Haya – Modesty
The following article has been published in the As-Salaam Newsletter Issue 1 published in November 2008
The Arabic word haya is translated into English as modesty but can also mean, shyness, dignity, self-respect and even honour. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, (p.b.u.h.) has been recorded to have said:
“Verily know that haya (modesty)part of your very iman (faith).” (Bukhari & Muslim)
Thus, haya (modesty) is all about controlling our gaze and taming our desires. In reality, being modest is the number one obstacle for the majority of us, irrespective of our age, gender and colour and it is this lack of modesty that keeps us away from our Lord (Allah). No matter how many good deeds we do or love we may have for Allah (All Mighty), it is like a hole in our hearts where everything gets sucked down when we fail to be modest in our actions. This is when one commits obscene acts (fahsha) that may be unbecoming to a believer in terms of faith. The purpose of this article is to shed some light on the importance of the subject of modesty and to try to get rid of the sins connected with the negligence of modestywith evidence extracted from the words of Allah (i.e. from the Holy Qur’an) and from the sayings of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h).
The aforementioned hadith of the Prophet (p.b.u.h) suggests that modesty is the basic form of iman (faith). In fact, scholars say that when Prophet equated modesty with faith, it meant that they complemented each other. The more immodest one might be, the more deficient their faith would be and vice-versa. The great scholar, Imam Bukhari, (may Allah be pleased with him), regarded modesty at such a high position that he coined the entire Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) as being based on it, by including it as a chapter heading: “Haya is verily a branch [a part] of faith.”
Unfortunately today in our modern, educated,world, we are sometimes taught consciously or subconsciously that haya or shyness is not such a good thing. We should know that once the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h) was passing by a companion and he heard him telling his younger brother that one should not beandshould be bolder and more outgoing.When Prophet (p.b.u.h) heard this, he stopped and addressed both of the companions and said that if one is, it will only bring goodness (khair). 'So why do you counsel one another to not have haya when the only thing it can bring is goodness (khair).' (Bukhari & Muslim)
At another situation, the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) has been quoted to have said,“Al haya –u-khairu kuluhu.” The scholars have translated this to mean either that “everything about modesty is good” or “all of good is to be found in modesty.”
Therefore, the purpose of this life is not to fulfil our own desires and to seek the pleasures of this world, but rather to please our Lord: modesty is a means to such an over-arching goal. Unfortunately, today, we live in a society where advertisements, billboards, magazines, television, and otherbombard us with obscene images. Anyone who even tries to save himself from it is unable to do so. It has the effect of destroying one's haya and of making one immune to such obscenity. Such immunity occurs when one is repeatedly made to see such images and thusspiritual heart, casting a veil over it. If we do not cast a veil over our eyes, thenveil will be casted over our hearts.
Here are two quick recommendations that one may put into practice straight awayprotect oneself from immodesty:
Start doing invocations (zikr) and the remembrance of your Lord at all times – in the bus, on the train, in the tube, even on your Ipods. It is this remembrance of our Lord during the daily chores that will remind us at all times that there is one great deity always watching our every move. Allah enjoins invocations with guiding our private parts together in following verse from the Holy Qur’an:
“And those believing men who guide their private parts and those believing women who guide their private parts. And those who remember Allah frequently and those female believer who remember Allah frequently” (24:31).
Lower one's gaze: Lowering the gaze is not something for the scholars or the saints but for all of us. It is not something that is optional but rather a commandment from our Lord in many different verses in the Qur’an. To get rid of evil or bad things, one has to fight the battle from the start as it is much easier to defeat the sin, when it’s just about to start. It is much harder to persist and march down from that path of sin. This is our Lord’s mercy to make it easy for us by reminding us to draw the battle line much earlier to save us from the sins.