Islamic Perspective on Modesty
Modesty is the way of Islam., i.e being modest in all facet of life, in way of dressing, the way one approaches and talk to people, the way one spends his/her wealth and time, the way you interact with every living thing.
In this post, I will discuss both religious and general perspectives about the purpose of modesty in our lives. There are different religions and they have different perspectives on it even Modesty has different definitions for different people.
The definition of modest is someone or something that is humble or shy or not extreme. in other words, Modesty is not something that is only related to the outer appearance and clothing, in fact, it is more importantly a virtue of human character. An example of modest is a person who doesn’t easily take their clothes off around others. An example of a modest is a simple house.
Modesty noun. natural delicacy or shame regarding personal charms and the sexual relation; purity of thought and manners; due regard for propriety in speech or action. The quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc. regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc. simplicity; moderation.
Modest implies a becoming shyness, sobriety, and proper behavior: a modest, self-respecting person. Animals also have ways to express their sorrow, joy, and anger; whereas modesty is an attribute that is found only in humans and it is one of the basic differences between animals and humans.
If one loses modesty in his tone, body language, and habits, so the other good qualities are lost as well and such a person loses his respect despite having all other attributes. As long as a person is modest, he stays safe from disgrace and when he loses his modesty, he keeps on doing even cheap and filthy work impudently.
Modesty and shyness play a special part in the affairs of the Creator and the created. All prophets and Messengers encouraged modesty, as the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said:
“Indeed from the teachings of the first prophets which has reached you is, ‘If you do not have shyness, then do as you please.” (Al-Bukhari)
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.
Modesty, sometimes known as demureness, is a mode of dress and deportment that intends to avoid the encouraging sexual attraction in others. The word “modesty” comes from the Latin word modest us which means “keeping within measure”. Standards of modesty are culturally and context-dependent and vary widely.
Modesty In Islam:
Islam and modesty have a similar relation which soul bears to the body. In literal meaning, modesty is the behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.
In Arabic, the word used for modesty is ‘haya’. The concept of modesty in Islam defines the boundaries with respect to decency that is set for every Muslim in terms of attire, speech, actions, and behavior.
The attribute that protects from the act that is disliked in the sight of Allah Almighty and His creation is called ‘modesty’. (Ba Haya Naujawan, pp. 7)
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 regard 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.
However, 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.” Modesty (haya) in the Qur’an. Islam takes the concept of modesty even further.
In Islam, men and women share responsibility for upholding modesty and controlling their desires in society. Whether someone dresses or behaves modestly or not, the obligation to guard one’s own chastity rests with each gender. While many people think that there is excessive emphasis on modesty for women, God’s command for men to maintain modesty precedes the one for women in the Quran:
“Tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of everything they do. Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.” This verse rebukes forced laws on women that claim “women must cover otherwise men are distracted”( The Quran 24:30-31)
The verse then mentions the people before whom one is exempted from veiling; the ones who cannot be called ‘strangers’. Also, the command is relaxed as one matures: an aged woman who has no hope of marriage can discard the overcoats that screen what they are wearing underneath.
As seen from this verse, Islamic ethics view modesty not as a virtue for women only, but for men as well. Thus, men must also dress modestly, being careful to wear loose flowing and opaque clothes through which the area between their waist and knees is totally covered. Tight pants or translucent clothing is prohibited. This modesty is reflected in Muslim male clothing throughout the world, long shirts reaching below the thighs, and loose-flowing trousers.
It may still seem, however, that women bear the main brunt of ‘dressing modestly’. When one reflects, however, on the predator and the prey in illegal relations between the sexes; the prey which is hidden escapes being a victim. Besides, another verse says modesty in a dress actually identifies one as being a believing woman, a ‘target’ which the devout Muslim, or any decent man, would be motivated to protect rather than abuse.
Modesty is a principle that will help keep us safely on the covenant path as we progress to the presence of God. Modesty in dress and appearance and in thought and behavior will help prepare us to make and keep sacred temple covenants.
