Embracing the Abrahamic way through Modesty is fundamental in our soul’s development.
When Allah SWT sent down modesty and hijab, He the blurred lines of class, creed, and color, it protected and uplifted men and women. Specifically, Muslim women were all the same in the eyes of God, and therefore all deserved to be treated with respect and dignity. Wearing a head-covering was something that was only afforded to higher classes before then. In Islam, men and women are equal in front of God, a soul does not have a gender. At the same time, it also recognizes they are not identical. God created men and women with unique physiological and psychological attributes. In Islam, these differences are embraced as vital components to a healthy family and community structure with each individual contributing their own distinctive talents to society. Both are subject to modesty.
The external benefits of modestly like respect, dignity, protection are well known. But what of the inner dimensions of modesty?
Islam is about the purification of the soul. When all is said and done, it is the only thing that will be left of us on the day of judgment. The definition of modesty beyond the physical denotes a moderate self-view—seeing oneself as intermediate, rather than as very positive or very negative, on key personal attributes such as personality traits, abilities and skills, physical appearance, and social behavior. A moderate self-view may be entertained privately or expressed publicly. Hence, modesty does not exist only as a social phenomenon: rather, it possesses intrapsychic reality.
Someone who sees themselves as a capable and powerful person with a body that can help them to achieve great things may have a more positive self-image than one who derives validation from people outside themselves based on something that is designed to decay with time.
There are some studies that show modesty can affirm self-regulatory benefits. “Modest individuals are more likely to pursue long-term objectives (e.g., develop competency on a domain) rather than fulfill short-term emotional needs (e.g., feeling good about themselves)” (cf. Crocker & Park, 2004). The focus and achievement of these long-term goals lead to a more healthy, positive self-image.
Another study found that modest people may be less likely to misperceive having control over their environment (Sherman & McConnell, 1995). This idea is complementary to the Islamic belief of giving our trust (Amanah), ideas of control, over to God (SWT). As a result, modest people tend to fair better in their mental health as there is less self-hatred and blame when things go wrong.
There is an inner humility that comes with knowing we have no control in the end, all we can do is our best and let God do the rest. With the release of the ego (Nafs), we can start to hear the voice of God more clearly. With less perception of ourselves and less concern for the way others perceive us, there are fewer distractions and less self-identification. The emptying of ourselves, and the filling of it with devotion and love for Allah purifies us and moves us closer to him. We can focus more clearly on what matters: our deen, our deeds, and how we can help others.
Despite the difficulties involved in cultivating and sustaining modesty in our current place and time, it is beneficial to strive as it will develop our connection to Allah (SWT) and have a multitude of intrinsic benefits. It is a human tendency to judge and focus on the exterior. And modesty is embodied through the exterior AND interior. Let us not forget about the prudence of the inner dimensions on our path back to Allah (SWT).
Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The Costly Pursuit of Self-Esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 392–414.
Sherman, S. J., & McConnell, A. R. (1995). Dysfunctional implications of counterfactual thinking: When alternatives to reality fail us. In N. J. Roese & J. M. Olson (Eds.), What might have been: The social psychology of counterfactual thinking (pp. 199–231). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.