Haya – Modesty, the innate character of Islam

Introduction to Islamic Character

The Prophet (s) said, “Every Deen has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty (haya).” (Abu Dawood)

The Definition of Haya’

Haya’ comes from hayat (life). It is that which keeps you ethically and spiritually alive. Just like a body gets its value from being alive, the spirit, soul, character and person gets their value from having haya’.  The reality of haya’ is that it is that trait which motivates you to do what is good. That same trait discourages you from doing anything shameful. It is the one quality that make Muslims stand out.

Words that encompass aspects of haya’: shame, humility, self-respect, honor, bashfulness, shyness

The Prophet’s Statements on Haya’

  • The Prophet (s) said, “Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya’ is a part of faith.” (Bukhari)
  • The Prophet (s) passed by a man who was admonishing his brother regarding Haya’ and was saying, “You are very shy, and I am afraid that might harm you.” On that, Allah’s Apostle said, “Leave him, for Haya’ is (a part) of Faith.” (Bukhari)
  • Prophet (s) said: “Haya does not bring anything except good.” (Bukhari)

The Relationship Between Iman and Haya’

What does haya’ have to do with iman?

  • Your conviction determines how you see things and how you react to things
  • Whatever you have faith in will produce haya’ in relation to that thing
  • The stronger your belief in Allah, you realize you’re always in the presence of Allah subhaanhu wa ta’ala. The connection is there and thus that triggers haya’
  • The more haya’ you have and exercise the stronger your iman becomes
  • Haya’ will encourage the things that strengthen your iman and discourage things that weaken your iman
  • They increase each other all the way until you reach a level that Allah is pleased with you (i.e. no limit)

The Prophet (s) said, “Iman and Haya’ are like twins, they go hand in hand .” (Hakim)

Various types of haya’ that we should have:

2 types (in terms of origin):

  • Innate, natural haya’ that we’re all born with(from your fitrah)
    • This type of haya’ comes from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala; you can see it in nature and in animals. An example would be if you say “bad dog!” the dog will whimper – this is a reflection of it’s natural haya’ (shame).
  • Acquired haya’ (from your belief system, environment, etc.)
    • This is your code of ethics, and comes primarily from your culture and environment. If a person cultivates it, it will make him the best person he could be. If a person’s natural haya’ is destroyed, then it will be difficult for them to get this type of haya’.

Note: You can never have excessive haya’ – it has no limit.

  • The Prophet (s) said: “Al-haya’u la ya’ti illa bi khayr”, Haya’ will not bring anything except good. [Sahih al-Bukhari]
  • And – “Al-haya’u khayrun kulluh”, All of haya’ is good. [Sahih al-Muslim]

There are three areas in which to exercise haya’:

  • with Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala
  • with people
    • some scholars also say with the Angels
  • with yourself

Our Relationship with Allah

Yastakhfuna min an-nasi wa ma yastakhfuna min Allahi wa hu ma`ahum.

The hypocrites are those that hide their sins with people but not in front of Allah. (4:108)

This ayah, of course, applies to all those who are dishonest and hypocritical; they act one way in front of people and another way in front of Allah. May Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala protect us from hypocrisy. Ameen!

‘Alam ya’lam bi anna Allah yara.

Does he not know that Allah sees? (96:14)

Are we not aware that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala sees? Do we not realize how insignificant and weak we are in the sight of Allah? When a person loses their respect of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala and does not revere Him, they they will do whatever they want.

Ma lakum la tarjuna lil Lahi waqra.

What is [the matter] with you that you do not attribute to Allah [due] grandeur? (71:13)

Inna Allah kana ‘alaykum raqiba.

Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you. (4:1)

Be shy with Allah as you should be. – Muhammad (s)

The Prophet (s) told the Sahaba: “Have haya’ of Allah as you should.” They replied, “We do. We even made a nasheed about it.” The Prophet (s) said, “That is not true haya’. Rather, true haya’ is:

  • Preserving your head and what it contains;
    • This includes your mind, your senses, your thoughts, emotions, and your heart.
    • Wala taqfu ma laysa laka bihiAAilmun inna assamAAa walbasara walfu-adakullu ola-ika kana AAanhu mas-oola. “And follow not that of which you have no knowledge. Verily! The hearing, and the sight, and the heart, of each of those you will be questioned. (17:36)
  • Preserving your belly and that which it carries;
    • This includes what people consume of food, drink, money and that which is connected to it (lust, desires).
    • Be modest, moderate and balanced.
  • Remembering death and what comes after it;
  • Preparing for the Akhirah (Hereafter).
    • Fa man kana yarju liqaa’ rabi f al ya`mal `amalan saliha. “Say, “I am only a man like you, to whom has been revealed that your god is one God. So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord – let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.” (18:110)

The hadith does not say “prevent” rather “preserve” – this means do things properly, not avoid them all together.

The Story from Ibn Kathir

Ubayy bin Ka`b said, “Adam was a tall man, about the height of a palm tree, and he had thick hair on his head. When he committed the error that he committed, his private part appeared to him while before, he did not see it. So he started running in fright through Paradise, but a tree in Paradise took him by the head. He said to it, `Release me,’ but it said, `No, I will not release you.’ So his Lord called him, `O Adam! Do you run away from Me?’ He said, `O Lord! I felt ashamed before You.'”

How to Increase Our Haya’ with Allah

  • Learn about Him
    • Everything we do and have is from Allah.
    • Sometimes we don’t even like to talk about Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala!! How do we even forget about Allah?
    • Sometimes we think that we can forget about Allah so that He will forget about us, but that will not happen.
    • Haya’ will lead us to ihsan (worshipping Allah as if we see Him) because we will constantly think of Him.
  • Remember Him continuously – dhikr;
  • Read His Message – the Qur’an;
  • Pray Qiyam al-Layl (the supererogatory night prayer).
    • This is a private connection with Allah.
    • When you get up from sleep, just get up and remember Allah and just think about Allah. Say la ilaha illa Allah, don’t think about anything else, your exams, your friends, your phone
    • If this was the day I was going to go back to Allah, how would I would want to go back to Him?
    • If this is the first day that you’ve EVER had to do anything, how would you spend it? What things would you start doing for the sake of Allah?

Whosoever remembers Allah and it brings them to tears, that eye that sheds tears will never be punished.

Exercising Haya’

Ask: What shows me that I really have haya’ of Allah?

  • If you really like someone, you will always think what will he/she think before you say or do. Do you do that with Allah?
  • Watching your behavior when you’re alone!
    • The Prophet (saws) was asked about people being naked and the Prophet (saws) said avoid exposing yourselves in front each other. What about when you’re alone? Allah has a greater right for you to have haya’ in front of Him.
      • When you get too comfortable with yourself you won’t maintain your haya’.
      • Prophet (s) was advising the sahabah (his companions, may Allah be pleased with them all) to conserve water. One the sahabah asked the Prophet (s) about conserving water in times of abundance. The Prophet (saws) said conserve even if you are at a flowing river. It is all about the attitude – be shy and cautious.
      • Don’t be undressed or in a compromised position longer than you need to!
      • Abu Bakr (ra) would cover his face when would relieve himself because he would remember that Allah is watching.
      • Uthman (ra) would never took a shower standing upright.
        • We get really comfortable, we admire ourselves, we do crazy things in front of the mirror…some people even in front of their roommate!
      • Some of the sahabah never looked at their own private parts out of haya’.
      • Fudayl ibn `iyath said, “I have met a generation of people too ashamed of Allah to sleep the whole night.” We’re talking about qiyam here.

Yahya ibn Mu`ath said, “Who ever obeys Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala out of haya’, Allah will have haya’ of punishing him on the Day of Judgment.”

