Sixth Lesson

Allowable Expediencies And Non-Expediences

As a conclusion to our previous discussion, there are two points to be mentioned. One is that the science of the principles of religious jurisprudence has two expressions which are of use to us here. Some things do not have the advisability to make them obligatory nor do they have the maliciousness to be ruled as forbidden. As they do not contain the criteria to oblige or forbid, they are allowable and because of this they are called allowable non-expediences (mubah la-iqtidati). Perhaps most of the allowables are of this type.

But there are others. The reason for their being allowable is because of certain wisdom which releases them. That is, if the Divine Law did not allow them, a necessary malice would have appeared. These kinds of allowables are known as allowable expediences. It is possible that with these allowables, an advisability or a maliciousness exists in activating or shunning these deeds but in order to obey a higher advisability which permitting then brings about, the Divine Law rules it as allowable and overlooks the other criteria.

Those allowables, which have been allowed because of not wanting to have fault or blame (haraj), are like this: Religious jurisprudents consider the fact that if they want to forbid some deeds, the life of people will become very difficult so they do not forbid them.

Perhaps the best example is divorce. The Holy Prophet said, "Among all of the permissibles, divorce is the most detested." Someone may ask, "If it is detested then why is it permissible? Divorce should be forbidden." But no. At the same time that it is a detested act and the issuing of a divorce causes the heavens to shake, it is not forbidden. When Abu Ayyub Ansari wanted to divorce his wife, the Holy Prophet said "Divorcing Umm Ayyub is a sin." But, if Abu Ayyub had divorced his wife, the Holy Prophet would not have said it was invalid. That is something which is not forbidden at the same time it contains as many aspects as a forbidden thing contains and perhaps more. Because of this, it is detested but not forbidden.

The reason is that Islam does not want marriage to be compulsory. That is, to oblige a man, who must be the support and protector of a woman, to keep his wife at all costs. Efforts are made towards a divorce not occurring but that a man should keep his wife because he is so inclined and not grow cold towards his wife. But the situation goes beyond this and a man wants to divorce his wife. It is a hated deed so that one is only obliged to do it. This is one example of allowable expedience.

These exceptions exist in the area of the modest dress, as well. In relation to the extent of the modest dress, like the fact that it is not obligatory for a woman to cover her face, it is not forbidden for a man to look at a woman's face as long as it is not a look of lust. The difference between leaving the face uncovered or covered is one of the allowable expediences. That is, the very criterion which exists in relation to hair, exists in relation to the face. The criteria which exists in relation to the rest of the body, exists in relation to the face. There are many parts of the body which, even if they are not more stimulating, they are not less so than the face, but at the same time, this exception has appeared. The criteria is the same but if a woman is told to cover her hair, it is not difficult for her to do unless it is a woman whose rebellious nature and ego insists that her hair must remain uncovered.

It is a duty which does not cause difficulty. It does not in any way interfere with her life. But if a woman is told that she must cover her face as well, this prevents her from doing many things. It prevents her freedom of action.

For instance, many of the work available in society depends upon this very religious edict as to whether or not it is obligatory that a woman cover her face. Is it permissible for women to drive a car or not? The question has to be approached from the point of view of duties that a woman has whether or not it is permissible. Can she maintain her duties and drive, or not? If it is obligatory for women to cover their face and hands, is it not possible for them to drive a car? That is since driving would cause the non-performance of a duty, she must not do so.

But another says, "No. It is not obligatory for women to cover her face." This then means that she can drive and driving does not mean that other parts of her body be visible or that she wears makeup or that her hair be uncovered. Just as long as the roundness of her face is visible, she can drive.

For instance, is it permissible for a woman to be a teacher and teach male students? After we said that hearing the voice of a non-mahram woman is not a problem and that it is permissible for a man to look at the face of a non-mahram woman as long as it is not a lustful look, then she may be a teacher of male students. That is, the limits are this very face and hands. The truth is that the real question is whether or not women have to be limited to the home or not. This is not a small issue.

If we deduce that the view of Islam is that the face and hands of women must be covered along with the rest of her body, which is obligatory to be covered and if we say that a woman must be covered from head to toe, this means that the activities of a woman must be limited to her home because it is not possible for her to be active outside of her home. But if we say, no, it is not obligatory for women to cover their face and hands, we have not limited her activities with this. For instance, women who believe that they are obliged to cover themselves completely cannot ever leave their homes to go shopping for vegetables. She has to send a male servant or her husband to do this. Thus there is a great difference in whether or not it is obligatory for a woman to cover her face and hands. The area of her activities could become extremely limited.

