Our two eyes weigh less than 30 grams each, yet are made up of more than 200 million working parts, and serve a function that around half of the brain is dedicated to. According to the Discover Eye Foundation, our eyes process more than 36,000 pieces of information every hour. In fact, it is said that the eye is one of the only limbs that cannot be transplanted; since there are more than one million nerve fibres connecting it to the brain, it is impossible to reconstruct.
Sight is our most cherished sense without competition, and alone provides us with 80% of the information we grasp from the environment around us.
When something is loved like none other, such that nothing besides it is desired by the heart, it is “cherished like the apple of my eye” or, as in Arabic, Qurat ‘ayny. It commands your attention, it “captures your eye” and when it is surprising “you couldn’t believe your eyes”. Its endless idioms and figurative expressions point to the extent of our attachment to them.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) says,
“Allāh said, ‘If I deprive my slave of his two beloved things (i.e., his eyes) and he remains patient, I will let him enter Paradise in compensation for them.”
We begin life in our mother’s wombs visionless, before we are gifted the indispensable tool only weeks into our embryonic development ‘free of charge’. Then they are wrapped with the toughest skin in our entire bodies, then programmed to blink instinctively more than four million times a year to keep them functional.
As if that were not enough, we are then promised Paradise should we be deprived of them later on in life. SubḥanAllāh, no amount of gratitude can even begin recompensing such a gift. Allāh says:
“Allāh brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing at all, and gave you hearing, sight and hearts so that perhaps you would show thanks.”
‘Showing thanks’ could never repay the gift of vision whilst showing no thanks does not come close to displaying the extent of such a person’s gracelessness. Imagine, then, the condition of those eyes intently committed to precisely what the Giver asked that they be protected from,
“Say to the believers that they should lower their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Allāh is aware of what they do.”
Imagine being gifted a phone with extraordinary software capabilities, a mirror-fine retina display and unrivalled processing power only to use it as a permanently fixed footstool to reach a corded, dysfunctional landline. We would rightly call this insanity.
Similarly, the command to restrict our eyes from immediate lusts and sin, the attractions of the opposite sex, beyond it being a display of obedience to the Giver, is not merely depravation. If it was simply about ‘restrictions’ and ‘prohibitions’ from what is desired to see around us, then why do our eyes have the power to see galaxies as far as two million light-years away?
An Opening to the Heart
As a matter of fact, our eyes are the most immediate entry point to our hearts, and have powerful influence over our thoughts, emotion and inner well-being. The instant availability of vision at the lifting of an eye-lid makes us overlook that an aperture to the heart has been opened. Apparently the eye is the only limb in the body that does not require a period of ‘warm up’ to become fully functional.
‘Love (in the heart) at first sight’ is often branded as a ‘cute’ concept, but if you think about it, it is rather frightening. One glance and your heart is potentially enchanted, your wealth, blood and sweat are committed to someone, and your future is completely tied up.
Shaykhul Islām Ibn Taymiyyah says:
“Vision is one of the ways in which the heart is corrupted, our predecessors used to say: ‘vision is an arrow of poison to the heart.'”
Our eyes are incomparably complex and, according to research, they come second only to the complexity of our brains. Such a sensitive and critical function could not have been given without due instruction on how to use it.
Let us reflect on the verse quoted above. It is an instruction to lower the gaze, then another to ‘guard the private parts’. The first restricts what is taken in and the second protects one’s physical faculties, an intuitively recognised association, encapsulated eloquently by the Arabic couplet,
“A look, then a smile, a nod of the head, then talk, a handshake, a promise, then the warmth of a bed.“
The glance need only be trivialised for a person to move on to step two, and likewise, until one begins pondering, wishing, and then aiming. His mind becomes clouded, while his heart becomes drenched and drunk. Before long, his destiny and bodily governance is transferred to the private parts.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
“The adultery of the eye is the lustful look and the adultery of the ears is listening and the adultery of the tongue is immodest speech and the adultery of the hand is the lustful grip and the adultery of the feet is to walk (to the place where he intends to commit adultery) and the heart yearns and desires, and the private parts put this into effect or reject it.”
The Heart: the First Victim
What exactly is meant by a glance ‘entering the heart’ and what impact does it have? Besides leading to the habituation of glancing and that which follows, what other effects can be expected?
