Purdah and Veiling

The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam – Part 5

Five Remedies Against Unchastity

In these verses God Almighty has not only set forth excellent teaching for acquiring the quality of chastity but has furnished man with five remedies against unchastity. These are: to restrain one’s eyes from gazing on those who are outside the prohibited degrees; to restrain one’s ears from listening to their voices and to descriptions of their good looks; to avoid occasions which might furnish incitement towards this vice; and to control oneself during the period of celibacy through fasting, dieting etc.

We can confidently claim that this excellent teaching with all its devices that is set forth in the Holy Qur’an is peculiar to Islam. It should be kept in mind that as the natural condition of man, which is the source of his passions, is such that he cannot depart from it without a complete change in himself, his passions are bound to be roused, or in other words put in peril, when they are confronted with the occasion and opportunity for indulging in this vice.

Therefore, God Almighty has not instructed us that we might freely gaze at women outside the prohibited degrees and might contemplate their beauty and observe all their movements in dancing etc. but that we should do so with pure looks. Nor have we been instructed to listen to the singing of these women and to lend ear to tales of their beauty, but that we should do so with a pure intent. We have been positively commanded not to look at their beauty, whether with pure intent or otherwise, nor to listen to their musical voices or to descriptions of their good looks, whether with pure intent or otherwise. We have been directed to eschew all this as we eschew carrion, so that we should not stumble. It is almost certain that our free glances would cause us to stumble some time or the other. As God Almighty desires that our eyes and our hearts and all our limbs and organs should continue in a state of purity, He has furnished us with this excellent teaching. There can be no doubt that unrestrained looks become a source of danger. If we place soft bread before a hungry dog, it would be vain to hope that the dog should pay no attention to it. Thus God Almighty desired that human faculties should not be provided with any occasion for secret functioning and should not be confronted with anything that might incite dangerous tendencies.

This is the philosophy that underlies the Islamic regulations relating to the observance of the veil. The Book of God does not aim at keeping women in seclusion like prisoners. This is the concept of those who are not acquainted with the correct pattern of Islamic ways. The purpose of these regulations is to restrain men and women from letting their eyes to rove freely and from displaying their good looks and beauties, for therein lies the good both of men and of women. It should be remembered that to restrain one’s looks and to direct them only towards observing that which is permissible is described in Arabic by the expression ghadd-al-basar, which is the expression employed in the Holy Qur’an in this context. It does not behove a pious person who desires to keep his heart pure that he should lift his eyes freely in every direction like an animal. It is necessary that such a one should cultivate the habit of ghadd-al-basar in his social life. This is a blessed habit through which his natural impulses would be converted into a high moral quality without interfering with his social needs. This is the quality which is called chastity in Islam.

The second quality in the context of the discarding of evil is the one known as honesty or integrity, that is to say, intolerance of the causing of harm to a fellow being by taking possession of his property dishonestly or unlawfully. Integrity is one of the natural conditions of man. That is why an infant, who follows his natural bent and who has not yet acquired any bad habit, so much dislikes anything belonging to another that it can only be persuaded with difficulty to be suckled by a wet nurse. If a wet nurse is not appointed for it while it is quite small and has not yet developed a keen consciousness, it becomes very difficult for a wet nurse to suckle it. It is naturally disinclined to be suckled by a woman other than its mother. This disinclination sometimes imposes great suffering upon it, and in extreme cases pushes it to the brink of death. What is the secret of this disinclination? It is that it naturally dislikes to leave its mother and to turn to something that belongs to another. When we reflect deeply upon this habit of an infant it becomes clear that this habit is at the root of all honesty and integrity. No one can be credited with the quality of integrity unless his heart becomes charged with dislike and hatred of the property of another as is the case with an infant. But an infant does not always employ this habit on its proper occasion and consequently imposes great suffering upon itself. This habit is only a natural condition which it exhibits involuntarily; it is not, therefore, a moral quality, though it is at the root of the moral quality of integrity. As an infant cannot be described as religious-minded and trustworthy because of this habit, so also a person who does not exercise this natural habit on its proper occasion cannot be held to possess this moral quality. It is very difficult to become trustworthy and a person of integrity. Unless a person observes all aspects of integrity he cannot be judged truly trustworthy or honest. In this context God Almighty has instructed us in different aspects of integrity in the following verses:

[And give not to the foolish your property which Allah has made for you a means of support; but feed them therewith and clothe them and speak to them words of kind advice. And prove the orphans until they attain the age of marriage; then, if you find in them sound judgment, deliver to them their property; and devour it not in extravagance and haste against their growing up. And whoso is rich, let him abstain; and whoso is poor, let him eat thereof with equity. And when you deliver to them their property, then call witnesses in their presence. And Allah is sufficient as a Reckoner.] (Ch.4:Vs.6-7)

[And let those fear God who, if they should leave behind their own weak offspring, would be anxious for them. Let them, therefore, fear Allah and let them say the right word. Surely, they who devour the property of orphans unjustly, only swallow fire into their bellies, and they shall burn in a blazing fire. (Ch.4:Vs.10-11)

That is, should there be among you a person of property who is an orphan or minor and it is apprehended that he would waste his property through his lack of sense, you should take charge of his property as a custodian and should not hand it over to him, inasmuch as the whole system of commerce and social security depends upon proper care of property. Out of the income of the property you should provide for the maintenance of its owner and you should instruct him in all equitable values that would help to develop his reason and understanding and would furnish him with proper training so that he should not remain ignorant and inexperienced. If he is the son of a merchant he may be instructed in the ways of business and commerce, and if his father followed some profession or other occupation he may be given training in some appropriate occupation. Test him from time to time whether he is making progress in his training. When he arrives at the age of maturity, that is to say about 18 years, and you perceive that he has developed enough intelligence to look after his property, hand over his property to him. Do not deal with his property wastefully while it is in your charge, out of the apprehension that when he grows up he will take it over from you. If the custodian is in easy circumstances he should not make any charge for administering the property. But if he is poor, let him make use of as much of it as is fair.

The custom among Arab custodians of an orphan’s property was that the property was used as capital for commerce and out of its profit provision was made for the orphan and thus the capital was not destroyed. The custodian made a fair charge for looking after the property. This is the system to which reference is made in these verses. Then it is said: When you hand over the property to its owner you should do so before witnesses.

Those of you who are likely to leave behind minor children should give no directions by way of testament which should operate unfairly against the children. Those who consume the substance of orphans unjustly only devour fire into their bellies and shall enter a blazing fire.

It is to be observed how many aspects of honesty and integrity God Almighty has set forth in these verses. A truly honest person is one who keeps in mind all these aspects. If this is not done with perfect intelligence his trustworthiness would cover many hidden dishonesties.

Then it is directed:

[And do not devour your wealth among yourselves through falsehood, and offer it not as bribe to the authorities that you may knowingly devour a part of the wealth of other people with injustice.] (Ch.2:V. 89)

[Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them.] (Ch. 4:V. 59)

[Surely, Allah loves not the treacherous.] (Ch.8:V.59)

[And give full measure when you measure, and weigh with a right balance.] (Ch.17:V.36)

[And diminish not unto people their things, nor act corruptly in the earth, making mischief.] (Ch.26:V. 84)

[And give to the orphans their property…and devour not their property with your own. Surely, it is a great sin.] (Ch.4:V.3)

Do not devour each other’s substance through deceit and falsehood, nor offer your wealth as a bribe to the authorities, that you may deliberately acquire a part of other people’s wealth through injustice. Make over the trusts to those entitled to them. Allah does not love those who are dishonest. Give full measure when you measure out, and weigh out with a true balance. Do not deliver short, and do not go about creating disorder in the land. This means that you should not go about in the land with an evil intent, to commit theft or robbery or to pick pockets or to acquire the property of other people through unlawful means. Then He said: do not give that which is defective in exchange for that which is good; that is to say, as embezzlement is unlawful, so the sale of defective articles representing them as being in good condition, and the exchange of defective articles in return for good ones, is also unlawful.

