Hayaa itself is derived from the same word as Hayaat which means life. This term covers a wide number of concepts. In English, no exactly compatible word is available, like “Ghairah”. However, it may be translated as modesty, shyness, self-respect, bashfulness, shame, honor, humility, etc. The actual meaning of Hayaa, according to Islamic teachings, refers to a bad and uneasy feeling accompanied by embarrassment, caused by one’s fear of being exposed or censured for some unworthy or indecent conduct.
Islamically Hayaa is an attribute which pushes the believer to avoid anything distasteful or abominable. It keeps him / her from being neglectful in giving everyone what is due upon them, and if for any reason he / she is not able to keep up with his / her commitment then they will feel extremely uncomfortable and ashamed about this. The reason being that he / she will have displeased Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) by breaking a commitment.
Hayaa plays a huge role in the lives of Muslims because it is a very important part of our Imaan (Faith / Belief). If we do not have any form of Hayaa within us then it is most likely that our Imaan is very weak. For as it states in the following Hadeeth:
Hadhrat Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said: "Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Hayaa is a part of Faith.” (Bukhari)
We also learn from the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) the importance of having Hayaa and how it is not something to be ashamed of, but instead, one should be concerned and ashamed if they do not possess it within their character.
Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Umar narrated that the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) passed by a man who was admonishing his brother regarding Hayaa and was saying: "You are very shy, and I am afraid that might harm you.”
On that, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam): "Leave him, for Hayaa is (a part) of Faith.” (Bukhari)
Now the above Hadeeth is also a form of proof that "shyness” is not just something regarding women but also an attribute that believing men should have, for it is an indication if their fear of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and an indication of the value of their Deen (Religion).
When we think back to when we were young around eight or nine years old — we all remember this feeling of shyness and humility naturally occurring — for many it was when we felt we wanted to conceal our bodies from our mums or siblings. We were often told — "don’t be silly” or "we have seen it all before” and the many other comments that people in the west or ignorant Muslim parents affected by the western values (or lack of them) say to their pure children. If these natural instincts of shyness and shame are taken by the smart parent and nurtured, it will develop and affect their entire character and also most importantly lead to a conscious responsible Muslim who prioritize their life towards submission to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
We often find that shyness, humility and bashfulness is frowned upon by our society as a weakness or a lack of confidence when, in fact these are quality of a dignified upright human being, who is conscious of their actions and their responsibilities in life.
Now to discuss the different types of Hayaa. How many types of Hayaa are there?
Hayaa is of two kinds: good and bad:
The good Hayaa is to be ashamed to commit a sin or a thing which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and His Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) has forbidden, and bad Hayaa is to feel ashamed to do a thing, which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and His Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) ordered to do.
Firstly, to talk about the types of Good Hayaa. For example, anyone who is a believer, he / she should build their personalities and their character with the good dimensions of Hayaa. The most important is that he / she must be shy of doing anything displeasing to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), with the belief that he / she will have to answer for all their deeds. If one develops a sense such as this one, it will help the believer to obey all of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s commands and to stay away from sins. Once the believer realizes that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is watching us all the time and we will have to answer to every move we make in this Dunyaa (World), he / she would not neglect any order from Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) or His Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam). So the stronger this sense of Hayaa becomes, the more it motivates one to make sure that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) doesn’t see him / her doing anything prohibited. The way to develop this Hayaa is that one must keep learning and absorbing more knowledge and applying it to their lives.
Another type of Hayaa is more of a social aspect concerning others besides Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Normally these things often come in regard with ones relationship with family. For instance, a child not wanting to do something displeasing to his mother, or a wife not wanting to do something displeasing to her husband or even a student who is careful about saying something incorrect in front of his teacher.
