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MODESTY. Freedom from vanity (al-tawadu`) is a central concept in Islam, directly connected to the concept of tawhid. According to the Qur’an, Satan’s fall from grace was a direct result of his vanity. Having been ordered by God to bow to Adam, all angels complied except Satan. Satan explained his defiance as follows: “I am better than [Adam]; You created me from fire and created him from clay” (7.12).

Any Muslim who engages in vain and arrogant behavior, such as adopting an attitude of racial, gender, or class superiority, is embracing Satanic logic. The Qur’an makes clear that, while God has bestowed on some humans more earthly gifts than he did on others, God created all humans from the same nafs (soul) and made them male and female, nations and tribes, so that they may come to know each other (49. 13). Thus diversity was introduced into this world as a way of making the human experience more interesting and providing people with an incentive to communicate with one another. In the same passage, the Qur’an also states that the most honored individuals in the eyes of God are the most pious.

The Qur’an commends Christians and calls them “closest in friendship to Muslims” because “they do not act arrogantly” (5.82); the modesty of these believers evidences their faith in and submission to God. The Prophet said, that a person with vanity in his heart, even if it weighs no more than a mustard seed, will not enter paradise. The Qur’an is even clearer; it states that arrogant people are unjust, criminal, and nonbelievers (25.21, 45-31, 39-59), and that God will turn them away from divine revelation (or signs) and send them to hell eternally (7.146, 39.72).

Those who believe that they are more powerful than others install themselves as demigods on this earth, and their followers submit to them and not to God. This is shirk, believing in more than one god or in a god other than God. It negates tawhid. The Qur’an is replete with examples of arrogant nonbelievers that God disgraced, defeated, or destroyed, among them the Pharaoh and his chiefs, and the people of `Ad and Madyan.

For these reasons, Muslim jurists discouraged all types of behavior that might constitute even early symptoms of arrogance. Muslims were enjoined not to strut vainly down the street, to raise their voices to impart superiority, or to indulge in excessive luxuries. The Prophet himself dressed and ate modestly; so did his companions. He also mended his own garments, participated in housework and child care, and helped others, including widows and maids, in their tasks when they sought his assistance.

The emphasis on discouraging early symptoms of arrogance, combined with an increasingly entrenched patriarchal tradition in the Islamic world, has led some jurists to demand that Muslim women veil their faces and avoid public life. In fact, women during the life of the Prophet were not required to do either. Today, some jurists have found such excesses unjustifiable and have called for a return to moderation, which the Qur’an describes as the defining characteristic of the Muslim ummah (2.143).

[See also Dress; Seclusion; Shame; Tawhld.]


Abu Shuqqah, `Abd al-Halim Muhammad. Tahrir al-mar’ah ft `asr alrisalah. 5 vols. Kuwait, 1990-. Excellent and thorough discussion of women and Islam. See volumes 3 and 4 for a discussion of the veil.

Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. Exp. ed. New York, 1991.

Ghazall, Abfi Hamid al-. Ihya’ `ulum al-din. Vol. 3. Cairo, 1939. Classic work with an extensive discussion of modesty.

Shirazi, Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Husayni. Al figh: Mawsu’ah istidlaliyah ft al figh al-Islami. Vol. 96. 2d ed. Beirut, 1989.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/modesty/

  • writerPosted On: August 14, 2014
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