Bismillahi Al-Rahmani Al-Rahim

Women Looking At Non-Mahram Men


What is the ruling of women looking at non-mahram men?


The following all have the same ruling:
  • a woman looking at a non-mahram man
  • a woman looking at another woman
  • a man looking at another man
In each case, it is unlawful to look at what is between the navel and the knees while the rest of the body is lawful--provided the one looking is safe from fitna.
This is what is to be found in the basic mufta bihi books (see: Nail Al-Ma'arib (2:140), Manar Al-Sabil (498), and Ghayat Al-Muntaha (3:6)).
According to Sheikh Nuh, the Hanafis have the exact same rulings (see: The Reliance (m2.8), quoting Al-Lubab (4.162-63)).
As for the Shafi`i mathab regarding this particular question, the ruling in the late basic books in the mathab state that her looking at him is the same as him looking at her. There are some exceptions to this general rule, such as teaching, medical treatment, commercial transactions, identification, bearing testimony, and--obviously--looking at a potential husband.  (See: Minhaj Al-Talibin via Mughni Al-Muhtaj (3:132), Fath Al-Wahhab via Hashiyat Al-Bujayrami (3:326), Fath Al-Mu`in via `Iyanat Talibin (3: beginning of marriage), Kifayat Al-Akhyar (417), and Fiqh Al-Minhaji (1: `awrah outside of salat), The Reliance (m2.6)). And lest someone over react: this does not mean that men then need to cover their faces or that women must walk through the streets wearing horse blinders. What it means is that individuals are responsible for lowering their gaze (just like the Qur'an itself commands) when confronted with someone or something  that is unlawful for them to look at.
But this, al-hamdu lillah, is not the only opinion in the mathab. In Mughni Al-Muhtaj and Kifayat Al-Akhyar (see above) there is discussion of the differences among the Shafi`i imams. The ruling mentioned above is what Imam Al-Nawawi (Allah have mercy upon him) considered strongest. Imam Al-Rafi`i (Allah have mercy upon him) and others were of the opinion that she can look to his hands and face. (When studying this book, my instructor considered this second opinion to be strong and quite practical.)
In Mughni Al-Muhtaj, Al-Khatib (Allah have mercy upon him) quotes something from Al-Jalal Al-Balqini (Allah have mercy with him) indicating that what Imam Al-Nawawi has said does not indeed have support from the early imams of the mathab, and that a hadith from `A'ishah (Allah be well pleased with her) in Sahih Muslim is proof against him. Al-Khatib then mentions what Imam Al-Nawawi wrote in is commentary on Sahih Muslim regarding this hadith. In addition, Al-Khatib mentions three responses that made before Imam Al-Nawawi. The third of those responses it that it is permissible for a woman look at what a man typically shows when doing his work, because of the universal necessity (or tribulation)  (Ar. `umum al-balwa) of women looking at men while walking through the streets.
It would be interesting to know how strong this other position is, since if it is strong enough it would be acceptable to be used by Shafi`is in their personal practice (see discussions in books where it talks about athhar & sahih, asahh & sahih). The contemporary Hadrami scholar Muhammad bin Ahmad Al-Shatiri (may Allah preserve him, his ancestors, and his offspring) writes in Sharh Yaqut Al-Nafis during one of his discussions that when there is a weak opinion in the Shafi`i mathab that agrees with the mu`tamad position in another mathhab that the weak Shafi`i opinion becomes strong. But in any case, it is perfectly fine to make taqlid of the positions of the Hanafis and Hanbalis; unless, of course, you have become a mujtahid, in which case you're on your own.
For any Shafi`is who are upset by this, I recommend that you carefully open up The Reliance and take a careful look at section (m2.8) and read the text very carefully. There's a good reason Sheikh Nuh included the Hanafi position, and there's a good reason that he included some additional untranslated Arabic text when giving the Shafi`i rulings.
And Allah knows best.

While looking through this issue I found something that our sisters may find useful. In Jamal Al-Din Muhammad bin `Abd Al-Rahman bin Hasan bin `Abd Al-Bari Al-Ahdal's book `Umdat Al-Mufti wa Al-Mustafti (an abridgment of an amazing collection of various books of fatawa which is of great significance given the lateness of the author (1277 - 1352 AH)), there are some rulings regarding niqab for women while outside of their house. The discussion is on pages 90 and 91. Some of the gems include: it is permissible for women to go outside to see to their needs, and it is not obligatory for them to cover their faces except out of fear of fitna, that Imam Al-Nawawi affirmed that there is ijma` that it is not obligatory for her to cover her face while walking down her street, but it is a sunnah, and that it is obligatory for men to lower their gaze. He mentions that this is an excellent opinion to use, especially concerning neighbors. He also mentions that it is permissible for women to outside of the cities to vacant areas and mountains to gather firewood and the like while the face is uncovered, and that this does not reduce their husbands' being upright, even if they are people of high muru'a (moral standing, reputation, high regard) like scholars and judges.
And Allah knows best.

I have concentrated on the alternative positions in the Shafi`i mathhab because our sisters need to be givn the full range of options when it comes to their individual practice. Any fool can open a book and quote positions that are difficult to follow, and any fool can assume that outwardly stricter is always better (thawaban and war`an). I invite these people to read Imam Al-Sha`rani's Al-Mizan Al-Kubra, Kashf Al-Ghummah, and to strive to arrive at that state that the Imam mentions: the state where you have no ta`asub and where you have no qualms making taqlid of another mathhab when it is more suitable. Of course, Al-Shatibi's Al-Muwafaqat and Al-`Izz's Qawa`id Ahkam  would would do the trick, too. May Allah be merficul with them.
In closing, the brothers should remember that all too often we get strict with the sisters when we should share part of the burden of responsibility. We are quite eager when it comes to enforcing the jilbab, khimar, niqab, and gloves when we're back home--especially when it comes to the work place and at school. Yet you hardly see many of us walking around with loose fitting shirts, pants, abayah, and `imamah--especially in those same places. If we expect this from them, should've we demand it from ourselves?
wa al-salamu `alaykum