Ibn al Qayyim has a lengthy analysis on the effect of that ‘glance’ and of lowering the gaze.
“Glancing (at what is impermissible) splits apart ones heart and takes it away from Allāh. Nothing is worse than this for a slave, because it alienates the slave from his Lord.”
A lack of organised thinking, aimlessness, a constant and irritating sense of guilt and regret at being unable to satisfy the desire the eye has soaked in is a feeling common to many.
Then he says,
“Lowering the gaze blocks the Shayṭān from entering the heart, for he enters through vision… models and decorates the image of what that person gazed at, then he promises him and makes him hopeful…” of finding fortune with that stunning singer, the heroine in that movie or series, or the ‘hot’ actor, alongside 50 million other viewers hoping for the same. The heart is now occupied, and it cannot see anything else.
“…igniting the fire of desire in the heart and fuelling it with sin.” It burns and with it only being fed with fuel, it obliterates everything around it.
“…so his heart fills with scattered thoughts, and his matters become disorganised… and he becomes unmindful of Allāh. [It is about such a person that] Allāh says:
‘And do not obey someone whose heart We have made neglectful of Our remembrance and who follows his own whims and desires and whose affair (deeds) has been lost.’”
He thinks of her in Salāh, when in the gatherings of Dhikr, everywhere. He continues:
“…and if the eye is corrupted, the heart is corrupted and (eventually) becomes like a dustbin full of filth and trash, therefore one (a heart) that will not accommodate Allāh’s love, His closeness or happiness…”
It is wretched and miserable, for nothing satisfies it but that shy smile, those soft giggles, those late night texts. She is now the furthest extent of his or her ‘vision’, he or she sees nothing but the girl, the boy, captured by glances that have collectively seized the heart. Then Ibn al Qayyim quotes the words of al Hasan al Basry,
“If they clatter along on their mules, or race on top of their horses, the humiliation of sin never leaves them. Allāh insists on disgracing those who sin against Him.”
‘Drunk’, not by alcohol down the throat, but by glances entering the eye and reaching the heart. Recall the story of Qais b. al Mulawih, known as ‘Majnūn Layla’, or ‘Layla’s mad lover’. He was a poet who lived in the time of Marwan b. al Hakam and was infatuated by a girl called Layla, except that her family refused to marry her to him. In his couplets he wrote,
“None but those who have experienced infatuated love (‘Ishq) know the true meaning of depression…And not all of those who claim they are in love are really in love
I pass by the home of Layla, kissing this wall and that wall… For it is not the love of the home that has captured my heart, but the love of those residing within it!
And there is none in the earth more wretched than a man in love… even if he finds that his whims taste sweet… you see him crying all of the time, fearing separation or yearn.”
A Heart of ‘Light’ and another of ‘Darkness’
Our eyes capture our bright surroundings through more than 100 million light sensitive cells Allāh has placed in them. A different type of light, however, finds its way into the heart. So many verses and Prophetic aḥadīth point to the illuminated heart and the darkened one, and having established the inseparable link between the eye and the heart, how do we marry between the two forms of light; spiritual and physical?
What is interesting is that ‘lowering the gaze’ is essentially shading the eyes from the physically luminous lusts for the sake Allāh, or preventing that ‘light’ from entering them.
Therefore by the dictates of the universal concept that ‘you reap what you sow’, or ‘al jazaa’ min jins al ‘amal’, discussed in another article, it is no coincidence, according to Ibn al Qayyim that the verse about lowering the gaze mentioned above occurs in Surat al Nūr, the Chapter of Light.
In return for lowering the gaze or ‘Basar’ a believer is given an luminous heart, a ‘Basīrah’, with which he vividly sees truth from falsehood, or a type of intuition. Just four verses after this instruction we read,
“Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His Light (meaning in the heart of a believer) is that of a lantern in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree…”
With this light a believer sees guidance clearly, and his path to Allāh brightly, and, according to Ibn al Qayyim:
“If the heart illuminates, goodness comes to it from everywhere, likewise if it darkens, the waves of tribulation and evil come to it; including whatever you want of innovation, misguidance, following of whims, refraining from guidance and the causes of happiness… becoming like the one blind loitering in extreme darkness.” It is the essence of blindness,
“It is not eyes that go blind but the hearts in their breasts that go blind.”
