< Thoughts & Readings


Sunday, February 06, 2005  

Thoughts On Modesty 'Every religion has its characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is modesty.' This statement made some 1400 years ago by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is just as relevant today as it was then. The Prophet (pbuh) lived in turbulent times, when slavery, debauchery, drunkenness and sexual abuse was rife; when poor women could be maltreated without redress and wealthy women could live totally without morals if they wished, without much criticism. When the Prophet (pbuh) was a teenage boy he was one of the founder members of a society of Knights of Justice created by his uncle, determined to bring protection and fair dealing to the weak and insecure. He, and those of like mind, were loved and admired for their nobility, years before the revelation of Islam. The revelations, when they came, encouraged and exhorted them to show others that compassion, generosity, courage, modesty and patient faith were the right way to live. Modesty is such a 'quiet' characteristic, that perhaps nobody thinks about it very much. What are modest people like? They are self-effacing, and humble; they do not wish to draw too much attention to themselves. They feel embarrassed when they are given praise, and genuinely do not really feel they have done all that much to deserve it, for everything they do is their no more than their duty and their delight, in serving God. They would hate to be picked out for praise above their fellows, or pushed forward into the limelight, shown off, or made to perform 'party pieces' for the applause of others. Modesty also implies a personal and physical shyness and reticence, as opposed to a wish to flaunt themselves for their physical charms. In this day and age, when it seems to be taken for granted that young women wish to walk down the streets of town wearing garments that cover little more than their underwear does, and when everything seems geared up to a lifestyle that encourages females to make themselves as sexually attractive as possible, and to feel failures if they are not turning heads, women who are not like that, and do not wish to be, are regarded by some as being rather odd. It is an unfortunate sort of discrimination, for in actual fact very large numbers of girls and women are naturally modest, and do not wish to flaunt themselves at all, and feel no sense of distress or loss if they are not arousing male desires or interested glances. Wearing hijab, or becoming a 'covered lady', is one of the odd problems facing girls and women who convert to Islam and who then decide to alter their style of clothing, and/or wear a head-veil. Ironically, genuinely shy and modest women can feel really uneasy and 'forced into the arena of public scrutiny' when they change old habits; putting on hijab can cause people who know you to stare, or wonder why you suddenly think yourself to be 'better' or 'more holy' than them, or to bring out remarks about how well they know what you are really like; or to wonder why you are seeking to 'dress up in fancy dress', or pretending to be an Arab or a Pakistani or whatever. Muslim women who take the further step of covering their faces often face a similar reaction from Muslim women who don't. This is not something that male Muslims know very much about. There is no equivalent requirement for a man as regards his clothing, or head-covering, or face-covering. I suppose something similar would be for a convert man to feel it was a good thing required by Allah to turn up at the office or go to the garage or factory in an Arab long white dress, and put a bag over his head. Yet there are rules in Islam for male modesty. I have winced in horror on a plane coming home from Damascus in which all the male passengers were Muslims except a couple of western tourists who wore shirts open to the waist (sweat, chest-hair and all), and shorts, and were quite oblivious to (or not bothered by) the reaction of distaste from those all around them. In fact, male Muslims are also expected to dress modestly, in clean clothing that covers them and does not emphasize their sexuality. Needless to say, it is not only modest clothing that is required, but also modest behavior - not the Dickensian Uriah-Heepish sort of crawling humility, but the genuine desire to do good for no reason other than to please Allah, seeking no reward, or thanks, or public notice. The cover-up clothing of Muslim women is not intended as a punishment or an endurance test, but as a wish to appear graceful and feminine without encouraging any sexual advances. 