Like the Arabic words, Barakat, Ghairah and Taqwaa, another word, Hayaa, also cannot be translated into English in a single word. These words have a complete concept that English-Speaking nations definitely lack. In one of the old issues of Al-Farooq we have published a news wherein during an investigating commission, probably Rwanda case, a European female judge declared an African male witness as defiant because he was not looking directly towards her face. He was either keeping his gaze lower or avoiding the eye-contact with her as his religious practice or cultural value.
Google declares this word as “roughly corresponding to: bashfulness, decency, modesty, shyness, or shame) is an Arabic word that means "natural or inherent, shyness and a sense of modesty”. In Islamic terminology, it is mainly used in the context of modesty.
Unfortunately in a competition of imitating West, the Muslims are also leaving the practice of Hayaa. A Muslim father, now, sends his daughter to co-education institute and proudly introduces his daughter as “bold”.
Following piece describes a Quraanic event in the perspective with a different but interesting angle.
Hot, hungry, thirsty, and fearing for his safety, the Prophet Hadhrat Moosaa (Moses) arrives to the city of Madyan. Chased by the Pharaonic forces of the time, following the innocent killing of a member of the elite Coptic community, Hadhrat Moosaa has fled from Egypt enveloped in a state of fear. Gone are the days of luxury and comfort in the palace of the Pharaoh. Now Hadhrat Moosaa finds himself away from home, desperate and disheveled, surrounded by unfamiliarity, hoping and praying for guidance and protection from his Lord.
Having settled briefly, still suffering from fatigue and overwhelming thirst, Hadhrat Moosaa comes across a water-well used by local shepherds to water their flock. On closer inspection, Hadhrat Moosaa finds a group of men watering their flocks from the well, but perhaps more surprisingly, he also notices two women keeping themselves to one side, waiting for these shepherds to finish so they can provide for their own flocks.
It is during this instance that Hadhrat Moosaa, seizing on an opportunity to perform a noble deed as befits his Prophetic status, ignores his weariness and exhaustion and offers to help these two women water their flocks. After these women explain to Hadhrat Moosaa that they cannot water their flock until the shepherds take away their sheep from the water, and that their father is a very old man who cannot help them, Hadhrat Moosaa removes the huge boulder covering the mouth of well and comes to the aid of these two young women.
On completion of this charitable deed, Hadhrat Moosaa then retreats to the shade, protecting his drained body from the sapping heat, and in a private moment with his Lord, says:
فَسَقَى لَهُمَا ثُمَّ تَوَلَّى إِلَى الظِّلِّ فَقَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي لِمَا أَنْزَلْتَ إِلَيَّ مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَقِيرٌ [القصص: 24]
“My Lord, I am in need of whatever good you send down to me.” (Al-Qasas 28:24)
After some time, Hadhrat Moosaa looks up to notice one of these two women walking towards him. In describing this walk, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) tells us of the bashful demeanor of this noble woman, walking towards Hadhrat Moosaa with shyness worthy of such high praise that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) mentions it specifically in his glorious book. Befitting her modest nature and conduct, this woman then says to Hadhrat Moosaa:
إِنَّ أَبِي يَدْعُوكَ لِيَجْزِيَكَ أَجْرَ مَا سَقَيْتَ لَنَا [القصص: 25]
“Verily, my father is calling you, so that he may give you a reward for watering our animals.” (Al-Qasas 28:25)
Notably, the invitation was not aimed directly at Hadhrat Moosaa from her, lest he have some suspicious thoughts about her. Rather she said:
“My father is inviting you so that he may reward you for watering our sheep,” i.e., to give you some payment for that, as if to emphasize her humble nature.
The story goes on, and eventually Hadhrat Moosaa ends up marrying one of these two women before embarking on his challenges with the Pharaoh and the children of Israel.
So, why mention this story?
The story of Hadhrat Moosaa covers many pages of the Book of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), with details of his story explained more in depth than that of many other stories of the Prophets of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). From his earliest days as a baby placed in a basket to contend with the forceful currents of the river Nile, to his time with the Children of Israel and all the challenges he faced both with and from them, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) provides us with vivid descriptions of Moosaa’s life story. This particular passage of the story, narrated in Soorat al-Qasas, is one of many such examples. But are these details of any relevance? Do they add anything to our overall understanding of Hadhrat Moosaa’s story?
In order to answer this question, we must appreciate the status the book that is relating this story. A book whose Aayaat (Verses) are protected and explained in detail, from the all-Wise, Well-acquainted Lord of the heavens and the earth. A book that, if it were to be revealed on a mountain:
لَوْ أَنْزَلْنَا هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَى جَبَلٍ لَرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعًا مُتَصَدِّعًا مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِبُهَا لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ [الحشر: 21
“Had We sent down this Quraan to a mountain, you would have seen it humbled, burst apart out of awe for Allah. We cite such examples for people, so that they may ponder.” (Al-Hashr 59:21)
A book in which there is ‘no doubt’, and to which falsehood shall not come to it from before it nor from behind it:
لَوْ أَنْزَلْنَا هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَى جَبَلٍ لَرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعًا مُتَصَدِّعًا مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِبُهَا لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ [الحشر: 21]
“that cannot be approached by falsehood, neither from its front, nor from its behind — a revelation from the All-Wise, the Ever-Praised.” (Fussilat 41:42)
A book revealed by the One, and only Lord of the Universe, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), who created, legislated and ordained everlasting pleasure for conformity and sincere obedience and painful punishment for defiance and disobedience.
