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Hayaa (Shame & Respect/ Modesty)

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Islam – The Perfect Code of Life





Islam is the perfect code of life. It provides complete guidance in all spheres of life and teaches man how to conduct and how to fulfil his worldly and deeni needs. Islam advocates respecting human rights and promotes sublime conduct when interacting with the creation. In aspects of honesty, trustworthiness, kindness to parents, respect to elders, and decency in manner, speech and dressing, Islam is second to none. From among the core values that Islam encourages one to adopt is the quality of Hayaa (shame and respect).



In essence, hayaa (shame and respect) is the stepping stone to acquiring the true morals, values and ethics of Islam. After examining the various laws and injunctions of Islam, whether relating to the domestic, social or economic aspects of one’s life, one will reach the conclusion that the element of Hayaa (shame and respect) forms an integral part of all practices.


Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) has said:


قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم :لكل دين خلق وخلق الإسلام الحياء (موطا إمام مالك رقم 1610)

Every religion has a distinguishing characteristic, and the distinguishing characteristic of Islam is Hayaa (shame and respect).


In a humble attempt to promote hayaa, this series in future will be dedicated to this topic. It is hoped that, Insha Allah, it will make us more conscious of the various aspects of shame and modesty. May Allah Ta’ala enable us to truly adopt hayaa in every facet of our lives. Aameen.



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Hayaa in Dressing


The Mubaarak lifestyle of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) was an embodiment of Hayaa (shame and modesty). From his ibaadat to his eating, sleeping, interacting and even attending the call of nature, every action portrayed the highest levels of shame and modesty. In every dimension of his Mubaarak life, he ensured that the desired degree of Hayaa was never compromised. On one occasion Hazrat Asmaa(Radiyallahu Anha), the respected sister of Hazrat Aaisha (Radiyallahu Anha), entered the home wearing a thin garment. Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) disapproved of this type of clothing for the women of his ummah and immediately corrected her. He explained to her that the entire body of a woman should be covered in a manner that together with the cloth being non-transparent, even the shape of the body should not be discernible. (Sunan Abi Dawood #4106)

This lesson of Hayaa, taught with respect by the master (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), was so deeply entrenched in the heart of Hazrat Asma (Radiyallahu Anha) that it remained with her till the end of her life. Hence, it is reported that when she reached old age, her beloved son Hazrat Munzir bin Zubair (Radiyallahu Anhu), after returning from Iraq, sent her a cloth as a gift which was of very fine and superior quality. She had lost her sight, and so held the fabric in her hand feeling it carefully. Then with disappointment she said: “Return the gift to him.” When the cloth was returned to Munzir (Radiyallahu Anhu), he was hurt at this. He came to Hazrat Asma(Radiyallahu Anha) and said to her: “O my mother, the cloth is not transparent! (Hence, it is fine for you to wear).” Hazrat Asma (Radiyallahu Anha) replied: “Even though it is not transparent, however due to it being tight, it will still reveal the shape of the body.” He thereafter bought for her common garments made in Marw and Quhistaan. She accepted them saying, “It is these types of garments that you should give me to wear.” (Attabaqaatul Kubra li ibn Sad, pg. 199)

One can well imagine what will be the response of our beloved Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) and the Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) if they were to witness the tight fitting and body revealing clothing worn by the Muslim women of today.

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Imaan in Grave Danger

Honesty, trustworthiness, kindness to parents, respect to elders, decency (in manner, speech, dressing, etc.) and a host of other basic values are cherished by one and all. The reality, however, is that such values are gradually becoming rare and extinct. While there could be many factors which cause this lamentable situation coming about, one of the main factors is definitely the erosion of Hayaa (modesty and shame). This is clearly understood from the Hadith: “If you have no shame, do as you wish” (Bukhari #3483).

