We have often said in these columns that Islam is the final version of the Divine message to mankind. Allah sent Prophets and Messengers to all nations and gave them messages to convey or endorse, so that people know how to conduct their lives in a way which is sure to give them prosperity and to win them Allah’s pleasure which leads to a much happier life in the world to come. All these messages have been brought to their final fruition with the message vouchsafed to Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), the last of all Messengers. Unlike early Prophets who were sent to their nations and communities in particular, Muhammad (Pbuh) was sent to all mankind. His message is the one which all people should implement.
Although earlier messages have been distorted or were allowed to disappear or be forgotten, parts of them have remained in their original form. Some of their values crept into the traditions of communities and nations. A wise saying which may be inherent in the traditions of a particular community may have a religious origin. It may have come from a Prophet or it may have been included in revelations received by a Prophet.
Since Islam is the final and complete version of Allah’s messages to mankind, it certainly endorses earlier messages in their original form. It obviously rejects the distortion that might have crept into them, but when something is certain to have been part of the original message, Islam accepts and endorses it. Hence, we accept without question anything that Allah or His Messenger have told us to have been included in earlier scriptures or revelations. We also accept those portions in the Old and New testaments which are in full agreement with the Qur’an. The fact that they agree with the Qur’an, the final Divine message which Allah has guaranteed to preserve, is a clear proof that it stands in its original, revealed form. Moreover, if the Prophet (Pbuh) tells us that something in particular was revealed to earlier Prophets we accept it as part of our own religion.
The foregoing is stated by way of an introduction to a hadith which is phrased in an unusual fashion. Its phraseology, however, serves to give emphasis to its message. Abu Mas’ood, Uqbah ibn Amr Al Ansari, quotes the Prophet (Pbuh) as saying: “Among the words people received from early Prophets (Pbuh) are: if you feel no shame, then do as you wish.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah, Ahmad and others).
This hadith admits more than one interpretation. The first is that if you feel you will not be ashamed for doing what you intend to do because you can justify it as correct and there is nothing in it to be ashamed of, then you may go ahead and do it without hesitation. It may be that what you are about to do is something right, although some people may prefer that you do not do it. Since you are sure that it is just and fair, then you have nothing to answer for as a result of doing it. You are perfectly entitled to do it. If we prefer this interpretation of this hadith, then it is important to examine what we intend to do before embarking on it. If we find it to be perfectly acceptable and we are clear in our conscince that it is right for us to do it, then that is all we need to ascertain in order to proceed with it.
Secondly, the hadith may be taken to mean that if a person is incapable of any feeling of shame, and could not care less whether he brought shame to himself, his family or his people, then there is nothing to stop him from doing what is censurable. If we take this interpretation of the hadith, then we observe that it is phrased in the imperative, but it is meant as a reproach. It could also be said that the hadith means that not to have any sense of shame is much worse than what one may actually do.
It is important to know what may be included in having a proper sense of shame. Some people suggest that a man who is shy feels incapable of confronting others with the truth he knows. As a result, he does not fulfil his duty to enjoin what is right and to speak against what is wrong. His shyness may even lead him to the non-fulfilment of certain rights or duties. Such an attitude is not what is meant in having a sense of shame in the above mentioned hadith. This is simply a manifestation of weakness. A proper sense of shame is that which causes a person to feel afraid of being blamed for something unbecoming. It may also lead a person to forego what rightfully belongs to him because he is too shy to demand it. Hence the virtue which Islam values highly is to have a sense of shame as a result of a wrong that one may do and to be afraid of blame for something unbecoming, and to be too shy to demand something for oneself lest people think that such a demand is made for a personal gain. It is this that the Prophet (Pbuh) describes as being part of faith.
Abdullah ibn Umar reports that Allah’s Messenger (Pbuh) passed by a man who was blaming his brother for being too shy. The Prophet (Pbuh) said to him: “Leave him alone. To have a sense of shame is a quality of faith.” (Related by Al-Bukhari. Muslim, At-Tirmithi and others). Apparently the man ;who was being blamed was too shy to claim what rightfully belonged to him. It may be very difficult to change his attitude. Many a person lends money to another for a specific period of time. When the term of the loan is over, the borrower may take his time settling it. The lender may be in need of the money, but his shyness prevents him from demanding repayment. His difficulty in requesting repayment is greater than that of the borrower in asking for the loan in the first place.
We notice that the Prophet (Pbuh) has counselled this man to leave his brother alone making it clear to him that having a sense of shame is an indication of strong faith. The statement of the Prophet (Pbuh) makes it clear that although shyness may prevent a person from demanding his rights, it remains a virtue for which no one should be blamed. It is true that a shy person may not get his rights, but by foregoing them, he is sure to receive a much greater reward from Allah.
It should be added here that the Prophet (Pbuh) himself was a very shy person. He is described to have had a more refined sense of shame than a virgin girl in her private room.