Eye of the Beholder

17

I am walking down the street with a content smile and a bounce in my step. It is a beautiful summer day outside; the birds are chirping, the leaves tousle softly in the breeze, and the sun extends its warmth down onto the Earth in such a way that if I close my eyes and tilt my head upwards, I can feel the sunlight tickling my face. I glance at the little shops on the side of the street and think about maybe doing a little something with a friend tonight. The movies, perhaps? Or what about just hanging in her backyard and sipping on lemonade? I really need a tan, actually, so backyard it is.

And while I am lost amidst thoughts of a relaxing afternoon ahead, that’s when I see him: a tall and handsome male stranger, the likes of whom I have never seen before, walking down the road. My heart begins beating faster as I take in his attractive features, and to my pleasure, he gives me a smirk and eyes me as well, almost as if he is hungry. I watch as he scans my figure, and I’m glad I have worn a tighter shirt today. Maybe if he likes what he sees – he will come up and talk to me? I think. As he walks closer, I fix my posture a little so that the better parts of me are more prominent, in the hopes that he will really come up and talk to me now.

I smile silently on the outside and maintain eye contact with him, while on the insides my thoughts are raging. Wow, he’s smiling back at me! And he can’t keep his eyes off me – he must really like what he sees! I fling my hair over my shoulder in an effort to look more attractive, and finally as he reaches right in front of me, I take a deep breath to reply to the “Hi” I know he is totally about to say – when all of a sudden, he just walks right past.

My heart plummets in dismay and the once excited thoughts are replaced by rampant doubtful ones. Was my shirt not low enough? I should have worn a mini-skirt instead! Am I not that pretty? Did he even notice me or was he just looking at something else?

And that’s when it dawns on me; like a bolt of lightning violently streaking across a dark sky, I realize that for the last few seconds, I had been nothing more than a simple object valued solely for its appearance. Like a beautiful sports car racing down a street, I was longingly gazed at, thought about, and then dropped and forgotten once I left his vision.

Clearly he wasn’t thinking about whether I am smart or not, or the fact that I volunteer in my spare time, I angrily thought. In fact, I don’t even remember him looking at my face! How stupid of me to think that he would come up and talk!

***

Although this was a fictional narrative, how many of our Muslims sisters have been in similar situations? And how many of our brothers have been the ones looking on at women?

When I began wearing the hijab, one of the many things I was instantly protected from were incidents like the one above. In today’s society, most “hook ups” between men and women begin with that momentous first glance, whether it is at a party, at work, or even on the street.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in the Quran,

And say to the believing men to lower their gaze and protect their private parts. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And say to the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts, and to not display their ornaments except what ordinarily appears thereof…” (Surah an-Nur, 30-31).

The Quran is filled with the best of advice for mankind, yet it is still Shaitaan who constantly leads us astray, especially when it comes to weaknesses between the opposite sexes. It may seem more satisfying to get an eyeful when someone attractive passes by, but it is better to lower the gaze and prevent yourself from looking so that the heart can find relief from constantly being in desire of unlawful things.

An important virtue of wearing the hijab is the requirement for Muslim women to lower their gaze, and to dress in a way so as not to attract the unnecessary attention of men. And when the sisters have done their part and are wearing hijab, Muslim men are still required to lower their gaze. Uncontrolled gaze (from both sides) may lead to circumstances of infatuation, longing or desire of a non-mahram, passion, and in an extreme case after all of the above, zina. Thus, doing something as little as keeping our thoughts pure and controlling our sight will prevent us from many illegitimate actions that can follow.

And this is where my hijab comes into play: it conceals my figure and sends out a word of caution to men who only have immoral motives in mind, and in turn, prevents me from gazing by acting as a reminder of who I am and what I represent.

It reinforces the truth in how Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has intended every aspect of Islam to be what is best for us, even if we do not know that it is the best for us. And this is something I realized only after the gift of wearing hijab.