in one perspective it is an established fact that sins differ in their intensity. the reasoning for this is taken from the hadith which mentions the 7 destructive or major sins. there is a belief that apart from that 7 major sins, all other sins can be categorized by their intensity.
it is very much possible to have different view points for an answer to this question. instead of trying to refute or trying to establish any opinion, I'll try to focus directly on the question and try to clarify in the light of quran and authentic sunnah to the extent of my ability, insha Allah.
let us first remind ourselves of this verse in the glorious quran,
And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fahishah [i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)], and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allah forgives him). [17:32]
(i have chosen translation of Mohsin Khan as it is more closer to the context)
in the tafsir of this verse scholars have written that, we are warned to stay away from it. the warning is very clear and severe as we should avoid anything that could even lead to the act. that's the wisdom behind instructing us to stay away or even not come close to this indecency.
in the authentic sunnah of our beloved prophet (S.A.W), it is narrated.
- Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying. Allah fixed the very portion of adultery which a man will indulge in. There would be no escape from it. The adultery of the eye is the lustful look.....[Sahih Muslim 2658a]
from this hadith and the afore mentioned verse we can understand that, looking into awrah (other than your spouse) is the zina of the eye. it is the fahisha of the eye.
to clarify more on the intensity of this sin, let us seek answers through quran and authentic sunnah.
Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things)...(24:30)
Verily! The hearing, and the sight, and the heart, of each of those you will be questioned (by Allah). [17:36]
there is no doubt that we will be held accountable for what we look at, on what we lay eyes upon. this is further more explained in the sunnah. the severity of this grave sin more stressed in numerous ahadith. i will try to mention a few relevant ahadith regarding the subject matter of the question. (i.e the intensity of the sin of looking at others awrah).
Abu Sa‘īd (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) said: "A man must not look at another man's ‘Awrah, nor must a woman look at another woman's ‘Awrah...[muslim]
"Do not give a second look, Ali, (because) while you are not to blame for the first, you have no right to the second." [abu dawud]
i believe it is worthy to mention this following hadith too,
- From Jarir ibn Abdillah RA, he asked the prophet PBUH about looking at a woman unintentionally, the Prophet PBUH said: "Turn your eyes away" [abu dawud]
with so much emphasis layed by our beloved prophet (S.A.W), on avoiding looking at awrah, there is no room left to justify that this is a sin that has less intensity in islam. infact, differentiating between the intensity of sins to one's own preference can be very harmful.
just to clarify more on concerning the intensity of this sin, let us remind ourselves of this following hadith.
- If one of you were to be stabbed in the head with an iron needle, this would be better for him than if he were to touch a woman whom it is not permitted for him to touch. (narrated by tabaraani; it is saheeh)
on a commentary of this hadith,
Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Where it is forbidden to look it is also forbidden to touch.
from this explanation we can understand that, if touching and looking are sharing the same consequence, the intensity of the sin is also shared. thus stabbing in the head with a iron needle is more relevant.
[regarding the hadith which you have mentioned, i have not come across any hadith of the same wording yet but i did find unauthentic hadith with very similar context. i prefer not to post them here because it is not authentic.the hadith which i have used in my answer is the most relevant authentic hadith i found regarding the hadith which you have mentioned.]
may Allah the mighty and sublime grant us mercy and guide us to the straight path.
Allah knows best
- tafsir qurtubi
- tafsir ibn kathir
- majmoo al-fatwa by ibn taymiyyah
- rawdhathul muhibbin by ibn qayyim
- (lectures from various scholars relating to the subject matter)