An example of modesty is when you are a great violin player and you simply say “I enjoy playing” when someone asks you if you are any good or not. An example of modesty is when you wear a shirt over your bathing suit because you don’t want to show off too much of your body.
Take reservation in speech. As with everything in Islam, speech should be moderate. Raising one’s voice in venting anger simply shows one lacks the ability to contain it, and only damage will ensue from it. Uncontrolled anger, for example, can lead one to verbally abuse and physically assault another, both of which take off the veil of bashfulness one is endowed with, exposing the shameful ego within. The Prophet said:
“A strong person is not the person who throws his adversaries to the ground. A strong person is a person who contains himself when he is angry.” (Saheeh al-Bukhari)
A strong person who believes feels shy in front of God and His creation since God knows and sees everything. He feels shy to disobey his Lord and feels shame if he sins or acts inappropriately, whether in private or public. This type of modesty is acquired and is directly related to one’s faith, where one’s awareness of God increases one’s “shyness” in front of Him.
Islamic morality divides modesty into natural and acquired. Modesty is a quality inherent in girls and boys, a certain type of modesty that is natural in human beings. If manifests itself, for instance, in a natural human urge to cover one’s private parts. According to the Quran, when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the forbidden tree, they became aware that their private parts were exposed, and they began to cover themselves with the leaves of Paradise, a natural result of their modesty.
Islamic scholars consider modesty to be a quality that distinguishes human beings from animals. Animals follow their instincts without feeling any shame or a sense of right or wrong. Hence, the less modesty a person has, the more he resembles animals. The more modesty a person has, the closer he is to being human. Islam has mandated certain legislations which induce this sense of modesty within humans.
These legislation range from seeking permission before entering any room and distancing one from others while relieving oneself, to mandating certain manners of dress for men and women alike. Another way that modesty may be attained is by associating with modest people — people in whose presence a person feels embarrassed to do anything shameful — as the Prophet said:
“I advise you to be shy toward God, the Exalted, in the same way that you are shy toward a pious man from your people.”
Concept of Haya:
The concept of Haya is considered a major Islamic virtue and an integral part of human character.
Ask anyone in the Muslim world, Muslim or not, and he or she will know what the Arabic word “Haya” is. But if you ask them to define it, they will be hard-pressed to do so. Haya is in the grain of personal and social morality, values and behavior.
There is no exact English word that can convey the whole meaning of the Arabic term Haya. Most people translate it as modesty, shamefulness, and shyness. But all these words have negative connotations, which the word Haya does not have. Haya, unlike shyness and bashfulness, does not indicate that a person lacks self-confidence. In fact, in Islamic history, the person most noted for Haya was the third Khalifa Othman ibn Affan, may God be pleased with him.
A person with Haya is not a shameless person. He or she is chaste, moral, restrained, upright, and virtuous. He or she is not immodest, immoral, indecent, lewd, unabashed, unashamed, unblushing, and unchaste. No, we are not talking about angels here. A Muslim goes up and down in his or her faith and practice, but the ideals of Haya are such.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings are upon him, said that every way of life has its distinct character and for Islam, it is Haya (Muwatta). He also said Haya is the fruit of faith. (Bukhari, Muslim).
Haya is no morality to be imposed, but something that must arise from within a people. But at the same time, it is not a private affair. It is an established and accepted social morality which members of society collectively regard as desirable.
A state, therefore, is expected to be the organ through which any society mediates its moral values. This is the reason we find that the Malaysian government asked for the removal of nude scenes from the Hollywood film Schindler’s List, for example. It’s ironic that many television stations in the Muslim world look for Christian-themed films from America to run on their stations because they feel these come close to the Haya standards of their societies.
Public Haya is also the reason that even in secular Muslim countries you will not find collective shower rooms in school dorms, community gyms, or army barracks where persons of the same gender freely undress and shower in front of each other. I remember choosing not to stay in a dorm in Chicago at a high cost to me because of this common shower area issue.
