"Verily, there is a (special) morality of every religion. And the (special) morality of Islam is modesty"
-Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, Ibn Majah
Being shy or bashful, modest in dress, speech, and behavior is considered something archaic, even prehistoric today. Yet, this is a key virtue of Islam. It’s what distinguishes a person of faith and God-consciousness.
But it is particularly hard to be modest for young Muslims. Youth culture, especially in the last 60 years, has become marked by immaturity, along with licentiousness and sexual expression that laughs in the face of modesty. It is a whole package that glorifies dress showing off the body (especially for girls and young women), speech and songs marked by sexual innuendo and commentary, as well as approval of all kinds of sexual acts outside of marriage, not just sexual intercourse itself.
Whether it’s pop songs dripping with sexual lingo, or teen-oriented sitcoms dropping sexual references, the acceptance for immodesty is a cultural trend parents of all backgrounds in the U.S. and abroad have expressed alarm about.
1. Start with yourself – the parent
It’s been said over and over again, and it will always need to be said – a parent is a child’s first role model. So if we, as parents, enjoy watching television shows that show “mild” nudity or bikini-clad men and women, sexual situations (not necessarily pornography), and comment on how attractive certain celebrities, relatives or friends are “hot”, “cute”, or attractive, then it will be difficult to convey the importance of a Muslim being modest. We need to sit down today and do an honest assessment of our behavior. If we catch ourselves falling into these or other examples of immodest behavior, we should seek Allah’s forgiveness and resolve to try harder to commit to being a more modest Muslims. In this day and age, everywhere we turn, it’s almost impossible to avoid looking at something immodest. But if we are conscious and ask Allah to help us, we can do better in this area despite the challenge, thus setting the example our kids need to stick to this virtue as well.
2. Drop modesty double standards
A Muslim mother I know recently complained about how a Muslim girl had texted her teenage son and he had texted her back. When she was asked why her son did not ignore the girl’s text or tell her to leave him alone, this mother’s response was, “well, he’s a boy. What do you expect him to do? If a girl is giving him attention, he’s going to respond.”
I have no doubt if her daughter had done the same to a boy, this mother would have come down hard on her. Modest behavior is a requirement for both men and women in Islam (Quran 33:35) and it is wrong to focus all of our attention solely on our daughters’ level of modesty in dress and behavior while giving our sons free reign to do what they like, whether that is looking the other way if we find out they have been flirting-by-text with a girl at school, looking at pornography online, or talking to a woman or girl with disrespect. The standards of modesty are a requirement for both sexes in Islam, and we must set higher expectations of our sons, as we do of our daughters, to speak, dress, and behave modestly.
3. Monitor media consumption
Television, YouTube videos, Facebook, etc. are all accessible ways to harness great information – and disgraceful stuff too. Monitoring media consumption is absolutely necessary, no matter how busy , tired, or digitally illiterate we think we are as parents. A pornography habit can be nipped in the bud if caught early enough by a parent aware of the danger, for example. You can stop an embarrassing photo from being uploaded by simply being aware of what your child is doing online. The standard digital tips are all useful and easy to implement for any parent.
As for television, sitting with kids and watching the programs they do will not only make you aware of what they’re watching, but it will also make them aware that you are doing so. It’s important as well to make sure to comment on what is immodest or inappropriate in these programs so kids know, for instance, that staring at a “hot” actor or actress or watching them in a sexual scenario is wrong.
4. Turn away from those things you can’t avoid
You can turn off a television, or power off a computer or cellphone, but you can’t do either of those things for a raunchy billboard. It seems that in some places, these types of advertising are only increasing, whether it is ads for beer, beaches, or bars. In these cases, make sure you set the example by looking away from the unavoidable and saying softly, but loud enough for the kids to hear, “Astaghfirullah”.
5. Allah is always watching and we are accountable
This is a key Islamic concept that we learn from childhood, but it needs to be reiterated as kids start becoming mature starting age 9 or 10. Allah is watching everything, and He knows if we are surfing and seeing something inappropriate online, texting with someone we should not, or posting things that neither He nor our parents would approve of. Also important to emphasize in this short reminder you give your kids is that starting from the time a boy or girl hits puberty, actions count for the Akhira and they are accountable for them. So while parents may be unaware of any misdeeds, Allah knows all of them. While He is the most Forgiving and Merciful, He also holds us accountable.
6. What would Muhammad do?
This is a question we must ask ourselves and teach our kids to ask when faced with all kinds of situations. Encourage kids to do the same when it comes to modesty and other issues. Would the Prophet, peace be upon him, be flirting by text with a classmate? How would he respond if someone of the opposite sex asked him to “just hang out” alone or chat online into the late hours of the night? Would he stare at an attractive person, whether in real life or online? Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was our best role model, and his example is the one we as Muslims must all aspire to. Asking this question reminds of that and quickly puts us back on the modesty track.
7. Have “the talk” – Islamically
While many parents dread having “the talk” about sex, it’s even more necessary today than ever. Kids are learning earlier about sexual issues through exposure to the internet and more graphic content on television. But couched in this discussion about the proverbial birds and the bees, parents need to also discuss Islamic requirements of modesty. These include:
- Lowering the gaze (Quran 24:30 and 31)
- Proper dress, what is acceptable and what is not
- Flirtatious conversations in person or via texting/Facebook
- How to interact respectfully with the opposite gender
8. Find and keep those role models
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, emphasized the role that friends play in affecting a person’s faith. It’s no different for our tweens and teens. Find role models in your community who you feel maintain Islamic guidelines of modesty well and if they are the same age as your own kids, encourage their friendship. Or, have this person start a Muslim youth group so their positive influence can rub off on the group’s members.
9. Give them dress guidelines then set them free
When it comes to dressing appropriately, many Muslim youth feel they can never win. They are always picked on, they think, for wearing clothes that are too this or that. Start trying a different tack. Give them general guidelines and a reasonable budget to work with. For example, you can say, “here is $50. I want to you to use this and the $50 you got for Eid to buy yourself some new clothes for fall. The only condition I have is that they be Islamically appropriate.” Then leave it at that. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well they choose, as well as their level of understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
10. Find Halal, same gender fun
A lot of the drama of the teen years happens because young people become more self-absorbed and self-conscious. A pimple you can hardly see is the source of embarrassment and angst; a look the “wrong way” can mean a feeling of exclusion from a clique of friends; a regular “hello” from someone of the opposite sex means more than just “hi”. Help your young Muslim find Halal outlets to keep busy -with the same gender. That cuts down half the drama.
While sports can be a good option, Girl/Boy Scouts, and community service (outside of what’s required for school) are also productive ways to spend time and develop skills. As well, if you’re blessed to be in a Muslim community where youth can be part of their Masjid or Islamic center’s board or other governing bodies, then make sure to get your young Muslim involved.
11. Make Dua
“Tie your camel, then put your trust in Allah”, the Prophet told a Bedouin man who was about to leave his only source of transportation to roam free. It’s the same with parenting and any other endeavor. We can and must take the steps necessary to accomplish our goals, but ultimately, Allah is the One Who knows and sees all things, and He makes all things possible. After we’ve done at least some of the above, let’s turn to Allah. Ya Allah, make all of us, men and women, young and old, the modest Muslims You want us to be.