Modesty in how we treat others

Modesty (Haya) in Islam

Modesty in Islam is considered a part of one’s faith as well as a way to save mankind from transgression. All of God’s prophets emphasized the importance of modesty in every Muslim’s life. Muslims should possess both inner and outer modesty. This is reflected in behaviour, speech and appearance, and includes being mindful of God at all times. Allah says:

لِلْفُقَرَاءِ الَّذِينَ أُحْصِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَا يَسْتَطِيعُونَ ضَرْبًا فِي الْأَرْضِ يَحْسَبُهُمُ الْجَاهِلُ أَغْنِيَاءَ مِنَ التَّعَفُّفِ تَعْرِفُهُم بِسِيمَاهُمْ لَا يَسْأَلُونَ النَّاسَ إِلْحَافًا وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ

“For the poor, those who are wrapped up in (the) way (of) Allah, not they are able (to) move about in the earth. Think (about) them, the ignorant one, (that they are) self-sufficient (because) of (their) restraint, you recognize them by their mark. Not (do) they ask the people with importunity. And whatever you spend of good, then indeed, Allah of it (is) All-Knower.” (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:273)

Modesty encompasses far more than the clothes one wears. Modesty, as defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, is “freedom from conceit or vanity” and “propriety in dress, speech or conduct.” Allah says:

قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَٰلِكَ أَزْكَىٰ لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ

“Say to the believing men they should lower their gaze and they should guard their chastity. That (is) purer for them. Indeed, Allah (is) All-Aware of what they do.” (Surah An-Nur 24:30)

Modesty in Islam is known as haya, a word, which describes both shyness and a deeper modesty that is based on faith. A sense of haya should affect a Muslim’s conduct before God, before others and even when one is alone. Islamic morality divides modesty into natural and acquired. Allah says:

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ

“O Children (of) Adam! Verily We have sent down to you clothing, it covers your shame and (as) an adornment. But the clothing (of) [the] righteousness – that (is) best. That (is) from (the) Signs of Allah so that they may remember.” (Surah Al-Araf 7:26)

Modesty is a quality inherent in girls and boys, a certain type of modesty that is natural in human beings.  It manifests itself, for instance, as a natural human urge to cover one’s private parts. Allah says:

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ

“O Children (of) Adam! Verily We have sent down to you clothing, it covers your shame and (as) an adornment. But the clothing (of) [the] righteousness – that (is) best. That (is) from (the) Signs of Allah so that they may remember.” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:26)

Modesty towards others entails that one has decent and reasonable behaviour in public, avoids indecent talks and vain activities, and respects everyone around him/her. If one has developed this ethical aspect within him/her and obeyed this sense, he/she will become ashamed when someone notices him doing something wrong. This feeling will be even worse when the other person is in a higher position. This, consequently, stops him/her from repeating that action. Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا

“O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and (the) women (of) the believers to draw over themselves [of] their outer garments. That (is) more suitable that they should be known and not harmed. And is Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:59)

Modesty towards oneself means that a person treats himself fairly in private. It is caused by the unpleasant feeling that arises when thinking of or doing something improper which consequently stops one from forbidden (Haram) thoughts or illicit acts. Modesty towards others includes especially the opposite gender and involves not gazing at them, harming them in any way or indulging in any forbidden (Haram) relation with them.

Modesty in Islam As Per Traditions in Islam:

  1. Modesty in the friends we choose
  2. Modesty is what we watch/read
  3. Modesty in how we treat others
  4. Modesty in the places we go
  5. Modesty towards Oneself
  6. Modesty towards others
  7. Modesty is what we say
  8. Modesty is what we do
  9. Modesty towards God
  10. The modesty of Love
  11. The modesty of Shame
  12. The modesty of Servitude
  13. The modesty of Generosity
  14. Make Dua and trust in Allah
  15. Have “the talk” – Islamically
  16. Find Halal, same-gender fun
  17. The modesty of Magnification
  18. The modesty of Low self-worth
  19. The modesty of Embarrassment
  20. Find and keep those role models
  21. The modesty of honour and dignity
  22. Give them dress guidelines then set them free
  23. The modesty of an individual regarding himself
  24. Allah is always watching and we are accountable
  25. The modesty that results in you realizing your shortcomings

Modesty and shyness play a special part in the affairs of the Creator and the created.  Modesty brings only good. It can either make or break one’s eeman. It will guide one towards peace of mind. All prophets and Messengers encouraged modesty, as the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said: Allah says:

إِنَّكُمْ لَتَأْتُونَ الرِّجَالَ شَهْوَةً مِّن دُونِ النِّسَاءِ بَلْ أَنتُمْ قَوْمٌ مُّسْرِفُونَ

“Indeed, you approach the men lustfully instead of the women. Nay, you (are) a people (who) commit excesses.” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:81)

Modesty as a sense of shame or shyness in human beings is a shrinking of the soul from foul conduct, a quality that prevents one from behaving badly towards others or encouraging others to behave badly towards you. While modest behaviour varies from person to person, guidelines do exist in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The code of modesty for both men and women includes.