In all these verses God Almighty has set forth all dishonest practices in such a comprehensive way that no type of dishonesty has been omitted. He has not merely forbidden theft, lest a stupid person should consider that though theft is forbidden all other improper methods of acquiring property are permitted. Forbidding all improper methods of acquiring property in a comprehensive way is true wisdom. In short, if a person does not possess the quality of integrity in all its aspects, he would not be considered honest even if he exhibits honesty in certain matters. That would be only his natural condition, shorn of reasonable discrimination and true insight.

The third moral quality in the context of discarding evil is designated in Arabic as hudnah or haun, which means refraining from inflicting physical pain on anyone and behaving peacefully. Without a doubt, peacefulness is a high moral quality and is essential for humanity. The natural impulse corresponding to this moral quality, the regulation of which converts it into a moral quality, which is possessed by an infant, is attachment. It is obvious that in his natural condition man is unable to conceive of peacefulness or combativeness. In that condition the impulse of attachment that he exhibits is the root of peacefulness, but as it is not exercised under the control of reason or reflection and with deliberation, it is not accounted a moral quality. It becomes a moral quality when a person deliberately makes himself harmless and exercises the quality of peacefulness on its proper occasion, and refrains from using it out of place. In this context the Divine teaching is:

[And set things right among yourselves.] (Ch.8:V.2)

[And reconciliation is best.] (Ch.4:V.129)

[And if they incline towards peace, incline you also towards it.] (Ch.8:V.62)

[And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner.] (Ch.25:V.64)

[And when they pass by anything vain, they pass on with dignity.] (Ch.  25:V. 73)

[Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he between whom and yourself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend.] (Ch.41:V.35)

That is, try to promote accord between yourselves; peace is best; when they incline towards peace, do you incline towards it also. The true servants of the Gracious One walk upon the earth in humility; and when they come upon something vain, which might develop into strife, they pass on with dignity, that is to say, they do not start quarrelling over trifles and do not make small matters which do not cause much harm an occasion for discord. The expression “vain” that is employed in this verse means mischievous utterance of words or doing something which causes little damage and does little harm. Peacefulness means that one should overlook conduct of that type and should act with dignity; but if a person’s conduct does real harm to life or property or honour, the moral quality that should come into play in apposition to it is not peacefulness but forbearance, to which we shall revert later. Should anyone behave mischievously towards you, you should try to repel it with peacefulness, whereby he who is your enemy will become your warm friend. In short, peacefulness means overlooking trivial matters of annoyance which occasion no great harm, and are more or less confined to uttering nonsense.

The fourth moral quality in the context of discarding evil is courtesy or a good word. The natural impulse which is at the root of this moral quality is cheerfulness. Before an infant is able to express itself in words, it displays cheerfulness as a substitute for courtesy and good talk. That shows that the root of courtesy is cheerfulness which is a natural faculty and is converted into the moral quality of courtesy by being used on its proper occasion. The Divine teaching in this context is:

[And speak to men kindly.] (Ch.2:V.84)

[Let not one people deride another people, who may be better than they, nor let women deride other women, who may be better than they. And defame not your own people, nor call one another by nicknames.] (Ch.49:V.12)

[Avoid most of suspicions; for suspicion in some cases is a sin. And spy not, nor back-bite one another……And fear Allah, surely, Allah is Oft- Returning with compassion and is Merciful.] (Ch.49:V.13)

[And follow not that of which you have no knowledge. Verily, the ear and the eye and the heart – all these shall be called to account.] (Ch.17:V.37)

That is, say to people that which is good. Let not one people deride another people, haply they may be better than themselves; nor let one group of women deride another, haply the last may be better than the first. Defame not your people nor call them names. Eschew too much suspicion; Also spy not, nor backbite one another. Do not charge anyone with anything of which you have no proof, and remember that the ear and the eye and the heart will all be called to account.

Continues in the next edition