Haya

On the train to London the other day, I was fooling about. Seated directly opposite my beloved, I would gaze into her eyes, my toes tapping hers. But no matter how much I tried, her own eyes would not meet mine, but would dart around, taking in the scenery beyond the carriage windows instead.

Later on, while walking through the park, I turned to her, reminding her of my pursuit of her sight. “You don’t have to lower your gaze from your husband,” I laughed.

“But this is public haya,” she replied. “You can have my eyes at home, but in public… we have this shyness. You do too… in public you’re not the same as you are at home.”

It is said that the character of our faith is shyness. Perhaps that’s why I found myself so at home on this path, because it’s part of my character too. Our Prophet is reported to have said: “Haya does not bring anything except good.”

My wife’s actions were a timely reminder, given that everywhere the very opposite of haya is widely promoted. In place of shyness or modesty, we’re expected to boast and self-promote, both socially and professionally, in order to get ahead.

It was nice to be reminded that there is another way, finding refuge in private spaces.

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