Ramadan Reflection Day 11: In Defense of Shyness

Photo by Aiman Azlan

"I am a very shy person. How do I overcome it?"

It is rather unfortunate that our society today, for the most part, perceives shyness as a bad thing. I think the flaw in this perception is the understanding that you are either a shy person or you are a(n) outgoing/friendly/charismatic/fearless/brave/etc.

Shyness is put at one corner of the room where no one wants to be. We are encouraged to remove the shyness in us in order to attain all the other awesome traits, some of which I have mentioned above.

I don't think so. I don't think it's that black and white. I don't think you have to remove shyness to be awesome. Shy people can be awesome. In fact, shy people are awesome!

I think we should treat shyness (and shy people) with more fairness and respect.

So here's my proposal: In the overall scheme of things, shyness is an essential trait, one that all human beings should have. However, shyness can be somewhat inappropriate if one is unable to put it in its proper context i.e. there is a time and a place to be shy.

Shyness is Essential

Shyness is essential in our relationship with our most beloved - Allah. We should be shy to commit any deeds that would not be pleasing to our most beloved.

If, out of our own innate imperfection, we committed a deed that is displeasing to Allah, our shyness should manifest itself in the form of shame and guilt. This shame and guilt should then motivate us to seek the forgiveness of Allah and move on - determined not to repeat the same mistake again.

But if, out of our own innate imperfection, the same mistake happened again then our shyness would humbly move us to seek His forgiveness again, and again, and again.

This essential shyness is called Haya', and perhaps the one who has the most Haya' would be our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

"The Prophet was more shy [Haya': pious shyness from committing religious indiscretions] than a veiled virgin girl." (Sahih Bukhari)

So we should embrace our Haya'. We don't want to be people who don't have any Haya' in them. Indeed, those people without Haya' are those people without shame and people without shame worships none but their own desires.

“Among the words that people learned from the earlier Prophets are: ‘If you feel no shame, then do as you wish.’” (Ibn Majah)

Shaykh Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf Mangera commented on this Hadeeth: "This hadith is not to be taken literally as if granting permission for one to do as he pleases. It is instead a warning that losing one's modesty will lead one to obeying the base and lowly desires of the self, which will lead one to commit sinful and immoral acts."

Inappropriate Shyness

Shyness has a time and a place. If shyness is not put in its proper context, then it becomes inappropriate. I'd like to illustrate this point using a few examples that I commonly come across.

Example 1

One shouldn't be shy to ask questions.

Asking questions is an integral part of learning and Islam encourages us to ask questions - even questions that seem stupid to us. If you are uncomfortable to ask questions in front of a group of people, then ask questions in private. Nevertheless, ask questions.

Those who ask, learn. Those who don't, memorize.

Example 2

One (a man or a woman) shouldn't be shy to approach someone for marriage.

I understand that this can be a rather heavy task to do, but understand that what you are doing is very pleasing to Allah. Allah loves you because you are seeking the halal, and not the alternative. You should be shy to approach the alternative, but you shouldn't be shy to approach marriage.

Example 3

One shouldn't be shy to voice out one's opinions.

Know this: your opinions do matter, even if you think they don't. In situations where you think that you can add value to the discussion with your opinion, you should go ahead and voice it. Of course, it goes without saying that you should voice your opinion wisely (don't get all crazy, okay?).

You should voice your opinions especially when the situation calls for it, like in the face of injustice. When someone's right is being taken away, you shouldn't sit quietly and be "shy". You should step up and voice out, in defense of the oppressed - whoever the oppressed and the oppressor may be.

Final Remarks

So the issue shouldn't be to remove shyness. The issue should be to remove the wrong kinds of shyness and to internalize the right kind of shyness (Haya').

Don't "shy away" from shyness.

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