By Umm Khalid
Every woman wants to be beautiful, really beautiful.
But no amount of makeup or cosmetic procedures will make you as beautiful as haya’ will make you.
Haya’ makes a woman stunningly beautiful.
Haya’ is for both men and women, but its absence in especially women is jarring and disturbing.
An average-looking woman with haya’ is absolutely beautiful.
A physically pretty woman without haya’ is ugly.
The Arab saying goes,
جمال بلا حياء وردة بلا عطر.
“Beauty without haya’ is a rose without fragrance.”
Empty. Superficial. Disappointing.
The essence is gone.
Just as the essence of a rose is its beautiful fragrance, the essence of a woman is her beautiful haya’.
Without the essence, there is just an empty shell.
Haya’ is deeply embedded within the female fitra, the natural inclination and instinct of a woman.
Haya *is* femininity.
Allah tells us about feminine, haya’-ful women in the Quran:
1. Maryam عليها السلام:
Maryam was intense in her level of haya’. As soon as she sees the angel in the form of a human man, she seeks to preserve her haya’ immediately.
قَالَتْ إِنِّىٓ أَعُوذُ بِٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ مِنكَ إِن كُنتَ تَقِيًّۭا
“She appealed, “I truly seek refuge in the Most Compassionate from you! ˹So leave me alone˺ if you are God-fearing.”
قَالَ إِنَّمَآ أَنَا۠ رَسُولُ رَبِّكِ لِأَهَبَ لَكِ غُلَـٰمًۭا زَكِيًّۭا
He responded, “I am only a messenger from your Lord, ˹sent˺ to bless you with a pure son.”
قَالَتْ أَنَّى يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ وَلَمْ أَكُ بَغِيًّا
She wondered, “How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, nor am I unchaste?”” (Surat Maryam, 18-20)
2. Daughters of Shu`ayb:
After Musa عليه السلام watered the flock of two women whom he later found out were the daughters of Shu`ayb, one of them came back toward him to tell him that her father wants to speak with him. But how does she walk as she approaches him?
فَجَآءَتْهُ إِحْدَىٰهُمَا تَمْشِى عَلَى ٱسْتِحْيَآءٍۢ قَالَتْ إِنَّ أَبِى يَدْعُوكَ لِيَجْزِيَكَ أَجْرَ مَا سَقَيْتَ لَنَا…
“Then one of the two women came to him, walking bashfully. She said, “My father is inviting you so he may reward you for watering ˹our animals˺ for us…”” (Surat Al-Qasas, 25)
The literal translation of the words “تَمْشِى عَلَى ٱسْتِحْيَآءٍۢ ” is: “she walks on top of haya’.” She has attained such a high level of haya’ in her mannerisms and actions and behavior that when she walks, she walks *on top of* haya’ itself! This is a linguistic exaggeration, or a metaphor, to show her beautiful demeanor of haya’.
Additionally, when one of these girls wanted to marry Musa, she did not make a direct statement or an obvious request. To do so would lessen her feminine haya’. So what she did was gently suggest to her beloved father that he hire Musa for work, praising Musa as strong and trustworthy. And just from this subtle, indirect comment alone, the father understood his modest daughter’s message, and he opened the marriage discussion with Musa.
قَالَتْ إِحْدَىٰهُمَا يَـٰٓأَبَتِ ٱسْتَـْٔجِرْهُ ۖ إِنَّ خَيْرَ مَنِ ٱسْتَـْٔجَرْتَ ٱلْقَوِىُّ ٱلْأَمِينُ
“One of the two daughters suggested, “O my dear father! Hire him. The best man for employment is definitely the strong and trustworthy ˹one˺.” (Surat Al-Qasas, 26)
3. Wives of the Prophet ﷺ:
The righteous, honored wives of the Prophet ﷺ were all women of immense haya’.
يَـٰنِسَآءَ ٱلنَّبِىِّ لَسْتُنَّ كَأَحَدٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ ۚ إِنِ ٱتَّقَيْتُنَّ فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِٱلْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ ٱلَّذِى فِى قَلْبِهِۦ مَرَضٌۭ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلًۭا مَّعْرُوفًۭا
“O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women: if you are mindful ˹of Allah˺, then do not be overly effeminate in speech ˹with men˺ or those with sickness in their hearts may be tempted, but speak in a moderate tone.
وَقَرْنَ فِى بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلَا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ ٱلْجَـٰهِلِيَّةِ ٱلْأُولَى…
And settle in your homes, and do not display yourselves as women did in the days of ˹pre-Islamic˺ ignorance…” (Surat Al-Ahzab, 32-33)
Now we have a clearer picture of the woman with haya’.
Let’s make a list of concrete and actionable points, to better understand and pin down this beautiful, elusive quality of feminine haya’:
1. A woman of haya’ is dignified in her speech. She is classy, not crass or crude in her words. Cursing or swearing is the opposite of haya’.
2. She is subtle and delicate in her words and gestures. She is never brazen or bold.
3. She guards her chastity diligently. She is as far as it is possible to be from sexual scandal, sexual immorality, displays of lust or brazenness.
4. She avoids speaking to strange men. If she *must* speak to a non-mahram man, she does not soften her voice or use sweet words or laugh or giggle at him. Such displays of her lovely femininity are reserved for her husband and kin.
5. She avoids interactions with strange men. She does not approach them or walk to or around them. But if she *must* do so, then she walks on haya’ as the daughter of Shu`ayb did.
6. She avoids any sort of prolonged eye contact with strange men. Part of haya’ is lowering the gaze. She does not look into the eyes of a non-mahram man or openly stare or allow him access to eye contact with her.
7. She is dignified in her thoughts and noble in her niyya (نية, intentions). She does not have ill will or malice in her heart or immoral or lustful thoughts in her mind.
8. When she is outside in public, she is demure, quiet, reserved. She is calm and collected. She is never loud, ostentatious, attention-grabbing. The opposite would be a woman who yells or bellows in public, laughs uproariously, or talks loudly even if it’s with her female friends.
9. She guards her beauty, covering her body and her natural feminine adornments with appropriate hijab when she goes out. She is careful not to have skin or hair showing in the presence of men. Her clothes are long, loose, flowy. Some modern examples of a failure of haya’ are trends like the turban hijab, skinny jeans, short or tight tops, high heels, etc.
10. She stays home generally, only leaving the safety and peace of her domestic domain when necessary. She knows her priorities and does not flit from place to place all day every day, party-hopping and only coming home to sleep after being out all day. Her home is her sanctuary, in which she is settled like a queen.
A woman of dignity and decorum.
A woman of propriety and piety.
A woman of iman and taqwa.
Her haya’ is transformative: it turns her from a woman into a feminine lady, and it turns her prettiness into true beauty.