What comes to mind when someone talks about modesty? Not wearing that low-cut top when your dad is around? Come now, modesty is about more than what we wear, and it is not just a women’s issue, either. So, guys, pay attention.
Inner vs outer
Modesty, or haya’ in Arabic, comes in two forms: inner and outer. Outer is obvious: cover your body. Inner modesty is discussed less and harder to identify, it includes how we feel, the thoughts we have, and the decisions we make.
Some people adopt an outer modesty but have an extremely low level of inner modesty. For example, if a guy wears a thobe every day and has a sunnah beard glorifying his chin, but he doesn’t stop boasting about his gym routine and posting his weight-lifting snaps every day, then what’s the point of his outer modesty? A hijabi could be a member of the Islamic society, yet she is constantly cussing and publicly screaming vulgarities – what’s the point of the hijab on her head? Inner modesty truly is from your heart, and it isn’t something you can suddenly decide to do one day; it takes training.
Build yourself up
Your outer modesty should reflect the modesty you hold inside. What happens to our skin when we put too much junk food in our bodies or don’t drink enough water? We breakout. Pimples emerge across our face, making us hide behind creams and concealers for weeks on end. What happens when we hit the gym and pump the weights? Our bodies hopefully tone up with that coveted sculpted look. But it doesn’t happen overnight. We can’t do one core workout and wake up with abs of steel the next morning, and inner modesty works in the same way. We must constantly perfect, nurture and exercise it from inside, and eventually, it will start to show on the outside as well.
Haya’ is seeing the signs and being aware of one’s shortcomings. Out of these two will arise a state of haya’. In reality, haya is a character trait that encourages a person to avoid shameful things and prevents one from neglecting the rights of the one who deserves them most.” (Narrated by Al-Junayd)
Where to start?
Self-reflection is a big stepping stone towards inner modesty. We don’t need an Islamic Studies degree from Madinah University to know which shameful acts we should stay away from. However, knowing what to stay away from and actually staying away are two very different things. You don’t want to be seen as childish for not swearing. Being softly spoken? Forget it! No one will take us seriously and think we’re a pushover. Everyone might think you’re boring if you don’t post that provocative bathroom selfie. After all, let’s be honest here, if we look good, we want people to see it!
Is this really the reality we want to live in, following what everyone else thinks?
Think of anyone you have ever admired, whether a celebrity, a person from history, or an inspiring blogger on Instagram. No one got to that level by being the same as everyone else. They stood out from the crowd and were confident in what made them special and unique. So, we should reflect on our behavior and think about how we present ourselves. Is the person we are showing to the world really someone we’ll want to be in the future?
Inspiration from the past
You’ve decided that it’s time to change, and you’re ready to add sincerity and substance to your character, but where do you begin? What does inner modesty even look like? Take a look at a real-life example: Uthman Ibn Affan (see, I told you modesty was for the guys, as well!)
Uthman Ibn Affan was an extremely handsome man, and he was the one companion who resembled the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the most. As a result of his good looks, naturally, a lot of women wanted him. But Uthman didn’t engage in a promiscuous lifestyle, even before he became Muslim. Uthman’s voice was extremely soft and gentle. His words were never harsh, in tone or in content. It was said that his voice was so soft, those around him would lean closer just so they could listen to him. Do people lean in when you speak?
One of the key qualities that made Uthman a role model for modesty was his humility and generosity. He didn’t boast about his achievements or advertise his accomplishments, and even though he was blessed with a lot of wealth, he didn’t squander it on himself. He gave it away. But again, his perfect modesty meant he didn’t showcase the money he gave to charity.
One day, Uthman saw a poor young boy come into the masjid. He gave the boy a shirt and hid 10,000 dirhams inside. He instructed the boy to go home and show his new shirt to his parents. In this way, Uthman helped someone less fortunate than himself, but he didn’t make a huge public display of it.
Practice made simple for you
Feeling inspired? Ready to train that inner modesty? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Keep your speech clean. Cussing may seem light-hearted, but it can harden your heart sometimes and block your path to a calm and happy life.
- Strengthen your iman. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said. “Haya’ and iman are two companions, so when one increases, the other also increases.” (Narrated by Al-Hakim). Start with the basics – Allah. You believe He exists, right? So, get to know Him. What is Allah like? What does He want from us? What does Allah love?
- Keep your prayer consistent. I know it’s hard and life can get extremely busy sometimes, but prayer is our daily reminder of who we are and why we are here. Not to mention it’s the perfect time to separate yourself from the chaos and stress of your day. See prayer time as your time out. Just press pause and take a breather. Soon, you’ll find comfort in those valuable moments. Start off easy. Remember, this is a training. Start with just the obligatory prayers and slowly work your way up to the sunnah and optional prayers.
- Be truthful. When we’re telling the truth, it clears our minds and we can relax. Deceit bogs us down and stresses us out, keeping us on edge the whole time. Keeping that mobile phone a secret from your parents is causing some high-level anxiety – ditch it!
- Read about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions. They were real people with real problems. If they can achieve inner modesty, so can we!
- Avoid negative environments. We all know what a toxic situation feels like – and that goes for both online and offline. Keep your head down, take a social media detox for a bit, and see how much better you feel.
Set yourself a challenge over the next month, trying each of the points above. You will notice a massive difference in the way you interact with people and even the way they interact with you. Achieving inner modesty is calming and enlightening. It softens your heart and brings a level of tranquility into your life. Try it and be honest with yourself: which way of living do you prefer?
The Adab Series
This article part of our Adab Series. Click below for more great adab advice.