Half the Deen – Check. Half the Hayaa’ – Check?


4533494942_82f8af3b15_b It is from the prophetic guidance that when someone looks to get married, they should take a good, critical look at their potential spouse and make sure there is nothing physically repelling to them. Better yet, they should see what is attractive in the other person. This is in the case of suitors who are pursuing marriage. In all other cases, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) commands:

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” [24:30-31]

Alhamdulillah (all praise and thanks is to Allah), this commandment is a part of the Muslim community’s social expectation of respect and modesty. Yet in lectures and classes, we often hear the emphasis on the brothers to lower their gaze, while not much emphasis and examples are given for the sisters to lower their gaze. Recently, a sister (Sister Y) shared her frustration in an email, saying:

“… I’ve been hearing sisters talking about brothers and how they look, and I’ve had sisters come up to me and tell me how handsome my brother looks. I don’t understand why it’s [...] “OK” for sisters to do this, but when a brother does it, we all pounce on him – saying that he’s a perv or whatever? Sisters have pics of actors, basketball players[,] etc. on their facebook pics, but imagine if a brother had a pic of Beyonce or something in his pics… what would we think of him? I don’t think it’s right for anyone to do this, sister or brother, but how come we think it’s cute/funny if a sister does it, but so horrible when a guy does it? … I really get annoyed when it’s done with my brothers. SubhanAllah, imagine if a guy did that [to] your brother, went up to him and said, “Wow your sis is so beautiful…” The guy would be in a cast. Maybe I’m just extra protective over my brothers but it really makes my blood boil!”

Sister Y asks a very good question. Why is it socially OK for sisters to check out the brothers, but not vice versa, even though it is Islamically forbidden in both cases?

There may be many factors to this social phenomenon. One of which could be naiveté – since men pray in front of women, and the imam (one who leads prayer) is a brother, it is not so much of a taboo for a sister to look at brothers in front of her. Yet the Prophet ﷺ called our attention even to this and described the best lines in prayer for both genders when they are praying (in the same room):

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The best of the men’s rows (in prayer) is the first row and the worst is the last; but the best of the woman’s row is the last and the worst of their rows is the first.” [Muslim].

Another factor may be that oftentimes speakers, when discussing hayaa’ (translated as modesty), often attribute most of the sexual boldness to the men and do not address the women’s boldness in checking-out and approaching men. In more traditional societies, the shortage in reminders is not as problematic for it is a gender expectation for women to be more modest in their demeanor. This, however, is far from the reality we experience in contemporary Western society, and the shortage in reminders to the sisters is evident in many stories like that of Sister Y.

The degree that women (and men) fall short in fulfilling Allah’s command to lower their gaze and be chaste is only a manifestation of the disintegrated hayaa’ in the community. Modern disapprobation of modest demeanor and dress and the Western influences on Muslim-majority cultures may be contributing factors, but the main agent of disintegration is Muslims’ distorted definition of hayaa’. Hayaa’ is the modesty or shyness one feels to do anything sinful or distasteful in the presence of Allah, the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the All-Knowing. So even if a sister is modest in her dress and demeanor, to have complete hayaa’ she would need to be modest in what she looks at, in what she thinks about, and in what she talks about.

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16 Comments

  1. y says:

    I agree. I’ve always wondered the same thing. I think the same standards should be applied to both brothers and sisters. Brothers should be modest and lower their gazes, and so should sisters. Thanks for bringing the topic up.

  2. Young Sheikh Mujahid says:

    As salaamu alaikum ukhti. You make some good points concerning haya. Brothers always take heat when it comes to lowering the gaze but the sisters usually don’t get a slap on the wrist. Maybe the time I’m the khatib for jumu’ah, haya will be my next topic. Jazak Allahu Khairan.

  3. Very interesting, Shaykh. I have always thought that men need to do more to lower their gaze, but I never heard this perspective from the sisters. She makes a very good point. Thanks for the article.

  4. MW_M says:

    Agree completely!!!! Even most “religious” sisters have no problem saying such and such actor is HOT and this brother is so cute. If a guy did that….hah

  5. Daughter of Adam (AS) says:

    Sub7anAllah I see this all the time too.. I don’t understand why it’s accepted amongst girls still though!!! I think it’s kind of hypocritical!

  6. Ahmed says:

    Jazak’Allahu Khairan, excellent post. I have read about this issue on other blogs from time to time, where sisters write about encounters with fellow sisters where the latter made comments about some actor or another male. Also, with the issue of dress, some sisters who wear the hijab, seem to take it as too much of a fashion issue (from my recent trips to England) and actually attract more attention to themselves. Granted, I’m sure there is room for making one’s clothes more stylish, but it seems at times, that the message of modesty is somewhat lost – I would think it is better to dress modestly (without hijab) and not let one’s dress be a fashion statement and still carry oneself in a modest fashion. For example, again, on a blog by a sister I follow, she encountered someone who was fully covered (abaya, if I recall correctly), but had made adjustments to her outfit to make it more “fitting.” which, in my limited knowledge, would seem to defeat the entire purpose of hijab!

    Anyways, if I have made any ignorant or wrong statements, please forgive./correct me.

    • SamK says:

      Salam brother,

      While I respect your opinion and do understand and believe that modesty is essential to truly actualising our Deen, I want to bring up a different perspective.