We have deduced from the verses of the Holy Qur’an and the traditions. The only thing we found a lack of was religious edicts and this was not in relation to it being compulsory to cover the face and hand. Most edicts agree that it is not.

The area in which there is a lack of religious edicts sensed is in the area of whether or not it is permissible for a man to look at the face of an un-related woman as long as his look is not of lust. The majority says it is not permissible but there are people like the great Alim Shaykh Ansari who say it is permissible and in the verse itself and in the traditions, it was very clearly permissible. Thus if we are asked, "What is the difference between the face and the hair? Does not the criterion which exists for the hair exist for the face? For the eyes and eyebrows? These criteria even carry more weight here." The answers are that it is an allowable expedience, not an allowable non-expedience, that a criterion which exists for one does not exist for another.

Also, in the exception which exists in relation to individuals, there are two exceptions which we will discuss later. Covering from one's father, one's children, the sons of one's husband, brothers, father-in-law, etc. is not obligatory. Here two criteria exist. First the look of a father and even an uncle differs from that of a non-mahram. It is natural that a father does not look at his daughter with lust or with the fear of deviating nor a son at his mother. Among brothers and uncles the same is true.

But there are some relationships which cannot be said to be this way. For instance, the son of a husband. Can the son of a husband naturally have the same feelings that a father has for his daughter? Even if his daughter is among the most beautiful women of the world? If a man takes a young wife who is of the same age as his son, will it be this way? Clearly not. Perhaps it can be said that a father-in-law is the same way. Here again the reason why it is not necessary to cover before these relations is because of difficulty. A man marries and his son lives in the same house, where the son is a part and parcel of the home. The wife wants to become a part of the home. If they are to live within one place and the wife has to cover, it will cause great difficulties. This is one point.

From here we can draw a conclusion which is just as we said in relation to divorce. Divorce is permissible but it is detested. It is not forbidden but it is detested. So that if a man were to ask, "If I want to divorce my wife, will I have earned God's satisfaction? Should I divorce her or not? " It is best not to divorce her. In this same area, looking at a non-mahram woman when it does not stem from lust or arouse a fear of deviating, is permissible. But, if someone were to ask, "Is it better to look or not to look?" It is, of course, better not to look. The Divine Law allowed it so people would not be put to undue difficulties but the criteria still exist. Is it better for a woman to cover her face or not? It is better to cover her face but because covering her face causes her great difficulties, it has been allowed to be uncovered. The same is true of looking at the face of a non-mahram woman which, at the same time though permissible, not doing is better.

Traditions And Narrations

There are a series of traditions in this area which completely explain this issue. In the previous lesson we presented the traditions that basically stated it was forbidden for a man to look at the face of a non-mahram woman. There are another series of traditions whose transmissions are questionable and are not relied upon by the ulama but they do explain things and offer good ethics.

There is the famous letter of Imam Ali to Imam Hasan which is a letter of advice, "To the extent possible keep your wife or wives away from mixing with others. Nothing protects a woman better than the home." The tradition contains the word ihtijab. It means to be hidden by a curtain. He said to Malik Ashtar, "Do not continue to separate (ihtijab) yourself from the people."

Where the Imam says to avoid women having to mix with non-mahram' men, this is more healthy for women. This is truth. However much she is separated from non-mahram men, the danger of deviation lessens, whereas today we see how the danger has increased with their system in the modern world. Therefore, we cannot say that men and women mixing together creates less chances of danger.

There is another tradition which is reliable. Religious jurisprudents rely upon it.1 The Holy Prophet said, "The first look is yours but the second is to your loss." Is this giving a ruling or taking a position? Some have said this is giving a ruling. They say the Holy Prophet said that one may look once at a woman but a second look is forbidden. Others say what is meant is that the first time when your eyes unintentionally fall on a woman's face it is possible, but a second time when it is done intentionally is not permitted. But still others say that it is neither a ruling nor taking a position. The first time is unintentional but the second time it is with lust and this is why the Holy Prophet said the second time is to your loss.