Haya is the reason many Muslim men and women prefer to be seen and treated by a doctor of the same gender. Haya is also the reason that Muslim men and women avoid situations where they will be alone with a non-related member of the opposite sex.
It is also because of Haya that you will not find the demonstration of public affection between spouses in public. That loving relationship is considered a private joy.
It is due to Haya that while romance is there, even in the secularist-run television stations of the Muslim world, bedroom scenes, explicit language, and sexual innuendo are not part of the shows. Of course, all of that is being challenged by satellite television, which brings the Hollywood version of America to Muslim homes around the world.
Read more about Islamic Modesty (Haya) here;
Islamic Wisdom: Haya: More Than Just Modesty
The concept of Haya is considered a major Islamic virtue and an integral part of human character. Haya’ is modesty…
While Haya is an expected norm of personal behavior defining social morality, the basic Islamic personal law taught to Muslim children in homes or weekend schools around the world, from the United States to the United Arab Emirates includes the following concepts of Satr, Hijab, and Nikah.
The Code of Satar:
Satar is an Arabic word. The word addresses the thing that is hidden or which shall necessarily be made hidden. Usually, the word is used to refer to those parts of the body that shall be covered up by Muslims.
Satar is another important code to understand. A believer is obliged to cover his star, this means that Muslims shall necessarily cover up their body parts that come under the definition of satar. the satar of men is different from women.
Read more about Islamic Satr here;
Islamic Wisdom: Awrah / Satr (Intimate parts of Body) Which Speaks the Overall Covered Body &…
Awrah is an Arabic term that denotes the intimate parts of the body, for both men and women, which must be covered with…
Muslim men and women are asked by Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to observe Satr. This means Muslims must keep their bodies from the navel to the knees covered in front of others of the same sex. The only exception to this rule is one’s spouse.
Satar explains why in the traditional dress of Muslim countries, there is no exposure of the human body. Muslims will go to great lengths to avoid this. In many villages, people have refused to see physicians if they needed to undress for them. This prompted Imams to preach that a Muslim can undress in front of a physician if this is required for treatment.
The Etiquettes of Hijab:
Hijab is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition.
In Islam, however, it has a broader meaning. It is the principle of modesty and includes behaviour as well as dress for both males and females.
The most visible form of hijab is the head covering that many Muslim women wear. Hijab however goes beyond the head scarf. In one popular school of Islamic thought, hijab refers to the complete covering of everything except the hands, face and feet in long, loose and non see-through garments. A woman who wears hijab is called Muhaajaba.
Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry. This means that hijab is not obligatory in front of the father, brothers, grandfathers, uncles or young children.
Hijab does not need to be worn in front of other Muslim women, but there is debate about what can be revealed to non-Muslim women.
Modesty rules are open to a wide range of interpretations. Some Muslim women wear full-body garments that only expose their eyes. Some cover every part of the body except their face and hands. Some believe only their hair or their cleavage is compulsory to hide, and others do not observe any special dress rules.
In the English speaking world, use of the word hijab has become limited to mean the covering on the head of Muslim woman. However, this is more accurately called a khimaar. The khimaar is a convenient solution comprising usually one, but sometimes two pieces of cloth, enabling Muslim women to cover their hair, ears and neck while outside the home.
Hijab, in the sense of veiling, can also be achieved by hanging a curtain or placing a screen between women and men to allow them to speak to each other without changing dress. This was more common in the early days of Islam, for the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! God is aware of what they do…” (Quran 24:30–31)
Due to secular fundamentalists who have banned the “headscarf” in Turkey and France, many people in the world now think Hijab means headscarf. In the fight for the hearts and minds of Muslim women, the headscarf has become a symbol of assertion for Muslim feminists as well as a symbol of women’s oppression for most Western feminists. However, the concept of Hijab has a much broader meaning than a piece of cloth on a woman’s head.
The etiquettes of Hijab go beyond a dress code. It defines the relationship that men and women in a Muslim society maintain with each other. It lays out the guidelines for interaction between the sexes, particularly those not related to each other by marriage or blood. In essence, it is a set of legal and social norms that define gender relations in the public and private space in the Muslim world.
