Community Reflections

The Spirit of Modesty

Photo: Annelise

By Usman Siddiqui

Many Muslims – myself included — often forget about the spirit of Islam in matters of law and worship. For instance, do we not recite 114 times in the Qur’an, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” – should this not, then, be the spirit with which all our actions and deeds are performed? Is our worship for anything other than to get closer to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) – should this not, then, be the focus with which we perform every prayer? Is the essence of fasting not sacrifice for the sake of Allah (swt) – should we not, then, abandon extravagance when it comes to Ramadan?

This preamble brings me to something of which we may be losing sight: the spirit of modesty. Just as it is possible to fulfil the obligation of prayer with a few movements of bowing and a few utterances of Arabic, it is possible to fulfil the obligation of modesty with a few pieces of cloth. But while Islam does define a dress code (though not a “uniform,” as God’s messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) wore the clothes of his people), there are trends which make me wonder whether people are relegating modesty to tick-boxes of covered body-parts. If this is indeed the case, it may explain why some Muslim men do not see this tremendous virtue as one to reflect upon and develop – this is while the Qur’an in fact addresses men first and foremost with the command of modesty:

“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof.” (24:30-31)

It seems that some people get distracted by the additional commands regarding dress directed towards women, distracted enough to forget about one’s own state before God, to forget about bringing this virtue to permeate one’s life. (And if anybody is confused as to why God, the Wise, specified a higher degree of covering for women, then I call upon you to reflect – without prejudice – on concepts of beauty and human nature, but this is a separate discussion for which enough space on bookshelves is already devoted. It is also a travesty that often well-intentioned Muslim speakers, when speaking about this, often divert their focus to the female gender or immediately bring up the hijab, not knowing that the male members of the audience flick a switch and coast until the topic of modesty is over.

In this short reminder, I cannot impart all there is to say on the realities of modesty, shyness, hayaa – this is something which requires reflection on the Qur’an, reflection on the shama’il (character traits) of the Prophet ﷺ, reflection on the righteous (Uthman ibn Affan radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) – yes, a man! – is celebrated in particular for his hayaa), and indeed reflection on the society around us. Most importantly, I want to call towards self-reflection regardless of whether you feel you already apply the outward requirement of modesty or not, regardless of whether you are male or female. How can we manifest it in speaking with our elders, with our friends, with our colleagues? In the websites we visit, in what we gaze at, in what we hear, and in what we allow our mind to dwell upon or desire? How can we balance it with looking presentable and dignified? How can we apply it when alone, in our self-esteem, in our intentions, and before God?

May reflection on and purification of our inward and outward states (tazkiya) be the means to attaining success from God on that Day, “The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children, But only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.” (26:88-89)

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  • Peace (“salaam”). Sorry, but as a (very late) convert I have no idea what these terms mean. Can you put them into English? Thank you. (This is a problem I have had before: Muslims who seem to think they can throw around Arabic terms without regard to whether other, non-Arab and non-traditional, persons can understand them or not. Is Islam a message for all of humanity? If so, it can be expressed at least minimally in every human language on earth in addition to Arabic.)

    • Wa alaikum as salam (and on you, peace).

      It is sometimes a difficulty we have, but I have found Google to generally be helpful in discovering these terms when I read them – just type the word and it usually leads somewhere with at least a basic description.

      Haya, as far as I can tell, essentially translates as shyness and modesty (

      I saw a video on YouTube by Omar Suleiman called something like Fundamentals of Aqeedah (aqeedah = creed, or beliefs, I guess) in which he explained some common terms at the start, which might help?

      Anyway, I hope this helps.

      • Thank you. However, I was referring to the previous poster’s use of the terms ‘tazkiyyah’ and ‘tafakkur’. This is a matter I have mentioned before. Yes, in rare instances there may be a few terms which are adopted into another language, as happened in Anglo-Saxon (and thus later English) when Christianity was introduced into England, but I submit that in many cases there can be perfectly legitimate and useful expressions in the target language, so that so-called technical (Arabic, in this case) terms are unneeded and may actually hinder the spread of the message of Islam.

        Whether we like it or not (in my opinion), in the minds of many westerners (again, wrongly, I would say) Islam and Muslims are “strange,” “foreign,” “funny,” “not like us,” “not for us.” Obviously Muslims need not adopt those aspects of western culture which are clearly non-Islamic, but I do not see that they need to use “foreign” terminology to express their positions when there are perfectly usable terms in the western languages, and thereby hindering the spread of Islam.

        If we want to spread the message of Islam, why should we expect that people have to “Google” to understand us? (And I will point out that the same applies to many new Muslims who may be shaky in their faith and have not learned many of these terms.)

        • I have a different way of looking at it. I am totally bilingual, and I work with other bilingual (or trilingual) people whose mix of languages is not the same as my two languages. So I’ve kind of lost the sense that there is “my” language and “other” languages.

          What happens with this is, now there is very little distinction in my mind between someone inserting into the sentence a word that I don’t know in my own languages because it’s specialised or novel or very old, and one I don’t know because it’s “foreign”. So I just ask what it means. Sometimes it wasn’t necessary to use that word. Sometimes the person is just so used to using the word he doesn’t realise it’s uncommon. Somtimes the person is bilingual and a word in the other language just pops to mind much more readily than in the other – only people who know more than one language (it doesn’t matter which languages as long as it’s more than 1) can understand this! Sometimes actually that word has a very particular nuance that makes it perfect for what he wants to express which a simpler word or a word local to the rest of the sentence just can’t quite convey in a single word. No matter what it is, it’s simply much easier and more enlightening to just ask – what does that word mean? And even a follow-up question, why’d you use that word instead of this one? In this way you have an opportunity to learn something new, remind a brother to explain himself to others better, and learn to welcome diversity in the ummah.

