Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto,Ontario, Canada, states the following: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Faith is like a tree with seventy branches, the loftiest of it is the testimony of Oneness of Allah, while the lowest of it is removing what is objectionable from the path of people, and shyness is a branch of faith.”

He is also reported to have said, “One of the legacies of the ancient prophecy is, ‘If you are not shy, do whatever you wish!’”

Now the question arises, what is meant by haya’ (shyness) in the above traditions? Did he intend it to be a general rule applicable to all situations regardless of the issues or circumstances one is confronted with? Or did he mean that while it is considered praiseworthy in some cases, it is not considered so in other situations?

We know as a matter of fact that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never permitted haya’ or shyness to stand in the way of one’s pursuit of knowledge; for the Islamic dictum is all too well known: “There is no haya’ in seeking knowledge.” Hence he praised men as well as women who were never inhibited by haya’ or shyness from coming forward to ask about even some of the most intimate questions, which were otherwise deemed as taboo in the minds of ordinary people. Therefore, we hear `A’ishah, the beloved wife of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), applauding the women of the Ansar for their boldness in addressing such questions to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) because of their earnest desire to enhance their knowledge and practice of Islam. Likewise, we also know from the general principles of Islam that one should never allow one’s haya’ to prevent one from speaking the truth or restoring the rights that may otherwise be trampled. Hence, the Prophetic dictum, “The supreme form of jihad is to speak a word of truth in face of a tyrannical ruler!”

Furthermore, we read in the traditions that both men and women during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never shied away from speaking to each other or even to the members of the opposite sex whenever they felt the need to do so for imparting beneficial knowledge, exhorting one another to acts of kindness, bringing about reconciliation, commanding good, or forbidding evil. However, while speaking to the members of the opposite sex, both men and women were ordered to avoid mannerisms, styles, and tones that are considered as inappropriate or other than businesslike.

In light of the above, it easy to conclude that the haya’ that is considered praiseworthy in Islam is rather limited to matters that are considered sinful or indecent or unseemly from an Islamic point of view. For, as believers, we are ordered to cultivate a genuine sense of haya’ so that we are deterred from violating the sanctities or trespassing the limits of Allah. If, however, one were to fall prey to one’s temptations and happen to commit a sin, one must express genuine feeling of remorse and take the immediate steps to expiate for the same through sincere repentance.

In conclusion, you should ask yourself, are you bold for the sake of Allah? Or stated differently, are you doing so in order to speak the truth or restore justice or rights? Or are you simply being reckless and you don’t care whether rashness leads you to violate the limits of Allah? If it is for sake of Allah and the truth, then it is indeed a habit to be worth cherishing and nurturing. If, on the other hand, it is not so, then you need to curb this habit and discipline yourself by constantly visualizing the fact that Allah is well aware of the treachery of our eyes as well as the hidden thoughts of our hearts, and that He will surely bring them forth on the Day when neither our wealth nor our worldly status or power will avail us.

May Allah grant us all haya’ (true modesty) so that we are instinctively inclined towards shunning the things that displease Him, while granting us the courage to stand for truth and justice, thus meriting His goodly pleasure. Ameen.