Having appreciated the importance of every single word of the Quraan, one can now perhaps reflect more appropriately on the portion of the Aayah describing the walk of the woman towards Moosaa:
فَجَاءَتْهُ إِحْدَاهُمَا تَمْشِي عَلَى اسْتِحْيَاءٍ [القصص: 25]
“Then one of the two women came to him, walking with Hayaa (shyly, bashfully).” (Al-Qasas 28:25)
An observant reader may ask whether the story would be any different if we did not know about all this detail. Does it really make any difference whether this woman walked normally or shyly? After all, the rest of the story is related to Hadhrat Moosaa and this description does not have much impact on the how the rest of the story unfolds.
An honest student and disciple of the Quraan however would accept that every word used by Allah in His book has been perfectly positioned, with each Aayah filled with linguistic eloquence matched by no other book ever read by man.
But what about that walk?
The sense of shyness and humility we get from this woman is something for the Muslim to reflect on. In an era where such shyness or introversion is seen in some quarters as a possible manifestation of anxiety, lack of self-confidence, or even a social disorder, taking a moment to reflect on why Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) chose to mention this noteworthy trait of these women is of great benefit.
A simple “Google” search reveals the characteristic of shyness being associated with apprehension, awkwardness, low self-esteem and so on; characteristics that any individual of integrity would want to avoid. But as Muslims, do we see shyness in the same way? If Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) chose this word to describe this woman as she walked towards Hadhrat Mooaa, did He mean it in a complimentary or blameworthy manner? Is it bad to be shy?!
A saying of the Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) sheds light on the matter, where we are told that:
الْحَيَاءُ لَا يَأْتِي إِلَّا بِخَيْرٍ
Hayaa does not bring anything but goodness. (Bukhari)
Elsewhere we are told even more emphatically:
الْحَيَاءُ شُعْبَةٌ مِنْ الْإِيمَانِ
Hayaa is a branch of faith.” (Bukhari)
Furthermore, we hear that the exalted character of the beloved Prophet (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) was described to be “more shy than a virgin in seclusion.”
كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَشَدَّ حَيَاءً مِنْ الْعَذْرَاءِ فِي خِدْرِهَا فَإِذَا رَأَى شَيْئًا يَكْرَهُهُ عَرَفْنَاهُ فِي وَجْهِهِ
“The Prophet (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) was more shy than a virgin in seclusion. If he saw something that he disliked, we would see it on his face.” (Bukhari)
In an age where arrogance, immodesty, brashness and sometimes outright disrespect can be often looked upon fondly by some, the sincere Muslim remains firm in the knowledge of what characteristics please his creator. The young Muslim boy who emulates his favorite footballer’s ‘cocky’ traits, or the young Muslim girl who sees the ‘prettiest’ women on TV as those who wear very little and show far too much, or even the highly qualified Muslim academic who holds an esteemed position, or the affluent and successful Muslim businessman who is blessed with great riches and wealth, must remember that shyness, modesty and humbleness is an honor for the true slave of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Never should a Muslim feel that being humble will hamper their progress in this pretentious world. Rather our focus is on our Aakhirah (Hereafter), attributing importance to that which will lead us to gardens of bliss and delight. Social vices such as outlandish dress sense, vulgar language and sexual openness and obscenity unbecoming of human beings, all combine to make that ‘shy’ trait even more difficult to hold on to. Very rarely does the media present to us a humble role-model for us to look up to and learn from. Shyness is slowly becoming that ‘black sheep’ characteristic.
Amongst all of these tribulations, the Muslim holds firm to his faith, and the characteristics it brings with it. The Muslim is humble yet firm, concise yet polite, modest yet confident, and shy yet totally and utterly content. As related to us by the best of all creation, Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam):
إِنَّ مِمَّا أَدْرَكَ النَّاسُ مِنْ كَلاَمِ النُّبُوَّةِ الأُولَى إِذَا لَمْ تَسْتَحِي فَاصْنَعْ مَا شِئْتَ
“One of the sayings of the early Prophets which the people have got is: If you don’t feel ashamed (do whatever you like.” (Bukhari)
So the next time we have the inclination to be boastful, to reveal more of our bodies than what Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has given permission us to, or to be condescending and crass in our behavior towards others, just remember how Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) praised that lady’s walk and look to your heart and think, “do I want to be of those that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) praises on the Day of Judgement too?”
Why look to your heart? Because as related by Ibn al Qayyim “the strength of one’s modesty and shyness relies on the strength of one’s heart.”
May Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) grant us the blessing of embodying these beautiful traits and save us from that which incurs his wrath upon us. Aameen!