As temperatures soar and sweat pours down our faces this summer, it is essential to remember this: protect your eyes, and I am not talking about wearing sunglasses.
I'm talking about lowering our gazes.
In our culture today, as the temperature increases, so does the amount of exposed skin on people's bodies. Although this is very distressing and disturbing, it has become a fact of life.
In fact, those of us, especially our sisters wearing Hijab, who cover to guard our modesty are seen as strange!
Yet, covering, not exposing the skin, is an advice currently being given by the United States Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They have sponsored a campaign called "Choose Your Cover", encouraging people to protect themselves from skin cancer.
One of the recommended methods is wearing clothing that covers skin and protects against the sun's UV rays.
The campaign's section on clothing notes that "a long-sleeved shirt and long pants with a thick weave provide the best protection."
And lest we forget, before global warming and skin cancer warnings were ever issued, most of the Muslim and non-Muslim men and women living in the scorching deserts or cities and villages of Africa and Asia, which experience tremendous heat in the summers [if not most of the year] did NOT emerge from their homes virtually naked.
In fact, they covered themselves more to protect themselves from the sun.
Some advice from the Quran and Sunnah
It is in this instance, surrounded by half-naked people, that we must have the courage to follow the command of Allah and His Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and lower our gazes.
"Do not go near fornication and adultery, it is an abomination and an evil way." (Quran 17:32).
This sin is so hateful in the sight of Our Lord, that He commanded us to not even go near it.
Despite what anyone may say, looking upon that which one is not supposed to is going near adultery. For an illicit affair begins with a lustful glance.
Allah wishes for us not to commit this ugly sin, and thus He commands us to lower our gazes:
"Tell the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
And tell the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…" (Quran 24:30-31).
Lowering the gaze does not mean keeping our eyes constantly on the ground and not looking up at all.
It is turning our faces away when we see a less-than-decently-dressed woman or man walking on the street in the middle of July.
The adultery of the eyes
The Prophet further explained to us Allah's command. Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet said, "…the adultery of the eyes is looking (at [that] which is not allowed)…" (Bukhari, Muslim).
Also, on the authority of Jurayr who said, "I asked the Messenger of Allah about accidentally looking at something that is not allowed and he said, ‘Turn your eyes away.'" (Muslim).
In another Hadith on the authority of Abu Sa'eed, the Prophet said, "A man should not look at the Awrah of another man, and the woman should not look at the Awrah of another woman…" (Muslim).
Thus, our Prophet even instructed us to lower our gaze when looking at members of the same gender in some cases.
Lowering for the "other" nakedness
One common mistake is to think that lowering your gaze is only required upon encountering nakedness and indecency "in the flesh" or in person.
Lowering our gaze must also be practiced when watching a film or television program replete with nakedness and intimate scenes of couples (actually, we should try to avoid watching such types of programs, period).
Lowering our gaze includes changing the channel when "Baywatch" comes on.
It also means changing the channel when watching the news if we feel attracted to the anchorperson or reporter reading or presenting the news.
And anyway, television isn't that great of a way to spend time. See why in Sound Vision's unTV guide.
Don't go to the beach
Or anywhere else you'll find a plethora of bikini- and swimming-trunk clad men and women.
Lowering your gaze there is virtually impossible. You may turn in one direction, thinking you're home-free, but soon enough you can't even look there.
The same holds true for parks. While this doesn't mean never taking the kids out to enjoy the slides and see-saws or having barbecues there, it does mean perhaps having activities on days that are cooler, or at times when the sun is not as hot and intense (i.e. some time in the earlier morning or before Maghrib).
This way, the prime time for sunbathing has passed, and most people either leave or feel cool enough to put some more clothes on.
Make Dua (supplication)
"Never underestimate the power of Dua," Imam Siraj Wahhaj of Brooklyn, New York once said. This holds true in all trying situations.
Sometimes, despite avoiding certain places where you are more likely to encounter an improperly dressed person, you may find someone walking on the street going to the beach or the park who decided to get ready for suntanning or swimming beforehand.
In these cases, lowering the gaze may be even harder. You weren't expecting it, so you didn't mentally prepare yourself.
If you feel overwhelmed, one suggested Dua to read is: "Aoutho billahi Sami' il Aleem minash Shaytan ir Rajeem" (see Quran 41:36 for more information). A translation of this is "I seek the refuge of Allah who is the Hearer and Who is the Knower from the Shaytan the accursed."
In general, seek refuge in Allah. It has also been suggested to say "La hawla wa la Quwwata illa billah" (there is no power except with Allah). If we sincerely make Dua, Insha Allah, we can succeed in turning our eyes away.
Lowering the gaze doesn't mean being anti-social
But lowering our gaze does not mean being rude or anti-social. Summer is definitely a time to go out, have fun, and even make Dawa (inviting others to Islam).
You can, for example, hand out brochures at public places and parks.
The Prophet used to present the message of Islam to people that had come for the yearly "Ukaz" festival, which did include unIslamic activities like drinking and gambling.
However, this requires faith, self-control and discipline. This must never be used as an opportunity to indulge in these sins.
The gaze is part of a Muslim's character
A Muslim is decent and pure. This means all of his or her body must be decent and pure. A natural consequence of this is lowering the gaze.
Allah tells us:
"O you who believe! Do not follow Satan's footsteps: if any will follow the footsteps of Satan, he will command what is shameful and wrong..." (Quran 24:21).
Looking at another man or woman in an indecent manner is following in Satan's footsteps.
It all begins with a lustful glance. Such a glance leads to lustful talk and flirting, then meeting…and we are all aware of what comes next.
Let us stop Satan in his tracks and lower our gaze.
Let us start today, during these hot summer months. Yes, it is very difficult and it takes discipline and faith.
Yet, whenever we struggle to please Allah, He will reward us several times over in this life and the next.
It is truly a Jihad. But, it is a Jihad worth undertaking, and we will be all the better for it.