When is it obligatory to lower one’s gaze? To what extent does the prohibition of looking at people doing haram apply?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
Lowering the Gaze: A Sunna of the Prophet
It is a Sunna of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) to lower one’s gaze. The companions (Allah be pleased with them) describe the Prophet saying, “His gaze was to the ground longer than it was to the sky.” [Tirmidhi]
He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) would lower his gaze from everything and anything that did not concern him, thus allowing him to keep his heart focused on Allah Most High at all times.
When is Lowering the Gaze Obligatory?
In summary, one must divert their gaze from the nakedness of others and/or looking at another with sexual desire (excluding one’s spouse).
The following are examples of where this applies:
1) looking at anyone (regardless of where of their person) or anything, other than one’s spouse, with sexual desire
2) looking at that which is legally considered nakedness (‘awra) of anyone besides one’s spouse
3) looking at areas of another’s the person that is normally permissible to look at when one fears falling into sexual desire
[Ala’ al-Din Abidin, al-Hadiyya al-`Ala’iyya]
Legal Limits of Nakedness
The following limits set by the Sacred Law delineate the areas of nakedness. These areas are obligatory to cover and impermissible to show and/or look at (following exceptions apply):
The area between the navel and the knees (knees are included) is considered nakedness for a male. [Ibid.]
The entire body of the female is considered naked except for the face, hands, and feet. [Ibid.]
Men looking at Men
Men can see other men the entire body except that which is between the navel and the knees (knees are included in the prohibition). [Ibid.]
Men looking at Women
A man can see of a non-direct relative woman only the face, hands, and feet. A man is permitted to see their spouse’s entire body, though propriety discourages any looking that goes against shyness – though it is not sinful. [Ibid.]
Women looking at women
Women may see another woman the entire body except that which is between the navel and the knees. [Ibid.]
Note that it is not permissible for a Muslim woman to expose any part of her hair or other parts to a Non-Muslim woman or a corrupt Muslim woman, without need, as they may describe how she looks to others. [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
Women looking at Men
A woman can see a man the entire body except that which is between the navel and the knees. A woman is permitted to see their spouse’s entire body, though propriety discourages any looking that goes against shyness – though doing so is not sinful. [Ibid.]
Note that save the spouse’s looking at each other, and looking that is accompanied by sexual desire or that will likely lead to sexual desire is strictly prohibited regardless of where on the person one looks. [Ibid.]
Thus, if a woman looks at a man’s chest or a man looks at a woman’s hair with sexual desire, this is strictly prohibited (haram) even though that part of the body is not considered nakedness and would be permissible had there not been any sexual desire.
Note that sexual desire is far more than a mere noticing of beauty (istihsan). [Ibid.]
The Difference Between Seeing and Looking
Looking at the opposite gender in an impermissible way/area is a sin when done intentionally. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) advised us to divert our gaze if we see something impermissible and stated that we are not accountable for that first (unintentional) glance. Still, we are accountable if we look again.
Thus, unintentional glances and seeing something in our peripheral vision are excused, and everything goes back to one’s intention. For this reason, one should not be overwhelmed with their surroundings, as they are only accountable for looking, not merely seeing.
Seeing Prohibited Actions
Regarding your question about watching movies/tv, see the following link:
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York, where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and several texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.