There is another tradition which is a good lesson although it is not relied upon in jurisprudence. It is good ethics. It says the Holy Prophet asked, "What things are better than any other for women?" No one answered. Imam Hasan, still a child, went home and asked what the answer was. Fatimah, peace be upon her, said, "That she sees no man and no man sees her."2 This shows that for a woman looking at a man is also dangerous. It is safer and better if she does not meet non-mahram men. There is no question that this is so. What we are referring to is what is allowed so that a woman will face less difficulty and not what is safer and more secure. Clearly this is safer.3

There is another tradition, "A look is an arrow of satan."4 This, of course, refers to a look of lust. Or, "Everything has its adulterous form and the adultery of the eyes is to look,"5 referring to a look of lust and one which holds the fear of deviating.

The Exception Of A Suitor

In the traditions we have many which relate to the time when one is a suitor for marriage at which time it is permitted to look. Does this not mean, then, that it is not permitted if one is not a suitor? Not only is it permitted but it has been stressed that it is better if one looks. For instance, they said a man wanted to marry a daughter of one of the Companions who was a resident of Madinah. The Holy Prophet said to him, "Go and look and then marry. There is something in the eyes of the Companions."6 The Holy Prophet told him to look first because the Companions were from just one or two tribes and most of them had some kind of an eye defect. He told him to look first and then marry so that later he would not be disappointed.

Mugharyar ibn Shu'bay said, "I had sought to marry. The Holy Prophet said to me, 'Have you seen her?' I said, 'No. I have not.' He said, 'Go and see her because it will give strength to your marriage.7

Imam Ja’far, peace be upon him, said, "If one of you sought a woman for marriage, it is better if you see that woman, if your look is one of a suitor."8

When a tradition says that it is permissible as a suitor, then does this mean it is not permitted when one is not a suitor? If 100 king' as a suitor means that only the face and hands can be seen and nothing more, then it is limited to its not being lustful in anyway. This would mean that looking at other times is not permitted but this is not the way it is. It is permitted for a suitor to look at the face and hair of a woman and even the outline of her form, things that effect the form of a woman's body. It is more extensive and it is clear that which is permitted for a man who is a suitor is not permitted at other times. They have also said that if a suitor be a serious one, even if he looks with lust, there is no problem.

Other Exceptions Referred To In The Holy Qur’an

Now we will discuss the other exceptions. Some relate to the extent of the modest dress. There is another exception which relates to the number of individuals. Some have no debate and others require a bit of explanation. The phrase, "reveal not their adornment," appears twice and both times it is accompanied by an exception. The first time it relates to the extent of the modest dress and that which is not necessary to cover. The second relates to people before whom it is not necessary to cover, including those that are not exceptions, such as hair, neck, chest, etc.

It first says, "Reveal not their adornment except such as is outward." I have explained this. "To cast their veils over their bosoms." We have also explained this. Again, "Reveal not their adornment except to their husbands..." There is nothing which is obligatory to cover before a woman's husband. "...their fathers, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, their brothers' children and their sisters' children." It is clear up to here. There is no debate about the relations mentioned. 8ut, then, four more relations are mentioned and there is a discussion as to what is meant. "Or their women or what their right hand owns or such men who attend to them not having sexual desire or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women's private parts."

Does "or their women" mean all women? Or only Muslim women? Or women who live in their home and serve them? The third is highly unlikely and the possibility should not even be allowed that it be this because it makes no sense that among all women it only refers to women who work in their house. It would mean they would need to cover before women who are not their servants and clearly this is not so. One of the things which is certain from the beginning of Islam is that a woman is mahram to another woman. Thus one of the first two possibilities remain. First, "their women," refers to all women. Thus there is no woman who is not mahram for another woman. But, if it is the second one, that is, Muslim women, then non-Muslim women are not mahram.

Of course this is something for which perhaps some have issued a religious edict about but it is not this way. Some say it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to become naked before a non-Muslim woman. The reason is that it is not permitted for any woman to describe the body of another woman for her husband. This duty itself is sufficient for Muslim women but other women do not follow this. It is either obligatory or approved for a Muslim woman not to become naked before a non-Muslim woman who may go to her own husband and describe the Muslim woman's physical qualities.