'Covered ladies' are not necessarily innocent youngsters, virgins about to be sacrificed in marriage, but may be mothers of half a dozen children, perhaps married several times. There is no false modesty intended. But they are giving certain specific messages: firstly, that their faith is Islam and they have chosen to submit to the will of God in every aspect of their lives; and secondly, that they wish to be appreciated for their characters and good deeds, and not for whether or not they happen to be pretty or slim or sexy. Modesty also implies simplicity, and lack of desire for ostentation. A woman could be completely covered, but in some gaudy material, shrieking color, and also dripping with jewellery, gold and pearls. That's one sort of ostentation. Or she might be the only woman in her community who chooses to be head to toe in black - that might well be genuine piety, but it could also be a form of ostentation too. Allah will judge the lady not on her clothes at all, but on her motives, her niyyah, and the quality of her life and what she does with it. Of course, the covered clothing can be quite a sacrifice - notably when the temperature soars and one must find garments in pure cotton, and not wear short sleeves, and if wearing the veil one must remember that a large amount of body-heat escapes through the head, and one can end up feeling quite faint and uncomfortable. There is always a lot of controversy about the extent of a woman's hijab in Islam. Some women cover absolutely everything, others interpret it to mean 'modest dress according to the society in which one lives' and even dispense with the head-veil. Hijab certainly means that a woman should not be showing her cleavage, or wearing a garment that is transparent and reveals her underwear, or one that is tight and clinging. My husband, coming from Pakistan, was horrified to note that old ladies in the UK brazenly went round showing their legs to all and sundry - to him, any skirt above the ankle was a mini-skirt. The compulsory aspect of hijab to a Muslim woman is modesty - how this is interpreted in clothing styles is not compulsory at all, and is left to the piety and taste of the individual. Modesty and simplicity, and trust in Allah go hand in hand. I had a friend in Jordan a few years ago, a straightforward Muslim man who had asked me to bring him the present of a pair of denim jeans from the UK. When I also gave him a shirt to go with it, he was almost offended. What did I bring him a shirt for? He already had two. He promptly gave one shirt away to someone less fortunate than himself. I will never forget the lesson of his attitude. It was one of my key experiences in bringing me into Islam. I learned another lesson from him, too. A button came off, and I volunteered to sew it on for him. This earned a small rebuke, for it would deprive of employment the poor man down the street who earned his living by such things as sewing on buttons. One cannot help but compare the practice of Islam on that very simple and modest level to the fanaticism and squabbles and outright corruption that has marred the beauty of Islam in more comfortable and affluent surroundings. Modesty goes hand in hand with value. When men and women are modest, they are in fact valuable people, and without any thought of self-aggrandizement, realize their value. The values of modesty and genuine humility are God-given, and those who possess those characteristics are blessed indeed. Moreover, they are lights shining in the darkness, giving an example of hope and goodness to others. A truly modest person makes the raucous pomposity and arrogance of others show up; a truly simple-living person makes nonsense of the ephemeral wealth-and-status-seeking ambitions of those who do not realize there is more to life than just this level of existence. A truly pure person reveals the tawdriness of lust and lasciviousness and the selfish dangers of unbridled sexuality. May God bless us, and fill our hearts with love and compassion, and direct our lives along a path that will enable us to bring help, hope, serenity, shelter and peace to others, and a means of rescue and healing to those already hurt and damaged by callousness, cruelty and abuse. Amen. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Thinking about duty When people are parents, teachers etc, they have to cope with the very young, and life seems to revolve around their care, safety, warmth, food, clothing, education, and so forth. It is a particularly worrying time for new first-time parents, who may not have paid too much attention up until then on how to do all the various things that need doing. The problem for you, as youngsters growing older, is that of knowing at what stage you begin to have duties of your own, and what those duties are, and how you should go about doing them. It is so frustrating when you are told you are too young to do half the things you would like to do, and too old to do the other half. Parents seem to have such a knack of manipulating this age business, and since they are so much older and more experienced, they usually get away with it - leaving you steaming with pent-up frustration. Maybe not so pent-up, if you are not very self-controlled. We all know youngsters who can let you know about their frustrations and annoyances from half a mile away. Quite frankly, I have a very strong feeling that it is no compliment to a child to be regarded as a child. I can remember when I was twelve, being furious and hurt that no-one would take me seriously when I wanted to do great things, run clubs, make people rehearse plays, help the suffering, etc. I was only a child! That made me furious - I did not think of myself as a child at all, and although I cannot have known all that much at that stage, I nevertheless had every confidence that I knew a lot, and was even very likely to do a better job than half the