Hayah: More than a journey to God

With recent inflammatory statements made by a certain British politician, denigrating the niqaab or face veil, it got me thinking about the concept of modesty in a western world. As well as sparking heated debate across the British public, these comments also lead me to think about my own personal understanding of modesty, as a believer and a British female.

Many people believe that the hijab (covering) that Muslims don is something inherently societal in nature. That is to say, often both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, equate the modesty espoused by Islam and Shari’ah as something which is a function of a healthy and holistic Muslim society and/or community. That modesty is necessary for the sake of upholding sexual morality and/or resisting the sexualisation of society through the dress of the individuals that make up that society/community. It is a notion based on the idea that the individual makes the whole and the whole maintains and perpetuates the attributes or ideals of their given place of residence. Although I agree with this sentiment, I must admit that I think there is something lacking in this notion. There is, I believe, something far more fundamental to the importance of hijab and/or modesty, particularly in today’s day and age.

Modesty in Islam can be defined, like all things, with the Quran- as the word of Allah- when He says: (to the meaning of)

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! God is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their chests, and not to reveal their adornment.” (Quran 24:30)

Here we see clear instruction to the physical actions of modesty, i.e. lowering the gaze and covering the body. However, what strikes me in this verse is the part that states, “God is aware of what they do…”. Why is this so important? For me, this is a striking reminder that although things mights be prescribed for the believers and are obviously physical and/or ritual (like covering or praying or fasting) it is, ultimately, about remembering Allah (Azzawajjal). Just as this verse relates the action back to Allah’s ever-presence, so too should all actions be considered as actions that represent an internal state. In this case, one hopes to lower the gaze and cover the body, not for the sake of ritual, but rather because the inward state of any believer is one of an innate shyness with God, that just organically manifests in outward actions.

Of course, this is perhaps an ideal state but it is one we hope to attain because hayah really is an attribute not just of a mere Muslim, but of a true believer or mu’min. And that is a person whose actions are ultimately and sincerely for God. The messenger of Allah (sallalaho alahi wa alihi wasalim) has so eloquently explained, in his boundless perfection, that Allah is far more pleased with a pure heart than a perfected outward form. And in his (sallalaho alayhi wa alihi wasalims) noble words, he says regarding modesty, that which sums up this writing; (to the meaning of)

“God is more deserving than other people of shyness.” (Abu Dawood)

We ask Allah to give us hayah in our prayers and intimate conversations with Him and that he solidifies this action of modesty into a state of hayah and he turns that state into a permanent attribute of modesty in the very essence of us as believers, and he allows that to remain in us always, and then manifest in our actions with the world. Ameen.
Allah give us tawfiq, in modesty and let it be our companion in our journey to Him (azzawajjal). Ameen