The Importance of Modesty in the Islamic Worldview
Modesty has a vital role to play in character-building. It restrains a man from behaving in an undesirable manner and acts as a shield against lewdness and immorality. It holds the key to piety and good-doing.
(1) It is related by Zaid bin Talha; he relates that the Apostle of God said: “Every religion has a distinctive quality, and the distinctive quality of Islam is modesty”
Mowatta, Ibn-i-Maja and Baihaqi
It shows that in every faith or canonic law, some particular aspect of moral behaviour receives paramount attention and an extraordinary emphasis is laid on it. Thus, compassion and forbearance form the cardinal point of the teachings of Jesus. In Islam, in the same way, modesty is of fundamental significance.
It needs, however, be emphasized that the word ‘modesty’ is used in a very wide sense in the special terminology of the Qur’an and the Traditions. In the common usage, what it signifies, simply, is that a man avoided lewdness and kept away from lustful and indecent acts. But, in Islam, it appears that it stands for a state of feeling which is intolerant of everything that is not desirable and produces a reaction of disgust and agony within anyone who, knowingly or unknowingly, falls into an error or behaves in a manner having a semblance of sinfulness.
We learn, further, from the Qur’an and the Traditions that modesty is not in relation merely to our own species, but the greatest claim, on it, is of the Supreme Being who created man and is sustaining him, from moment to moment, and from whom nothing is hidden. Or, let us take it this way: a modest man is, generally, inclined to feel shy in the presence of his parents and other elders and benefactors, and God being the King of Kings and the Benefactor of Benefactors, the: bondsman should, naturally, be modest and humble, in the highest degree, in respect of Him, the primary requirement of which will be that he felt pain and repugnance at everything that was displeasing to God, and, therefore, abstained from it.
(2) It is narrated by Abdullah b. Umar that, (once) the Apostle of God passed by an Ansari who, [at that time], was talking to his brother about modesty and admonishing him in that regard. The Prophet, thereupon, said to him: “Leave him to his state, for modesty is a part (or fruit) of Faith.”
– Buhkari and Muslim
It tells that, among the Ansars, there was a man whom God had, particularly, blessed with the virtue of modesty owing to which he was very mild and lenient in his dealings with others. He avoided severity in the realization of dues and did not like to be outspoken even when it seemed necessary. A brother of his who did not approve of it was, one day, reproaching him and telling him that it was not good to be so timid and diffident that the sacred Prophet happened to pass that way, and on hearing the conversation, told the Ansar to leave his brother alone. His was a highly blessed condition. Modesty was a branch, or fruit, of Faith, and even if it was not profitable from the point of view of worldly interests, it would, surely, lead to elevation in ranks in the Hereafter.
(3) It is related by Abdullah b. Umar that the Apostle of God said: “Modesty and Faith exist together, and when one of them goes out, the other, too, goes out.”
It shows that Faith and modesty are so closely related to each other that either both will be present in an individual or community or not any of them.
(4) It is related by Imran b. Husain that the Apostle of God said: “Modesty brings nothing but good.”
– Bukhari and Muslim
On superficial view, modesty may appear to act to one’s disadvantage, but the above Tradition insists that it, invariably, does good and leads to beneficial results, and even when from a narrow, materialistic angle, if it seems to be a drawback, there is nothing but gain in it from the larger Islamic viewpoint.
(5) It is related by Abdullah b. Masud that the Apostle of God said: “A familiar saying that has reached us from the former Apostles is that ‘when there is no modesty in you, do as you like.’”
Though the complete teachings of the earlier Apostles could not remain intact, some of the sayings and precepts have withstood the ravages of time and become proverbial, one of which is what has been referred to by the holy Prophet in the above Tradition: “When there is no modesty in you, do as you like.” There is a similar proverb in Persian which says: “Be shameless, and do what you like.”