Guidelines for Modesty in Character
Dear brothers and sisters,
Since past two weeks, we have been focusing our discussions towards various aspects of life and Huqooq-ul-Ibad (rights of the people) about those parts. Two weeks ago, we talked about being respectful towards our parents and discussed why disrespecting one’s parents is regarded second to Shirk. Last week, we discussed life at work and talked about the significance of showing honesty when conducting business or when at work. We cited multiple references in the Quran where Allah SWT takes a strong stance against those involved in usury (Arabic/Urdu: Riba) and advocates for Zakat. Similarly, we talked about what Allah SWT’s command has been in terms of keeping promises and fulfilling our side of the bargain once an agreement has been set and we used specifically Prophet Shoaib AS’s story as an example to show what happens when an entire nation decides to be deceitful in their dealings. Much like the last two weeks, today we will, yet again, discuss another topic that directly affects our behavior and how we operate in our daily lives. We are going to discuss the importance of Modest in the eyes of a Muslim (Arabic/Urdu: Hayaa), specifically when it comes to entering another person’s house and guarding our sight from gazing. We will discuss what Islam says in the Quran and Sunnah about this subject matter and about those who transgress on other’s privacy by spying on them.
According to a lecture by Mufti Tariq Masood, Quran, for the most part, likes to direct its message towards those who are either are non-Muslims or are becoming a Muslim. This is so that they can learn about Islam as the religion of justice and truth. At the time of prophet SAW, when people were reverting back to Islam, they were still learning the religion and hence, there was a lot of discussion going on between Muslims and non-Muslims alike about religion, so it is understandable why Quran tries to address several topics related to these individuals and directs several messages to those who don’t know. However, there are few Surahs & ayahs that have specifically been directed towards those who identify as Muslims e.g., Surah 49 (Surah Al-Hujaraat) & Surah 31 (Surah Luqman) and few verses of Surah 24 (Surah An-Noor). This is because in these Surahs, Allah SWT is highlighting problems that are found even in those who either have been Muslims for a while or who were born into this religion. These social problems that pertain to eyeing another individual are common in all communities, including ours, regardless of how a person looks, what status they have, whether they have a beard/take hijab or not, where they come from, what job they hold, etc. So, let's start the conversation via Surah An-Noor [24:27], where Allah SWT gives out a guideline about entering another individual’s home by saying: “O you who have believed, do not enter houses other than your own houses until you ascertain welcome and greet their inhabitants. That is best for you; perhaps you will be reminded.” To really understand this verse, we must understand that the several verses in the Quran can mean so much more if we pay attention to not only the text in the Quran but also the subtext associated with those verses as provided in the Sunnah of prophet SAW. E.g., when Quran says in Surah Isra [17:23] about our parents in old age “...say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.” Do you really think Allah SWT is implying that the word “uff” should be eliminated from our vocabulary and that’s it? I mean, sure, the literal translation is indeed just that but the true context to this verse is that we need to watch our tongues when we speak to our parents especially when they are of old age to the point that not even an “uff” comes out of our mouths. Hence, similarly, when Allah SWT says in Surah An-Noor that do not enter anyone else’s house until we ‘ascertain welcome’ and ‘greet their inhabitants’, the literal meaning word by word is that it is against good etiquette and Allah SWT’s guideline to enter someone’s house without their consent or without announcing your entry out loud. But, if we explore the context more in the Sunnah of prophet SAW, we’ll understand the true meaning of this verse isn’t limited to only stopping someone from entering another person’s premises without asking... it is to avoid nosing into matters that don’t pertain to you or to avoid spying on others.
