Atif Rashid, UK
Keeping chastity is not just a struggle in our time; prominent companions kept themselves pure despite trials and temptations around them.
The struggle to preserve and uphold chastity is not something new in our age. In every era, this has been a challenge for the religious. The Holy Quran mentions how, in the time of former prophets, both pious men and women kept themselves pure in the face of temptation.
Both Hazrat Yusufas and Hazrat Maryamas have been honoured as individuals who remained pure. Keeping chastity is a great virtue and a matter of honour in Islam. It teaches self-control and the regulation of natural impulses, while also providing various steps to help ensure this.
Today, negative temptations are one of the main obstacles for young men in achieving worldly and religious success because the concept of chastity has become meaningless and is entirely disregarded.
For many, the greatest stumbling block on the path to strong morals, let alone basic spirituality, tends to be a lack of control over their natural urges. In Western society, this struggle is amplified, as religious individuals are surrounded by the vast majority of people who do not think twice about engaging in relationships outside of marriage. They are bombarded with images on TV, on the streets, social media posts, and unrealistic depictions of love in movies, online videos, and pop culture. What respite is there for a believer except to live as a hermit? However, this option is neither feasible nor realistic.
Chastity used to be considered an honour even in Western countries – it used to be a girl’s name. There was a time when no one would vote for a leader of the country who was not married and did not adhere to traditional family values. Now, leaders are known to have multiple unmarried partners and engage in all sorts of vulgar talk. Some of the most prominent personalities in the world are caught up in scandals and activities that end up disgracing them. So, what hope is there for a believer?
Islamic Teachings on avoiding temptations
As with any vice, Islam believes in prevention over cure. That is why it takes steps to avoid any occasion that could lead to such a sin. The Holy Quran warns, “And come not near unto adultery; surely, it is a foul thing and an evil way.” (Surah Bani Isra’il, Ch.17: V.33). It does not just command not to commit adultery but also emphasises not going near it, meaning to avoid everything that could potentially lead to it.
This is why the Holy Prophetsa urged young men to marry early, as it would help keep their gazes down and save them from illicit glances and desires. If one cannot afford to marry, he advised them to fast, as it would restrain their natural urges (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al Nikah, Hadith 5066). The Promised Messiahas placed great emphasis on lowering one’s gaze. He made a point to say that Islam teaches not to look at women at all, whether with pure intent or ill, because this opens the door to illicit thoughts. (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, p. 47)
Hazrat Ahmadas, even in his youth, would be so careful not to take even one glance at a woman.
It is narrated that “upon entering his home, to refrain from looking outside whilst closing the door so that his vision would not meet with a woman’s. As soon as he entered, he would close the door with both hands behind his back and then would turn around to place the latch on the door.” (“The Promised Messiah’s residence in Sialkot: 1861 to 1868”, Al Hakam, 19 March 2021, Issue 157, p. 17)
While replicating such high standards of modesty may be very challenging, given the modern society we live in, that does not mean one cannot take appropriate precautions. Avoiding shaking hands with the opposite sex, refraining from speaking freely with female colleagues in relaxed and intimate environments, and marrying early are some remedies. However, the commandment of ghad-e-basar (lowering the gaze) is something to practise throughout one’s lifetime. Marriage alone cannot offer an unequivocally foolproof defence against the dangers of unfaithfulness and deception, as exemplified by numerous instances that occur in contemporary society.
This is why the lowering of the gaze is a permanent injunction to keep one’s thoughts pure. Thoughts arise from external stimuli, and the saying “out of sight, out of mind” is not just a well-known maxim but a reflection of reality. Once you see something, your thoughts will be inclined towards it. Every action starts with a thought. Therefore, it is not acceptable to say, “There’s no harm in looking” or “There’s no harm in thinking it if you don’t act upon it.” True chastity involves avoiding any thoughts or feelings that even have the slightest potential to lead to committing an evil action. Hence, Allah says, “Whether you disclose what is in your minds or keep it hidden, Allah will call you to account for it.” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.285)
But sometimes, these unavoidable thoughts do arise. The Holy Prophetsa has given hope to believers, so they do not despair over things they cannot always control. He said, “Allah has forgiven my followers the evil thoughts that occur to their minds, as long as such thoughts are not put into action or uttered” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-talaq, Hadith 5269).
