Abu Hurairah (RAA) narrated that the prophet SAAW said: “Faith is sixty some branches and modesty (Hayaa’) is one of these branches.”
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: “الإيمان بضعٌ وستّون شعبةً والحياءُ شعبةٌ من الإيمان.” البخاري
Faith is like a tree. It has roots, a trunk, branches, leaves and fruits. If trees cannot produce fruits except on that which the roots and trunk support, then by the same parable, faith cannot bloom in people’s hearts without certainty and sincere good deeds. And the same way tree branches vary in size, small ones dependent on bigger ones, faith also depends on the testimony of faith (Shahadah) and everything that falls under it, from the major tenets all the way down to the minor things such as removing obstacles from people’s path.
Modesty is one of the branches of faith, a major one as a matter of fact, because it is the self-scale, abstaining from all which is improper. The prophet (SAAW) called Hayaa’ the ethical mark that defines Muslims. He said: “For every nation, there is an ethical mark, and the ethical mark of my nation is Hayaa’.”
The prophet (SAAW) even spoke about one of Allah’s attributes as being Hayaa’. He said: “Your Lord is of Hayaa’ and honor, if one of His servants raises his hands in supplication, He (SW) feels shy to return them empty.” You can clearly see that such an ethical concept of Hayaa’ brings goodness with it even from God the Almighty.
Our beloved prophet (SAAW) was described by his companions as being of Hayaa’. Abu Saied Alkhudari said: “The prophet (SAAW) was shyer than a bride in her bedroom, if he saw something he disliked we could clearly notice it in his face.”
Modesty or Hayaa’ originates from the term Hayat or life, as if one without Hayaa’ has ethically died. The prophet (SAAW) said: “If you don’t have Hayaa’, then you are capable of anything.” In the Islamic terminology, it is the status of feeling shy or uncomfortable from doing anything that could be of a blame or failing to act on your responsibilities.
Some scholars tried to list these sixty some (seventy some in another narration) branches of modesty. Some others said it is a metaphor meaning too many rather than the exact fixed number. The truth is that the prophet (SAAW) did not specify what are these branches, and all analyses are just points of view.
Modesty or Hayaa’ comes in grades or levels. The most honorable of it is to feel shy or ashamed from using God’s provisions that He bestowed on you to commit sins. The prophet (SAAW) said: “Be shy from God in the rightful way.” Sahabah said: “We are, O messenger of Allah!” He (SAAW) said: “Not like this, true modesty is to preserve your head (brain) and that which it carries, to preserve your belly and that which it contains, and to remember death and decaying after. One who does that is of the rightful ones who are shy from God.”
One of the companions who was travelling asked the prophet (SAAW) to give him advice. The prophet (SAAW) said: “Be of Hayaa’ from Allah like you would be shy of doing something improper in front of the righteous person of your tribe.”
Our community needs to promote such an ethical concept of Hayaa’ among our children. It is the proper thing to do and preserves our mark as Muslims.
By Sh Kifah Mustapha
 Ibn Majah