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Haya is an Arabic word derived from the word hayat, which means life. This term covers a wide number of concepts. In English, it may be translated as modesty, shyness, self-respect, bashfulness, shame, honor, humility, etc. The original meaning of haya refers to a bad and uneasy feeling accompanied by embarrassment, caused by one's fear of being exposed for some unworthy or indecent conduct.
Islamically, haya is an attribute which encourages believers to avoid anything distasteful. It keeps them from being neglectful in giving others what is due upon them, and if for any reason they are not able to keep up with their commitments, then they will feel extremely uncomfortable and ashamed about this. The main reason for this uncomfortable feeling would be the knowledge that they had displeased Allah.
Haya plays a huge role in the lives of Muslims because it is a very important part of our Iman (faith/belief). If we do not have any form of haya within us then it is most likely that our Iman is very weak. It states in the following hadith:
Narrated by Abu Huraira (ra): The Prophet (SAW) said, "Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya is a part of faith." (Bukhari)
We also learn from the Prophet (saw) the importance of having haya and how it is not something to be ashamed of, but instead, one should be concerned and embarrassed if they do not possess it within their character.
Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar (ra): The Prophet (saw) passed by a man who was admonishing his brother regarding Haya and was saying, "You are very shy, and I am afraid that might harm you." On that, Allah's Apostle (SAW) said, "Leave him, for Haya is (a part) of Faith." (Bukhari)
The above hadith is also a form of proof that "shyness" is not just something regarding women but also an attribute that believing men should have, for it is an indication of their fear of Allah and an indication of the value of their Deen.
We often find that shyness, humility and bashfulness are frowned upon by our society as a weakness or a lack of confidence when, in fact, these are qualities of a dignified upright human being, who is conscious of his actions and his responsibilities in life.
There are two different types of haya—the good haya and the bad. The good haya is to be ashamed to commit a sin or a thing which Allah and His Messenger (saw) has forbidden. The bad haya is to feel ashamed to do a thing which Allah and His Messenger (saw) has ordered us to do.
There are different types of good haya. For example, a believer should build his personality and character with the good dimensions of haya. The most important is that he must be shy of doing ANYTHING displeasing to Allah (SWT) with the belief that he will have to answer for all his deeds. If one develops a sense such as this one, it will help the believer to obey all of Allah's commandments and to stay away from sins.
Once the believer realizes that Allah (SWT) is watching us all the time and we will have to answer to every move we make in this dunya (world), he would not neglect any order from Allah or His Messenger (saws). So the stronger this sense of haya becomes, the more it motivates one to make sure that Allah (SWT) doesn't see him doing anything prohibited. The way to develop this haya is that one must keep learning and absorbing more knowledge and applying it to his life. Another type of haya is more of a social aspect concerning others besides Allah (SWT). Normally these things often come in regard with one's relationship with family. For instance, a child not wanting to do something displeasing to his mother, or a wife not wanting to do something displeasing to her husband, or even a student who is careful about saying something incorrect in front of his teacher are all forms of haya.
Last but not least is the type of haya in which the believers become shy of themselves. This is when they have reached the peak of their Iman. For example, if they do, say, or see anything wrong or even commit the tiniest sin, they start to feel extremely bad and embarrassed or they feel extreme guilt in their hearts. This builds a high degree of selfconsciousness and that is what strengthens a Muslim's commitment to Allah (SWT).
After discussing the various types of "beneficial" haya, it is time to discuss the type of haya which is not only against the teachings of our Prophet (saw), but it is also solid proof of the weakness of someone's Iman. This negative aspect revolves around a person's shamefulness or shyness of doing something that Allah (SWT) has ordered us to do through the Qur'an or our Prophet's (saw) Sunnah. This constitutes the shamefulness or embarrassment of doing a lawful act or something that is ordered upon us from Allah (SWT). This means that someone does not follow an obligation of Islam due to the fact of being shy in front of others about it. This is totally forbidden because then one is giving the people of this dunya more respect than the One who Created this whole universe. An example of this type of bad haya is to neglect making one's prayer in a public place due to being embarrassed in front of others. Another example would be that many sisters feel embarrassed to wear hijab for fear of being laughed at or made fun of. If someone really had haya they would never contradict ANYTHING that Allah (SWT) has ordained upon us even if they found it a test and a trial.
Modesty (haya) and maintaining one's honor and dignity are of primary importance in preserving the moral fiber of any society. This is why modesty has been called the ornament of a woman, which protects her from many sins and which prevents ill-intentioned men from daring to have bad thoughts about her. This haya has been made a part of her nature to safeguard her from being abused by immoral men.
Haya is a special characteristic of a Mu'min (believing, practicing Muslim). Haya and Iman are interdependent; therefore either they both exist together or they both perish. The Prophet (saw) has said in one hadith, "When there is no haya left, then do as you please."
There are many wonderful benefits of haya. First, Allah (SWT) loves haya. We know this by the following hadith: "Surely Allah (is One who) has haya and is the Protector. He loves haya and people who cover each other's faults." (Bukhari)
Secondly, haya itself is a greatness of Islam as our Prophet (saw) indicated: "Every way of life has a innate character. The character of Islam is haya." Or "Every deen has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty (haya)." (Abu Dawood)
Third, haya only brings good and nothing else. Our Prophet (saw) said: "Haya does not bring anything except good." (Bukhari)
Fourth, Haya is a very clear indication of our Iman. As the Prophet (saw) had mentioned to the Ansar who was condemning his brother about being shy: "Leave him, for Haya is (a part) of Faith." (Bukhari)
Last, Haya leads us to PARADISE. As the Prophet (saw) told us: "Haya comes from Iman; Iman leads to Paradise. Obscenity comes from antipathy; and antipathy leads to the fire." (Bukhari)
As mentioned before, since the actual word Haya is derived from Hayat, which means life, it is only obvious that when someone has Haya in them, they will live a life of Islam. On the other hand if they do not have Haya they are living a life that is dead "Islamically", but alive according to this dunya.
The Prophet (saw) said: "Haya and trustworthiness will be the first to go from this world; therefore keep asking Allah for them." (Baihaqi)
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