x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Modesty is a forgotten virtue on our nation's campuses

Covering one's head is only a symbol of modesty, not the heart of it.

In our culture and religion, the concept of "modesty" has its own exquisiteness and beauty. Modesty is a characteristic displayed in behaviour, appearance and speech. For many in the West, the modest dress of Muslims, specifically the woman's headscarf or hijab, has become synonymous with the concept of modesty in Islam.

However, most people often forget that covering the head is only one symbol of modesty. Muslims should have both inner and outer modesty.

Islam commands us to lower our gaze to avoid lustfulness, guard modesty and chastity, and refrain from drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. The black abayas we wear are an obvious example of our modesty. But in today's Emirati culture, it seems that guarding modesty and chastity is a slowly dying tradition.

In the past three years of my life at Zayed University, I have come across many students who have forgotten the essence of being modest. Some students wear a disguise of being modest outside the campus, but they expose themselves once on campus in ways that could attract attention. Many of the young women open their abayas once on campus, allowing anyone to see their clothing underneath. Often this clothing isn't very Islamic.

Some students might claim that opening their abayas is acceptable because the campus is solely for girls. But in reality, many male faculty members and staff also work on campus. Three years ago, there was a balance in regard to the amount of girls who were modest and humble. But, year after year, modesty is being discarded.

The modest garment of a Muslim woman covers from head to toe, leaving the face, hands and wrists showing. But some girls have corrupted the meaning of modesty to suit themselves. When walking on campus, I see open abayas, tight T-shirts and jeans, and sheer leggings that clearly outline body shape. Some young women have boys' haircuts and wear outfits that make it difficult to distinguish their gender. The most troubling part in this daily drama is that some students fail to cover their chests with their abayas.

What amazes me is the sudden transformation of a few students who once opposed this phenomenon. I know students who once stood up and spoke out on this issue and its potential negative impact on society and future generations. However, this shift has influenced them as well and they no longer call for a return to modesty.

I cannot understand the cause of this hypocrisy - they modestly wear their abayas in public but behave differently on campus. Are some of them behaving immodestly on campus to "fit in" or do they actually believe that they shouldn't have to dress modestly?

There is a misconception among a few students that the headscarf is a cultural tradition when it is a religious commandment. All Muslim women who hit puberty are commanded to cover their beauty and adornment from the opposite sex. Allah says in the Quran: "….and to draw their veils all over their Juyub" [24:31]. The word "Juyub" in the verse means to cover chests and necks so that nothing can be seen. This verse clearly indicates that women should wear the outer garment in such a way as to cover their chests and ribs, so that they will be different from the women of the pre-Islamic era or Jahiliyyah. In those days, women would pass in front of men with their chests completely uncovered, and with their necks, forelocks, hair and earrings uncovered.

Islam teaches us to be honest, humble and sincere to ourselves because all these aspects are a form of being obedient to Allah Almighty. If one forgoes the taste of modesty, dignity will also seem tasteless along with it.

Dear sisters, if you want to adopt a certain lifestyle, be genuine about it and avoid contradicting yourself and breaking the trust of people who care about you. Dress at home the way you dress on campus so that your feelings about modesty are shared with your family - not just your fellow students at Zayed University.

The reason for raising the issue of modesty is not to call for a dress code on campus; the university cannot impose modesty on mature students. I hope that students will awaken and ponder their behaviour on and off campus.

To avoid this contagious phenomenon, parents should pay more attention to their children, especially daughters. They should make sure their children understand the importance of modesty in Islam and constantly remind them to adhere to their Islamic values and teachings to avoid the wrong path.


Asmaa Saif al Hamely is a student in the College of Communication and Media Sciences at Zayed University