True Meaning of "Lowering your Gaze" in the Quran
Many Muslims are uncooperative and unhelpful to members of the opposite gender. They keep away from each other as much a possible. In some cases, if two such people are put in a situation where they have to communicate, one looks into the sky, while the other looks into the ground in order to avoid eye contact. A person of this breed can even appear impolite and rude to a person who does not carry this mentality. They back their behavior using what they have been told about verse 24:29-30 of the Qur'an. This is a misconception that arises purely out of a lack of wisdom and understanding.
The verses they quote are the following:
"Tell the believing men that they should reduce/lower (يغضوا) their gaze/vision and guard their private parts..."
"Tell the believing women that they should reduce/lower (يغضضن) their gaze/vision and guard their private parts..."
The Quranic meaning that should be derived from the above verses is that men and women who believe in God and the Last Day, must behave modestly and carry themselves humbly between one another. Not only is this an interpretation based on reason, it is also supported by Quranic understanding. The other occasions the root word "غض (to lower/reduce)" has been used in the Qur'an are as follows:
"It is those who lower (يغضون) their voices in the presence of God's messenger and whose hearts God has proved to be aware - they will have forgiveness and a great reward."
We cannot say, by looking at the above expression, the verse means to not speak to the messenger at all just because it says "lower their voice" (which compares with "lower their gaze"). Rather what is expressed here is that the believers should not have arrogance or haughtiness in their voice and attitude when interacting with the messenger. Likewise, to "reduce/lower their gaze/vision" does not mean to avoid contact with the opposite gender, rather to carry a modest and pure attitude when dealing with one another, ie to not lust after anyone except one's spouse.
Another example is when God describes the time when Luqman advised his son on how he should behave with people:
"Go at a moderate pace and lower (واغضض) your voice, for the ugliest of all voices is the braying of donkeys." (Qur'an 31:19)
The advice in the verse is not to sound arrogant and inconsiderate in dealing with people. To "lower the voice" does not mean to literally lower the voice! For example, to become so quiet so as people cannot hear one speak. Just like "lower their gaze" does not mean to not look at the opposite gender, but to do so with modesty.
A point which adds weight to this argument is that the term "ابصار (absaar)" translated as gaze/vision, has also been used in the Qur'an to metaphorically refer to a person's inner character and capabilities to grasp and respond to the outside world correctly, rather than literally one's vision through the eyes.
Furthermore, lessons from the Qur'an show us that all believers must look after one another out of love for God and must not cut interaction, even between genders. For example:
“The believing men and the believing women, they are the friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong.” (Qur’an 9:71)
God further elaborates in another verse:
"Those who were already firmly established in their homes and firmly rooted in faith, show love for those who migrated to them for refuge and harbor no desire in their hearts for what has been given to them. They give them preference over themselves, even if they too are poor. It is those who are saved from the greed of their own souls who are successful." (Qur'an 59:9)
The verse teaches us the strength of unity between true believers. This originates from their love for God and desire for the Hereafter. One cannot say that the above verse carries double standard for the two genders. Rather the believers of the time referred to in the verse, gave refuge to in their very own homes, all believers who migrated regardless of their gender. What matters is one's faith in God, believers are united by this.
The following incident in the story of Prophet Moses has lessons for the believers:
"As he made his way towards Midian, he was saying, 'May my Lord guide me to the right way.' When he arrived at Midian's waters, he found a group of men [watering their flocks], and beside them two women keeping their flocks back, so he said, 'what is the matter with you two?' They said, 'We cannot water [our flocks] until the shepherds take their sheep away: our father is a very old man.' He watered their flocks for them, withdrew into the shade, and prayed, 'My Lord, I am in dire need of whatever good thing you may send me." (Qur'an 28:22-24)
Gender interaction is not a dominating thought in the minds of believing people as is seen in the scene that followed:
"Then there came unto him one of the two women, walking shyly and said, 'My father invites you so that he can reward you with a payment for drawing water for us.' When he came to him and told him the whole story he said, 'Have no fear, you have escaped from wrongdoing people. One of the two women said, 'Hire him, father. The best person to hire is someone strong and trustworthy'. He said, 'I would like to marry you to one of these two daughters of mine on condition that you work for me for eight full years. If you complete ten, that is up to you. I do not want to be hard on you. You will find me, God willing, to be one of the righteous.' He (Moses) said, 'That is agreed between me and you. Whichever of the two terms I fulfill, there will be no injustice done to me. God is Guardian over what we say'." (Qur'an 28:25-28)
Prophet Moses watering the flocks of the two women is a deed of a believer. However, such behavior is unlikely among the majority group of so-called practicing Muslims of today.
