The Quranic word Al-ayâ’ is translated as “modesty, shyness, moderation and decency” in English.  It carries the sense of “diffidence, reserve, timidity, hesitancy in self-assertion,” especially before the awesome Allah, but also in accord with holding in reverence all those in Allah’s creation and one’s own place in it.   In Arabic, the opposite of ayâ is isha (to be shameful, dishonorable;  brash, defiant, uninhibited, shameless; lewd or obscene).

The Arabic root word of ayâ’ is Ḥa – Yi – Ya (ﺡ- ﻯ- ﻯ)  with the meaning of “to live.”  From the same root comes another noun ayât, which means “‘life.” Various forms of this Arabic verb root mean “to preserve life, to restore life, to give life.”  The sense of “moved with bashfulness,” “shrinking from or abstaining from something inappropriate” or “shunning or keeping oneself away from something disliked”  are related to the Grammatical Verb Form X having the nuance of “trying to cause life or trying to save” life. (Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, p. 680, Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge University Press, 1984 (1863)

In fact, aya’ is an instinct, ingrained in human nature. The importance Alayâ in everyday life is highlighted by the Holy ProphetSAAW in his famous Hadith:

“Faith consists of more than seventy branches. And ayâ(modesty) is a part of faith.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari  9)

Considering the fact that Alayâis connected with faith and life, a believer must exhibit the following levels of modesty in his/her everyday life, to be fully modest:

  • ayâwith AllahSWT
  • ayâwith the angels
  • ayâwith the MessengerSAAW of Allah
  • ayâwith Oneself: The self-purifier
  • ayâwith People:  The social virtue, means of social reform

ayâwith Allah:
This is the highest level of modesty.  At this level, one exercises ayâ/ modesty with invisible entities, even with articles of Faith: Belief in “Allah and His Angels, in His Books (the Revelations), in His Messengers, in His Decrees, in the Hereafter, and in the Resurrection on the Day of Resurrection.”

The practice of ayâ at this level equates to Taqwa, because a believer knows that Allah is Ever-Watchful over him, that He knows everything he does, and that none of our actions go unseen:

“Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you.”  [Surah Al-Nisâ’, 4:1]

AllahSWT is always forth-coming when it comes to telling the Truth, if necessary, even putting forward parable/s, to make mankind understand the essence of Revelation, even if the parable involves the mention of creatures held in condescension , like a gnat, a fly, a mosquito, an ant or a spider:

Verily, Allah is not ashamed to set forth a parable, even of a gnat, or something bigger or smaller than it…  [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:26]

There were circumstances in the lifetime of the ProphetSAAW where AllahSWT directly admonished the Messenger, either for doing something not befitting the conduct of a Prophet, or for preventing him from falling into falsehood by following the whims of disbelievers:

“Verily, if you follow their desires (in the matter of Qiblah), after that which you have received of knowledge (from Allah), then indeed you will be one of the alimun (wrong-doers)” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:145)

“But as to him who came to you running, and is afraid (of Allah and His punishment), of him you are neglectful and divert you attention to another…”  (Surah ‘Abasa, 80: 8-10)

But Allah is shy and concealing in the matters about Himself, as he veils Himself behind the layers of Light, and when it comes to concealing the privacy of His creations:

Or have they some “partners” (in Godhead)?  Then let them produce their “partners” if they are truthful! Remember the Day (of Resurrection) when the shinbone shall be laid bare, and they shall be called to prostrate in adoration, but they shall not be able to (prostate).  [Surah Al-Qalam, 68:41-42]

The Holy ProphetSAW said:

“Allah will lay bare His Shinbone, and all the Believers, men and women, will prostrate themselves before Him…  (Sahih Al-Bukhari 4919)

He also said:

“Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, is forbearing, modest and concealing, and He loves modesty and concealment…”  (Sunan al-Nasa’i 406)

Interestingly, in the Holy Qur’an, most body parts have been mentioned, some of them with great detail like the structures of the head with face, eyes, ears, and nose. But when it comes to mentioning the awrah (private parts), the Qur’an shies away from explicit details.  The closest that the Holy Qur’an comes in this subject is “When he covers her” (a euphemism implicitly implying sexual relation, but not directly mentioning the action):

It is He Who has created you from a single person (Adam) and (then) He has created from him his wife [Hawwa /Eve], in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her.  When he covered her, she carries a light burden and carries it around…   [Surah Al-A’raf, 7:189]

Glory be to Allah!

