Chastity and modesty

Chastity and virtuousness is to preserve one’s self from being enveloped by all manner of animal appetites and base desires. It is the feature that most distinguishes the human being from all other creatures. To lose it is to lose one’s humanity and to fall to the level of other creatures.

Chastity and honour are the life blood of all moral virtues. Honour, dignity, and self-respect are all dependent on virtuousness.

Almighty Allah has given examples of two personalities who have reached the peak of virtuousness as models for the believers and has praised them in the Qur’an. These are the prophet Yûsuf (upon whom be peace) whose story is told in the chapter Yûsuf, the ‘best of stories’. The other personality is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is praised in many different places in the Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an states:

‘And [remember her] who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit and caused her, together with her son to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people’ (Al-anbiya, 21:91)

Those men and women who preserve their chastity will be subject to the profound forgiveness of Allah Most High and will be given great reward.[1] Almighty Allah praises those of His servants who are chaste as follows:

‘…those who are mindful of their chastity, [not giving way to their desires] with any but their spouses – that is, those to whom they rightfully possess [through wedlock]; for then, behold, they are free of all blame, whereas such as seek to go beyond that [limit] are truly transgressors’ (Al-Mu’minun 23:5-7)

Just as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught people the principles of faith and worship, so too he taught them moral principles of uprightness, chastity and looking out for one’s relatives. When the Ruler of Byzantine, Heraclius, asked Abu Sufyan what the Prophet commanded of the people, he answered: “He commands us to be honest and virtuous, and to look out for our relatives”. (Bukhari, Badu al -Wahy, 6, Salat 1; Muslim, Jihad 74).

Allah’s Messenger placed so much importance on chastity that he would take an oath from the ladies in particular that they would preserve their chastity[2]. In address to all believers he said:

“Whoever promises me what is between their two lips (their tongue) and their chastity, I promise them Paradise”(Bukhari, Rikak, 23).

In addition, the matter of modesty, chastity, purity, and civility between men and women is a matter of great importance. Islam has forbidden all evil deeds, immodesty and shamefulness.

The unlawful relationship and attention between men and women begins with a mere glance. This is why the believing men and women have been commanded not to look at each other passionately and to bow their heads when talking to each other:

Say to the believers that they should lower their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Allah is aware of what they do. Say to the believing women that they should lower their eyes and guard their private parts and not display their adornments – except for what normally shows – and draw their head-coverings across their breasts. They should only display their adornments to their husbands or their fathers or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or other women or those they own as slaves or their male attendants who have no sexual desire or children who still have no awareness of women’s private parts. Nor should they stamp their feet so that their hidden ornaments are known. Turn to Allah every one of you, believers, so that hopefully you will have success’ (Nur, 24:30-31).

The following verse, though it is addressed to the wives of the Prophets, is a matter that all believing women should pay attention to:

‘Wives of the Prophet! you are not like other women provided you have piety. Do not be too soft-spoken in your speech lest someone with sickness in his heart becomes desirous. Speak correct and courteous words. Remain in your houses and do not display your beauty as it was previously displayed in the Time of Ignorance. Establish the ritual prayer and pay zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah desires to remove all impurity from you, People of the House, and to purify you completely’(Ahzab, 33:32-33).

Another verse from the Qur’an is as follows:

‘O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments closely round themselves. This makes it more likely that they will be recognised and not be harmed. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful’ (Ahzab, 33:59).

Those men and women who are canonically strangers, whenever they want something from each other or need to say something to each other should as much as possible speak to each other from behind a door or a curtain.[3]

People should not enter each other’s houses without first obtaining permission. In fact, people who share the same house should ask for permission when they enter each other’s rooms and should let the other person know that they are approaching. Almighty Allah informs us that in all cases it is better to behave virtuously[4].

Almighty Allah places great importance on His servants being chaste and virtuous and indicates this in many verses.[5] This is why it has been considered a great sin to slander virtuous people and the punishment of ‘hadd-i qazf’ (the punishment of slander) has been applied to such people. Almighty Allah has said in the Qur’an:

‘[But], verily those who [falsely, and without repentance] accuse chaste women who may have been unthinkingly careless but have remained true to their faith, shall be rejected [from Allah’s grace] in this world as well as in the life to come; and awesome suffering awaits them on the Day when their own tongues and hands and feet will bear witness against them by [recalling] all that they did’ (Nur, 24:23).