It is often witnessed that one who lacks shame is prepared to stoop to any level – no matter how low – in order to achieve what he wishes. He will shamelessly lie, shamelessly disrespect elders and seniors, shamelessly abuse his own parents, behave shamelessly, dress shamelessly, etc. In fact, if hayaa (shame and respect) is totally eradicated, one’s Imaan is in grave danger. One will be prepared to even forego his Imaan in order to acquire his goal. The reality of this is clearly evident in the many cases where, after becoming involved in illicit relationships, people have given up their Imaan merely to marry the non-muslim they have fallen in love with. Thus we find shamelessness, which led to the illicit relationship taking place, eventually resulted in the loss of Imaan!!! Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) has declared in his Mubaarak Hadith: “Imaan and hayaa are companions. When one leaves, the other follows.” (Bayhaqi #7331)  

In this era of fitna, almost everything is calculated and designed to destroy hayaa. From the media to dressing styles, from chocolate wrappers to billboards, everything is vigorously promoting shamelessness and obscenity. The only security and protection a believer possesses by which he will be able to save his Imaan and respect is to increase the levels of hayaa in his life. Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “Hayaa is an integral part of Imaan.” (Ibn Maajah #58)


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Clothed yet naked


Every human being is born with several basic needs. Among the basic needs is the need for clothing. Allah Ta’ala declares: “O children of Adam (Alayhis Salaam)! We have sent down to you clothing to cover your nudity as well as adornment for you, and the garment of piety is the best (7:26).” By mentioning the aspect of covering before the aspect of adornment, the Qur’an-al-Kareem impresses upon us that the primary object of clothing (i.e. to cover one’s satr) is more important than its secondary benefits (i.e. adornment). Hence, if the clothing does not adequately cover one’s body, causing part of the satr to remain visible, then such a person, though clothed, will be regarded as naked in the eyes of Shariah. Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) has prophesized the coming of such crucial and critical times in the ummah where women will be clothed yet naked.

Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radiyallahu Anhu) reports that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said: “There will be two groups (in my ummah) who will be punished in Jahannum whom I have not yet seen (i.e. they will emerge after my demise). One group will carry whips with them resembling the tails of cattle, with which they will (oppressively) lash the people. The second group will be those women who will wear clothes yet will still be naked (i.e. they will wear tight fitting or flimsy clothing), they will attract men towards themselves, and they themselves will be inclined towards men, their heads will resemble the humps of the Bukhti camels (i.e. they will wear buns which will be high like camel humps). They will neither enter Jannah nor smell its fragrance despite its fragrance being perceivable from a great distance away. (Saheeh Muslim #2128)

Shariah has provided extensive guidelines in regard to the description of the clothing a woman should cover herself with.

1. The clothing must provide cover for her entire body, otherwise in the eyes of Shariah they will not be worthy of being called “clothes.” It is compulsory upon a woman to cover her entire body and hair (with the exception of her hands till her wrists and feet) before non-mahrams (strange men).

2. The clothing must be such that it should neither be transparent nor should it reveal the shape of the body. Hence if the clothing is tight-fitting to the extent that the shape of the satr is discernable, such a woman is also included in the description of being “clothed yet naked.”

3. When leaving the home, a woman should ensure that the laws of hayaa and modesty are maintained. The Hadith commands that she should dress in an unattractive manner, should not apply perfume and she must don the niqaab. It is a fact of life that there exists a basic natural inclination towards the opposite gender. Wearing attractive clothing further incites such inclination which leads to fitna.

4. The type of clothing that is essentially for one gender should not be worn by the opposite gender. Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) is reported to have said: “Allah Ta’ala has cursed those men who imitate women (in dressing, etc.) and those women who imitate men.” (Tabraani #4003)


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No Haya, No Life

By Khalid Baig

Imam Shu'bah ibn Hajjaj was riding his horse when Abdullah intercepted him. Abdullah was a known street urchin. Not only he was given to a life of sin, he was also unabashed about it. Imam Shu'bah knew that trouble was ahead when Abdullah stopped him.

Shu'bah (d. 100 A.H) is known as the "Amirul Momineen fil hadith." He is one of the foremost scholars of the science of Hadith Criticism. Abdullah knew his stature as a great hadith scholar, but he was bent on having some fun. "Shu'bah! Tell me a hadith," he said with mischief in his eyes. "This is not the way to learn hadith," Imam Shu'bah replied. "You are going to tell me a hadith or else…" Abdullah threatened. When Shu'bah realized that he could not talk his way out of this he said: "OK, I'll tell you a hadith." He then narrated the isnad (a chain of narrators) and then the hadith: "Prophet Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam said: "If you have lost haya then do whatever you feel like."