As a sign of ayâ, anything to do with sexuality takes place in darkness, away from the visibility of the created things: it may be in the womb of the mother, or in the womb of the earth, or in the darkness of the night:

And we have appointed the night and the day as two Ayat (Signs).  Then we have obliterated the sign of the night with darkness…  [Surah Al-Isra’, 17:12]

He creates you in the wombs of your mothers: creation after creation in three veils of darkness…  [Surah Al-Zumar, 39:6]

Even in the visible world, the sanctity of private parts (awrah) is preserved by their locations in body, and away from the exposed parts of the body.

Similar in concealment is that AllahSWT sees and knows all, but He shies away from exposing the wrongdoings of His slaves.

“On the Day of Judgment, He will conceal the mistakes of those who conceal the mistake of their brother.” (Mishkat al-Masabih 204)

And He it is Who accepts repentance from His slaves, and forgive sins, and He knows what you do.  [Surah Al-Shûrâ, 42:25]

Believers are admonished not to be hasty, but to retain their modesty —their hesitancy— with AllahSAW and His MessengerSAAW, in the matters of war or religion.  Allah and His Messenger’s decision in these matters, must be treated as a Decree, because AllahSWT knows best: He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing; He has Eternal Knowledge:

“O you who believe! Make not (a decision) in advance, before Allah and His Messenger, and fear Allah.  Verily, Allah is All-Hearing All-Knowing.”  (Surah Al-Ḥujarat, 49:1)

ayâ’ with the Angels:

As regards the angels, a believer knows that angels are with him all the time, notably our Honorable Recording Angels, the Kiraman Katibin.  Angels are invisible forces of Allah;  beside their specific duties, they ask forgiveness for those on earth: and reassure the Believers, and give them glad tidings of Paradise:

Allah and His angels keep on sending blessings to the Believers:

He it is Who sends Salat (His blessings) on you, and His angels too (ask Allah to bless and forgive you), that He may bring you out from darkness…  [Surah Al-Aḥzâb, 33:43]

The opposite is true for the disbelievers.  AllahSWT, His angels, and the believers, “curse” the non-believers:

Verily, those who disbelieve and die while they are disbelievers, it is they on whom rests the Curse (Rejection) of Allah, and of the angels and of mankind combined.  [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:161]

The angels shy away from exposed awrah (that include body parts between the naval and the knee for men and the whole body for women):

Khalifah Uthman ibn ‘Affan was a very shy person, to the extent that even the angels were shy of Him.  So, the Holy ProphetSAW was also shy of him, whereas he was not as shy with Abu BakrRAA and OmarRAA.  One day when the Prophet was lying down with his thigh exposed and Abu Bakr and Omar entered the house, he did not cover himself, but he did cover himself when Uthman entered the house. When asked by AishaRAA, the ProphetSAAW said:

“Should I not show modesty to one to whom even the angels show modesty.”  (aḥîḥ Muslim, 2401)

How to Practice ayâwith Allah

In explaining the implications of ayâwith AllahSWT, the Holy ProphetSAAW said:

“God is more deserving than are people, of shyness (reserve, timidity, hesitancy in self-assertion).”  (Jami` Al-Tirmidhi 2794)

“Be shy of Allah (God) Most High as much as is His due. The Companions present said, ‘All praise to Allah, we are shy of Him.’ The Prophet said, ‘That is not the point. Whoever is shy of Allah as much as is His due, he should protect his head and that which it comprises (i. e. mind, mouth, ears), his stomach and that which is adjoining it (i. e. preserve it from unlawful wealth), and protect the private parts (from the unlawful), and he should remember death and that which is to come after it; and whoever desires the Hereafter should abandon the adornments of this world. Whoever fulfills these duties has been shy of Allah as much as is His due.’” (Jami‘ Al-Tirmidhi 2458)

In summary, the lesson from the above ahadith is:

AllahSWT is more deserving of shyness (diffidence) than are people.

Alayâ is Allah’s right.  And to fulfill His rights, one must take the following steps in regard to one’s self: Protect his head and “what it contains,” Be careful of what he/she consumes, Protect his private parts from lewdness, Remember death and what comes after death.  Furthermore, to achieve success in the Akhira, one must give up the hold which the adornments of this world can easily take on us —meaning you can enjoy the world’s charm, use it to your benefit, but do not get attached to them.

…To be continued in Part 2

Mohammed Siraj Uddin

Mohammed S. Uddin graduated from medical school in 1968 and completed his training in internal medicine and gastroenterology in New York. He taught in medical school and practiced gastroenterology for nearly four decades. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. He is a fellow of the Americal College of Gastroenterology and the American College of Physicians.Full BIO

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