At any rate, this is disapproved. It is difficult to say if it is forbidden because the verse itself does not say directly: Muslim women. Or who "what their right hands own" is. Here there are two possibilities. One is that female slaves are referred to. That is, it is not necessary for women to cover themselves from their female slaves or that it is not necessary for women to cover themselves from their slaves even if it be a male. This would mean that a male slave is mahram. Of course, this should not seem strange. If this were to be considered strange, stranger than this is that it is absolutely not obligatory for female slaves. That is, a female slave does not need to cover here head before anyone, her master or anyone else.

Here the verse refers to a woman and her own male slaves. If a woman has a male slave, is it obligatory for her to relate to him as a mahram or a non-mahram? This is one of those places where the traditions and the external form of the verse dictates that it is not obligatory to cover but the religious edicts lack harmony in this area. We say 'external form' of the verse because it is very difficult to consider female slaves in this verse. What about the female slaves of others? Her husband's female slaves? Others? What about women who are not female slaves? No. We could say other women are included in "their women.” If we allow that it be related to free women, the meaning would be that among female slaves, only her own female slaves are mahram.

See where this would lead. Female slaves are mahram for men but a free woman has to cover herself from these very slave women. It is clear that this is not so. The verse means both male and female slaves. The reason is clear. Since the male slaves work inside the house and covering before them would cause great difficulty, they are mahram. There are a great many traditions to this effect.

"Or suck men as attend to them, not having sexual desire," are men who have no designs on women, men who are impotent. It is like mentally retarded individuals who do not distinguish these things. Another possibility has been given by commentators. Some have said those who have no physical needs for women include the eunuchs and they are mahram. There are many traditions to this effect. They were allowed within the harems and were considered as women because they had no sexual need for women.

Some have said that this also includes the poverty-stricken and the needy. What was the criterion? Those who said that the mentally retarded or ill were meant was because they do not distinguish between the sexes and they do not comprehend the attractive force which exists in women. They are like children. Those who said it also includes the eunuchs have said that the main emphasis is upon 1ack of sexual need'. That is, the criterion is not being retarded but rather not having the sexual need for women.

Those who said it includes the needy and poverty-stricken have said those who have no physical need for women. They are like the eunuchs or if not eunuch, they are under such circumstances that they have forgotten sexual desires. Of course, it is very unlikely that this latter group be accepted. It is clear that there are mentally ill who have no sense of discernment. The highest form would be those who become like an eunuch.

"Or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women's private parts." Does this mean the children of the ages of 7 or 8 or 10? Or does it mean children who still do not have power? That is, have not reached puberty? The second has been taken by the religious jurisprudents and edicts issued accordingly. Until the time of puberty, they are mahram and after that time they are not mahram.

The Conclusion Of Verse 24-31

"Nor let them stamp their feet so that their hidden ornament may be known." (24:31)

Arab women stamped their feet so that their silver or gold anklets would make sounds and things hidden would appear. They are told not to do this, not to do something to draw the attention of others towards them. Thus in women's relations with unrelated non-mahram men, they should not do anything to draw attention towards themselves whether it be in the way they walk, in the way they talk, in their perfume or cosmetics. We had mentioned collyrium, for instance. It was an exception but it should not be so severe that it stimulates men and attracts them towards her and all should return to God, a command from God. Remember God. Return to God. God is aware of intentions. If we consider exceptions they are all under the condition that one's intentions be pure.

  • 1. Wasa'il, vol. 3, p. 24.
  • 2. Ibid., vol. 3, p. 9.
  • 3. It is possible that someone presents an intellectual reason which nullifies this deduction by saying, for instance, what differ­ence is there between the hair and face that one is obligatory to cover one and not the other. Thus, we reason by practice and someone else presents an intellectual reason. It is sufficient for the person who is referring to practice, even if it be through presenting a possibility, that they invalidate it. There is a difference. If it were practical, Islam would have clarified it, but it did not want people to fall into difficulty.
  • 4. Op. cit., vol. 3, p. 24.
  • 5. Al-Kafi, vol. 5, p. 539 and op. cit., Wa'sa'il, vol. 3, p. 24.
  • 6. Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, p.142.
  • 7. Jama' Tirmizi, p. 175.
  • 8. Wafi, vol.12, p. 58; Wasa'il, vol. 3, p.11; Al-Kafi, vol. 5, p. 365.