Last, but not least, is the type of Hayaa in which the believers become shy of themselves. This is when they have reached the peak of their Imaan. What this means is that if they do, or say, or see, anything wrong or even commit the tiniest sin, they start to feel extremely bad and embarrassed or they feel extreme guilt in their heart. This builds a high degree of self-consciousness and that is what strengthens the believers’ commitment to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
After discussing the various types of "beneficial” Hayaa, it is time to discuss the type of Hayaa which is not only against the teachings of our Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) but it is also solid proof of the weakness of someone’s Imaan. This negative aspect revolves around a person’s shamefulness or shyness of doing something that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has ordered us to do through the Quraan or our Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s Sunnah. This constitutes the shamefulness or embarrassment of doing a lawful act or something that is ordered upon us from Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Meaning for someone not to follow an obligation of Islam, due the fact of being shy in front of others about it. This is totally forbidden because then one is giving the people of this Dunyaa more respect than the One who Created this whole universe. It also means if someone is shy or afraid to seek knowledge of Islam for worldly reasons, because they do not want others to see them or to know of their ignorance. This once again goes contrary to what Allah ((Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has told us in the Quraan, which is to seek knowledge and preach it to others. In this society there are many examples. People will go out and get degrees in law schools, or science, or engineering and they will put four to six years of their lives studying for this stuff that will only benefit them in this world. Why? You ask? Well most likely, in this society people including Muslims, choose their careers according to how much money they will make and what status they will have in this society as to being a lawyer or a doctor etc. They do not realize that in Islam the best stature of a Muslim is that of a “Daa’ee” (Preacher) or a “Mu’allim” (Teacher) of Islam.
These Islamic positions are even higher in the eyes of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) then one who only sits at home and does Ibaadah (Worship). If they want to study law, why not Islamic Shari’ah? If they want to study science, why not Islamic Science? So this explains how people consider the worldly careers to be of higher value and are embarrassed to even express an interest in Islamic Studies. It is usually because they will not be considered as high as the other "educated” people. This is having the bad Hayaa or "shame” of something that is encouraged to us by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and His Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam). This is another proof of bad Hayaa is that which is extremely popular amongst many sisters and brothers in this western society.
One of the most important aspects of Hayaa, for women, is that of guarding their chastity and their modesty. To do this they must follow the order from Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) telling them to keep hidden themselves and their adornments from all men lawful to them in marriage. Now this order involves all the aspects of Hayaa for those who do follow it. The believing and following women are ashamed of disobeying Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). They are shy of the opposite gender in this society because of what they might experience if strange men look at them and lastly they have Hayaa because they are ashamed of going out in public and committing this grave sin of displaying their beauty is public. There are many women in this society who claim that they have Hayaa but to follow the order of Hijaab is backwards and that women in this society shouldn’t have to cover, is obviously disbelief. For if someone really had Hayaa they would never contradict anything that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has ordained upon us even if they found it a test and a trial. A women’s Hayaa comes from her modesty and her shyness and her fear of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), so how can she claim she has Hayaa if she walks around in public un-veiled? Proof lies in the following Hadeeth.
Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Umar narrated that the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said: "Indeed Hayaa and Imaan are companions. When one of them is lifted, the other leaves as well.” (Baihaqi)
There are many Aayaat (Verses) in the Quraan and many Ahaadeeth explaining the reasons behind observing Hijaab. The Islamic Shari’ah has not stopped at giving the Commandments of Hijaab, it has also clarified every such thing which directly relates to these commandments and, with the slightest carelessness, may result in vulgarity and immodesty. In other words such things have also been forbidden in order to close the doors to indecency and lewdness, in return providing a stronger pillar for Hayaa.
Modesty and maintaining one’s honor and dignity (or the broader Islamic term Hayaa) are of primary importance in preserving the moral fiber of any society. This is why modesty has been called the ornament of a woman, which protects her from many sins and which prevents ill-intentioned men from daring to have bad thoughts about her. This Hayaa has been made a part of her nature to safeguard her from being abused by immoral men.
Hadhrat Anas bin Malik narrated that the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said: “When lewdness is a part of anything, it becomes defective; and when Hayaa is a part of anything it becomes beautiful. (At-Tirmizi)
So it is only obvious that Hijaab plays an extremely important role in regards to Hayaa. For Hijaab prevents lewdness and Hayaa backs this up and then person’s Imaan becomes even stronger. Therefore both things work together in a partnership. At the time of our beloved Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) as soon as the Aayaat of Hijaab were revealed, all the Muhaajireen and Ansar ran home to their wives and daughters and close female relatives to tell them to cover themselves. The ones who had veils used them and the ones who did not have veils made some right away. For instance the following Hadeeth tells us: Hadhrat ‘Aaishah narrated that when the Aayah, "That they should draw their veils over their bosoms” was revealed, they tore their thick outer garments and made veils from them. And when the Aayah "That they should cast their outer garments over themselves” was revealed, the women of Ansar came out as if they had crows over their heads by wearing outer garments. (Abu Daawood)