بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والحمدلله رب العالمين و الصلاة والسلام على أشرف الأنبياء والمرسلين
We all know that when we come to the prayer, we are coming to stand before Allah. It is thus necessary to clothe ourselves accordingly and it is praiseworthy to beautify ourselves, perfume ourselves and use the siwak in preparation for this momentous meeting with Him; for the prayer is our connection to God – it is our dialogue with Him (swt).
Yet as we stand before Allah, and as we go through life, we must clothe more than our bodies, for our exterior actions and appearances are merely the apparent manifestation, not necessarily the inner reality of our relationship with God.
As the great early scholar Abu Talib al-Makki said in his Qoot al-Qulub (or ‘The Sustenance of Hearts’ as it might be translated):
الإيمان عريان ولباسه التقوى وزينته الحياء وثمراته العلم
“Iman (belief or faith) is naked; but its clothing is taqwa (uprightness and God-consciousness), its adornment is haya’ (modesty and shyness), and its fruit is knowledge.”
This is actually a very profound statement when we reflect for it delineates the growth of the heart from iman to islam to ihsan. Belief, by default, is bare; it is real to be sure, but it is unprotected. It is complete, but it is not ‘complet-ed’. It is much the way that Allah describes the husband and wife in the Quran:
هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَهُنَّ
“They are a clothing for you as you are a clothing for them” (Surah Baqara – part of verse 187). We are created as whole individuals, yet we are also created with a desire to clothe ourselves not only literally with garments but metaphorically by way of marriage insofar as spouses should help one another have taqwa of Allah and bring each other closer to Him. Taqwa is not simply awareness and fear of God, rather, it is a fear we desire, a fear we actually want to have. This is because having taqwa protects us the way that clothes protect us, and the way that a spouse gives one comfort and also protects one from the badness and baseness of the world. Therefore, we must enrobe ourselves and our iman with taqwa.
In the Quran, Allah says: “O children of Adam, We have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness (taqwa). These are some of God’s signs, that they may take heed” (Al-A’raf, ayah 26). We see that taqwa is an extension of iman, and that it is very much a part of the path to perfection, or ihsan, “…which is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless sees you.” This is excerpted from the rigorously authenticated hadith, described by Imam Nawawi as one of the ahadith upon which the Islamic religion revolves.
Indeed, it is with proper taqwa that we begin to understand the import of Allah’s commands and submit ourselves in deed and action. Shaykh Abu Talib al-Makki said that “taqwa gives you a criterion (فرقان) by which to differentiate light and dark, right and wrong; have taqwa and Allah will teach you.” What he means by this is that taqwa will allow us to see things for their intrinsic realities; we will recognize the truth behind worldly things: that they are all transient, ephemeral, dying. Only our actions which were solely and sincerely for Allah are carried with us unto that “… Day which shall make children turn grey-headed.” Only our iman endures. (see Surah Muzzammil, ayah 17)
For this reason, the moment that one’s parents die – if they die in disbelief – you’re not allowed to pray for them; and that is because at the moment of death, the bonds of blood are meaningless; and the only bond of any importance is the bond of iman. And as we’re lowered down in our grave, our brothers and our sisters are the brothers and sisters of iman – those are the people you’ll be raised up with as a family – it’s not the people you might have been directly related to by blood, yet there was no iman to bind you. The blood bonds are earthly, but the bonds of iman are eternal.
Although this thought evokes sadness, as it should, we must remember that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was always praying for Allah to guide people, to guide everyone, to this religion. At the same time, we might also remember that Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) faced much the same difficulty with his own family – yet he held onto the rope of Allah with certainty that Allah knows best.
If taqwa is our garb, then haya’ is our ornamentation – it is that which decorates and beautifies our iman, as it is in fact a defining quality of our religion. As the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Every religion has its characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is modesty” (al-Muwatta’). Haya’ is a kind of mixture of modesty, shyness, humility, whereby one would feel shame even at the thought of disobedience to Allah. As the Prophet (pbuh) has said, “God is more deserving than other people of shyness” (Abu Dawood). From this stems diligence in the performance of prayers and good works, and a proclivity to leave doubtful matters.
It comes in the Book of Wara’ (or Scrupulousness) of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal that a man once asked him about honey that was coming from the land of the Romans, as to whether it was permissible for him to eat it. Imam Ahmad answered, yes; but what is important to understand here is that this question itself – this hesitation – was coming from a deep, deep scrupulousness and awareness of his Lord. The man was afraid even to eat something that bees had made by virtue of the fact that it was coming from a land that had doubtful matters in it. This is how the early Muslims were – they were concerned about their hearts. They understood that righteousness is good behaviour, it is moral behavior; this is how to grow closer to Allah and arrives at his Lord: a healthy heart only comes from remembrance of one’s Lord.
If this happens and remembrance and righteousness becomes a habit, we begin to develop a deeper understanding of our own selves and our relationship with the sunna and with God; and this is when the fruits of knowledge begin to grow. In essence, haya’ is a kind of adornment because it becomes the firmly established character of someone, deeply-rooted in his or her thinking, practice, and being. As the Arabs say:
الأدبُ يُزيِّنُ الغنيّ ويَسترُ فقرَ الفقير
“Etiquette adorns the rich and hides the poverty of the poor.” Put another way: with the proper adab and character, the distinction between rich and poor melts away. Social class had little to no meaning amongst the salaf because they saw that everything was from Allah; they defined themselves not by material wealth but by knowledge & spiritual growth, for the former is worldly, but the latter is eternal: knowledge is about the path to refining ourselves by truly following the sunna of our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to the letter, out of love for him, and out of unshakable conviction that it is the way to Allah.
This then – all of this – is the foundation from which knowledge may grow. Iman, taqwa, haya’: they are all necessary components to having a sound heart and virtuous character. These are the inward garments we must don in order to gain sound knowledge and character. As the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself said, “I was only sent to perfect noble character,” (Ahmad) and, “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character” (Tirmidhi). This is the prerequisite to knowledge – and it is also complimentary to it – since the point of seeking knowledge is to put into practice that which is learned. “One drop of caprice,” said Abu Talib al-Makki, “would ruin an ocean of knowledge…. A person of knowledge is not just one who knows good from evil; he is one who knows the better of two evils or two goods.”
True knowledge will spring forth from the tranquility, sakina, and steadfastness attained by purifying one’s character of its negative qualities and grasping the true weightiness of this religion. Allah tells us in the Quran that we are created to worship Him. Yet how often do we remember this? It is Allah who looks at our hearts – i.e., our iman – to differentiate between us; would we not thus want to nourish, strengthen, and beautify ourselves with those things which complete us, which purify and raise us inshAllah?
May Allah give us unwavering iman, ever increasing; and may He allow us to adorn our faith with taqwa and haya’ such that our inner beauty might shine through; and may He make it easy for us to nurture the fruits of knowledge until we achieve full understanding and appreciation of our servitude to Him. Ameen