The meaning of modesty


Modesty, or haya in Arabic, is a widely used term nowadays. It is often misinterpreted as just the feelings of shyness or shame one has. Everyone has their own opinion of what being modest is, and they try to brag about their levels of modesty while looking down upon others. Let us look what Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) have to say.

The term modesty is referred to in the Quran in the following verses:

‘‘Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.”
(Surah An- Nur 24:30)

”And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.”(Surah An-Nur 24:31)

”O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.’‘(Surah Al-A’raf 7:26)

As Muslims, we have to constantly be in touch with our own haya (modesty) and make sure we are not displeasing Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) in any way. It is mentioned in a hadith:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And haya (This term “haya” covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self-respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.” (Sahih Bukhari Book #2, Hadith #8)

Therefore, haya is not just feeling shy in front of someone; it consists of many other aspects which can be achieved by assessing ourselves in the following points:

Haya in the way we dress

Dress is perhaps the most widely thought of in terms of modesty. Dressing up in the right way as commanded by Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) plays a major role in boosting our imaan as well as bringing us closer to Him. There are many instances in which people feel close to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) by just covering themselves modestly. One thing we need to be wary of, and avoid, in terms of the way we dress is boastfulness and/or vanity. We must be careful that we are dressing modestly for the right reasons – our intentions must be sound.

Haya in what we watch/read

We should be wary of what we watch on the television or read in media outlets. Television is the number one source of immodesty followed by books. You can find a number of shows and books that deal with immodest topics. So, look at the type of shows you are watching, and the kind of books you are reading. Are they immodest? Are they causing you to lose your sense of shamefulness?

Haya in what we say

The way we speak is also a part of Haya. The words we use and our tone matter a lot. The present trend is to use immodest words when expressing either happiness or grief, which is picking up fast; sadly, it is now taking effect in the Muslim community. Do you use such words? Do not forget that every word you speak is going to testify for/against you on the day of judgement!

Haya in how we treat others

Since childhood, we are taught to treat others with respect and kindness. But do we really follow that? ‘Treat others like you would want to be treated’ is perhaps the best policy which one can follow to maintain this aspect of Haya.

Haya in the friends we choose

Yes, your circle of friends does matter a lot! A person is more likely to follow what his friends do, as well as believe. Be careful when it comes to maintaining close friendships with people. Ask yourself if this is the type of person you want to be, or want to be seen with?

Haya in the places we go

In addition to the way we speak, dress, and behave, the places we visit are just as important in maintaining our haya. Are the places we visit reminders of all the forbidden or haraam things? Or are they havens of the right kind of places? Reflect.

Haya in what we do

Haya in what we do among people is as important as Haya in front of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). Our actions when in public and in private should reflect piety and obedience to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala).

Another hadith which mentions Haya is :

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: The Prophet passed by a man who was admonishing his brother regarding Haya and was saying, “You are very shy, and I am afraid that might harm you.” On that, Allah’s Apostle said, “Leave him, for Haya is (a part) of Faith.” (Sahih Bukhari Book #73, Hadith #139)

Haya brings only good. It can either make or break one’s eeman. It will guide one towards peace of mind. Here is praying that the muslim ummah all over the world finds it easy to be modest! Ameen!

Almighty Allah knows best.

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