adults I knew. I was a conceited little brat, very obnoxious, I'm sure. But when I eventually did manage to find people who could see that I really did have great urges to save the world, make everything better, do all sorts of wonderful works and so on, it was so satisfying to be used. To be trusted. To be given something useful to do. I threw my whole effort into it, and swore I would never let down the people who had trusted me. As a young boy before his call to Prophethood, I should imagine the Prophet (pbuh) went through some of that too. He had to grow up fast in a fairly harsh environment. You know that he started off in a 'single-parent family', since his father died before he was born. Then his mother died when he was only six and he lived with his Grandad for two years, and finally got brought up by a very kind uncle and aunt. By the time he was twelve he was already at work, and had already earned the nickname 'the Trustworthy One.' If an adult wanted a job done and needed a youngster to do it - who to choose? The trustworthy one was the lad to pick. He wouldn't let you down, or get it wrong, or forget to do it, or make a mess of it. He was reliable, and he always told the truth. By the age of fifteen he had fought in his first battles. He became a caravaneer, a merchant trader. He had many hard-working and much respected friends who were also merchant traders. Two were Abu Bakr ibn Quhafah and Uthman ibn Maz'un. They had always been good kind men too, long before the revelation of Islam. They grew up believing that there was a real God who cared about justice, and like all good people did their best to do their duty towards their families, their friends, their business contacts, and people who needed help. They had probably visited the same places, and maybe even done deals together. When the three young men were in their twenties, it was time to marry, and one lady who wanted to marry the Prophet (pbuh) was Khadijah's niece, Khawlah bint Hakim. As it happened, the Prophet (pbuh) did not choose to marry her, and married his boss, Khadijah, instead. Uthman married the disappointed Khawlah. Nevertheless, they all remained very good friends, and Khawlah acted as a kind of aunt to the Prophet's (pbuh) children. Years later, when Khadijah died, Khawlah took over a lot of the housework for him, and in due course helped to arrange his next marriage - to another widow, Sawdah bint Zam'ah, and then to Aishah, the young daughter of his other great friend Abu Bakr. Both Abu Bakr and Uthman went on to become leading Muslims. However, Uthman spent more and more time at his prayers, meditations and study of the Qur'an. He never missed a prayer, and prayed more extra prayers than anyone else. He frequently prayed all night. He disciplined his body with constant fasting, far more than other Muslims did, and ate little when he did eat. Completely devoted to Allah, he began to withdraw more and more from the life of this world. One day, Khawlah turned up in a state of distress. She was suffering from marriage problems. Uthman was always so occupied with his religious devotions that he totally neglected her, and had become very difficult to live with. In his devotion to duty towards Allah, Uthman had not understood the most vital teaching of Islam - that Islam is not just a matter of prayers and study, but a complete way of life. It does not mean a person should withdraw from the world, but work in the world - to help others and make life better for people. Islam applied to every aspect of daily life, to study at school, to being honest and reliable at work, to relaxation, to relationships, to the way people treated their partners and family, to their attitude towards those less fortunate or less intelligent or less religious - in fact, everything. The Prophet (pbuh) went to see Uthman. 'Do you dislike my ways, Uthman?' he asked. Uthman was very surprised and assured him that he always tried to follow his sunnah. The Prophet (pbuh) explained where he was not doing so. 'Uthman, I pray but I also sleep; sometimes I fast and sometimes do not fast. I marry women.' He meant he enjoyed their company. 'Uthman,' he continued, 'when you fear (have respect and reverence for) Allah - you need to know that your wife has a right over you, your guest has a right over you, and your self has a right over you.' He requested him to be less extreme and to care more for his family and general personal wellbeing. (Abu Dawud 1364). When something 'has rights over you', it means that you have duties to perform. Being a Muslim, and 'fearing' Allah involves so many duties - towards Allah, towards ourselves, towards our relatives, our community, and the world at large, especially those bits of it that need special help. It is not enough to say your prayers - but then be mean, or lazy over helping others who need your help, or to sit around expecting to be waited on while they get tired. It is not enough to study the Qur'an, and then be selfish or greedy or deceitful. It is not enough to fast, and then tell lies or cheat people. It is not enough to attend the mosque regularly, and then be spiteful to people less able than yourself, or disruptive in school upsetting those paid to train you, or shouting and abusive towards