This is why the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“…Do not accuse virtuous women of fornication”… (Tirmidhi, Isti’zan, 33/2733).

It is true that the most distinguishing feature of a woman is her chastity or virtuousness. The above decrees show the weightiness of the crime of accusing chastity. Accordingly in any case of witnessing, it is one of the most severe of crimes to transmit what one has heard about other people’s chastity and honour and bring them under suspicion, without verifying the information first.

In other related matters it is particularly necessary to be dignified when one asks for something from another person. Almighty Allah has praised his dignified servants as follows:

It is for the poor who are held back in the Way of Allah, unable to travel in the land. The ignorant consider them rich because of their reticence. You will know them by their mark. They do not ask from people insistently. Whatever good you give away, Allah knows it’ (Baqara, 2:273)

The Prophet (pbuh) has said:

“Thereal  poor person is not the simple beggar who was turned away with one or two dates The true poor person is the one who though he is in dire need, does not ask for anything from anybody due to his dignity and honour. If you wish recite the verse: ‘they do not ask from people insistently’(Al-Baqara, 2:273). (Muslim, Zakat, 102).

“Those who are of Paradise are three: 1- The just, successful governor who gives out in charity; 2- the soft-hearted person who is compassionate to his close ones and the Muslims; and 3-the dignified Muslim who though his family is large, refrains from asking from others and avoids unlawful income” (Muslim, Jannah 63).

“Allah bestows dignity on the one who refrains from asking from others. And Allah saves from being dependent on others, the person who acts content towards others”(Bukhari, Zakat, 18).

Dignity is one of the branches of faith and it involves staying away from evil and ugly acts, acting with balance and measure in one’s actions and behaviour, and not overstepping one’s limits. The feeling of dignity is the foundation of all good and is the opposite of all evil and ugly behaviour.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said about hayâ (feeling shy before Allah), one of the traits that is most loved by Allah:

Hayâ is from faith” (Bukhari, Iman, 3).

“Hayâ and faith go together; when one disappears, so does the other” (Suyuti, I, 53).

Hayâ only results in good” (Bukhari, Adab, 77).

All of hayâ is good” (Muslim, Iman 61).

A crude word can bring nothing but rudeness. Hayâ and courtesy on the other hand will adorn wherever they go” (Muslim, Birr, 78)

“O Allah! I ask you for guidance, piety, dignity and wealth of the heart” (Muslim, Zikr, 72).

It is only the traits of dignity and modesty that can protect a person from all manner of immorality, evil and carnal thoughts. Decency and modesty in preserving the believer from all manner of ugly behaviour are more effective than a hundred laws and police. In any matter it is enough to merely caution a person of dignity and modesty with the words: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Uthman (r.a) was a lofty personality and a model example on account of his modesty and feeling of shame. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) informed us that even the angels were shy in front of him.[6]

Almighty Allah has warned those immodest people and people who try to spread immodesty as follows:

‘People who love to see ugly words and acts being spread about concerning those who have faith will have a painful punishment both in this world and the afterlife. Allah knows and you do not know’(Al-Nur, 24:19).

Those who wish to see immodesty spread throughout society will have done their nation and their country the greatest evil. Those who act in such a manner are those who meet with the greatest of loss and harm. Because as the Prophet Muhammad said, immodesty is a cause of destruction:

“Undoubtedly when Allah, Great and Majestic is He, wishes to destroy a person he first takes away his hayâ. Once He has taken this, there is nothing left for that person but to meet with His wrath. When he meets with Allah’s wrath, he loses his trustworthiness. Once he has lost his trustworthiness he becomes a villain. Once he has become a villain all mercy is lifted from him. And when all mercy has been lifted from him, there is nothing left but for him to be cursed and damned. And when he is cursed and damned, the tie that he has with Islam is broken completely” (Ibn Majah, Fitan, 27).

Scenes of Virtue

Abu Said Al-Khudri (r.a) narrates:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was more modest than a young girl who has just reached puberty. Whenever he saw something he did not like it would be immediately known from his blessed face” (Bukhari, Manakib, 23; Abu Dawud, Haraj, 34-36).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never raised his voice when he spoke. He would pass by people slowly and with a smile on his face. Whenever he heard an ugly word which did not please him, he would not say anything. Because the expression on his face revealed his feelings, those around him were very careful about their words and their behaviour. He would not laugh out loud due to his hayâ, manners and courtesy. He would only smile. He said in a hadith:

“Modesty is from faith and the modest person is destined for Paradise! Immodesty results from a hard heart; and the one who has a hard heart is destined for the hellfire”(Bukhari, Iman, 16).

***

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would never stare and gape into a person’s face out of the elevated modesty that he possessed. (Munawi, V, 224).

***

The grandfather of Bahz ibn Hakim once came to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and asked about the covering up of one’s private parts. The Prophet replied:

“Protect your private parts from everybody except your wife and any slaves that you possess.” The same person then asked about the matter of dressing when there is no one around. He received the following reply:

Allah is more worthy of being shown hayâ (shyness) than people” (Abu Dawud, Hammam, 2/4017)

In another hadith the Prophet said:

“Beware of nakedness! There are (angels) who never leave your side, except when you relieve yourselves and when you approach your wives. Be modest in front of them and treat them well”.(Tirmidhi, Adab, 42/2800).

***

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was undoubtedly more modest than any other person. Even before he became a prophet, this elevated trait of his distinguished him in a period in which immodesty had become rife in society. The best example of this is as follows:

When the Ka’bah was being rebuilt, the Prophet was carrying some stones with his uncle, Abbas. In order that his naked shoulder not be injured, Abbas  said to his nephew:

“Place your izar (lower garment) under your shoulder”. As soon as the Prophet tried to place his izar on his shoulder he fell to the ground and fixing his eyes at the sky he said:

“Show me my izar”. He immediately picked it up and covered himself with it (Bukhari, Hajj, 42).

***

One day the Prophet saw somebody washing himself in the open and wearing no lower garment. Upon this he climbed the pulpit and said:

“Allah, exalted and majestic is He, is very modest and very private. This is why He loves modesty and covering oneself up. In that case whenever one of you washes himself, let him cover himself”(Abu Dawud, Hammam, I/4012).

***

Miswar ibn Mahrama (r.a) narrates:

I had loaded a heavy stone onto my shoulder and was carrying it. I had on a light robe. While the stone was on my shoulder, my robe came undone. I did not let go of the robe and carried it as I was. Upon this the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Go back and fetch your robe. Do not walk around naked”. (Muslim, Hayz, 78; Abu Dawud, Hammam, 2/4016)

***

Ibn Mas’ud (r.a) narrates:

One day the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

Be shy (have haya) in front of Allah as is His due”. We said:

“O Messenger of Allah! Praise be to Allah we are modest in front of Him”.

The Prophet then explained:

“What I meant was not the shyness that you think. To be shy in front of Allah as is His due is to preserve the limbs of your head and your body and to remember the decaying of death and the grave. The one who wishes for the afterlife should abandon the embellishments of this world and choose the afterlife over it. Whoever does so, will have shown true shyness to Allah as is His due”. (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 24/2458).

Junayd-i Baghdadi has said:

“Modesty is to see the endless bounties of Allah and to perceive how faulty and deficient we are in the face of them”.

***

The family of the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt were very oppressive and arrogant people. Whenever a foreign and beautiful woman would enter the city from the border, the Pharaoh would immediately be informed. If she was married her husband would be killed, if she had a brother, she would be asked for from him. When the prophet Ibrahîm (upon whom be peace) entered the border with his wife Sarah, the palace was informed of this. They were told that a beautiful woman had entered Egypt. They took Sarah to the palace. There is a hadith in relation to this matter which is as follows:

“When Sarah entered the palace, she immediately took her ablution and prayed two cycles of prayer. When she finished she supplicated to Almighty Allah as follows:

“O Allah! If I am one who has believed in You and Your prophet and have meticulously preserved my chastity from all except my husband then please do not let these unbelievers assault me” (Bukhari, Buyu’, 100).

