In today’s world, the term ‘shyness’ sounds almost strange and invokes negative connotations for many people. A shy person is seen as socially deficient and is encouraged to shed that shyness away. But in Islam, moral shyness is a commendable trait and a sought after characteristic. This is shown in the following hadith:
عن ابن عمر رضي الله عنهما أن رسولَ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم مَرَّ عَلَى رَجُلٍ مِنَ الأَنْصَارِ وَهُوَ يَعِظُ أَخَاهُ في الحَيَاءِ، فَقَالَ رسُولُ اللَّه صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « دَعْهُ فإِنَّ الحَيَاءَ مِنَ الإِيمانِ». رواه البخاري ومسلم.
Narrated Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him and his father: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ passed by a man of the Ansar who was admonishing his brother regarding shyness (haya’) [discouraging him from being excessively shy]. So the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
‘Leave him, for shyness (haya’) is part of Faith.’ ”
(Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Let us consider this moral shyness (as opposed to social shyness) and the reasons for its high regard in Islam.
The celebrated hadith scholar Ibn Hajr Al-‘Asqalani mentioned in his book Fath al-Bari (Grant of the Creator: A Commentary on Sahih Al-Bukhari):
“Shyness in linguistic terms is a change and embarrassment that comes over the person for fear of being criticized or exposed.
In religious terms, shyness is a characteristic that prompts one to avoid bad deeds and prevents him from neglecting the rights of others. Shyness is part of faith because it induces righteous deeds and prevents misdeeds.”
Thus, Allama Ibn Hajr explained the reasons that Islam places such emphasis on this trait. Moral shyness is a trait that prompts one to stay away from shameful acts by him or herself, let alone in front of others. And committing such acts before others leads to an even greater level of shamefulness. Such a trait only leads to increased Iman, because moral shyness in this case prevents the Muslim from committing shameful acts and encourages him or her to avoid sins and misdeeds. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ described shyness as being part of Faith.
The Prophet ﷺ further explained the meaning of shyness in this Hadith:
عن عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسولُ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم: « اسْتَحْيُوا مِنَ اللَّهِ حَقَّ الْحَيَاءِ»، قال قلنا: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا نَسْتَحْيِي وَالحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ، قال: « لَيْسَ ذَاكَ، وَلَكِنَّ الإِسْتِحْيَاءَ مِنَ اللَّهِ حَقَّ الحَيَاءِ أَنْ تَحْفَظَ الرَّأْسَ وَمَا وَعَى، وَالبَطْنَ وَمَا حَوَى، وَلْتَذْكُرِ المَوْتَ وَالبِلَى وَمَنْ أَرَادَ الآخِرَةَ تَرَكَ زِينَةَ الدُّنْيَا فَمَنْ فَعَلَ ذَلِكَ فَقَدِ اسْتَحْيَا مِنَ اللَّهِ حَقَّ الحَيَاءِ» . رواه الترمذي وأحمد والحاكم والبيهقي.
Narrated Abdullah bin Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Feel shy of Allah as is His due.’ We replied: ‘O Messenger of Allah, Praise be to Allah, we do feel shy.’ He said: ‘Not that, but it is to guard the head and what it holds and the belly and what it contains, and to remember the graves and the decay. Whoever seeks the Hereafter, then he should leave the adornment of the worldly life. Whoever does all of that, then he has fulfilled the shyness that is due to Allah.’ ” (Related by Al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Al-Hakim, and Al-Bayhaqi)
Thus, the concept of shyness in Islam is deep and involves other aspects as well. Shyness is not only a trait that makes the Muslim loathe shameful acts and stay away from them, but it also involves observing Allah’s obligations and limits in everything and feeling conscious and guilty when any of them are violated or broken.
The Muslim should have a sense of shyness before his Lord who is observing him at all times. Just like a child who acts in the best terms under the supervision of a disciplinary father, the Muslim should have this sense of being watched by Allah all the time and should feel shy of breaking His rules or violating His rights. This sense of shyness then leads the Muslim to the obedience of his Lord and to an increase in piety and faith. Therefore, the Prophet described shyness as being part of faith.
Finally, we can see great examples of true shyness in the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and his companions. Among his companions, Uthman Ibn Affan was especially well-known for his shyness, to the extent that even the angels felt shy of him!
Uthman Ibn Affan’s moral shyness contributed to his level of Iman and high status in this nation, as shown in the following hadith:
عن عائشة رضي اللَّه عنها قالت: كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم مُضْطَجِعًا في بيتي كاشِفًا عن فَخِذَيْهِ أو ساقَيْهِ، فاستأذنَ أبو بكرٍ فَأَذِنَ له وهو على تلك الحالِ فَتَحَدَّثَ، ثم اسْتَأْذنَ عمرُ فَأَذِنَ لَهُ وهو كذلكَ فَتَحَدَّثَ، ثم استأذنَ عثمانُ فَجَلَسَ رسولُ اللَّهِ صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم وسَوَّى ثِيَابَهُ - قَال محمَّد: ولا أقولُ ذلكَ في يومٍ واحدٍ- فدخلَ فَتَحَدَّثَ، فلمَّا خَرَجَ قالتْ عائشةُ: دخلَ أبو بكرٍ فلمْ تَهْتَشَّ لهُ ولم تُبَالِهِ، ثم دخلَ عمرُ فلم تَهْتَشَّ له ولم تُبَالِهِ، ثم دخلَ عثمانُ فَجَلَسْتَ وسَوَّيْتَ ثِيَابَكَ؟ فقالَ: « أَلَا أَسْتَحِي مِنْ رَجُلٍ تَسْتَحِي مِنْهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ». رواه مسلم.
Narrated Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ was lying in bed in my house with his thigh or his legs uncovered. Abu Bakr sought permission to come in. The Prophet ﷺ gave him permission to enter, and conversed with him while he was in the same state (the Prophet’s thigh or leg uncovered). Then Umar sought permission to come in and it was given to him and he conversed in the same state. Then Uthman sought permission to come in; the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sat down and set right his clothes. [Muhammad (one of the narrators) said: I do not say that it happened only once]. Uthman then entered and conversed. After Uthman left, Aisha inquired from the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Abu Bakr entered and you did not stir and did not observe much care (in arranging your clothes), then Umar entered and you did not stir and did not arrange your clothes, then Uthman entered and you sat down and set your clothes right?’ Thereupon the Prophet ﷺ said:
‘Indeed, should I not feel shy of a person of whom even the angels feel shy.’ ”
(Related by Muslim)
In our day and age, we face serious challenges in preserving our Din and the Din of our children. Knowing the strong link between haya’ and Iman should instill in us the importance of actively preserving our haya’: keeping our haya’ is among the most important keys to maintaining our Faith.