girls, or to use foul dirty language and look at smutty pictures, or bully the weak, or ridicule the ugly. Many young Muslims are very religious, like Uthman, but imagine if the Prophet (pbuh) came to visit them one day, and said: 'Do you dislike my ways, Salmah (or Arif, or Sherzaman, or Talulah, or James, or Platovic, or Khusraw, or Yung Chan, or Brigitte)?' Think of his ways - the ways of the True Messenger of Allah. He never told lies, or cheated. He was never abusive or arrogant or bullying. He loved his followers, even if they got things wrong sometimes and maybe made mistakes. He specially loved the young men who were so brave, and loyal, and ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah. He loved his womenfolk and children. He took in other men's children and brought them up. He bought slaves who were being badly treated and cared for them with such love that many of them chose to remain living with him and helping him even when granted their freedom and told they could go. He visited the sick, not only his friends but even if they were people who had tormented and abused him, even if they were not Muslims. He cared for the fate of refugees, prisoners, and especially prisoners of war, and organised arrangements for them to sort out their lives and carry on. He encouraged his followers to learn as much as they could, and educate themselves so that they would be useful citizens who could help others, and not just be a drain on society. He encouraged his womenfolk to act as nurses and teachers. He taught people it was important to be clean, and health conscious, and physically fit and ready for action. He cautioned people against becoming 'extreme', exhausting themselves in any aspect of their lives if it meant neglecting other aspects. It was the Muslim's duty to do the best he or she could, to be disciplined and create regular practice, and not to look down on other people whose 'best' might be quite different. Each person would be judged by his or her own life and effort - nobody else's. These things were all a Muslim's duties - and were all really duties towards Allah. Even if you were just being kind to an insect, it was a duty towards Allah well done. Even if you just picked a sharp stone out the path of a poor blind beggar, it was a duty towards Allah well done. It is not easy to do all our duties in life, but this is how we show real love - not only for the people we care for, but also for Allah. It is what we mean by a sacrifice - being a shahid. We may not have to be put to death for Allah's sake, but we might well have to do some boring chores when we don't want to. We may not be clever enough to learn the whole Qur'an by heart, but we might well have to be honest when it would be so easy to be dishonest. We may not ever be noticed or thanked or praised, but we have to remember we are not doing things for thanks, but simply because we love Allah and these are our acts of love. Some of the Prophet's (pbuh) greatest Companions were very simple people who did not have the ability to learn much, but who gave everything they had to help others - and if everything they had was only a small offering, it was worth just as much to Allah as all the riches of the wealthy. So, may Allah bless us with His grace, and grant us the patience and determination and courage to take on whatever duties He lays upon us, and bring us to success. Amin. (This article originally appeared in Reflect magazine.) - Articles on Islam by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood _____________________________________________________________________________________ Other articles includes: Islam, Culture and Women Dare to be Different Are we "born to be free"? and many more



posted by Abubak'r | 2/06/2005 06:43:00 AM |
As for him who fears to stand before his Lord and restrains the ego its desires, the Garden is shelter.
(The Snatchers:40)
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "The Fire is surrounded by all kinds of desires and passions, while Paradise is surrounded by all kinds of disliked, undesirable things."
(Bukhari)
Whoever does good at night is rewarded during the day and whoever does good during the day is rewarded at night. Whoever is sincere in abandoning a desire is saved from catering to it. God is too noble to punish a heart that has abandoned a desire for His sake.
(Abu Sulayman ad-Darani)
Beware of your ego, and trust not its mischief;
The ego is worse than seventy devils.
(Arabic Poem)
Abu Bakar Balkhi
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I seek God's forgiveness, and do not claim that my intention in producing this Blog is confined to good religious purposes; how may I do so when I am aware of the hidden desires, egotistic passions, and worldly wishes that I harbour? I do not claim innocence for myself; the ego is indeed an inciter to evil, save when my Lord shows mercy; my Lord is indeed Forgiving, Merciful. O God! I seek Your protection against my committing idolatry [shirk] knowingly, and Your forgiveness for that of which I am not aware! I ask God to make me and all other believers benefit from this Blog and to render my production of it purely for the sake of His Noble Countenance.

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