The Pharaoh wanted to approach Sarah. All of a sudden he lost his breath and became paralysed. Thus Allah protected Sarah from his evil. This took place several times.

The Pharaoh let her go out of his fear and gave her his maid servant Hajar as a gift. In shock he said to those around him:

“This woman is a jinn. If she stays with me any longer I will be destroyed. I gave her Hajar in order to be free of harm from her”[7]

What a great example of preserving one’s modesty, chastity and good manners…

The Holy Qur’an states:

‘Seek help in steadfastness and salat’(Al-Baqara, 2:45).

***

One lady from the Ansar once went to a Jewish goldsmith to buy something. The Jew began to harass the lady in an attempt to stain her modesty and honour, and behaved very indecently towards her. When the lady began to cry out, a Muslim who happened to be passing by and who had witnessed the event came to her aid and began to attack the Jew. They began to wrestle each other. The Muslim came out victorious and killed the Jew. The Jews that had gathered there then made a martyr of the Muslim. Things got very much out of hand and the pact that had been made with the Jews was broken completely.

Upon this, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) gathered the Jews together and addressed them:

“O community of Jews. Fear Allah. And beware of the punishment and calamity that befell the Quraysh and become Muslim. Because you (of all people) know that I am a prophet sent by Allah. You have seen this in your books and in the promise that Allah gave you”.

Then he suggested that their pact be renewed. However the response of the Jews was very insolent. Upon this, the Prophet then declared war on the tribe of Bani Qaynuqa[8].

This is the importance of the honour of a Muslim woman.

***

Abu Shahm (r.a) narrates:

One time in Madina, a young girl passed by me. I grabbed her by the collar and then let her go. The next morning the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was taking a pledge from the people. I went to him but he refused to accept my pledge and said:

“And now has the one who grabbed the collar came?” then I said:

“By Allah I will never do that again”. Upon this, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) accepted my pledge (Ahmad, V, 294).

***

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) once passed by a Muslim from Madina who was advising his shy brother to give up his modesty. As he passed him by he said to him:

Leave him be for hayâ is from faith” (Bukhari, Iman 1, Adab 77; Muslim, Iman 57-59).

***

Ummu Khallad (r.ha) was a female Companion from Madina. She had sent her son to the battle fought with the Jewish tribe of Bani Qaynuqa. Some of the Muslims who learned that the Muslim soldiers were returning from the battle and that Khallad had become a martyr immediately ran to Ummu Khallad’s house to tell her the news. That woman of Islam grabbed her head-covering and ran to learn of the fate of her son from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Someone who saw her with her head covering said to her:

“Your son Khallad has died and you are standing there concerned about your head scarf”.

Ummu Khallad gave this superb reply which put forth the mentality and perspective of a woman of Islam:

“I have lost Khallad but this does not mean that I have lost my modesty (hayâ)”.

This reply of Ummu Khallad was passed on to the Prophet who said:

“There are two rewards of martyrdom for Khallad”.

“Why o Messenger of Allah?” he was asked.

“Because he was killed by the Jews, who are of the people of the book”.(Ibn Sa’d, III, 531; Ibnu al-Asir, Usdu al-Gaba, II, 140).

***

One time a group of Damascan women came to Aisha (r.ha), the Prophet’s wife. She said to them:

“I believe that you have come from a place where the women enter the public baths neglecting their modesty”. The women replied “Yes, that is so”. Aisha replied:

“But I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say: “A woman who takes off her clothes in a place other than her own home has rendered the veil between her and Allah”. (Abu Hammam, 1/4010; Tirmidhi, Adab, 43/2804).

A woman who acts such has rendered the veil of her dignity and her modesty. Because Allah Most High has commanded that she preserve herself with the garment of piety. However with this action she has violated both of Allah’s commands of covering up and being pious.

