His Haya or Shyness    


How was the haya and shyness of the prophet muhammad?

Hazret-i Hak’tan edip istihyâ

Meh-i nev gibi olurlardı dü-tâ[1]


The Arabic word haya means rescission, bashfulness, self respect, modesty, and to be scruple which occurs as a result of something that one should be ashamed of.

There are two different kinds of haya. One of them is natural, which has been given to humanity by Allah the Almighty, like the shyness felt from showing the privy parts of the body to others. The other one is gained by discipline and training which withholds the believer from committing sins. According to this description, haya refers to staying away from bad and ugly deeds, being moderate in actions and behaviors, and not overstepping the limits. The following narration of Ibn Mas’ud (r.a.) explains this kind of haya:

“One day our Prophet (pbuh) ordered us:

“Be duly bashful towards Allah the Almighty.” Upon this we said:

“O Messenger of Allah! We are bashful towards Allah.” Then Allah’s Messenger made the following explanation:

“What I mean is not the kind of bashfulness you think. Being properly shy towards Allah means to control the head, the body and all the other limbs on them and to remember death and decomposition under the earth. Those who want the Hereafter should leave the embellishments of this world and prefer the Hereafter over this life. Whoever acts in accordance with what I just said will be duly shy towards Allah.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 24)

There are many degrees of shyness. The highest one is to feel inwardly and outwardly shy towards Allah. In other words, it means the continuous awareness of being in the presence of Allah the Almighty.

Haya or shyness is such a human feeling that prevents one from doing bad deeds and doing anything he/she wants. Also, it is an indispensible part of religious piety. Therefore, a believing servant cannot be pious unless he/she has haya.

Haya has a close connection with faith. They always exist together. In fact the Prophet (pbuh) said that “Haya is a part of faith.” (Bukhari, Iman, 3) When one of them disappears, the other one goes away, too. (Hakim, I, 73) Incompleteness of haya and good manners emanates from defectiveness of faith and religiosity.

Allah the Almighty loves His modest and shy servants and praises them in the Qur’an as follows:

“(Charity is) for those in need who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (for trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their abstaining (from begging), that they are free from want. You can know them by their (unfailing) mark: they do not beg men importunately. And whatever of good you give, be assured Allah knows it well.” (al-Baqarah 2; 273)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) emphasized that Allah the Almighty loves modest people in his following words to Ashaj al-Asari (r.a.): “Verily you have two characteristics that Allah loves them: forbearance (hilm) and modesty (haya).” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 18)

While those who do not have haya and want the diffusion of immodesty have been warned by Allah the Almighty as follows:

“Those who love (to see) scandal published broadcast among the Believers, will have a grievous Penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: Allah knows, and you know not.” (al-Nur 24; 19)

Those who would like to spread immodesty in their society show the greatest disrespect towards their society. Such people will suffer the greatest loss, because, as it was stated by the Prophet (pbuh), immodesty is one of the reasons of destruction:

“Certainly when Allah the Almighty wants to destroy a servant, He snatches haya off him/her. When Allah takes haya off, the servant becomes one of those who deserve Divine wrath. When the servant is punished by Divine wrath, trustworthiness gets removed from him/her. When he/she loses his/her trustworthiness, then he/she becomes a betrayer. When he/she becomes a betrayer, mercy gets removed from him/her. When mercy gets removed, he/she becomes cursed. When he/she gets cursed, then his/her ties with Islam will be broken off.” (Ibn majah, Fitan, 27)

The real object of all Prophets’ mission was to make monotheism dominant in the world and establish a society with good morals. Of course Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who was in charge with teaching the principles of ethics and presenting the best examples of good morals to humanity, was the best one among people in this regard. Before his prophethood, even in a period when immorality invaded all of humanity, he was distinguished by his good morality. One of the best examples of this reality is as follows:

