Muḥammad Ibn Ṣāliḥ al-‘Uthaymīn’s Explanation: 
 The selections here are from Ibn al-‘Uthaymīn’s explanation of Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn. Since the chapter in Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn where the ḥadīth under discussion appears includes preceding verses of the Quran related to lowering one’s gaze, his explanation of those verses have also been included here for the benefit it contains and its relevancy to this translated work.
The chapter in al-Nawawī’s Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn (in which the ḥadīth under discussion appears) begins with the following verses.
“Tell the believers to lower their gaze.”
[Sūrah al-Nūr (24:30)]
Looking at non-relative women is forbidden as the author رحمه الله says and that is because Allah commanded that we lower our gaze as He says “Tell the believers to lower their gaze and preserve their private parts. That is purer for them. Allah is certainly aware of what you do.” He instructs us to lower our gaze and guard our private parts, and this indicates that when someone does not restrain his gaze, that becomes the very means by which he may fail to preserve his private parts.
When a person is liberal with his eyes, allowing them to roam freely, his heart becomes infatuated with women. He continues to look at them until he may approach a woman, speak to her, carry on a conversation with her, arrange a date with her, and then finally the immorality (of adultery) happens. We seek protection with Allah from this. This is why the look has been called “the messenger” or “delivery” of adultery; it invites to illegal sexual activity, and this is why Allah commands us to lower our gaze.
He عز وجلalso says:
“He knows the eyes’ deceit and what the breasts conceal”
[Sūrah al-Ghāfir (40:19)]
The “eyes’ deceit” is the visions a person’s sight may steal (when looking at impermissible things). In other words, a person may secretly look at something forbidden when people cannot observe him. However, Allah certainly knows what he is doing because “He knows the eyes’ deceit”.
Allah جل وعلى also knows “what the breasts conceal” of both good and bad intentions. He even knows the ideas a person’s own soul may inwardly suggest to him and what he accepts of those suggestions.
Allah تعالى also says:
“Surely the hearing, the sight, and the heart – of each of those one will be questioned”
[Sūrah al-Isrā (17:36)]
A person is accountable for his hearing and will be questioned about it. What did he listen to with his ears? Did he listen to impermissible speech or to a woman, enjoying the sound of her voice? Likewise an individual is accountable for his sight and heart so it is critical that a person safeguards himself (regarding his senses). As for a woman relative or someone to whom it would be forbidden for him to marry anyway, there is no problem with looking at her. He may see her face, her head, her hands, her arms, her legs and feet; there is no problem with any of this unless there is some sort of temptation he fears for himself. If he feels there would be some temptation for him, then he should not even look at women that are religiously considered as his female kin.
For example, if a man had a “sister” because his mother breastfed another girl in infancy who was originally unrelated to him, if such a woman was considered beautiful in his eyes, then looking at her would not be permissible even though a sister of breastfeeding is considered by the religion to be of the same status of an actual, related sister. If he feels some kind of temptation by looking at her, he must then lower his gaze when with her. She must also cover up when she is with him because the origin and purpose behind the ḥijāb (the religious covering) is to prevent temptations. So if she finds some sort of temptation, then she too must cover her face even in front of related men.
However, if there is no such temptation present and a person is chaste with a normal, sound and un-perverted heart, then he is only forbidden to look at nonrelative women not in his immediate family, for example his cousins, his sisters-inlaw, etc. In conclusion, the important point is that a man may look at women religiously considered to be his immediate relatives as long as no sort of temptation is there. As for looking at unrelated women, they are never permissible for him to look at.
The following ḥadīth, with the wording from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, is the one mentioned in Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn (and the same one mentioned on pg. 2-3 of this work).
Abū Hurayrah رضي الله عنه narrated that the prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم said:
It has been written upon the Son of Adam his share of adultery which he will indulge in; there is no escaping it. The two eyes, their adultery is looking (at what is forbidden). The two ears, their adultery is listening. The tongue, its adultery is speaking. The hand, its adultery is the touching, and the foot, its adultery is walking (toward adultery). The heart desires and hopes (for adultery) but the private parts either confirm that or deny it. » which he will indulge in; there is no escaping it « means every individual will carry out and realize his inevitable share of adultery, and there is no escape from it unless Allah protects him from doing so.
The prophet صلّى الله عليه وسلّم then mentioned some examples such as,
» The two eyes, their adultery is looking « When a man looks at unrelated women, even if it is without desire, it is a form of adultery – adultery of the eye.
» The two ears, their adultery is listening « A man may listen to a woman speaking and become moved by her voice; this is the adultery of the ear. Similarly,
» The hand, its adultery is the touching « which is anything physically done with the hand like touching or similar physical actions.
» the foot, its adultery is walking « and this includes when someone walks to any place wherein immorality and sexual activity is being committed. It could also be when a man hears a woman’s voice and he walks over to her or sees a woman whom he then approaches. These are all types of adultery – adultery of the foot.
» The heart desires « and may be inclined toward adultery, becoming infatuated with women and this is the adultery of the heart.
» but the private parts either confirm that or deny it « In other words, if a person commits adultery with his private parts—we seek protection with Allah from that—he has then actualized the adultery of all his other senses and limbs. In contrast, if he does not commit adultery with his private part, choosing instead to safeguard and preserve himself, he then denies his other senses their forms of adultery.
This ḥadīth shows the extreme caution required to prevent one’s heart from being attached to women. A man must avoid becoming obsessed with their voices, looking at them, touching them, or approaching them. He has to prevent his own heart’s infatuation with the allure of women as all of these are types of adultery, and we seek protection from Allah.
Every individual of sound intellect and chastity must beware and take precautions to ensure nothing of his senses or body parts become obsessed with women. Anytime a person senses himself being allured to any of that, he must retreat and keep far away (from actualizing any forms of adultery) because Satan courses through the Son of Adam like blood runs through him.
Also, the initial glance can be a poisonous arrow from Iblīs. For example, a man may glance at a woman while unconcerned with her at first sight. However, with the second look then the third he finds his heart becoming attached to her, Allah forbid. He may become so in love with that woman that he thinks of nothing but her. Standing, sitting, when he sleeps and when he wakes up, he thinks of her. And this is how the evil and temptation begins.
We ask Allah for wellbeing and all success is from Him.
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Courtesy of authentic-translations.com
Translated by Abu az-Zubayr Harrison hafidhahullaah