When someone enters another person’s house without consent or without announcing, they expose themselves to several vices e.g., maybe their eyes would cross the opposite gender when they are not in a presentable state, or maybe they’ll overhear some news that the party was not intending to share, or maybe the party entering the household will learn of something that will not highlight the people of that household in good light. Remember, Islam does not condone highlighting weaknesses of others and commands against spreading gossip or backbiting. This isn’t my view, this is the opinion of scholars based on sunnah of Prophet Muhammad SAW. According to al-Bukhari in al- Adab al-Mufrad (Hadith 1093, classified as Sahih): The Prophet SAW said: “It is not permissible for a Muslim to look inside any house until he has been given permission.” This explanation of the verse in Surah An–Noor by prophet SAW is for those who might try to spy on others by looking inside their house or by trying to hear what’s going on inside and then try to justify their behavior by saying that Quran only prohibits entering the house. It does not say anything about looking in a house from the outside. Understand that Quran lays the foundation of a guideline and the sunnah elaborates those by examples. These are rules and are supposed to be taken for their context, not just for their literal translation so please, do be lost in the fitnah of becoming too literal in the interpretation of the Quran Allah SWT does not have a problem so much with entering a premise unannounced... he has a problem more so with invasion of privacy of another family or individual. This is proven by a hadith
in Riyad as-Salihin, Hadith 1544 where Prophet SAW said: “... he who seeks to listen to the talk of a people (secretly) will have molten lead poured into his ears on the Day of Resurrection...” Imagine, molten lead poured into ears as part of the punishment only because someone was secretly listening to another when they were not supposed to. Indeed, Allah SWT is severe in punishment, but He is also merciful. Thus, to save His creations, Allah SWT commands that if a person does not find permission to enter a home, they should turn back and not be adamant as shown in Surah An-Noor [24:28], where Allah SWT says: “And if you do not find anyone therein, do not enter them until permission has been given you. And if it is said to you, "Go back," then go back; it is purer for you. And Allah is Knowing of what you do.”
Dear Brothers and sisters,
To recap, if there is one thing to take away from today’s khutbah, please make sure all of us protect our eyes and ears from afflictions of the heart by guarding them and being cautious on what we do with them. Protecting these two sensory organs protects us from getting exposed to various forms of evils. Hence, Islam ordains people, specifically Muslims, in the Quran and Sunnah to not look into another person’s lives without their knowledge or consent or without announcing your entry into their houses. It is not worth it to put ourselves into a situation where we might hear or see something that we should not and by being mindful, we keep ourselves away from several forms of fifitnah e.g., the fitnah of Fahashi (English: indecency/sexual immorality), the fitnah of gossiping/backbiting, the fitnah of spying, etc. One of the easiest ways to figure out what kind of a person one is dealing with is to observe how the person looks at or operates around others. This isn’t my opinion... this, we know, through the example that Quran tells us when narrating the story of Musa AS (English: Moses) in Surah Al-Qasas, [Surah 28] where, between ayahs 23 to 26, Allah SWT talks about two women who were waiting by a well in Median to water their flock of sheep. They were waiting because these women were alone, they didn’t wish to mix or graze elbow to elbow with other men and the men ahead of them lacked courtesy to help them. Musa AS saw them from a distance, came over and without engaging in idle chit chat, he asked what they wanted and went ahead and watered their sheep and went back to resting under a tree. When the two women went back to their father, one of them said that Musa AS was trustworthy and strong so hire him. How do you think the two women figured out that he is trustworthy in a few min? Watering sheep does not take a long time and the conversation between Musa AS and the women was hardly of a min or two... not nearly enough to access someone’s character otherwise. It was Musa AS’s modesty (Arabic: Haya) in his eyes that compelled the women and later, their father, to call him trustworthy. This story in the Quran about Prophet Musa AS tells us two things, one, how a person looks at another person is a good gauge at what kind of a person they are and two, it is okay to address a person of opposite sex if they are helping them out or have some work or chore in mind.
So, in the end of today’s khutbah, I really recommend reading Surah Al-Hujaraat so everyone here can read what Allah SWT about modesty to those who are Muslims in specific., Because based on what we have discussed so far in Surah An-Noor and what is said in Surah Al-Hujaraat, it will become clear that Allah SWT has commanded us to make sure we maintain our dignity by maintain privacy of others at their home and that a Muslim is to maintain their distance from opposite sex to the best of their ability unless its work-related, in which case, they are to keep things cordial but short. Make sure that as a Muslim, we keep our gaze lowered, our ears away from listening to conversations not relevant or pertaining to us and protect ourselves from looking into other people’s home without their consent.