      I began wearing hijab almost 7 years ago, and was initially met with discouragement and ridicule from both family and friends. Alhamdulillah things are different now, as Allah SWT grant relief and provides guidance.
      Besides the external difficulties, I also was battling internal ones. As a 15 year old, growing up in the West, it wasn’t very easy. I felt like someone who couldnt swim, trying to swim against a strong tide! But I found encouragement from, and could identify with other women who wore hijab, especially those who wore it fashionably. They made it seem doable, and in fact, appealing. And to a 15 year old fighting to keep the hijab on, this was nothing short of a blessing to me.

      Over the years Ive encountered many muslim women struggling with appearances and their modesty and what they should/could do differently. One aspect that I noticed across the board was a constant desire to improve oneself. None of the women felt that they had fulfilled their own standards for modesty and were constantly striving to make small but consistent changes.
      Though I do believe that hijab is fard, I think the issue is a little more complex, and should thus be handles with sensitivity and understanding.
      Every person has their own rate of personal growth and it will be different from others, and I think we need to accept that, and respect the sincerity involved.
      If a woman who used to wear fitted clothing, decides to make the big decision of wearing a hijab, should we then tell her that her hijab is useless? Are we qualified to say that she might as well not wear the hijab as she is wearing fitted clothing below the hijab? This is what Im trying to get at.
      Her sacrifice is for Allah SWT and we have no right to comment on her intentions or her way of trying to please Allah SWT.
      Perhaps she wishes first to be identified as a muslim by wearing a scarf, and will then also make other changes in her clothing when she is ready. Perhaps her intentions are more pure than others who appear more modestly dressed.

      We should instead be constantly encouraging all the women around us (and men) to keep striving for Allah SWTs pleasure, to keep moving forward, even if it is only baby steps. After all, it is Allah SWT who guides and opens our hearts, He will make sacrifice and change easy if He wills inshaAllah!

      Hope this can provide some useful insight, and May Allah SWT guide all of us to pursue the knowledge and practise of His Deen with sincerity, in the way sent to us in the Quran and Sunnah. Ameen!

  7. Sister Y says:

    Jazaaki Allahu khayran Asmaa for writing about this, it is so needed. Thank you for turning my frustration filled email into a beneficial article :) may Allah azza wa jal reward you greatly. Ameen.

  8. jasmien says:

    Allahu A’lam, but I don’t think attraction to a brother by a sister affects her the same way as physical attraction from a brother to a sister. This is why Allah swt ordered women to cover, and not men. I’m not saying that it should be okay for sisters to check out brothers and call them ‘hot’ and crush on actors and have their pictures up on walls, etc. I’m simply saying that in my humble opinion, it is much worse for a man to check out a sister than it is for a sister to check out a brother. This is probably why sisters are often not reprimanded for this type of behavior.

  9. abu abdullah says:

    [i]Why is it socially OK for sisters to check out the brothers, but not vice versa, even though it is Islamically forbidden in both cases?[/i]

    Jazak Allah khayr for the article and being honest enough to raise the issue. It will however be better for the women to take care of lowering their gaze on their part.

    I still feel as a brother, sisters haven’t yet reached the stage of undressing the opposite sex with their eyes and their natural hayaa prevents them from doing so.

    Allah knows best.

  10. lucield says:

    question:

    is simply remarking on someone being attractive (handsome, pretty) in of itself immodest? by this i don’t mean saying anything lewd or sexual, but simply making the remark that they are handsome or are pretty – i know we are commanded to be modest and lower our gaze, so my question is whether this remark is immodest – (note that i am not saying anything like hot, or commenting on body parts, i would say this falls under lewd language and thus immodest)

    also related, is remarking on someone being well dressed immodest? remarking on someone’s shirt, suit, etc. you get the picture – if you are the opposite gender.

    • y says:

      my opinion is that commenting on them being pretty or handsome is still immodest, just in a lesser way.

      In my opinion, also, i dont think its immodest to say someone is well dressed, if you’re just talking about their clothes (like if someone has a nice suit on or something like that)

  11. Derrick Peat says:

    Nice article.

    I think what was talked about in the article is an after effect of the accusations against Islam as being a religion that oppresses women. So to counter these claims, I think many callers to Islam just criticize brothers and our flaws. There definitely needs to be a sort of “gender balance” in the admonishments given, or we will see these sort of issues — and others not related to modesty — continue or get worse.

    Jazakum’Allao khairan.

  12. Maryam A says:

    barak Allahu fiki Asmaa!

  13. Shukran Ukthie for the reminder. May Allah(SWT) reward you. Ameena ya Rabbi

  14. L says:

    Great article, jazakiAllahu khayr. I agree with most of it although I feel this is an issue that needs to be expanded and looked at more critically.

    Yes, sisters do think it’s more okay for them to check out brothers than for brothers to check out sisters. Although I don’t agree that it is, I also don’t think it’s the same when each gender does it. Men tend to think more sexually when they look at a female, whereas women don’t do that (as much, anyway, from what i’ve seen). This is why women wear hijab and men don’t – partly because as physically attractive as men can be, the effect their physical attraction has on a woman is nothing like the effect a woman’s physical beauty can have on a man.

    Also – brothers seem to think it’s okay to show off their ‘beauty’ as well. We see brothers in the masjid all the time in tight shirts that show off their arms and chests (and of course they work out, not purely for the sake of health). We see their boxers come out of their pants and we see them in skinny jeans now (not that this is in any way attractive), but brothers must recognize that they, too have a responsibility to cover themselves and wear looser clothing that isn’t meant to show off.

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