The eye then concurs with that illuminating heart until it begins to see more than just reflected light, but the deeper reality of matters.
It acquires an increased ‘insight’, ‘Farāsah’, gifted by Allāh. This gift manifests in one’s life enabling the person to see the reality of matters, become less naïve or susceptible to falling into mistakes and more aware of trials, deception and opportunities before they become clear to others.
The obscurity of this concept should not open way to mystical exploitation but, in essence, this ability is palpably connected to lowering the gaze according to Ibn al Qayyim and others. It is inconceivable that the visual capability of those who lower their gaze be the same as those who do not. The most evident manifestation of Farāsah is in the lives of the companions. ʿAbdullāh b. ‘Umar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) used to say about his father:
“I have never heard ‘Umar saying about something, ‘I think it is as such and such’, except that it occurs (exactly) as he suspected.”
Anas (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) mentions that he once entered upon ‘Uthmān (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) after having just mused at the beauty of a passing woman. ‘Uthmān (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said: “One of you has entered and Zinā is clear in his eyes.” So I said: “Is there revelation after the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)?’ ‘Uthmān (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) replied, “No, but insight, evidence and accurate Farāsah.”
With the most hidden matters becoming visible to those who protect their glances, the opposite must hold true. Allow your mind to ponder and wonder as to why so many people simply fail to see flagrant realities. Why, for instance ‘Priori’, ‘First Cause’, ‘Design’, ‘Infinite Regression’ and other such philosophical and logical reasoning is needed in today’s day and age to prove something as clear as God’s existence and other such matters.
Why, for instance, at the End of Times, droves of people will follow the one-eyed liar, the ‘Antichrist’ or Dajāl, despite him being one-eyed, being a cripple, and hosting the unmistakable letters Ka Fa Ra (disbeliever) across the width of his forehead,
“He is one-eyed and your Lord is not one-eyed. On his forehead are the letters Ka Fa Ra.”
What makes it so confusing and what is it that requires the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to turn our attention to such an ‘observable’ reality? Clearly, in that time of potent confusion, and in our current days of confusion and theological challenge, our vision needs need more than just light dependant cells. Dear reader, protect your ability to see right from wrong by protecting your eyes from sin to the best of your ability.
As though You can see Him
It is said that our eyes are driven by the most active muscle in the human body. Intently capturing that lustful ‘glance’ from ‘under the radar’ is an act that is hardly discernible by those around us. This is why such a glance is referred to in the Qur’ān as the eyes’ deceit!
“He knows the eyes’ deceit and what people’s breasts conceal.”
About this verse Ibn ‘Abbās says:
“It refers to the man who enters the household of another and in it is a beautiful woman, or they walk besides him and she is amongst them. As soon as they stop noticing (him) he looks at her, when they notice (him) he lowers his gaze, when they stop noticing he looks…”
The act of lowering the gaze is very secret. No one, save Allāh and you, know, for example, what you spend your time watching at home.
We do recognise that it is through the eyes that love enters the heart and whilst we can recommend marriage, fasting, exercise and other powerful aids to block out the entry of illicit love, ultimately it is the thought of Allāh’s watchfulness that will divert our gaze.
If seeing objects of lust fills the heart with love for them, it is worshipping Allāh as though you can see Him, as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) taught us, that will envelop the heart with His love. For a heart that yearns for Allāh’s intimacy will close its door in front of every other competitor.
 Hadith: Bukhari on the authority of Anas ibn Malik rady Allahu ‘anhu
 Al-Qur’ān, 24:31
 Al Fatawa 15:396
 Ḥadīth: Muslim on the authority of Abū Hurairah
 Al-Qur’ān 18:28
 Al Jawaab al Kaafy by ibn al Qayyim al Jawziyyah
 Al-Qur’ān, 24:35
 Ḥadīth: Bukhārī on the authority of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu)
 Madaarij al Saalikeen 2:486
 Ḥadīth: Bukhārī and Muslim on the authority of Anas b. Malik (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu)
 Al-Qur’ān, 40:19
 See Tafsir ibn Kathir