“When the Ka’bah was rebuilt, the Prophet (pbuh) and his uncle Abbas (r.a.) were lifting the stones for its construction. Abbas (r.a.) said to the Prophet (pbuh), “Take off your waist sheet and put it on your shoulder (so that the stones will not hurt your shoulders).” When the Prophet wanted to put it on his shoulder, he fell on the ground with his eyes open towards the sky and said, “Give me my waist sheet.” And he covered himself with it.” (Bukhari, Hajj, 42)

Even though walking around naked was accepted very normal in that society, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) never acted outside the limits of modesty. As it was stated in the tradition, even when he faced such a problem as a result of his uncle’s suggestion, he was protected by Allah the Almighty.

About our Prophet’s bashfulness Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (r.a.) says that:

“The Prophet was shyer than a veiled virgin girl who reached her years of puberty. When he saw a thing he disliked, we knew it from his face.” (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23)

Again our Prophet (pbuh) asked his ummah to adorn their behaviors with shyness saying that:

“Shyness does not bring anything except goodness.” (Bukhari, Adab, 77)

“All of modesty is goodness.” (Muslim, Iman, 61) He (pbuh) also stated that deeds would be tarnished by immodesty and would not be welcomed; while deeds adorned with shyness would be approved by everybody. (Tirmidhi, Birr, 47)

Shyness is a virtue, which gives human beings complete goodness; it does not matter from what reason it stems out from. This sublime feeling has nothing to do with negative attributes, such as unsociability, lack of self-respect, cowardice, and ineptness. As a matter of fact, female members of Ansar used to come to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and would ask him the most intimate questions. Aisha (r.a.) said that: “…How good are the women of Ansar (helpers) that their shyness does not prevent them from learning the religious matters thoroughly.” (Muslim, Hayd, 61)

In the following verses, Allah the Almighty points out the shyness of His Messenger (pbuh):

“O you who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if you are invited, enter, and, when your meal is ended, then disperse. Linger not for conversation.”

“Lo! That would cause annoyance to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth…” (al-Ahzab 33; 53)

The reason for the revelation of the above mentioned verses was narrated by Anas bin Malik:

“When Allah’s Apostle married Zainab bint Jahsh, my mother Ummu Sulaim told me:

“Let’s give Allah’s Messenger a wedding gift.” I told her:

“Then prepare something and I will take it to him.” Upon this she brought some dates, oil, and skim milk cheese. She mixed them in a pot and prepared a meal; then she sent it with me. When I took it to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), he ordered me:

“Leave it there and call for me so and so” by giving me the names of the people he was inviting. He then added: “call everybody you run across on your way.” I fulfilled his order and then went back. The Prophet’s house was filled with people. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) put his hand over the meal and said something which only Allah knew (or he said something quietly). Then he invited his guest ten by ten. Everybody was eating from the meal. Allah’s Messenger told his guests:

“Begin eating your meal by saying the name of Allah and eat in front of you.” This state continued until everybody finished eating and left. But some of them took the meal and remained sitting and talking. Then the Prophet showed them that he was ready to get up, yet they did not get up. When he noticed that there was no response to his movement, he got up, and the others too, got up except three persons who kept on sitting. The Prophet came back in order to enter his room, but he went away again. Then they left, whereupon I set out and went to the Prophet to tell him that they had departed, so he came and entered his house. I wanted to enter along with him, but he put a screen between me and him. Then Allah revealed those verses.” (Bukhari, Tafsir, 33; Muslim, Nikah, 89)

Because of his shyness, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) could not even say anything to those who had thoughtlessly sat in his home on the day of his marriage and waited for them to leave on their own. However, Allah the Almighty did not like His Messenger to be disturbed and immediately revealed those verses to warn the believers.

The incident below, which occurred after the siege of Taif that shows the Prophet’s (pbuh) level of shyness, is worth mentioning.