          While the point is true that we should make Islam accessible, and that this site is conveyed in English, we should not forget our duty as Muslims to cultivate a sincere interest in nations (this includes languages) other than ours because we have brothers and sisters of the faith in those nations. I think that’s kind of an inseparable part of one’s personal development as a Muslim. Allah made diversity on purpose (I forget which verse), directing us to know one another.

  • Dear brother Usman Siddiqui, just a sincere advice, I don’t mean to be rude, but Allah tells us to correct an error, you wrote:
    “do we not recite 114 times in the Qur’an, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful””

    I believe you meant to say 113 times, as Sura at-Taubah does not begin with the phrase bismillah ar rahman ar raheem.
    Jazakallah brother. May Allah bless you for your efforts and guide all of us. Amen.

    • but the Basmalah is mentioned twice in surah al-naml, which makes the amount of times it is mentioned in the Qur’an 114.

      May Allah bless you and the writer of the article.

    • Barakallah feek, dear sister. You are right of course, about Surat at-Taubah not beginning with the basmalah. As “M” mentioned, however, the phrase appears in verse 27:30. Quite interesting, subhanallah.

  • As-salaamu alaikum sr. iman,

    Jazak Allah Khair for the well-intended advice, but SubhanAllah, indeed Bismillah ar Rahman ar Raheem does exist 114 times in the Quran. In Surat An-Naml, it is found twice, the second in ayah 30.

    May Allah make the Quran the Spring of our hearts, Ameen! 🙂

  • Thank you for this excellent reminder ! Knowing that Allah (sw) is all around us. Being God conscious in all our interactions .

    • Good reminder indeed.
      But let’s be honest, the Ummah is in a total crisis.
      In my community, the majority of the married couples met because they had a haram relationship beforehand. Where was the modesty?

      The concept of modesty is lost on a huge number of muslims. A seemingly pious man will rather marry a lady who will swap compromising pictures and flirt and be very open with her character. Yet he wants a good muslim wife and believes a lady of little moral before marriage will make a good muslim after marriage. Interest will not be given to a girl who values pardah of her words, heart and physical beauty. Sacred is nikkah, modesty is incumbent before nikkah.
      Modesty is the trademark of Islam and it has become tarnished. May Allah forgive us and protect us.

      • Peace (salaam). I agree that we might loosely speak of a sort of “crisis” in the ummah, if we do not press things too far. However, with respect to modesty, especially regarding marriage and prospects for marriage, we have to face the reality of affairs in the western countries.

        In many traditional Muslim societies, many marriages are arranged, for good or for ill. In the western countries, such marriages are almost impossible for many individuals seeking to marry, and for converts especially. Many/most of them literally have no one to help them find a marriage partner according to traditional norms. They can be literally all alone. A man must find his own wife, and a woman must find her own husband. Indeed, for many converts, their families might outrightly refuse to get involved with family members seeking to marry, and the seekers may know almost no one in the community.

        For many people here, engaging in relationships which some traditionalists would consider haram is the only way people have to find mates. Otherwise, they have almost no prospect for marriage at all, and they cannot complete “half their deen.” They remain frustrated and alone. This is the reality of the situation, whether some purists like it or not.

        • Do not believe there is anything wrong with finding your own partner. Simply the things that are being added along with it -meeting up without a mahram present, excessive phone chats, picture exchanging, crossing the boundaries of ‘halal dating’ for marriage. Modesty is keeping a veil between the opposite sex -includes body covering, covering of words (i.e not speaking very openly), keeping heart and mind clean. That is true hijab -true modesty.

          Agreed, it is the reality of the situation. Either keep pure for your Lord and bear the hardships along the way or commit haram expecting it to ‘become halal’ in the end. May Allah save us. Commit haram and then expect Allah’s blessing to be upon that nikkah.

        • One of the realities of life in the west is that many single women literally may not have a Muslim mahram at all! This may be particularly true for female converts. They actually do not have *any* Muslim father, brother, grandfather, uncle, or even son to accompany them. This the same when it comes to a so-called wali for marriage (in the case that they have not been married before). This is reality.

          Are they required to go for their entire lives without marriage (and thus children) simply because it becomes impossible to fulfill all the expectations (requirements) laid down by some scholars centuries ago in situations which are so different as to be almost different worlds? Is there not a principle in Islamic law (fiqh) that under some circumstances hardship can alleviate what would otherwise be haraam?

      • Then that is indeed the fitna…many many Muslims have fallen so low, I have very little hope for the next generation which will say “well how did mum and dad meet, then’ ?

        • Yes I agree. How the next generation turn out will most likely be dependant on the generation of today. N if the men and women of today do not have the strength to apply Islamic belief to their actions, then we have lost the next generation already. Cannot pass on what we do not practice, if we cannot practice what we preach.

        • Peace (salaam alaikum). Where does that leave those who already, in the western countries, have grown up in circumstances other than those of traditional societies? Those who already are outside? Those who may already have children, themselves approaching marriageable age, with no “traditional” Muslim social structure to assist? Are we to say that they are hopeless cases?

          I am an “older person” who grew up totally estranged from Islam. Mohammedans [sic!]? They are funny people who have funny names who wear funny clothes and have funny customs who ride camels in the desert and worship somebody peculiar named Mohammed. That was reality to us.

          Do I, at my age, have any realistic prospect of an Islamic marriage, especially given the rigid separation of the sexes in so many places, so that I might never meet someone suitable? I suspect not.

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