However, it is not always possible to avoid first glances. This is why the Holy Prophetsa said:
“Do not follow one glance with another; you may be allowed the first [unintentional glance] but not the second.” (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 1369) When the companions asked him about accidental glances, he advised them to divert their eyes. (Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-nikah, Hadith 2148) He also said: “When one of you sees a woman that he is fascinated with, then let him go to his wife, for indeed with her (his wife) is the same as that which is with her.” (Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-riza’, Hadith 1158)
Getting married and keeping one’s gaze low protects one from glances that lead to ill thoughts. At the same time, it is important to avoid any instances of being alone with a woman, whether at the workplace or elsewhere.
“Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan makes a third,” warned the Holy Prophetsa. (Mishkat al-Masabih, Kitab al-nikah, Hadith 3118) He was, of course, referring to the inevitable thoughts and feelings that will arise in such a situation. He further instructed, “No person [man] should be alone with a woman except when there is a mahram with her.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-hajj, Hadith 1341c)
This not only protects one from illicit thoughts and feelings and eliminates the risk of any inappropriate actions, but it also safeguards another from any misinterpretation on the part of the other person. Even if one’s intentions are pure, the other person may misinterpret or make false allegations, leading to significant distress and uncertainty later on. Ultimately, it becomes a situation of their word against one’s, without any third-party involvement.
Pious examples of modesty
The companions of the Promised Messiah, peace be upon him, exemplified a path of chastity and modesty in an era beset with its own challenges. Their steadfastness acts as a moral compass in our modern, permissive society. I will delve into specific instances from their lives to provide further inspiration and guidance:
In his youth, while on a tabligh trip as an unmarried man, a woman approached Hazrat Ghulam Rasool Rajekira, a prominent companion of the Promised Messiahas, expressing her desire to marry him. He firmly informed her that arranging a marriage in such a manner was against Islamic law. He then returned to Qadian.
Upon arriving in Qadian, he had a dream in which he saw the Promised Messiahas who asked him, “Who is that person in your heart besides God?” In the dream, he also saw the girl appearing extremely ugly, which ignited intense hatred and revulsion within him. He narrates that his heart was cleansed of all other loves, and he remained devoted solely to the love of God. (Hayat-e-Qudsi, pp, 75-76)
From this, we learn that, if one wishes to overcome a bad thought or inappropriate feelings for someone of the opposite sex, one method is to consciously think negatively of them and imagine them as unattractive and undesirable. Focus on their negative features and bring them to the forefront of your mind. Additionally, it is crucial to avoid situations that may trigger such inappropriate thoughts in the first place.
Hazrat Munshi Ismail Sialkotira once encountered a beautiful lady adorned in beautiful attire approaching him. Satan whispered in his mind, urging him to take a look just to find out who she was. However, Munshi Ismail firmly responded, “No, why should I look at her?” Satan then argued, “It’s not forbidden to admire God’s beautiful creation; it is only forbidden to look with ill intent.” It is worth noting how Satan attempted to incite him using religious arguments, knowing his religious disposition. Nonetheless, the companion remained steadfast and resolute, refusing to look. The lady passed by without him casting a glance.
On her way back, Satan made another attempt to entice him by saying, “Just take a look; at least find out whose sister or daughter she is and which house she has come from.” However, the companion remained resolute, questioning the need to look. At that moment, he noticed a tall man standing before him, weeping profusely. Curious, Munshi Ismail asked the man about his identity and the reason for his tears. The man revealed, “I am Satan, and I am crying because if every person in the world was like you, where would we get our sustenance from? Who would listen to us?” (Ashaab-e- Ahmad, Vol.1, pp.195-196)
Evidently, this vision was experienced by a companion who possessed a profound understanding of the Quranic injunction to “lower the gaze.” It serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of steadfastness in avoiding sin and acquiring knowledge from the Holy Quran.
