زِنَا العَيْنَيْنِ النَّظَرُ
“The eyes’ fornication is looking.”
Commentary & Reflections
Looking at the opposite gender may lead to fornication. The evil in this should not be underestimated. As well, it may be difficult to control. In this narration, fornication is ascribed to one’s eyes because through them one’s sexual desire is aroused. When one looks, one’s passions may become stirred.
Imām Ghazālī mentioned that protecting one’s private part will not happen until one protects his gaze, protects his heart from the thought of it, and protects his stomach from doubtful sustenance and overeating. All these are the main underlying causes that arouse one’s base desires.
The Prophet ʿĪsā (upon him be peace) said:
إياكم والنظر فإنه يزرع في القلب الشهوة وكفى بها لصاحبها الفتنة
“Beware of the gaze! Verily, it sows desire in the heart. It is enough to lead one into vice.”
Imām Ghazālī said that lustful looking is the most major of the minor sins. It may lead to actual fornication. One who is unable to lower his gaze, he is unable to protect his religion.
It has been said:
النظر سهم مسموم من سهام إبليس
“Gazing is one of the Devil’s poisonous arrows.”
The Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) said:
الْعَيْنَانِ زِنَاهُمَا النَّظَرُ، وَالْأُذُنَانِ زِنَاهُمَا الِاسْتِمَاعُ، وَاللِّسَانُ زِنَاهُ الْكَلَامُ، وَالْيَدُ زِنَاهَا الْبَطْشُ، وَالرِّجْلُ زِنَاهَا الْخُطَا، وَالْقَلْبُ يَهْوَى وَيَتَمَنَّى، وَيُصَدِّقُ ذَلِكَ الْفَرْجُ، وَيُكَذِّبُهُ
“The eyes’ fornication is looking, the ears’ fornication is listening, the tongue’s fornication is speaking, the hand’s fornication is touching, the foot’s fornication is by walking, and the heart’s fornication is by desiring and fantasizing. One’s private part assents or rejects.”
All these are called “fornication” because they are acts that lead to it. If one looks desirously at a member of the opposite sex whom they are not married to, that is a step towards a major sin. If they listen to them speak about getting together, that is a step towards it. If they speak to them about it, that is also a step. Touching is a step. And walking to do it, that is also a step. And all these are steps one must never take.
The Prophet (upon him be peace) called these “fornication” to inform us of how dangerous they are and what they may lead to. Often one of them will lead to the others; a few words or a glance may ruin one in a major way. Often, we overlook the gravity of this; but, in this regard, small actions may lead to that which is major. And when it comes to the opposite sex, this most often begins with fixing one’s gaze upon them.
An Arab poet once said:
كل المهالك مبداها من النظر…ومعظم النار من مستصغر الشرر
“All the means to one’s destruction start with the gaze…the Fire is full of those who considered its evil insignificant.”
(Fayḍ al-Qadīr, 4:65; Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ, 1:158)