Having Haya’ With Allah

Istahiyi min Allahi ta’ala kama tastahyi min rajulin salihin min qawmik.

“Have haya’ from Allah as you would have haya’ from a religious person you know.” – the Prophet (s)

Allah subahanhu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) knows what is hidden, so we need to have the most haya’ with Him. How do you develop haya’ with Allah?

  • Learn about Allah: Why aren’t we as excited to know Allah as the people in the past? Why was the Prophet (s) the most attached to Allah? Because he knew Him the most.
  • Read and study the Qur’an, the words of Allah.
  • Perform qiyam (supergatory night prayers). This will cause resistance to haram (unlawful)
    things. It is a way to redeem yourself with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala after sinning.
  • Do dhikr (remembering Allah with your heart and tongue) This should compensate for prayer if you cannot pray!
  • Remembering death and the hereafter.
  • Be with those that remind you of Allah.
  • Reading the inspiring stories of the Prophet (s) and other righteous people.

How to Avoid Sin

A man would sin; al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali counseled him, if you wish to continue, then do these five things:

  • Do not eat from the sustenance of Allah
    • The man responded he cannot.
  • Escape the Kingdom of Allah
    • The man responded he cannot.
  • Commit sins where Allah cannot see you
    • The man responded he cannot.
  • When the Angel of Death comes, escape death
    • The man responded he cannot.
  • If you are sentenced to hellfire on the Day of Judgment, refuse to go there
    • The man said thank you, that is enough! Allah will never see me sinning against Him.
  • Yahya ibn Mu’ath said to his students that if you really want to develop haya’ from Allah then develop haya’ when you do something good. When someone is always nice to you, humble and respectful – you let it go if they ever wrong you. “If you have haya’ with Allah when you do something (you’re humble and realize His role), Allah will forgive you and look over when you sin.”

Haya’ With the Angels

The second type of haya’ is that which is with the Angels. There are angels with us always, recording what we do.

Wa inna ‘alaykum lahafithin, kiraman katibin.
And indeed, [appointed] over you are keepers, Noble and recording. (Quran, 82: 10-11)

We are always “tapped” by the angels. Or do they think that We hear not their secrets and their private conversations? Yes, [We do], and Our messengers are with them recording. (Qur’an, 43:80)
Be shy of the angels, never do things or be an environment that would hurt the angels or bother them. Angels are commanded by Allah to wait before they write down the evil things humans do, so that we are given a chance to repent. So keep in mind, even when you go to the restroom, that the angels are with you. Avoid things like bad smells, or crass language, or sexually illicit activity.

Inna al-malaikata tata’atha min man yata’atha minha bani adam.
The Prophet (s) said, “He who eats onion and garlic and leek, should not approach our mosque for the angels are harmed by the same things as the children of Adam.” (Muslim)

Haya’ With People

There are three types of haya’:

  1. Sincere Haya’: Those who have haya’ naturally, and have haya’ in public as well as private; this is authentic, sincere haya’. This is the best type of haya’.
  2. Haya’ Deficiency: Those who have selective haya’ – haya’ in public, with certain people, but they do not have this haya’ in private.
  3. No Haya’: There are those who don’t care and will act in any way in front of people – they do not have haya’ at all. Your natural, instinctive haya’ was killed. It is better to have haya’ in front of certain people and work towards haya’ with everyone, then to have no haya’ at all.

The Role of Culture

A lot of the variation of haya’ is because of the culture you are raised in. Culture either nurtures haya’ or destroys it. An example of this is the story of a brother who was raising his children in America. He walked into see his daughter sitting in a position he did not feel comfortable with – she was eight years old. Afterward, he asked his wife and kids to spend sometime overseas to study and gain some of the culture. When he visited them a year later she was sitting in the same position – but when he entered the room, she adjusted the way she was sitting. Some things must be picked up from the culture.

We need to adjust our level of haya’ and recognize what is needed and what is not. The worse of people are those who broadcast their sins, who have no shame in front of people or in front of Allah.