Even companions who held high worldly offices like Hazrat Ch Zafrulla Khanra displayed exemplary morals in this regard:
“Once, while on a ship going back to India just before the First World War, an elderly European man said to him: ‘You are a handsome man, yet you do not drink, do not smoke and do not laugh.’ In reply, Hazrat Ch Zafrulla Khanra said, ‘Sir, I admit I do not drink, I do not smoke, but I laugh all the time.’ A lady nearby who heard the conversation said that what the gentleman meant was that you do not ‘love’ meaning you do not flirt. He asked her how that man happened to know this as a fact. She said, ‘I am a woman who can tell, and I say that you do not flirt.’” (My Mentor, Anwar Kahlon, p. 4)
Early Ahmadi preachers also encountered these challenges when travelling from India to other parts of the world. Hazrat Yaqub Ali Irfanira wrote about the prevailing situation where European trends were influencing and introducing certain habits. He noted that smoking was becoming increasingly common and that the sense of chastity was diminishing upon witnessing immodesty in those countries. However, despite these temptations, Ahmadi preachers remained steadfast, resolute, and unwavering, just like a rock in the face of storms. “They did not alter their habits, change their attire, or cast their gaze upon indecent beauty. They maintained the highest level of purity and chastity,” he observed.
“Many times, I witnessed Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Shamsra and Hazrat Maulana Abul Ata Jalandhri, two of the most renowned Ahmadi preachers in Jamaat history, walking in the markets and through the streets, and even sitting in shops, yet their gaze never wandered here and there,” he recounted. “Our Jamaat is destined to propagate purity. The position of our preachers is not limited to their personal adherence to purity; they have also become a magnificent lighthouse guiding others.” (Hayat-e-Khalid, pp. 318-19)
The Holy Prophetsa narrated a parable about three men who found themselves trapped in a cave. The first two prayed to God, recounting a good deed they had done, and with each prayer, the rock blocking the cave’s entrance moved slightly. The third humbly appealed to Allah, acknowledging his intention to commit a sinful act with his cousin but refraining from it due to fear of Allah’s commandments. He described how he had gathered a hundred dinars to satisfy her demand, but when she reminded him of the importance of preserving chastity, he abandoned the act and left the money behind. With his sincere plea, the rock was miraculously removed by Allah, and they were saved, emerging from the cave unharmed. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ahadith al-Anbiya, Hadith 3465)
It often happens that when a pious individual exercises self-restraint for the sake of God, Allah eventually grants them their desire.
Once, a rich man’s beautiful daughter became lost on her way back from a picnic with her friends. In the midst of the dark and stormy night, she noticed a light emanating from a small mosque and approached its door. Inside, a young man who was staying there overnight greeted her and explained that he was unfamiliar with the area and unable to guide her home. However, he offered her shelter until morning, when the local residents would arrive for the Fajr prayer, assuring her that they would be able to assist her in finding her way back home. Grateful for the offer, she accepted and entered the mosque.
The following morning, upon her return home, the daughter recounted to her father an unsettling experience she had during the night. She revealed that she had witnessed the young man burning each of his fingers, one by one. Bewildered by her account, the father sought guidance from his spiritual mentor, who requested the presence of the young man to inquire about the events of that night. When questioned, the young man explained that while he was alone with the young woman, Satan had tempted him to approach her. However, mindful of the consequences in the Hereafter, he devised a test for himself. He decided to place his finger on the candle flame, and if he could endure the pain, he would proceed to approach the girl. Yet, the intensity of the burning sensation was too much to bear, causing him to withdraw his finger each time and refrain from approaching the girl. This self-imposed trial continued as he succumbed to temptation once again, willingly subjecting his second finger to the flame. In this manner, he persevered, enduring the burning of all his fingers while steadfastly preserving both his own and the girl’s chastity.
The spiritual guide advised the rich man to marry his daughter to the young man. However, the rich man expressed his reservations, citing the stark contrast in their upbringings. His daughter had been raised in affluent circumstances, whereas the young man was a poor orphan. In response, the holy man conveyed that material wealth could be bestowed upon the young man through the rich man’s resources, but true piety and righteousness were not easily found in a wealthy man. Convinced by this wisdom, the rich man agreed and proceeded to arrange the marriage between his daughter and the young man. (Hayat-e-Noor, pp. 67-69)
That holy and wise man was none other than Hazrat Hakeem Maulvi Noor-ud-Deenra, who later accepted the Promised Messiahas and also became Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira after his demise.