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What Muslims mean when they say they should be modest towards the members of opposite sex

 


Modesty is among the fundamental social teachings of Islam. Modesty sums up all the virtues and morals that Islamic teachings aim at inculcating in the Believers. There are clear instructions in Islam about Modesty toward God, towards fellow beings, and towards the members of the opposite sex. Modesty towards the opposite sex means to observe certain limits of decency and, indeed piety, in matters of talking and interacting by other means.

In fact, pre-Islamic Arabia was sunk in the ocean of immorality, indecency, and immodesty and the Islamic teachings made a successful attempt to reverse the whole scenario. So the Holy Quran and Sunnah introduced and guided the Muslims about all aspects of living a modest life and observing moral values. Surah 100 (The Believers) states an important characteristic of true believers who are cautious about their talking by saying:

"The believers are those) who avoid vain talk". (100:3).

This is very important for men and women who are not intimately related to each other because vain and indecent talk is bound to lead to the major sin of fornication which has been strongly condemned in Islam. The Quran even instructs the believers to lower their gaze because that carries the potential of opening the floodgates of all immoral acts including fornication and adultery. It says:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. And say to the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty..." (24:30-31).

The Holy Prophet () for the same reason also said:

"Guard your modesty and lower your gaze".

The Holy Prophet () himself set the best example of modesty by never raising his gaze while talking to unfamiliar women. The Quran similarly enjoins Muslim women to avoid all such acts that are likely to attract and tempt men towards them because such temptation may set in a vicious cycle of many immoral deeds. The Quran says: 

...that they (women) should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands... that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments... ... ..". (Sura An Nur).

The Islamic teachings discourage and even condemn all modes of vanity, boasting, and showing off in general by the believers and in particular by the believing women. The Quran, therefore, repeatedly asks Muslim women to observe Hejab (Purdah) in order to remain modest. It says:

"O Holy Prophet ()! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments (Jalabeeb or Hejab) over the persons (when abroad). That is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested... ... ..." (33:59) (The Allies).

Thus, we can see that the core of Islamic teachings about modesty revolves around the commandments concerning showing off by different means by vain talks, seductive steps, or dress or by similar modes. This is so because Islam stands for training its followers in observing and developing self-restraint and self-control in all walks of life. The members of the opposite sex have been specially instructed in observing the limits prescribed by God so that they may not indulge in the worst kind of immorality, that is, adultery. The Quran, for this reason, says:

"Do not come near adultery, for it is a shameful deed and an evil, opening the road (to other evils)". (17:32).

As a healthy alternative to adultery, Islam has provided the option of limited polygamy so that Muslim men can save themselves against the major sin of adultery for which the severe punishment of 80 stripes has been prescribed. In view of all this, the Holy Prophet () declared modesty as a mark of the identity of Islam. By observing modesty not only Muslim men earn the blessing and favor of God but also Muslim women are able to enhance their social standing and value. In brief, Islam simply discourages members of the opposite sex from mixing or coming closer unless absolutely necessary because this is just the first step towards many acts of disobedience to God. Finally, modesty between mother and sons and father and daughters is to be observed in the light of the Quranic injunctions and the life of the Holy Prophet ().


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