Abdullah's demeanor changed suddenly. It was as if the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, had himself caught him in his mischief and was speaking to him: "Abdullah, if you have lost haya then do whatever you feel like." He was totally shaken. "I just wanted to cause trouble for you," he admitted, "but please extend your hand. I want to repent."

This hadith turned a life around. Abdullah, the street urchin, became a student and then a great scholar of hadith. Today he is known as Abdullah ibn Maslamah Qan'awi. His name can be found repeatedly in Sihah Sitta or the six most authentic collections of hadith, especially in the collection of Imam Abu Dawud who was his disciple.

What is haya? It is normally translated as modesty or inhibition but neither word conveys the same idea as haya. Modesty suggests shunning indecent behavior but it also implies bashfulness based on timidity. That is why the adjective based on its opposite, immodest, is sometimes also used as a compliment suggesting courage. Inhibition is defined as: "Conscious or unconscious mechanism whereby unacceptable impulses are suppressed." This is a very neutral definition with no reference to right or wrong. So one finds psychiatrist "helping" their patients overcome inhibitions.

In contrast to the moral ambiguity of these words, haya refers to an extremely desirable quality that protects us from all evil. It is a natural feeling that brings us pain at the very idea of committing a wrong.

Along with its unique connotation comes the unique value of haya in Islam. Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Every religion has a distinct call. For Islam it is haya." [Ibn Majah]. Another famous hadith says: "There are more than 70 branches of Iman (Faith). The foremost is the declaration that there is no god except Allah and the least of it is removing harmful things from the path. And haya is a branch of Iman." [Bukhari, Muslim]. As some Muhaditheen point out, the number 70 is a figure of speech. What the hadith tells us is that the declaration of faith is the most important part of Iman but that is not all. Iman also has to reflect itself in all kinds of actions in real life. Moreover, haya is a centerpiece of most of the actions that Iman calls for. It is the basic building block of Islamic morality. When it is lost everything is lost.

Based on such teachings, Islam brought about a moral revolution of unprecedented dimensions with haya as its cornerstone. The pre-Islamic Jahilya society of Arabia knew the word but did not understand its meaning. Nudity, the antithesis of haya, was not only common in every day life, it was even part of the most important religious ritual of tawaf (circumbulation of Ka'bah). So were all the other evils that flow from it. Islam exterminated all of those evils and changed the society in such a way that haya became one of its most cherished values. To this day in Friday Khutbahs around the world, the third Khalifah Hazrat Usman Radi Allahu unhu is mentioned as the person with perfect haya and perfect Iman (Kamil lil-haya wal Iman). Is there any other religion that celebrates haya like that?

Islam's laws about hijab, its ban against free mixing of men and women, its teachings about gender-relations --- all of these reflect a deep concern for haya.

For men and women who have not lost their haya, these come naturally. There is a moving story from the earlier Islamic period about a woman who learnt that her young son had been lost in a battle. She ran in a panic to confirm the news, but before that she took time to make sure that she covered herself fully in accordance with the newly revealed laws of hijab. She was asked how did she manage to do that in a time of great personal tragedy. She replied: "I have lost my son, but I did not lose my haya."

And for centuries afterwards Muslim societies did not lose their haya.When Muslim lands came under the western colonial rule about three centuries ago, they were faced with a civilization that was no different than the pre-Islamic Jahilya on the issue of haya. While it did not have better morality, it did have better guns. At the gunpoint of military and political domination, Muslim societies were made to loose their grip on haya on the collective scale. The powerful and attractive media became an important instrument in this war. First it was books, magazines and newspapers. Then radio. Now it is television. Together they projected ideas and images detrimental to haya. They made indecency attractive. The pace was increased tremendously by television, which has shown more firepower than all the previous media combined.

When historians write about the moral decline in Muslim societies in the twentieth century, they will probably underscore television in subverting the moral fabric of society. We can get a sense of the rapidity of our fall by realizing that what was unthinkable just a decade ago has become routinely accepted today. In some cases, we seem to have lost all control. Isn't it shocking that while contraceptive ads cannot be shown on TV in the U.S. or U.K for moral reasons, they are freely shown in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?

We can get out of the morass by making haya as our number one concern in both individual as well as public lives. There is no Islamic life without Islamic morality. There is no Islamic morality without haya.

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