"Lower their Gaze" does not Mean to Avoid Eye-contact or to not Interact
Many so-called practising Muslims are un-cooperative and unhelpful to members of the opposite gender. They keep away from each other as much a possible. In some cases, if two such people are put in a situation where they have to communicate, one looks into the sky, while the other looks into the ground in order to avoid eye contact. A person of this breed can even appear impolite and rude to a person who does not carry this mentality. They back their behaviour using what they have been told about Verse 24:29-30 of the Qur'an. This is a misconception that arises purely out of a lack of wisdom and understanding.
The Verses they quote are the following:
"Tell the believing men that they should reduce/lower (يغضوا) their gaze/vision and guard their private parts"
"Tell the believing women that they should reduce/lower (يغضضن) their gaze/vision and guard their private parts"
The Quranic meaning that should be derived from the above Verses is that men and women who believe in Allah and the Last Day, must behave modestly and carry themselves humbly between one another. Not only is this an interpretation based on reason, it is also supported by Quranic understanding. The other occasions the root word "غض (to lower/reduce)" has been used in the Qur'an are as follows:
"It is those who lower (يغضون) their voices in the presence of Allah's messenger and whose hearts Allah has proved to be aware - they will have forgiveness and a great reward" (Qur'an 49:3)
We cannot say, by looking at the above expression, the verse means to not speak to the messenger at all just because it says "lower their voice" (which compares with "lower their gaze"). Rather what is expressed here is that the believers should not have arrogance or haughtiness in their voice and attitude when interacting with the messenger. Likewise, to "reduce/lower their gaze/vision" does not mean to avoid looking at opposite gender, rather to carry a modesty, humbleness when dealing with one another.
Another example is when Allah describes the time when Luqman advised his son on how he should behave with people:
"Go at a moderate pace and lower (واغضض) your voice, for the ugliest of all voices is the braying of donkeys" (Qur'an 31:19)
The advice in the Verse is not to sound arrogant and inconsiderate in dealing with people. To "lower the voice" does not mean to literally lower the voice! For example, to become so quiet so as people cannot hear one speak. Just like "lower their gaze" does not mean to not look at the opposite gender, but to do so with modesty.
A point which adds weight to this argument is that the term "ابصار (absaar)" translated as gaze/vision, has also been used in the Qur'an to metaphorically refer to a person's inner character and capabilities to grasp and respond to the outside world correctly, rather than literally one's vision through the eyes.
Furthermore, lessons from the Qur'an show us that all believers must look after one another out of love for Allah and must not cut interaction, even between genders. For example:
“The believing men and the believing women, they are the friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong” (Qur’an 9:71)
Allah further elaborates in another Verse:
"Those who were already firmly established in their homes and firmly rooted in faith, show love for those who migrated to them for refuge and harbour no desire in their hearts for what has been given to them. They give them preference over themselves, even if they too are poor. It is those who are saved from the greed of their own souls who are successful." (Qur'an 59:9)
The verse teaches us the strength of unity between true believers. This originates from their love for Allah and desire for the Hereafter. One cannot say that the above Verse carries double standard for the two genders. Rather the believers of the time referred to in the verse, gave refuge to in their very own homes, all believers who migrated regardless of their gender. What matters is one's faith in Allah, believers are united by this.
The following incident in the story of Prophet Musa has lessons for the believers:
"As he made his way towards Midian, he was saying, 'May my Lord guide me to the right way.' When he arrived at Midian's waters, he found a group of men [watering their flocks], and beside them two women keeping their flocks back, so he said, 'what is the matter with you two?' They said, 'We cannot water [our flocks] until the shepherds take their sheep away: our father is a very old man.' He watered their flocks for them, withdrew into the shade, and prayed, 'My Lord, I am in dire need of whatever good thing you may send me" (Qur'an 28:22-24)
Prophet Musa's watering the flocks of the two women is a deed of a believer. However, such behaviour is unlikely among the majority group of so-called practising Muslims of today.
In Surah An-Naml, the Prophet Solomon (Sulaiman) dealt extensively with the Queen of Sheba. He invited her to believing in Allah and she said:
"My Lord, I have wronged my self: I devote my self, with Solomon, to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds". (Qur'an 27:44)
In conclusion, through an understanding of the Qur'an - the expression "lower their gaze" used in Verses 24:30-31 does not mean to not look at the opposite gender or to not interact with them. The correct understanding is to interact modestly with them. There are some ignorant 'followers of Islam' who, upon learning such lessons from the Qur'an, claim that these are incidents that took place before the time of the prophet Muhammad, therefore the incidents are under a different "shariah" and are not applicable for such lessons to be drawn from them. Allah has addressed this ignorance in the Qur'an:
"When they are asked, 'What has your Lord sent down?' they say, 'ancient fables of previous generations.' " (Qur'an 16:24)
Allah teaches the true believers the right attitude to have through the Qur'an, and He guides them by it onto a straight path. The prayer of Prophet Noah (Nuh) is also an example:
"Noah said, 'Lord do not leave any of the disbelievers on earth. If you leave them, they will lead your servants astray and beget only sinners and disbelievers. Lord, forgive me, my parents and the believing men and women: whoever enters my house as a believer. Bring nothing but ruin to the evil-doers." (Qur'an 71:28)
Verses 24:30-31 are not reasons in themselves for their mentality and behaviour. They simply 'use' the verses to keep up a nostalgic form of religion, derived not from the Qur'an. Part of this nostalgia is to cut connections from the opposite gender. This is common with their application of the Qur'an in all other areas, where the Qur'an is simply 'used' to give evidence in a religion where the Qur'an is 'muddled', and its true interpretations are never reached.
The Qur'an should be understood using Quranic context, as it has been done here. One cannot arrive at the correct understanding of verses, if one's intention while approaching the Qur'an is to find evidence to prove a preconceived mentality.
A teaching circled among the many un-Quranic teachings is that a believing woman must make her voice sound "rough" and "coarse" when speaking to a believing man - claiming that her natural voice may arouse sexual desires! They cite a translation of a verse "...then do not speak too softly" (allegedly Qur'an 33:32). This is a complete misunderstanding. Does the Qur'an Prohibit Muslim Women from Reciting the Qur'an or to Sing in Public as the Clergy teach us? provides an analysis of the verse, revealing a strikingly different meaning to what they claim.
See also: Understanding the Believers
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