Haya, or modesty, is not artificial in the sense
in which; for instance, obedience to many of the social
laws may be called artificial. Just as wisdom and morality
are learned of nature, so also does modesty come from nature.
It is a quality of beauty. It is the essential quality of
beauty, which the great artist understands. By veiling his
thought he conveys an impression many times more beautiful
than does the artist who is unskilled in expression.
The poet dives into life, listening to that voice, which
is inaudible to those, engaged on its surface. Not only
poets sound the depths, for all men strive for beauty, which
lies deep within each man's spirit. But if any, after sounding
the depths of life have been able to convey something of
their exaltation and their anguish at the touch of beauty,
it has been the poets with their veils and clouds of language.
Consciousness in fact demands a veil. God and man are
the two aspects of being, and man and woman are the two
aspects of humanity. And a veil envelops that phase of each
aspect where consciousness is most developed. In other words,
the highest phase of each aspect of life is covered and
veiled. Communion with God, the revelation of man's unity
with God, and his recognition of God, have always been expressed
in parables. Christ, like every great mystic, conveyed the
beauty of his teaching in veiled words. Religious language
has always been symbolic. Truth has ever been given through
symbols, such as those of gods and goddesses, and the symbol
of the cross.
For every tendency of man, nature seems to make a corresponding
provision. It is this that reveals the intelligence working
behind this world of names and forms. No man-made moral
dictates modesty. It is the nature of beauty to veil and
guard itself, and disclose itself but little. And very different
customs among various races show this quality, but it becomes
hardened and rigid in its external expressions in social
In America, a country of greater freedom than any other,
of vast spaces and wide horizons, where men from all parts
and of every class gather in the hope of finding larger
opportunities and more liberal chances for self expression,
this same quality is seen prevailing unweakened. Natural
human characteristics in fact become stronger under freedom.
Natural tendencies develop into customs which grow rigid
and lifeless in time, and losing their meaning become in
their turn fetters on the freedom of the very nature that
In some parts of the East, women of society and education
dressed for social occasions veil themselves entirely, and
out of modesty leave only the feet uncovered; whilst others
clothe the feet and the whole body except the sides of the
waist. These customs would seem offensive to women of the
same position and distinction in Western countries, who
through modesty cover all except shoulders, neck and arms.
Though these customs differ, all express the same tendency
A custom in a race called primitive by European society
demands that a man shall not look at the mother of his bride.
Out of respect for her he must not raise his eyes to her
face. It is as if dignity veiled the face of the older woman
from his gaze. And this custom seems but an extreme form
of that same feeling which in countries far from this race
demands that the bride herself shall appear veiled at the
The emotions which the human being, conscious of the
beauty of humanity, veils in himself, he also desires to
cover in others. It is this desire that the Prophet Muhammad
described as the true religion, al haya wa'l iman.
The veil of the widow is a covering of her sorrow from the
gaze of the curious, but it is equally a warning sign to
the stranger to avert his eyes and thus shield her. The
same may be said of the veil of the nun. The desire to hide
emotion, which is one of the highest attributes of humanity,
cannot exist without a tendency to shield another. It is
this shielding tendency which is the source of courtesy:
courtesy which ennobles and exalts mankind, beautifying
the relationship of the sexes towards one another and of
class towards class.
To violate modesty is to develop coarseness, which breaks
the ideal of humanity. But by preserving this inner restraining
grace, man develops his perception of ideal beauty; and
'poor in spirit' he is indeed blessed, for he becomes conscious
in human life of heavenly loveliness.
In the veiling and unveiling of beauty lies every purpose
of creation. The Shah of Persia, who loved the beautiful
Princess Zebunnisa for the thoughts she disclosed in her
verses, once wrote to her, 'Though I bear your image in
my mind, I would never permit my eyes to raise themselves
to your face.' At another time he wrote asking her, 'What
sort of love is yours that you do not unveil your beauty
to me?' She answered, referring to the tale of Majnun and
Laila, who are the Romeo and Juliet of the East, 'Though
my heart is the heart of Majnun, yet I am of the sex of
Laila; and though my sighs are deep, Haya is a chain upon
my feet.' The fame of her learning and beauty spread far
and wide, but Zebunnisa never married. A poet, a philosopher,
she lived absorbed in her own meditations and studies. She
never saw her lover, although for long they exchanged verses
in an intellectual interchange of thoughts on life, truth,
After many years, he wrote in passionate longing to her,
that if he could see her but once, it would be to him a
sacred vision; and in answer she sent a poem that said:
The nightingale would forget his song to the rose,
If he saw me walking in the garden.
If the Brahmin saw My face,
He would forget his idol.
Whoever would find Me,
Must look in My words;
For I am hidden in My words,
As the perfume in the petals of the flowers.
Thus she replied to his desire to see a sacred vision,
describing the divine veiling of the divine Presence. Even
in this way have all those who touched the divine Life and
caught sight of the divine Beauty spoken of their inspirations.
Remember the words of Krishna who said, 'Whenever religion
(dharma) is threatened, then am I born.'
In the veiling and unveiling of beauty lies every purpose
of creation. The lover is first of all dependent upon seeing
his beloved and upon her response to him. But there comes
an evolution in his love that changes his whole outlook;
then his love rises above such earthly needs, and becomes
independent and strong in itself. It is this independence
that makes love secure and that shields love when faced
with Haya, the very defense of beauty. Love, grown thus
strong and independent, becomes that inviolable loyalty
to the ideal and that indestructible constancy which Zebunnisa
thinks of when she sings:
If the beloved face thou canst not see
Within thy heart still cherish thy desire;
And if her love she will not grant to thee,
In thy love never tire.
Although her face be hidden from thy sight,
Within the sanctuary of thy heart
Still keep her image for thine own delight,
And if the Keeper of the Garden close
Before your face the inexorable gate,
O linger yet! The perfume of the rose
Will float to you, and find you as you wait
Not all disconsolate.