Our Best Garment
It takes one fleeting glance to like someone – and decades to discover why Allah choose that particular woman to be your cherished wife and lifelong companion. At other times, the honorable course of action is to keep your gaze firmly averted, and walk away forever. Muhammad (pbuh), the last messenger of Allah, advised his young cousin that the first accidental glance is forgiven. However, the second intentional look is the one we will be held to task for. Every worldview has its defining characteristic. In the case of Islam, that attribute is haya, which derives from the word hayat, meaning life. Simply, to have haya is to behave in a fashion that protects life, honor and dignity within human society. Islam strongly encourages men and women to get married in order to preserve their faith. The Quran uses the word libas (garment) to define the relation between husband and wives – each one completes, complements and protects the other. As such, parents of teenagers and young adults have the responsibility to guide and mentor, and to facilitate the marriage of their children as soon as reasonably possible. At all times, it is important to safeguard haya through the following steps:
- Studying divine revelation and turning to Allah for guidance, help and steadfastness
- Refraining from physical contact with unrelated members of the opposite sex
- Dressing and behaving in a modest fashion
- Recognizing that physical attraction is inherently good, but that boundaries must be respected
Modern society is ignoring these guidelines with serious ramifications – broken families, traumatized children, human trafficking, blatant exploitation of women, to name a few. In the conduct of the prophets of Allah, we have the best example of how a young man should conduct himself in the presence of women. The final divine revelation – Qur’an al Kareem – provides the account of Musa bin Imran, the messenger of Allah.
The Young Fugitive
Allah tells us in Surah al Qasas about Musa bin Imran. Syedna Musa grew up in the household of the Pharoah after led a very privileged life. After attaining physical maturing, he happened to venture into town afternoon. There was virtually no one is sight until Syedna Musa came across two people fighting each other. One person was from bani-Israel, the same nation as Prophet Musa, while the second individual was a Copt – belonging to the Pharoah’s tribe. The Israeli asked for help, so Prophet Musa stepped in. Shortly thereafter, he punched the Copt, who collapsed and died on the spot. Syedna Musa was full of remorse as he turned to Allah for forgiveness, and resolved never to help people of a questionable standing. Thereafter, both he and the person he had tried to help retreated before they were spotted.
After spending an anxious night, Syedna Musa returned the following day to see how the events from the previous day was playing out. It so happens that came across the same Israeli from yesterday, engaged in a quarrel with yet another person. The prophet of God accused the man of being a troublemaker. In turn, the latter starting drawing attention by loudly proclaiming that Syedna Musa was the killer from the previous day, and asking if was to be the victim today. In a dramatic turn of events, a man came running from the edge of town proclaiming that the officials were discussing what to do about Syedna Musa. He advised the youthful prophet to flee. Syedna Musa sought Allah’s protection and set out for Madiyan hoping that he would receive guidance. After days of travelling on foot, he eventually arrived at the watering well of Madiyan. There he was watering their animals, as well as two respectable young ladies, holding their sheep back at a slight distance from the crowd. Syedna Musa approached the young women and asked why they did not water their animals like the rest of the people. They replied that they could not water their animals until the shepherds had finished, and that their father was an old man. The Qur’an is not specific on the details – either Syedna Musa moved the aside in order to make way for the ladies, or he removed a large rock blocking an alternate flow-path for the water. In either event, he readily helped the women, promptly retreated thereafter and called to Allah’s help. He sought neither to impose nor to extract any favor as a tired traveler in a new land. His actions were for the sake of Allah and so he called Allah alone in his hour of need.
Soon thereafter, one of the women reappeared, walked bashfully over to where Syedna Musa was sitting, and told him that her father wanted to speak to thank him, and offer some compensation. Syedna Musa asked her to take him to her father. As the walked, the wind started blowing the young woman dress, so Syedna Musa asked the young woman to walk behind Syedna Musa and direct him on which way to go. Such is the modesty of the slaves of Allah. Once they arrived at the woman’s home, the old man heard Syedna Musa’s plight and comforted him. The young woman who had been dispatched to fetch the prophet of God spoke up, advising her father to hire Syedna Musa, as he was strong and trustworthy. The old man offered to marry one of his two daughters to Syedna Musa in exchange for the latter working for eight years as an employee. He added that if Syedna Musa extended this period to ten years, that would be a a gesture of goodwill. Syedna Musa accepted the offer and was wedding to the young woman with the years of labor representing a gift to his young bride. It was only after the ten years were done, that he departed with is wife, on his way to the a meeting that made him the only human being to be directly addressed by Allah in this world.
Guidance for the Ages
The exemplary behavior of Syedna Musa is the most detailed example preserved in divine scriptures on how unmarried young men and women should interact with each other – both in a group setting or one on one. Some of the key points that come across are
- If we observe someone of the opposite gender in need of assistance, we should willingly come forward regardless of our personal constraints and issues.
- Assistance should be offered purely for the sake of Allah, with no expectation of any reward, favor or goodwill from the individuals being helped. At all time, one should seek strength and guidance from Allah.
- Conversation and interaction should be in a public setting, and restricted to tangible issues. Particular care must be exercised, if, by some turn of events, a man and woman are alone in each other’s company.
- Women are entitled to being treated with respect and receiving precedence in public settings.
- It is desirable to marry men and women at an early age, respecting their need and natural desire for each other. Delaying marriage till one is established is undesirable, so support of family and elders is important for the young couple.
- Character, generosity and piety is the proper yardstick for assessing potential husbands.
- Generosity towards the bride and her family – beyond what is formally agreed – is the hallmark of men of the highest standing before God.
Syedna Musa is a role model for all bachelors because Allah choose him for this purpose, and preserved his account in the Qur’an. How far will be drift from the gold standard and follow our own desires?