In Surah An-Naml, the Prophet Solomon dealt extensively with the Queen of Sheba. He invited her to believing in God and she said:
"My Lord, I have wronged my self: I devote my self with Solomon, to God, the Lord of all the Worlds." (Qur'an 27:44)
Forced male-female segregation
Forced male-female segregation seen in highly orthodox communities are not enforced by the Qur'an. Women to be present in male-dominated business transactions as witnesses described in a verse of the Qur'an is further evidence against this.
"If two men are not there, then call one man and two women out of those you approve as witnesses." (Qur'an 2:282)
The type of segregation that occurs between the genders at family or community gatherings is however, completely natural. With that being said, the strict enforced male-female segregation endorsed by radical Islamists will not find such evidence to back up their claims in the Quran.
Is Satan the third when a woman is alone with a man?
وَلا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا عَرَّضْتُمْ بِهِ مِنْ خِطْبَةِ النِّسَاءِ أَوْ أَكْنَنْتُمْ فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ سَتَذْكُرُونَهُنَّ وَلَكِنْ لا تُوَاعِدُوهُنَّ سِرًّا إِلا أَنْ تَقُولُوا قَوْلا مَعْرُوفًا وَلا تَعْزِمُوا عُقْدَةَ النِّكَاحِ حَتَّى يَبْلُغَ الْكِتَابُ أَجَلَهُ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ حَلِيمٌ
"You (believing men) do nothing wrong when you announce your engagement to women, or when you keep it between yourselves. God knows that you will think of them. But do not make secret appointments to see them, unless you will engage in good / conscientious conversations. And do not confirm the marital tie until the prescribed (waiting) period (from a previous divorce) is over. Know that God knows what is in your minds, so beware of Him, and know that God is All-Forgiving, Forbearing." (Qur'an 2:235)
In this verse, God shows us that it is permissible for a believing man and a woman to be alone (سراً / secretly) together provided their intentions are correct i.e. قَوْلا مَعْرُوفا (good / conscientious conversations) take place. If Satan was the third, this verse would not approve of this. The verse is in reference to private meetings, therefore, there is no restriction with regards to meetings in public either.
Furthermore, "God knows that you will think of them", is an additional indication. This verse is in reference to believing women who have been widowed recently (context from the previous verse) - and believing men who are interested to propose to them for marriage. Since God says, "God knows that you will think of them", it shows that these arbitrary individuals may have already met, and know each other from the past at a personal level - otherwise, a believing man would not think of her for marriage.
Lastly, the verse, "There is no secret meeting of three, without Him being the fourth, nor of five but He is their sixth - nor of less than that or more, but He is with them, wherever they may be..." (Qur'an 58:7), is the basis of the true believer's faith that God's presence encompasses them, and is more worthy of reliance than on any Satanic influence. In the Qur'an, it is stated the Satan has no power over the believers:
"He, [Satan], has no authority over those who believe and put their trust in their Lord. He only has authority over those who take him as a friend and associate others with God." (Qur'an 16:99-100)
Therefore, the Satan is not "the third" when a true believer is alone with a member of the opposite gender, and verse 2:235 shows that there is no blame in being alone with an opposite gender member provided the conversations are grounded on goodness.
God teaches the true believers the right attitude to have through the Qur'an, and He guides them by it onto a straight path. The prayer of Prophet Noah (Nuh) is also an example:
"Noah said, 'Lord do not leave any of the disbelievers on earth. If you leave them, they will lead your servants astray and beget only sinners and disbelievers. Lord, forgive me, my parents and the believing men and women: whoever enters my house as a believer. Bring nothing but ruin to the evil-doers." (Qur'an 71:28)
Verses 24:30-31 ("lower their gazes") are not reasons in themselves for their mentality and behaviour. They simply 'use' the verses to keep up a nostalgic form of religion, derived not from the Qur'an. Part of this nostalgia is to cut connections from the opposite gender. This is common with their application of the Qur'an in all other areas, where the Qur'an is simply 'used' to give evidence in a religion where the Qur'an is 'muddled', and its true interpretations are never reached.
In such a way of life, there is total isolation from the basic consideration for others as human beings or as creations of God.
The Qur'an should be understood using Quranic context, as it has been done here. One cannot arrive at the correct understanding of verses, if one's intention while approaching the Qur'an is to find evidence to prove a preconceived mentality.
Through an understanding of the Qur'an - the expression "lower their gaze" used in verses 24:30-31 does not mean to not interact with them. The correct understanding is to interact modestly with them, ie to not look at them with lust. The ignorant followers of Islam who, upon learning such lessons from the Qur'an, claim that the incidents used in this article from the Qur'an are which took place before the time of the Prophet Muhammad, therefore they are under a different "sharia" and are not applicable for such lessons to be drawn from them. God has addressed this ignorance in the Qur'an:
"When they are asked, 'What has your Lord sent down?' they say, 'ancient fables of previous generations'." (Qur'an 16:24)
God may prohibit certain blessings as a means of test or punishment, however this is different as fundamental aspects of mankind such as gender interaction are constants through all time.