Balzac described modesty as “the conscience of the body.” In Islam, the term Haya (modesty) means ‘to be alive.’ It has been derived from the word Hayat, which stands for ‘life.’ In the Arabic language, Haya is also used for rain, freshness or greenery that beautifies its surroundings.

The life of one’s heart is associated with Haya. If one’s heart is deprived of Haya, it dies. The by-product of Haya is alertness, liveliness and a fully functioning conscience. We can understand it better by considering someone who is in a state of slumber or death.

Such person is oblivious to the surroundings, whether evil or good. The same happens when we are deprived of Haya.

What does Haya bring with it? It brings an overall goodness in one’s relations with the Creator as well as the creation. Following are its types:

Haya Taqseer

It means to admit one’s inadequacy in serving Allah (swt). A good example is of the angels, who do not spare a moment away from Allah’s worship and obedience. Yet, on the Day of Judgement, out of humility they will regret their ineffectiveness and insufficiency in submitting to the Lord (swt). This is a pivotal lesson for humans to learn.

Haya Un Nafs

This is a high category of modesty, when one is unable to face himself after sinning. The person places a system of checks and controls on himself. And when he slips, he reprimands himself and feels embarrassed to confront his own errors. A state of unrest is created within him/herself until he/she asks for Allah’s (swt) forgiveness and maybe, cries out in repentance.

Haya in Nature

Allah (swt) has placed a barometer inside every human being, regardless of faith or race. It is an instant reaction for him to hide his faults and cover his body out of modesty. When Adam (as) and Hawa (as) disobeyed Allah (swt) due to Shaitan’s trickery, and their shame became manifest to them,they instantly tried to screen themselves with tree leaves – no one had told them to cover up. That was an inbuilt impulse or reaction, as their faith was still alive.

Allah (swt) forbid, if someone becomes negligent or oblivious to this sense – it means that his Fitrah (natural disposition) is marred. He deserves our sympathy, as he is in Shaitan’s control. This level of Haya also distinguishes between humans and animals, and discredits Darwin’s theory that man has evolved from apes.

Haya in Religion

This means to give up evil for pleasing Allah (swt) – to stand guard against sins. It also entails bearing the quality of Haya, which prompts a person that Allah (swt) is watching. A person having such Haya is embarrassed and bashful to let down his Lord.

Haya in the Life of the Prophet (sa)

It is said about our beloved Prophet (sa): “He was far more modest than an untouched spinster, who stays behind a veil.” (Bukhari) Even the sight of sin or an ill-spoken word was enough to change the colour of his face. Such was his repulsion for evil.

“Haya is all the way goodness (Khair).” (Muslim)

“Immodesty blemishes and modesty beautifies.” (At-Tirmidhi)

“Haya, an inner control, and modesty in one’s talk are two branches of faith, while ill talk and excess in talk are signs of hypocrisy.” (At-Tirmidhi) The Prophet (sa) only talked as per necessity. His conversation was always clear, concise and courteous. On some occasions in life, he even taught the companions simply by staying silent.

When we are in debt to someone or burdened by a favour, we always feel obliged and ashamed. This is the kind of emotion we need to create within ourselves. We have to acknowledge what the Lord has granted us and keeps on granting, whether we ask Him or not. We should feel embarrassed to disobey Him out of gratitude and feel the boulder of blessings upon our shoulders. That will be a state of Haya.

Abu Masood narrated that Prophet (sa) said: “The teachings brought by the messengers of the past included that if you become void of modesty, do as you please.” (Bukhari) It almost sounds as if Allah (swt) and the Prophet (sa) disown such an individual, who adopts the attitude that screams out loud: “I don’t care!” In such a case, he is also deserted and left humiliated like the Shaitan.

How can we develop this quality?

Modesty is a culture and a lifestyle. Adoption of this wondrous quality gives birth to responsibility, sobriety, depth in thoughts, accountability and reflection. You can embrace Haya through the following suggested actions:

  1. Make sincere Dua for yourself. Admit to Allah (swt) that you have been immodest in the past. Ask Him to accept your repentance and guide you to the straight path.
  2. Be mindful of Allah’s (swt) presence, when thinking of or indulging in sin. Remember His Blessings, Majesty and Might.
  3. Haya is not simply a result of gaining knowledge about the Deen. It evolves gradually. Spend time in the company of noble and modest companions. Observe them in silence.
  4. If you tend to be an ill-tempered person, control your foul language. Learn to bite your tongue. Walk away from the scene which is provoking you. Ask someone to record what you say, if your memory fails when you are angry.
  5. Work on your language. Use beautiful words with sincerity more often in order to develop a habit of using them regularly and unconsciously.
  6. List your most commonly used hate words or phrases such as: shut up, are you crazy? Consciously resolve not to use them.
  7. If you are a great TV fan, try to cut down the viewing time of frivolous programmes. Engage in other activities that you enjoy.
  8. If you are a late night viewer, try to begin your day at Fajr, so that by nightfall you are too tired to plop yourself before the screen.
  9. Try not to undress completely even in private moments, as Hadeeth tell us that Shaitan has the power to see us.
  10. Maintain a strict dress code (Satar) even in the presence of the same gender, especially when you go for a dip in the pool, beauty salon or spa.
  11. Being a lady, if you fancy wearing sleeveless shirts, ensure that you satisfy your cravings within your home, with friends or before your Mahrams only. For outdoors, wear an Abaya over it or in case you haven’t started wearing one, make sure that you cover your entire Satar with loose fitting clothes.
  12. While walking in a mixed crowd or Bazaar, keep your gaze low or away from the opposite gender.
  13. Your mannerisms shouldn’t invite public attention, such as a loud voice, giggling or arguing.
  14. Maintain a distance from the opposite gender whenever you come in contact with them. Whenever you speak to them, adopt a business-like tone, and be to-the-point.

Remember! Haya is not just about clothes and covering up. It is a way of life and the lifeline of your Iman!