Areas in Which Haya’ Should be Excercised

In Marriage

Between a husband and a wife, there is little haya’ because they know each other so well. But in private, you are supposed to still maintain a minimum level of haya’. You also do not share your personal relationship with others.

Gender Relations

This is for people who are not married or related through blood; a level of haya’ is meant to be exercised between them. Some of the gender relations you will never understand until you are married. There is a level of haya’ that you won’t be able to connect to until you are married or you grow more mature. Once you get married you will see the wisdom of Islam. There was a sister that said she didn’t have a problem talking to guys, even married ones, and then she got married. One year after she got married she got bothered with sisters that talked to her husband. She would see things that she would say or do being done with her husband and she couldn’t believe it.

Personal Beauty

Haya’ is also being content with who Allah made you AND how He made you. If you are beautiful, you should not be shamed of your beauty but you should humble because it is a blessing from Allah.

When you look into the mirror, make the du’a’:

Allahumma anta Hassanta khalqi fa-hassin khuluqi, waharrim wajhi ‘al-an-naar. Alhamdulilahil-lathi sawwa khalqi fa’adalah, wakarrama suurata wajhi fa’ahsanaha, waja’alna minal-Muslimeen.

O Allah! You made my physical constitution good so make my disposition good too and keep my face safe from the hellfire. Praise be to Allah Who fashioned and made me proportionate, and honored my face and made me of the Muslims. [at-Tabarani]

When anyone of us dies, we won’t refer to your body except as the body of so and so.

What is Not Haya’?

There is a type of haya’ that is not really haya’ – is it negative, it comes from shyness. This haya’ is the type of haya’ that prevents you from doing what is right or from seeking knowledge. This can be cowardice, riyaa’ (showing off), lack of confidence, ignorance or low self-esteem. When it is the truth, you should not shy from it, you should learn about it and share it.

Inna Allaha la yastahyi min al-Haqq.

“Allah does not have haya’ from the truth.” (33:53)

Exploiting Haya’

Do not take advantage of another person’s haya’. Someone who has haya’ will be sensitive and considerate of others, and will be shy of making fun of others. An example of this is when you compliment something of another and they offer it to you out of haya’, you should not take it. If you obtain something using the sword of haya’, it is haram.

Haya’ vs. Being Firm?

Haya’ does not mean weakness. The Prophet (s) was not weak, but he had haya’. An example of this is the Battle of Uhud, where the majority of Companions wanted to do something, and the Prophet (s) disagreed but went with the shura (general consensus). Afterwards, some of the companions were worried that they pressured the Prophet (s), but he (s) said:

Fa ‘itha ‘azmata fa tawakal ‘ala Allah.

If you make a decision, have reliance and faith in Allah.

The Prophet (s) taught the companions to be self-dependent and not rely on other people. If someone would drop his siwak, or his horsewhip, they would get down and get it themselves.

Can we have friends of the opposite gender?

The believing men and the believing women are awliya’ of each other. Wali (which is singular of awliya’) means protector, guardian, custodian, friend, steward. Steven Covey talks about how we are stewards of each other. If we violate something or do something wrong, we are putting each other at risk. Examples of this are drinking and driving or running a red light.  Be respectful of each other you are brothers and sisters. Be protective and considerate of each other. Do not be overly considerate and nice (i.e. “you look cute today!”) Do not cross the line and share intimate feelings or become too friendly. How would you want your husband to talk to you if he was not married to you? How would you behave in front of your spouse with the opposite gender?

If excessive haya’ is never bad, what if someone takes advantage of it?

Let it go, unless they are doing it viciously. Then address it. Deal with them on their mental level (khudi ‘ala ‘addi ‘alu).

What about different boundaries for gender relations?
Some people do not think complimenting the opposite gender is wrong.

In American culture complimenting the opposite gender is flirting, so how is that acceptable?



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