***

When the wife of one of the three great satirical poets of the Ummayyad Dynasty, Ferezdak, died, Hasan Basri was present at the funeral. At one point Hasan Basri indicated the grave and asked this poet who had defiled people with his poems and injured their dignity:

“What have you prepared for the afterlife?” The old poet replied:

“For seventy years I have been preparing my testimony of faith”. Hasan Basri replied:

“What good preparation”, and then he added:

“However there are conditions for the testimony of faith. So beware of slandering chaste women”.

Somebody once said to Wahb ibn Munabbih:

“Is not “la ilaha illallah” the key to Paradise?”

He replied:

“Yes, it is. What is a key without any teeth? If the key has teeth you can open the door, but if it has no teeth, the door will remain closed” (Bukhari, Janaiz, 1).

The teeth of the key of tawheed (belief in the oneness of Allah) are goodness and righteous deeds.

***

The honour and dignity of people in the Ottoman State were assured. For instance in a decree he made after the conquest of Bosnia, Fatih the Conqueror said:

“Let my soldiers beware and make sure they are not present when the Serbian girls come to their fountains to gather their water…”

With this decree Fatih preserved both the dignity of his own soldiers and that of the Christian subjects who were under his rule.

***

During the reign of Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent, the phenomenon of public dancing, that immodest and indecent of acts, had just started to appear. Hearing this Sulayman immediately sent instructions to the French King:

“… I have heard that a base form of entertainment called dancing has been invented in which men and women embrace each other in front of the people, and behave contrary to all morals and modesty. There is a chance that this disgraceful act will spread to my nation as we border each other. Thus as soon as this letter reaches you, you must put an end to this scandal. In the event that you do not, I am certainly capable of coming there and putting an end to it myself”.

The historian, Hammer, has recorded that as a result of this letter, public dancing in France was forbidden for an entire century.

***

Our forefathers used to place ‘charity blocks in certain districts of Istanbul. These blocks which had become quite famous, were where people placed money and other needs for people to come and take what they needed. In this way, those who were too noble and ashamed to ask for anything were not offended and were not forced to ask or beg from people.

These charity blocks have been witness to a great competition for doing good and serving people. In the darkness of the night those who were wealthy would come to place their charity in the hollows found at the top of these blocks. This they did in the spirit of the notion that “their left hands are unaware of what their right hands have given out”.

Later, the poor but virtuous and dignified people living in those areas would come to these blocks and take as much as they needed, never more. Especially those who were too proud and dignified to beg even though they were in great need, would approach the blocks and take only as much as they needed. A French traveller who wrote about Istanbul in the seventeenth century, writes that he once spent a week observing one of these blocks which had money in it but that he never saw anybody come to take it.

***

In short, the believer should be dignified and modest. Because the entire power of carnal desires and feelings lies in conception and visualization, it is necessary to occupy the heart with positive emotions and the mind with exalted thoughts in order to preserve one’s dignity and honour and control one’s nafs. In addition it is very important to stay away from friends who are a bad influence.

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has said:

“Be modest in front of women who are foreign to you so that your women can also be modest. Be good to your fathers so that your children will be good to you. When a brother of yours comes to apologise to you, accept his apology whether he be right or wrong. Otherwise you will not be able to be with me in my Fountain in Paradise”(Hakim, IV, 170/7258).

Modesty, which is the adornment of the human being, is like a spiritual shield that protects one from all forms of evil. It allows a person to carry out their responsibilities to Allah and His servants. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has elaborated on the effect and importance of modesty as follows:

“One of the sayings of the early Prophets which the people have got is: If you donet feel ashamed do whatever you like.” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 54, Adab 78).

[1].     See al Ahzab, 33:35

[2].     See al Mumtihana, 60:12

[3].     See Ahzab, 33:53

[4].     See, Nur, 24:58-60

[5].     See Nisa, 4:25; Maida, 5:5; Anbiya, 21:91; Nur, 24:4, 23; Tahrim, 66:12

[6].     Ahmad, I, 71; VI, 55

[7].     See Muslim, Fadail, 154

[8].     Ibn Hisham, II, 426-329; Wakidi, I, 176-180; Ibn Sa’d, II, 28-30