication of the tongue is the talk, and of the soul wishes and desires; and the private parts testify or deny it." (Bukhari, Asking Permission, VIII:74:260)

There are the following additions in a different narration of this hadith : “The fornication of the hand is holding and touching,  the fornication of the feet is to walk (to the place) where he intends to commit fornication the fornication of the tongue is, kissing the fornication of the ears is listening.” ( Muslim, Destiny, Book 33, 6422)

Why is gazing at the obscene fornication?

Acting upon what has been told thus far, people who weaknesses regarding sexuality and who seek different forms of satisfaction may ask “What is wrong with such gazing unless an illicit sexual intercourse is committed; what is the point of these harsh commands?”. Or, they might ask “ Why is the Qur’anic approach to fornication and sexuality so harsh?”

The answer is this: First of all, the family is, as a common expression says, the base of the community. If the base moves, it means the complete building is to quake. It is not possible for a family and a community live in peace and happiness if either spouse has an apparent or secret illicit relationship; the secrecy will be apparent sooner or later.

Secondly, as is or should be known, if Islam states a decree about whether an action should or should not be done, it also provides decrees and regulations which support and set the ground for it or to preserve it.

Thus, on the matter of encouraging people to get married, Islam provides direct commands and prohibitions regarding the issues of equality of the couples who are to get married, their meeting before marriage, their compliance with all sorts of cleansing, not doing things which the spouse dislikes, not allowing strangers in the house without the permission of the husband and so on. Islam has forbidden things that will lead to fornication when it has forbidden fornication.

For instance, Islam forbids men and women from dressing in a form which displays their sexual attractiveness, their adornment and from going out in public in this state, obscenity, immodesty, lustful touching and gazing of people who are not married couples and so forth.

It deals this issue in such a detailed way that women are limited in their adornment, wearing scent, tempting gazing and speech and levity since they all contribute to other people’s seduction. Watching obscene movies, surfing through the websites which address human’s sense of lust are also forbidden. 

Thirdly, judging the issue with respect to social aspects, it is the duty of a government to establish social order in accordance with principles of public morality; it is also the right of a community which asks for a healthy life.

It is certain that fornication, opinions and executions which stimulate all sorts of lustful emotions, notably obscenity which lead people to fornication and which permit such emotions describing them as sexual liberty despite human nature and without setting limitations are against the principles of public morality and they will definitely damage public order.

If the input and output of these excessive things ranging from homosexuality to extramarital children and from houses of ill-fame to obscene publications bring to a community are compared, it will be clearer to understand what we want to say.

This is the very reason why Islam sets such harsh decrees on the issues of sexual deviation and intemperance in question. Actually, it would be more appropriate to say “those decrees help people on the surface which is slippery to the utmost and where slipping is always inevitable, hold their hands and provide them with a destination” than to say “they are harsh and they leave no liberty and limit freedom.”

Why does a married person look at indecent pictures?

After dealing with the religious aspect of the issue above, we should deal with the issue with respect to another perspective. Why does a believing heart that knows it will called to account in the hereafter for all that he committed here attempt such things?

It is a widely-known fact that lustful emotions are natural and because of the creation and nature for anyone who is a human. It is certain that the satisfaction for such emotions is a legal marriage. The reason why a married and believing man attempts such a thing might be his dissatisfaction with his wife or not finding what he has sought.

Since he considers it to be an embarrassing issue, he might not be able to tell anybody about it and perhaps he might not even talk to his wife. He might satisfy this feeling of his with obscene movies just because of the fact that he believes fornication is forbidden.

Please do not underestimate this possibility because today, there are a number of couples who end up in court due to sexual dissatisfaction. Polls and statistics conducted among people who have secret mates despite being married, and who have adulterous relationships and who go to houses of ill-fame proves that this matter is not a hypothesis or a prediction.

Naturally, addiction to such a case is not a disease which is only particular to men. Though comparatively less than men, women may also be addicted to looking at obscene images.

However, the result does not change. If such a reason lays beneath attempting to satisfy in a sense with obscene images, the thing that should be done is that spouses should be honest and bold to each other as much as possible. They should tell each other about their expectations and desires, and they should meet their expectations within legal bounds. 

Obscene images cause addiction

However, if there is not such a problem, there is another possibility left : This person is psychologically ill and has a deviation in his sexual emotions. Although gazing at such indecent images begins as a temporary pleasure when they are young and when sexual emotions for the opposite sex come into existence or when they have been stupefied by lustful emotions, it later may have resulted in addiction.

This case might have caused a sexual deviation in a person who has lived long years open to obscenity and might have turned him into a person who becomes satisfied with only gazing at and seeing the obscenity. As a matter of fact, today, the number of such cases in our community is not low.

What should a person who suffers such kind of a disease do? In deed, in such a case, the thing they must do is to go through a psychological treatment. According to the Prophet’s indication, “sense of bashfulness which is a branch of belief” (Bukhari, Belief, 16) should not prevent this either because this is really a serious disease which is particular to our century and which needs to be treated.

Is belief not sufficient in this issue? It should certainly be and it should leave no need for a psychologist. This is the very reason for us why we have reminded you of the Qur’an and the Prophetic values and why we have constantly emphasized on them, so far.

Belief in Allah and in the Day of Resurrection should be integrated with mind and will and this problem should be overcome by applying all the commands and prohibitions that Islam introduces with no unclear point left. Such kind of sexuality which the West and Western values made become a commercial sector should not be promoted and exploitation of sexual emotions by others should be prevented.

Thus, we should have an honorable life style as a Muslim individual and we should not attempt things which we cannot account for in the hereafter and which will make us embarrassed when reports of our deeds are to open in the presence of our Lord.

 Furthermore, by doing so, we might prevent awful pleasures, sexual deviations, illicit relationships, children born out of wedlock, psychological depressions, and divorcement and sucide etc caused by them, which today threaten humanity more than ever.

M. Ali Seyhan

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