Haya : Concept of Shyness in Islamic Thought

Haya is an important topic in Islamic aqeedah and ethics and one of those unique terms that are difficult to translate into western languages. Haya is one of the main ingredients of Islamic ethics, one prime attribute of  a “true Muslim”.

First, Haya’s orientation and reference point is not “this world”. One can have haya only if he diverts his whole gaze and focus towards “akhirat”, afterlife.

Dictionary meaning of haya contains words like  shame, shyness, bashfulness and embarrassment. Linguistically these might hold truth value but since haya, in it’s core meaning related to “fear of Allah(j.j)”, social connotations like embarrassment is not adequate, if not false.

Ahmet Rifat describes the concept of haya in his book Tasvir-i Ahlak(Illustration of Ethics) in two parts. He divides haya into as one “fitrat(natural, instinctive) related haya” and two as “religion related haya”

Fitrat related haya can be found, by birth, biological unless the individual has been cast away from his natural roots. It is the feeling of shyness where we try to adjust our behaviors in public. Religion related hava is when we want to adjust our behaviors even when we are alone, even there are no social circumstances that require behavioral adjustments.

Because a true Muslim is always aware of the fact that Allah(j.j) sees him even though “people” don’t see him. Therefore, he holds and maintains his haya because of his faith.

Having shame and embarrassment always require a social discourse. Haya doesn’t. Haya encompasses social values and tendencies. Naturally this doesn’t mean that a “true Muslim” would disregard social values and norms, far from opposite. His faith requires a stronger bond that just “social values”.

One has to have strong faith in Allah(j.j) to have haya. Surely, Allah’s(j.j) mercy is wide and deep and when we commit sin, he can forgive easily, depending our iklhas, the essence of our sincerity. However, the Muslim with haya would still feel “shy” about the sins he committed.

Haya brings extra sincerity to the divine relationship between the soul and his Creator.

There might situations in modern world, when a individual might be praised socially by performing a behavior and he would never feel embarrassed about it. However, this behavior might not be “praised” by Allah(j.j). When a person has “haya” he would feel embarrassed only in the account of Allah(j.j).

Prophet Muhammad(saw) indicates that haya is one branch of our faith. He described true haya as to protect our feeling and thoughts, protect what is inside our stomach(controlling what we eat and drink to stay away from gluttony) and keep on thinking about death and calamities and refrain from unnecessary worldly possessions.

İmam Mawarde divides haya into three and 1) feeling shyness from Ahllah(j.j) 2)feeling shyness from people. 3) feeling shyness from one’s own self. To feel shyness from Allah(j.j) is to performs his commands and staying away from his prohibitions.

Baris Tarimcioglu/islamoformation.com







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