Haya, an instinctive feeling of shame combined with the modesty based on Islam, forms the greatest safeguard against shameful or indecent behavior.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every religion has a moral code. And the moral code of Islam is haya,” thereby emphasizing the importance of this feeling in the life of a Muslim. The following hadith also explains this crucial characteristic. ‘Abdullah ibn Umar reported that the Prophet came upon a man who advised his brother not to be too shy. The Prophet said, “Stop; haya comes from faith.” Another hadith says,
“Faith has seventy rays. The highest degree is to say La ilaha illallah, (“There is no deity other than God”) and the least degree is to remove something harmful from the road. And haya is one portion of faith.”25 This hadith was explained by Ibn al-Athir thus:
“Despite the fact that it is an inborn natural feeling, haya can also be gained and developed with practice. Haya keeps one away from sins; it comes between a person and their sins. This means it has a function in a person’s faith. The hadith mentions that it is ‘one portion of faith.’ Faith includes the action of following God’s commands and avoiding that which He has forbidden. Thus, when haya causes a person to avoid sins, it becomes like a portion of faith.”26
Haya demands awareness of God’s Presence and thus the practicing of self-control or self-supervision. According to a narration of Ibn Mas’ud, the Prophet said, “Be fully conscious of God, as God requires you to be.” When someone asked, “O God’s Messenger! How does God require us to be conscious?” He answered, “Whoever protects his head and what is in it, his stomach and the organs attached to it, whoever is not attracted to the ornaments of the world, and does not forget that death and decay follow has the haya that God requires.”27
To “protect the head” in this sense means to use the brain and its power to think in positive ways. The other organs should also be “protected” by avoiding forbidden things, not eating prohibited foods, and not telling lies or using unpleasant words. The “organs connected to the stomach” are the sex organs, which must be protected by avoiding extramarital sexual contact. Thinking more broadly, hands and feet can also be seen as being “connected to the stomach.” So it can be said that the hadith teaches us to keep
the hands, arms, feet, and so on from committing sins. This is the meaning of “shyness,” or haya, in the sense God requires.
The feeling originating from faith which we refer to here must be distinguished from other characteristics that make a person timid, passive, or unwilling to step forward to fulfill their responsibilities. For example, it is not good for women to hang back out of “shyness” when it comes to education. If they do not have the opportunity to learn from other women, they should not hesitate to ask a man who is considered knowledgeable in religious matters or in other areas. Indeed, if there is a religious question they need to know and they do not ask a man out of “shyness,” it will cause them to fail to accomplish their religious duties correctly.
Our Prophet personally answered the particular questions of women, and also had his wife Aisha teach them in his place. Aisha had these notable words to say about women who showed no shame in seeking religious knowledge: “What good women the Ansar women were. Their bashfulness did not prevent them from learning their religion well.”28
One who wishes to be granted felicity in this world and the next must strive to have adab and haya. A person who has a sense of haya fears to do wrong not only where other people can see them, but also when they are alone. Such a person has a healthy
spirit and a peaceful conscience. We can recognize them by their geniality, their humility, and their trustworthiness.
Qurra ibn Iyas said, “We were together with the Prophet. Someone spoke of haya: ‘O God’s Messenger, is haya part of religion?’ they asked. The Prophet’s answer was, ‘Haya is the completion of religion. Without a doubt haya, curbing the tongue, and chastity all arise from faith. These increase a person’s rewards in the next life, and lessen desire for the things of this world. But that which is given in the next life is greater than that which is lessened in this world.’”29
A person with haya does not have faults like lying, cheating, being dishonest, stealing, bribing others, holding a grudge, or slandering others. When someone loses the veil of haya, they no longer fear the wrath of God or feel shame about such things as stealing from the poor; such a person would not even be moved by the tears of the victims of hunger or disaster.
Haya indicates the strength of a person’s faith and their level of adab. Haya is the foundation of goodness and the basic element of every type of good. It is a barricade against sins that can destroy the heart. God Almighty says in the Qur’an,
Say, “My Lord has made unlawful only indecent, shameful deeds (like fornication, adultery, prostitution, and homosexuality), whether those of them that are apparent and committed openly or those that are committed secretly; and any act explicitly sinful; and insolence and offenses (against the Religion, life, personal property, others’ chastity, and mental and bodily health), which is openly unjustified; and (it is also forbidden) that you associate partners with God for which He has sent no authority at all, and that you speak against God the things about which you have no sure knowledge. (A’raf 7:33)
In short, a Muslim should be extremely cautious in thoughts and acts, always guarding their tongue from speaking wrongly, their eyes from looking at that which is prohibited, their ears from listening to the private conversations of others, and all their limbs from committing wrong acts.
Gulcu, Dr. Musa Kazim. “Good Character” Tughra Books Press. February 2009.
- November 13, 2013
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