بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
At several places in the Quran, Allah has described events in history by mentioning some details and leaving others out. It is interesting to note, especially for any ardent student of knowledge who loves to ponder on the Quran, how Allah chooses specific Arabic words to describe actions, objects, events, or all, in a way that reveals certain details.
Arabic is a very comprehensive language, in which, for example, you will find several words apparently used to denote the same thing, yet, each is unique because it describes a particular aspect or characteristic of that thing. Just as an example, the words قلب and فؤاد are both used for “heart” in the Quran, yet, each has subtle differences that would necessitate entire sentences in English to get the full translation of their meaning across!
I had a myriad of confusing notions in my mind, which became endless questions that I wish someone could answer for me in detail.
As we know, hijab is not just the physical attire that a Muslim woman dons before men who are not her mahrums. It also includes her mannerisms, gait, tone of voice, facial expression and overall demeanor/body language, when out and about in public.
After some years of pondering on the Quran, I have realized that this Book doesn’t provide direct, clear-cut instructions to us, the way, for example, a user manual for a washing machine would tell us how to load it with laundry. It is a Book that invites us to ponder and reflect; to use our intellect and grasp the inner meanings of the verses that Allah revealed to us.
I love the way Allah mentions people in the Quran – highlighting their good points when He is pleased with them, so that we indirectly identify the stamp of approval He has given to their behavior, in order to incorporate that behavior of theirs in our own actions.
As a young Muslim woman who had just started hijab, who was seeking answers to questions about how women should carry themselves in public, I was fortunate to grasp the innate meaning of a two-word phrase (highlighted below) used by Allah to describe a shy young woman’s praiseworthy demeanor, whilst narrating an incident in the life of Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] in Surah Al-Qasas [28: 23-28].
Below is the explanation of these verses taken from Tafsir Ibn Kathir at tafsir.com:
وَلَمَّا وَرَدَ مَآءَ مَدْيَنَ وَجَدَ عَلَيْهِ أُمَّةً مِّنَ النَّاسِ يَسْقُونَ وَوَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمُ امْرَأَتَينِ تَذُودَان
“And when he arrived at the water (a well) of Madyan,” which means, ‘when he reached Madyan and went to drink from its water,’ “for it had a well where shepherds used to water their flocks,” meaning he found there a group of men watering, “and besides them he found two women who were keeping back,” which means, they were stopping their sheep from drinking with the sheep of those shepherds, lest some harm come to them. When Musa saw them, he felt sorry for them and took pity on them.
قَالَ مَا خَطْبُكُمَا
“He said: “What is the matter with you?” meaning, ‘why do you not water your flocks with these people?’
قَالَتَا لاَ نَسْقِى حَتَّى يُصْدِرَ الرِّعَآءُ
“They both said: “We cannot water until the shepherds take…” meaning, `we cannot water our flocks until they finish.’
وَأَبُونَا شَيْخٌ كَبِيرٌ
“And our father is a very old man,” which means, “this is what has driven us to what you see.’
“So he watered (their flocks) for them,”
ثُمَّ تَوَلَّى إِلَى الظِّلِّ فَقَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّى لِمَآ أَنزَلْتَ إِلَىَّ مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَقِيرٌ
“Then he turned back to shade, and said: ‘My Lord! Truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!”’
“Towards the shade,” Ibn `Abbas, Ibn Mas`ud and As-Suddi said: “He sat beneath a tree.” `Ata’ bin As-Sa’ib said: “When Musa said:
رَبِّ إِنِّى لِمَآ أَنزَلْتَ إِلَىَّ مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَقِيرٌ
‘My Lord! Truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!’ the women heard him.”
When the two women came back quickly with the sheep, their father was surprised that they returned so soon. He asked them what had happened, and they told him what Musa [عليه السلام] had done. So he sent one of them to call him to meet her father. Allah says:
فَجَآءَتْهُ إِحْدَاهُمَا تَمْشِى عَلَى اسْتِحْيَآءٍ
“Then there came to him one of them, walking shyly” – meaning, she was walking like a free woman, as it was narrated from `Umar bin Al-Khattab [رَضِىَ اللهُ عنه]: “She was covering herself from him with the folds of her garment.”
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that `Amr bin Maymun said, `Umar [رَضِىَ اللهُ عنه] said: “She came walking shyly, putting her garment over her face. She was not one of those audacious women who come and go as they please.” This chain of narrators is sahih.
قَالَتْ إِنَّ أَبِى يَدْعُوكَ لِيَجْزِيَكَ أَجْرَ مَا سَقَيْتَ لَنَا
She said: “Verily, my father calls you that he may reward you for having watered (our flocks) for us.”
This is an example of good manners: she did not invite him directly lest he have some suspicious thoughts about her. Rather she said: “My father is inviting you so that he may reward you for watering our sheep,” i.e., give you some payment for that.
Imam Sa’di [رَحِمَهُ الله] says in his tafsir, “This [description] points to her proper upbringing and her good character, for indeed haya is from the most honorable of manners, and is a special trait in women. It also shows that Musa [عليه السلام] did not assist them to receive a payment; but rather, it was because of the honorable and strong nature of his soul and his upright manners.”
فَلَمَّا جَآءَهُ وَقَصَّ عَلَيْهِ الْقَصَصَ
“So when he came to him and narrated the story,” means, he told him about his story and why he had to leave his country.
قَالَ لاَ تَخَفْ نَجَوْتَ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّـلِمِينَ
He said: “Fear you not. You have escaped from the people who are wrongdoers.”
He was saying: ‘calm down and relax, for you have left their kingdom and they have no authority in our land.’ So he said:
نَجَوْتَ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّـلِمِينَ
You have escaped from the people who are wrongdoers.
قَالَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا يأَبَتِ اسْتَـْجِرْهُ إِنَّ خَيْرَ مَنِ اسْتَـْجَرْتَ الْقَوِىُّ الأَمِينُ
“And said one of them: ‘O my father! Hire him! Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.’” One of the two daughters of the man said this, and it was said that she was the one who had walked behind Musa [عليه السلام]. She said to her father:
“O my father! Hire him!” as a shepherd to look after the sheep. `Umar, Ibn `Abbas, Shurayh Al-Qadi, Abu Malik, Qatadah, Muhammad bin Ishaq and others said: “When she said:
إِنَّ خَيْرَ مَنِ اسْتَـْجَرْتَ الْقَوِىُّ الأَمِينُ
“Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.”
Her father said to her, `What do you know about that?’ She said to him, `He lifted a rock which could only be lifted by ten men, and when I came back with him, I walked ahead of him, but he said to me, walk behind me, and if I get confused about the route, throw a pebble so that I will know which way to go.”’
`Abdullah (Ibn Mas`ud) said, “The people who had the most discernment were three: Abu Bakr’s intuition about `Umar; the companion of Yusuf when he said, `Make his stay comfortable’; and the companion of Musa, when she said:
يأَبَتِ اسْتَـْجِرْهُ إِنَّ خَيْرَ مَنِ اسْتَـْجَرْتَ الْقَوِىُّ الأَمِينُ
“O my father! Hire him! Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.”
[End quote Tafsir Ibn Kathir at tafsir.com]
Lessons for us in Haya:
There are several points to glean from the above narrative for our own actions:
- The two women strove to prevent their sheep from mingling with those of the other shepherds. They were ready to wait, adding to their already difficult task of herding the sheep (a job usually performed by men), so that they would have more privacy and ease whilst watering their sheep. What other reason could there be for their waiting? This shows to us modern-day Muslim women that places in which crowds of men are found thronging to get to something, should be avoided until there comes a lull, in which we can achieve our objective without fear of being touched/shoved/pushed within the crowd of men.
- The women had the confidence of speaking to a non-mahrum man when he asked them a question about their situation. This shows us that when the need arises, women should possess the self-confidence to speak to a non-mahrum in a business-like, dignified manner. As was the case with our mother A’ishah [رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا] in the incident of Ifk, there can be times when a lone woman needs the help of a non-mahrum man to get her to safety. At such times, Muslim women, even if they are unmarried and shy, should possess the skill needed to communicate confidently with a man.
- Neither of the women endeavored to stick around to talk to Musa [عليه السلام] after he did them a favor that saved them a lot of trouble and time. Rather, just as he shied away from them, and returned to the tree’s shade without asking for any compensation, they also likewise hurried back home to their father, after the errand for which he had sent them was done. This is a vital point to be noted, especially for the single youth of today: even in situations when you need to interact with members of the opposite gender to get help with something, you should not hang around chit-chatting or flirting after the favor has been done. You should also not expect or demand any compensation in return.
- As the shyness of both the old man’s daughters and Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] (all three of whom were single) shows, haya entails that we minimize any unnecessary communication with the opposite sex, even in situations when we are thrown together out of necessity, and are unsupervised by elders or mahrums.
- For Muslim women, this incident shows that returning home after outdoor errands have been done, is something they should hurry in doing. Loitering around in public places without necessity goes against another Quranic command that was sent down by Allah, when addressing the wives of the Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم]:
وَ قَرْنَ فِى بُيُوتِكُنَّ
“And stay quietly in your homes…” [33:33]
- When the time came for Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] to be summoned to the two women’s father, the daughter who was sent to ask him to come walked with shyness towards Musa. The words عَلَى اسْتِحْيَآءٍ imply that her gait and demeanor when walking towards a strange, lone man sitting under a tree was one “seeking haya.” The Arabic Grammar words based on the structure of استفعال imply the action of “seeking” in their meaning. E.g. استغفار means seeking forgiveness. So her manner of approaching Musa was such that she sought haya. This proves that when the need arises, a woman can become an intermediary between men, especially for a noble/good cause, but she should seek the maximum possible haya when she appears before a man who is not her mahrum, particularly if they both are single, young adults.
- This daughter also gave her advice to her father after Prophet Musa finished telling his story. It was a fact that their family needed a ‘manager’ to do the outdoor work, as the father was weak due to old age. She saw an opportunity to do a good deed too i.e. provide Musa with a livelihood and shelter, as his story had revealed that he was, at that point in his life, on the run and homeless. This shows us that despite being shy, women can, and should, give their opinions to the mahrums in their house, when major decisions are being made. She recounted her observation of Musa’s physical strength and his trustworthiness which became apparent by his handling their sheep well. Furthermore, her father took her counsel and accepted her testimony. Haya therefore, does not necessitate complete silence before non-mahrums, especially with a woman’s mahrum in the same room. It should also not become a barrier in the sharing of knowledge, in consultation and decision-making, or when negotiating the terms of a contract. Haya should, by no means, negate self-confidence and elocution.
It is thus beautifully apparent that, when Allah narrates a story in the Quran, it is not just for mere transmission of information or of facts related to events that took place in history. Just like the parables He puts forth for us to ponder on, His recounting of historic events in the Quran involving people gone by, hold valuable and insightful lessons for us to benefit from and apply in our day-to-day lives. Each and every word, line of dialogue, detail, or physical description that our Creator has recorded in His Glorious Book is meaningful and important.
However, He opens up the wonderful secrets and innate lessons of the Quran only for those who reflect:
كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُوْلُوا الْأَلْبَابِ
“(This is) a Scripture that We have revealed unto you, full of blessing, that they may ponder its revelations, and that men of understanding may reflect.” [38:29]