A companion named Sakhr, who had some military successes together with his cavalry, took some captives, and he asked the Prophet (pbuh) for a water source, which had belonged to an enemy tribe called Sulaimis. Then he and his tribe settled around the water source. A while later Mughirah b. Shubah, who had a relative among the captives, came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said:

“O Messenger of Allah! Sakhr took my paternal aunt captive, whereas she had embraced Islam like other Muslims.” The Prophet (pbuh) called him and said:

“O Sakhr, when people embrace Islam, they have security of their blood and property. Give back to Mughirah his paternal aunt.” So he returned his aunt to him. Later the Sulaimis converted to Islam and asked Sakhr to give back their water source. He refused their request and so they came to the Prophet (pbuh) and said:

“O Prophet of Allah, we embraced Islam and came to Sakhr so that he might return our water to us. But he has refused.

The Prophet (pbuh) then called Sakhr again and ordered him:

“When people embrace Islam, they secure their properties and blood. Return to the people their water.”

He said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah” and obeyed the Prophet’s command.

The companion who narrated this incident stated that the face of the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) was reddening like the face of a virgin at that moment, being ashamed of taking back what he had given to Sakhr.” (Abu Dawud, Haraj, 34-36)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) could not look at someone’s face directly and carefully because of his bashfulness. (Munawi, V, 224)

Our Prophet (pbuh) always lived in goodness. He did not act outside the limits of shyness even when he was alone. He asked his companions to do the same and ordered them to be sensitive about the principles of covering. He (pbuh) advised his followers to be modest and bashful both in public and alone saying: “Allah is characterized by modesty and concealment. So when any of you washes, he should conceal himself.” (Abu Dawud, Hammam, 1) In another prophetic saying, it was stated that:

“Abstain from nakedness. There are angels that are with you all the time. They leave you alone only when you go to relieve yourselves and when you are having intercourse with your wives. Feel ashamed from them and do good to them.” (Tirmidhi, Adab, 42) As it can be clearly seen in these narrations Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who always lived knowing that he was in the presence of Allah the Almighty, felt shyness towards Him and lived every moment of his life in good manners. He also advised his ummah to be constantly bashful. One day the Prophet (pbuh) saw a man washing in a public place without a lower garment. So he mounted the pulpit, praised and extolled Allah and said:

“Allah is characterized by modesty and concealment. So when any of you washes himself (ghusl), he should conceal himself.” (Abu Dawud, Hammam, 1)

The spiritual point that Islam aims for is to get its followers to be aware that they are always in the presence of Allah. Feeling haya towards Allah is a natural result of this awareness. When a person knows that Allah the Almighty sees him/her all the time, he/she lives in accordance with the principles of manners and haya. Because he/she acts carefully, he/she does not make any mistakes; and this is the highest point of haya.

The feeling of shame has existed since the first human being. Furthermore, the significance of this feeling has been expressed since the first prophet and the divine orders in this regard have not been changed since. This is stated by the Messenger of Allah as follows:

“One of the sayings of the early Prophets which the people have got is: If you don’t feel ashamed do whatever you like.” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 54; Adab, 78)

This principle, which has come down from generation after generation until this day, keeps people away from committing sins and bad deeds. It is impossible for a person who feels shy towards Allah and other people to do every deed which pleases his/her self; while there is no obstacle between those who do not have the feeling of shyness and act however they want. Therefore, such a person can easily commit all kinds of sins.

One day people will be questioned for their actions no matter what they have done. This is why everybody should carefully think about his/her next step. They can perform everything with a peace of mind, if it is something that does not require being ashamed of from Allah and from other people. However, if it is something to be ashamed of then he/she should immediately abandon it. In the above mentioned saying, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) presents us a measure for our behaviors. In short, following the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) is the most certain and shortest path; because he is a matchless guide for our lives as being a paradigm of shyness.

[1] Because of his bashfulness towards Allah the Almighty, the Prophet (pbuh) would stand bent over like a crescent.

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality