The Psychology of Islamic Modesty

By Monique Hassan

What is modesty and what does it mean to you?

This is a question I believe all believers need to ask themselves. Modesty is an element found within many religions, it is a characteristic aligning with piety and respect. That is not to say that all who demonstrate modesty are pious, unfortunately, many look the part yet they do not act it. Ultimately, the psychology of Islamic modesty and self-respect are important aspects of Islamic character.

 

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term “Haya” covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَامِرٍ الْعَقَدِيُّ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ بْنُ بِلاَلٍ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ دِينَارٍ، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ الإِيمَانُ بِضْعٌ وَسِتُّونَ شُعْبَةً، وَالْحَيَاءُ شُعْبَةٌ مِنَ الإِيمَانِ

Sahih al-Bukhari

 

Some will give answers such as modesty is how we dress, our clothing should not be provocative or indecent. Sure, this is part of it. Modesty goes much deeper than just the clothing on our backs though. Modesty does involve protection of one’s chastity, but this is not the sole intention or benefit of modesty. A modest sister or brother avoids arrogant and disrespectful words, they do not boast nor backbite and they maintain a level pattern of speech.

And do not turn your cheek [in contempt] toward people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful. And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of donkeys.

وَلَا تُصَعِّرْ خَدَّكَ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَحًا ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

وَاقْصِدْ فِي مَشْيِكَ وَاغْضُضْ مِنْ صَوْتِكَ ۚ إِنَّ أَنْكَرَ الْأَصْوَاتِ لَصَوْتُ الْحَمِيرِ

Quran 31: 18-19

 

A modest individual takes into account their external appearance, how they talk to others, how they interact with their environment, their perspective is humbled and they strive for patience. In this we can see that Islamic modesty is much more than just dressing properly and lowering one’s gaze. It extends to the physical and mental. For example, a woman could be in a loose abaya with a long khimar, but if she is yelling at someone crudely on the street while waving her arms around she is not displaying modesty in her behavior.

 

How the Veil Impacts us Psychologically

To be clear, when I state the veil I am referring to the Islamic head covering and clothing. This could be associated with the niqab (only eyes show) or a head covering which shows the face fully.

When a sister dawns her veil for the first time, specifically when it is with the intention to wear it full-time, this has an emotional impact on her. It is more than just covering our head and aspects of beauty; it is a decision to be identified as a believer even if that means doing so amongst disbelievers and standing out as different. For those of us in western cultures, the veil is a walking shahada declaring your faith to the world. Absolutely, the Islamic Veil impacts you psychologically. Islamic modesty impacts our behavior, our emotions and all of this impacts our thought patterns.

You become more self-aware and have to remember that every action we do or don’t do, will be perceived as a perception of Islam. If a covered sister is rude, people will associate rudeness with Islam. If a covered sister is very patient and generous, people will then associate this positivity with Islam. This is an added level of anxiety for many in the west as we are expected to be exceptional billboards of piety, but we must remember no one is perfect.

Veiled sisters are choosing to alter their identity; they are seen as Muslim before anything else. This is more apparent in western cultures where the veiled woman will stand out and be more noticeable than other women around them. This makes some feel exposed and they begin to feel vulnerable, this fear escalates into anxiety and all too many debate removing their veil. In these moments of anxiety, it is important to remember why we cover. It is not for anyone, it is for Allah

And Allah is most knowing of your enemies; and sufficient is Allah as an ally, and sufficient is Allah as a protector.

وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِأَعْدَائِكُمْ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَلِيًّا وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ نَصِيرًا

Quran 4:45

 

Speaking Modestly

If we consider the impact of speaking modestly to others, we can see a great benefit and wisdom in this. Others will perceive us as being more patient, respectable and mindful. Anyone can yell or use crude language, but it takes more effort to present ourselves with calmness and truly listen to others to understand, not to respond.

We can gain more knowledge ourselves by actively listening and showing others this basic respect. In practicing this we are able to better understand different perspectives and in turn we can better defend our positions with intelligent and respectful words when we do disagree.

One’s career and family life are positively impacted such as if people know Brother Omar has a reputation for being modest and kind in his speech, they will be more likely to engage with Brother Omar and listen to his perspective. If Brother Omar was known for being rude and arrogant in his speech, people will go out of their way to avoid him and his voice will carry less weight.

Modesty as a Protection from Arrogance

We know arrogance is dangerous for Muslims and it is the opposite of humility and goes against modesty. This is not only a negative personality trait, original sin stems from pride and arrogance which we see in the account of Iblis (Shaytan) refusing to bow .

A believer that attempts to embrace modesty is also striving against arrogance. They are striving to become better in their representation of Islam and their obedience. That being said, sometimes modest clothing becomes a source of arrogance and this is a problem. A believer must be very cautious not to get trapped into thought patterns like “I am so modest, I am the best Muslim” or “That sister is not modest, what is wrong with her”. When this starts to happen, a seed of arrogance is blossoming from within and it will be in defiance of true modesty. As already mentioned, modesty is much more than just our clothing.

The external is often a reflection of the internal, thus we can say that a modestly dressed believer is showing their inner modesty. This is true much of the time, but not always. We must be mindful and self-aware to recognize when our external modesty is not lining up with the internal.

 

Final Thoughts

The psychology of Islamic modesty shows that modesty is more than just obedience; it is like many aspects of our faith, a blessing. At least 5 times a day we are bowing in submission and humility to Allah . In these moments we should be at our most modest internally and externally. We should feel a remembrance of the mercy and blessings we receive on a daily basis. The prayer mat is the place where the ultimate love story unfolds, our submission to our creator and our sustainer. Our modesty is a part of that submission and as we work to strengthen our modesty, we strengthen our bond to our faith.

So now I will ask again and I hope to see your answers. What is modesty and what does it mean to you?

Sexual Harassment Allegations in the Media Triggering Victims

By Monique Hassan

A growing number of sexual harassment allegations are currently seen in our media. One allegation has led to another like a domino effect. Some have taken the stance that the sexual harassment allegations are false and these are women attempting to force a feminist narrative while targeting influential men. I argue that sexual harassment allegations in the media can act as psychological triggers for survivors that previously did not speak out due to fear and other mediating factors.

This is not to say that all accusations are factual, we know that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

 

What is a Psychological Trigger

A trigger is a stimulus that acts as an alarm system, causing the person to recall an experience or a specific memory. They are transported back to this moment of trauma and it can be debilitating. The trigger itself may not be traumatic, but it can stimulate a previously traumatic event.

Triggers are unique and personal; what triggers one person will not trigger another. The survivor encountering a trigger will be transported back to that traumatic moment mentally and feel an emotional intensity similar to that of the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated by anything that interacts with our senses. This means someone could smell the perfume their attacker wore, hear a loud noise similar to a gun or watch media stories about sexual harassment that cause their sexual harassment and/or assault to replay in their minds while bringing up unresolved emotions.

When a particular stimulus triggers an emotional memory, it could be a happy memory that brings a smile or it could be a painful memory that left them traumatized. Specific anniversary dates often trigger emotional memories in people. Such as, nearing the date when a loved one passed away, memories of that person become consciously present in our minds and we think back to the day it actually happened. One person may use therapeutic coping skills and handle this relatively well; another person may feel debilitating sadness.

Can Sexual Harassment in the Media act as a Psychological Trigger

Some research has suggested that viewing traumatic images in the media can cause PTSD-like symptoms. A study conducted in 2002 concluded that watching media coverage of 9/11 can trigger PTSD symptoms in the viewers. Additionally, the severity of their symptoms was correlated with the amount of time the subjects spent watching the media.

Psychologist Simon Rego states in a recent interview, reminders can be anything from visiting the place the assault occurred or hearing a story about sexual assault, which can provoke an intense emotional and psychological reaction.

 

We can deduce from this that survivors can be psychologically triggered by seeing constant media headlines about sexual harassment allegations.

We can also consider that survivors witnessing these stories may feel it is okay for them to speak out now because they won’t be alone, they might feel safer and feel that their voice can finally be heard.

 

Ways to Reduce Sexual Harassment Within the Ummah

If we consider that even half of these allegations are factual, we must acknowledge that sexual harassment and assault is a real problem in our society and this begs the question how we can stop it. Firstly, we should never shame or ridicule a woman or man that is accusing someone of this. Just as the accused is innocent until proven guilty, the accuser must also be given time to prove their case.

Brothers need to be reminded about their obligations in terms of modesty, it is their duty to show respect to women and lower their gaze. A brother that is constantly staring at women (other than their wife), watching pornography, disrespecting women and making flirtatious remarks is a part of this problem. They may not be guilty of sexual harassment, but they are feeding into the issue and enabling objectification of women.

Some women have adopted the belief that freedom means purposefully embracing the role of a sexual-figure and some sisters are abandoning modesty for provocative clothing. Yet these same women are shocked when a man addresses them with immodest words. This is not to say that a man has any justification to act wrongly towards a woman, he never does, but it is a reality check if you present yourself in a disrespectful and immodest fashions then you are opening the door wider to disrespectful and immodest reactions. It is a man’s job to respect a woman; it is a woman’s job to give the man something to respect.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya (This term “Haya” covers a large number of concepts which are to be taken together; amongst them are self respect, modesty, bashfulness, and scruple, etc.) is a part of faith.

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَامِرٍ الْعَقَدِيُّ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ بْنُ بِلاَلٍ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ دِينَارٍ، عَنْ أَبِي صَالِحٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ الإِيمَانُ بِضْعٌ وَسِتُّونَ شُعْبَةً، وَالْحَيَاءُ شُعْبَةٌ مِنَ الإِيمَانِ

Sahih al-Bukhari

 

I have to note that even the most modest of women can still be sexually harassed or assaulted. It is not an impenetrable shield, it is a helper and modesty impacts so much more than just sexuality (mindset, actions, bond to faith, freedom etc), but that is another topic entirely.

 

Reclaim the Islamic Lifestyle

In this hyper-sexualized society that condones teenagers having premarital sex and advocates for annual slut-walks (people walk in lingerie or nude on public streets) which are coined as empowering, we as an ummah must reclaim the Islamic narrative and push for Islamic standards within our own communities. We cannot succumb to the lifestyle choices pushed on us in modern society, we must adhere to the sunnah as much as we can and follow the guidelines given to us from Allah

If we examine many of our lifestyle guidelines within our religion, we find that much of it is meant to protect us from these issues. Just to name two of these guidelines we can think of modesty and gender segregation.

Modesty (men and women) this is so much more than just the clothing on our backs. We must speak with a modest tongue, act in a modest way and conduct ourselves respectfully.

We know that the two genders are not to free-mix unnecessarily, that does not mean we cannot talk or work with them. We have countless examples from the sahaba of men and women interacting in a respectful manner. This means we interact in permissible ways, we can never be alone with them, we do not touch one another and our spouses should always be aware of these interactions

 

Final Thoughts

The prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse on the media is a psychological trigger for many men and women that have been victims. This stimulus brings up past emotional memories that need to find closure and it is natural for someone to feel safer in speaking up when they see others doing it first. We must seek truth and justice in all cases and as an ummah we must seek to hold true to our Islamic lifestyle. It is also important to remember it is not only women who are sexually harassed and abused, this happens to men and we can see that with the story of Yusuf (Alayhum us-Salaam).

 

Resources

Exposure, threat appraisal, and lost confidence as predictors of PTSD symptoms following September 11, 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15792033

SELF. We Asked Trauma Therapists How to Deal With Triggering News Headlines About Sexual Assault. https://www.self.com/story/how-to-deal-with-triggering-news-headlines-about-sexual-assault