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Modesty in Islam

Modesty in Islam


Modesty in Islam

Salaam alykum,

While I tend to ignore debates over modesty, which are generally conducted in aggressive ways funnily enough, and I remove myself completely from debates over the modesty of dress (with regards to women); I was reading today and I stumbled upon a Hadith of The Prophet, which to me underlines something we oftentimes forget: what modesty truly means.

Before I get into the Hadith that really struck me, we must address the perpetually mentioned Hadith from The Prophet over what “character” Islam has.

“The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Every deen (religion) has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty.’ ”

This Hadith is found in Imam Malik’s Muwatta, and it is often quoted, and is pushed forth when sisters are advising other sisters on their dress, style of hijab, and other various issues, while by men, they use this to underline how they must wear their pants, stop wearing silk, and to not wear any gold.

Now, to be abundantly clear, I have no interest in settling those debates, because they will never end.

My only comment is this: we have constantly misunderstood what that “modesty” truly means. It means the modesty to realize that we may be wrong, to know that we may not be as good as we think, or even the modesty to realize that perhaps we are not as bad as we think we are. Modesty is difficult because it shuns extremes, in speech, in tone, in perceptions or positions, modesty is about the ability to ensure justice, despite any prejudice we may have.

We may have prejudices against those with prejudices, but modesty requires that we do not wrong these people, even though we are so inclined towards doing so, because that modesty requires that we realize we may have our own faults, and also to ensure justice is given to anyone, for that is how we express our adherence to our Faith, which again, according to The Prophet, is characterized by modesty.

The word use by The Prophet, الْحَيَاءُ, we constantly narrow in meaning. We constantly restrict it to our dress or to our gazes, but seldom, if ever, do we (especially myself) apply it to how we speak to each other, let alone how we deal with each other.

It is because of this concern, that I found the following Hadith so interesting:

“The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, passed by a man who was chiding his brother about modesty. The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Leave him. Modesty is part of Iman (faith).’ ”

This Hadith, also from Imam Malik’s Muwatta, underlines something so central that we forget ourselves. Here is a man, warning his brother, about modesty, and what is The Prophet’s response? To leave him alone, that by chiding your brother (or anyone for that matter) about modesty, and I can only assume this man was doing it in ways similar to our own, that that method is inherently immodest.

This is our problem today as Muslims, we go about enforcing and calling people to modesty in immodest ways, and yet, we are surprised when people don’t listen to us, don’t see the “clear truth” of our arguments, and we get angry. We are angered not just because of our egos, it is because we have allowed our egos to consume themselves with immodesty, so we are no longer really discussing modesty, instead, we are reflecting ourselves (and egos) into our advice and debate with others, which become aggressive because we do not have the modesty to consider that perhaps we are wrong or that our conduct would illustrate the benefits of our views better than anything we say.

Insha Allah, I hope that we consider what modesty truly means, that it should flow through everything we do, and we should stop trying to find exceptions to justify what we know to be wrong, by taking The Prophet’s actions in war to equate to the internet flame wars we engage in.

Here’s a little tip: it isn’t “nasheeha” (advice) when you start it out with an insult.

I realize that I am the first person who should take this advice of modesty, I know that I am arrogant, and I apologize to those who have been offended by that, and I pray that you will accept my apologies; all I want to say is that I hope that we can reflect our modesty in our actions and not just in our words.

Insha Allah, I hope this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman.

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