Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
It is permissible to watch licentious movies based on the position that pictures on the television screens are similar to reflections, and it is unconditionally permissible to look at reflections?
Looking at Reflections is not Unconditionally Permissible
Firstly, it is obligatory to understand that the scholars who hold that it is permissible to look at the image of a woman [h: as opposed to an actual woman] conditioned this [h: permissibility] with the (1) absence of the fear of trial (fitna, [h: i.e. intercourse or its usual preliminaries]) for the one who looks and (2) that he not look at it with desire, as mentioned in the Tuhfa of the great scholar Ibn Hajar (7.192). After mentioning this issue, he says: “This applies–as is obvious–only when there is no fear of trial (fitna) or desire.” It follows from this that if one fears falling into trial (fitna) or if one looks with desire, then it is forbidden for him [h: to look at the image of a woman]. This also indicates that the questioner is mistaken when he says that looking [h: at an image] is unconditionally permissible.
No sane person will deny that everyone who watches movies like the ones mentioned in the question falls into trial (fitna) by desiring to perform illicit intercourse (fahisha) and its usual preliminaries, and that they always watch [h: such movies] with desire. What else would one intend by watching such movies? To forbid the wrong? To lower one’s gaze from them? An additional point that should be noted is that those who watch such movies are normally not very religious (if not completely irreligious by abandoning the obligatory prayers and other obligations and by committing forbidden acts), and it is not normally conceivable that such people would not fall into trial (fitna) or look without desire.
Our Age Takes a Different Ruling
Secondly, the scholars who permitted the above used the example of a woman’s image in a mirror and in water (as in the Tuhfa and the Hashiya of Shirwani). It is obvious to any sane person that happening to look at [h: the reflection of] an insufficiently covered woman in a mirror or in water is an extremely rare occurrence. [h: Scholars who permitted looking at such images] were not faced with the photographic pictures, video tapes, and computer disks that fight us today, all of which are buried in licentiousness, calling people to illicit intercourse, and exaggerating in all of this to the extent that it makes the skin of animals quiver out of jealousy for the sanctities [h: that are being violated]. This has even led to illicit relations between close relatives (brother and sister; even father and daughter), and Allah be our refuge. If these imams [h: who ruled that it was permissible to look at images] had been aware of what has befallen people today–both Muslims and non-Muslims–they would have no choice but to rule that [h: looking at all such images] is unconditionally forbidden, in order to block the means and lock the door that lead to trial (fitna). The books of our Shafi’i imams and the imams of other schools not only indicate this, but even emphasize it. An example is what Ibn Hajar al-Haytami said in this Fatawa (1.200):
[h: beginning of quote untranslated …] A proof for prevention is the saying of ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her), “If the Messenger of Allah saw what women have started doing after him, he would have prevented them from the mosques just as the women of Bani Isra’il were prevented,” although her words permit the interpretation that prevention is obligatory and that it is recommended (although the possibility of obligation is more likely). […] Another proof of what I have derived is the saying of Malik (Allah be pleased with him), “Fatwas are introduced for people in accordance with the degree of licentiousness that they introduce.” This was only attributed to Malik because he was the first one to say it. Otherwise, other Imams after him also say the same thing, as is obvious from their schools. Whoever imagines that this [h: saying of Malik’s] is an example of adhering to public interests (al-masalih al-mursalah) which are in opposition to the Sacred Law is mistaken. What he intended was what ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) intended: whoever introduces a matter such that the principles of the Sacred Law imply something different than what they used to imply before the introduction of this matter, a new ruling will be introduced for him commensurate with what he introduced , not commensurate with what existed before its introduction.”
That is the end of his words (Allah be pleased with him), and they are at the very limit of precision and exactitude. Explicit statements by our imams on this issue are extremely plenteous, and the great scholar Ibn Hajar mentioned some of them in the above fatwa. These texts clearly indicate that it is obligatory for those of authority to prevent such detriments which are unsanctioned by Sacred Law, and that it is forbidden to people to engage in them, whether by way of buying and selling, or by way of looking.
Confirmation from the Mufti of Tarim
After writing this, I asked my teacher, the great scholar, the jurist, the scholar of incisive exactitude, Shaykh Muhammad al-Khatib (the reliance of students and the source of fatwa in Tarim) about the issue. I told him what I wrote and he agreed with it word for word, so Allah be praised, Lord of the worlds.
O Allah! Protect us, our sanctities, and all Muslims from outward and inward trials, and guide us, O Allah, to the best of character, for none guides to the best of it except You, and turn away from us the worst of it, for none turns away the worst of it except You.
– Amjad Rasheed
(Translated by Hamza Karamali)