  • Lowering the gaze and avoiding flirtatious speech and conduct
  • Avoiding close physical contact with unrelated members 
  • Observing a modest or Islamic dress according to the Quran 
  • Not drawing unnecessary attention to oneself
  • Avoid drawing attention to jewellery and other hidden adornments
  • Avoid wearing perfume or cosmetics in front of unrelated men (and related men who are eligible for a woman to marry)

Islamic ethics considers modesty as more than just a question of how a person dresses and more than just modesty in front of people; rather it is reflected in a Muslim’s speech, dress, and conduct: in public in regards to people, and in private in regards to God. Any talk of modesty, therefore, must begin with the heart, not the hemline, as the Prophet of Mercy said, ‘Modesty is part of faith,’ and that part of faith must lie in the heart. Allah says:

لَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيْنَيْكَ إِلَىٰ مَا مَتَّعْنَا بِهِ أَزْوَاجًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا تَحْزَنْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَاخْفِضْ جَنَاحَكَ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

“(Do) not extend your eyes towards what We have bestowed with it (to) categories of them and (do) not grieve over them. And lower your wing to the believers.” (Surah Al-Hijr 15:88 )

Early Muslims used to say, “Be shy toward God when you are in private in the same way you are shy in front of people when you are in public.”  Another one of their sayings is, “Do not be a devoted slave of God in your public behaviour while you are an enemy to Him in your private affairs.” Allah says:

وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ فِي نَفْسِكَ تَضَرُّعًا وَخِيفَةً وَدُونَ الْجَهْرِ مِنَ الْقَوْلِ بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالْآصَالِ وَلَا تَكُن مِّنَ الْغَافِلِينَ

“And remember your Lord in yourself humbly and (in) fear and without the loudness of [the] words, in the mornings and (in) the evenings. And (do) not be among the heedless.” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:205)

The inner and outer modesty of haya is just two aspects of a Muslim’s spirituality, which focuses on worship and obedience to One God. Muslims should also strive to be truthful, sincere, humble, patient, forgiving, charitable, moderate, kind, and considerate. Allah says:

وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُونَ

“And those who [they] of their modesty (are) guardians.” (Surah Al-Muminun 23:5)

A Muslim needs to understand that modesty is one of the integral components of Islam and a Muslim should incorporate modesty into his or her character and it should be practised in every matter of life. Allah says:

فَوَسْوَسَ لَهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ لِيُبْدِيَ لَهُمَا مَا وُورِيَ عَنْهُمَا مِن سَوْآتِهِمَا وَقَالَ مَا نَهَاكُمَا رَبُّكُمَا عَنْ هَٰذِهِ الشَّجَرَةِ إِلَّا أَن تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنَ الْخَالِدِينَ

“Then whispered to both of them the Shaitaan to make apparent to both of them what was concealed from both of them of their shame. And he said, “(Did) not forbid you both your Lord from this [the] tree except that you two become Angels or you two become of the immortals.” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:20)

Modesty can, therefore, be seen as how morals and ethics in society are maintained and pursued.  Shyness from people and society may be a reason to be modest, but this modesty will not remain because what is immodest one day in a secular society may be acceptable in another. Allah says:

وَالْقَوَاعِدُ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ اللَّاتِي لَا يَرْجُونَ نِكَاحًا فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهِنَّ جُنَاحٌ أَن يَضَعْنَ ثِيَابَهُنَّ غَيْرَ مُتَبَرِّجَاتٍ بِزِينَةٍ وَأَن يَسْتَعْفِفْنَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُنَّ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

“And postmenopausal among the women who (do) not have a desire (for) marriage, then not is on them any blame that they put aside their (outer) garments, not displaying their adornment. And that they modestly refrain (is) better for them. And Allah (is) All-Hearer, All-Knower.” (Surah An-Nur 24:60)

Thus, the key to modesty is knowing that God is aware of what you do and shying away from that which He forbids.  God only desires what is best for us.  So to seek what is best for us is to submit to what He has in mind for us.  The only way to properly know what that is is to believe in what he sent down to us through His Prophet, Muhammad, and to embrace the religion (Islam) that His Messenger brought us. Here is praying that the Muslim Ummah all over the world finds it easy to be modest. Ameen!