Even Muslim architecture incorporates the element of Hijab in defining public and private place within one’s own home.
Being shy of a stranger’s gaze is one of the driving forces behind modesty in dress. This can be seen in children, who naturally shy away from strangers, sometimes hiding from them in their mother’s skirts or behind their father’s legs. In Islam, screening most of your body off from the gaze of a stranger, especially of the opposite sex, is actually mandated as a means to avoid falling into conduct that may lead to extra-marital or pre-marital sex.
The way to develop modesty is to think about whether he or she would do the sin they are contemplating in front of their parents. A person with a shred of shame in their heart will not commit any lewd act in front of their parents. So what about doing so in front of God? Is not God much worthier that such acts not be done in His sight? Thus, Islam considers that the modesty of a believer in front of God must be greater than in front of people. This is manifest in the saying of the Prophet when a man asked him about remaining naked in the house while alone.
The Prophet responded:
“God is more deserving than other people of shyness.” (Abu Dawood)
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 behavior while you are an enemy to Him in your private affairs.”
Modesty can therefore be seen as the means by which 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 due to the fact that what is immodest one day in a secular society may be totally acceptable in another. 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.
Modesty In Other religions:
Modesty, According to the biblical idea, modesty is an inner spiritual grace that recoils from anything unseemly and impure, is chaste in thought and conduct, and is free of crudeness and indecency in dress and behavior (Ephesians 4:25, 29, 31; 5:1–8; 1 Timothy 2:9, 10).
Modesty is an attitude of humility and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If you are modest, you do not draw undue attention to yourself. Instead, you seek to “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also verse 19).
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Every religion has a morality, and the morality of Islam is Modesty! Modesty is undoubtedly the true essence of beauty in Islam. It is not a fashion trend or a fad, nor is it a burden or oppression, it is precious and truly priceless.
In Islam, Muslims both men and women should possess both an inner and outer modesty. This is reflected in behavior, speech, and appearance, and includes being mindful of God at all times.
Both are required to dress modestly. This is said to help them avoid embarrassing one another. It is also seen as a way of discouraging sexual intercourse without being married. There is much discussion about the different dress rules between men and women.
Islam clearly establishes that men and women are equal in front of God. At the same time, it does recognize that they are not identical. God created men and women with unique physiological and psychological attributes. In Islam, these differences are embraced as vital components to a healthy family and community structure with each individual contributing their own distinctive talents to society.
Hence, God’s rules apply to both genders, but in diverse ways. For example, men are also required to cover parts of their body out of modesty, but not in the same way as women. Similarly, men are prohibited from wearing silk clothing and gold ornaments whereas women have no such restrictions. Therefore, God has ordained different commands for men and women while encouraging both to be modest.
Hazrat Khadija continues to inspire people to this day who revere her for taking great care of the Prophetﷺ of Islam and for showing the world, through her behavior, what a pious, modest and courageous woman can accomplish.
In short, the concept of modesty in Islam is holistic and applies to both men and women. The ultimate goal is to please God and to maintain a wholesome and stable society.
May Allah bless you with happiness, success, guidance, health, and knowledge Ameen
Verily good deeds do away with evil deeds.
And that is a reminder for those who remember.
Be patient with yourself. And Keep learning!!
I will be calmer, I will spread love as long as I can, I will live a spiritual life, I will do what I please no matter what and I will prove my theories.
Always start your day by renewing your intention that everything you do for yourself and your community, whether it be your acts of worship or daily chores. It all has to be merely for the sake of Allah (SWT) and also, I ask Allah (SWT) to make my work dedicated only to him and forgiveness from Allah (SWT), if I have got anything wrong. It is He who is the Hearing, the knowing.
Finally, I pray to Allah to benefit those who read this article and others, grant me truthfulness in what I say and do, preserve my thoughts and my pen from deviation and guide me in all my affairs.
And all praise and thanks are due to Allah, without Whose help and guidance nothing can be accomplished.
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