When one talks about humanity, one aspect that is of primary importance to the overall development of the human being is education. Where there are human beings present, in large or small groups, or even as individuals, there you will find education and learning. Learning lies at the core of the creation of the human being and we are in constant need of it. One could even argue that the very essence and meaning of our existence is to learn and to be educated. A human being and education are like inseparable twins. The periods of childhood followed by youth are the periods of life that are the most precious and valuable in terms of learning for every human being. As our older generations would rightly say “a tree can be bent only when it is young.”
When one looks back into history it is quite clear that it is those societies which paid serious attention to education and learning that were the happiest, the most productive, and therefore the most prosperous. Children’s upbringing and their education are at the forefront of learning, the teaching process and the creation of a program to ensure this was rigorously followed. The enormous value of a child’s education is of as great importance to the child themselves as it is to the future of the society within which he or she is growing up. As the environment in which the child is growing up is at the same time the starting point of the child’s own life it will, therefore, essentially shape and mold the core of their future life and equip him or her with the fundamentals required to live a successful life there or indeed anywhere else he or she chooses to live. Thus, depending on how the child is educated, his or her future will be directed and secured both on a personal as well as on a public level.
The early period of education, therefore, is clearly the most important in all successful societies and world religions, as well as being the most important investment a state can prioritize. Those who did not pay enough attention and give importance, or indeed prioritize the education of the younger generations, particularly where moral education is concerned, could be argued to have written off and destroyed their own destiny with their own hands.
As the proverb says: “States do not fall because of a lack of finance, but rather because of a lack of moral values”. During the last and most painful stages of the Ottoman Empire, a state that influenced the world for over 600 years, a Turkish poet - Mehmet Akif Ersoy - who grew up in that period wrote: “Show us, O Allah, a miracle that will save this nation. Send upon us a drop of the essence of shame from your eternal treasury.”
Each child is educated through a variety of means and according to various methods. Within these variables one of the most important, indeed the key, roles is given to developing the values of a consciousness of ethics: moral awareness, honesty, righteousness, humility, virtue, chastity, modesty and the concept of haya or ‘shame’ – though an old word that might be considered taboo in modern times; As Muslims, we draw our understanding of the meaning of the word haya from the Hadith, “If you are not ashamed, do whatever deed you wish, (any bad deed can be expected from you).” When we speak of such concerns regarding the upbringing of children and the instillation of these values into their daily lives and thoughts, it is with the primary concern of their accountability to God, as well as being true to themselves and to the society in which they live. To be righteous, humble, self-conscious, accountable, well-behaved, honoring others as well as to being honored, respecting others and, in doing so, gaining the respect of our fellow man allows us to become wholesome and positive members of society.
A role model that can live and exhibit, without abusing the rights and freedoms of others, all these precious human characteristics is one that can be admired by all who themselves know they have the capacity to live up to these noble standards and to be envied by those who feel that such a thing is impossible to achieve.
It has to be made clear at this point that the child who is brought-up with an awareness of such noble characteristics will be a more successful, more helpful and useful person in his or her life and, with the family that he or she establishes in the future, this child will lay another layer of solid foundations towards a more stable and healthier society and/or nation. The more society ensures the upbringing of self conscious and accountable generations the more that society will rid itself of unwanted, unreliable, self-centered, egoistical figures and build a solid structure of bricks made of strong moral values that encompass characteristically and physically healthy personalities.
To stress the importance of our discussion, let’s look at the following example that took place at the faculty of media studies at Gazi University in Turkey in 1982. The 2nd year students were waiting for their lecturer. The classroom was clamoring with the noisy chattering of students when an angry lecturer entered, throwing a disappointed and angry look around the class, before proceeding to the board. He took up a piece of chalk and wrote the number one (1) on the board. “Look” – he addressed the classroom. “This is personality. The dearest and most valuable thing you can achieve in your life.” Then he adds zero next to the number one. “This is success. A successful personality makes one person equal to 10 people.” He adds another zero: “This is experience. When you are ten it will make you a hundred (100)”. Then he keeps adding zeros, describing each of the virtues which enhance character: skills, discipline, love, etc. Each added zero multiplies the personality in tens… Then he takes the cloth and wipes away the digit 1 at the beginning, leaving a line of zeros on the board. “If you haven’t got personality, the rest is nothing. It consists of nothing”.
Indeed, if there is no personality, all achievements, praise, wealth, etiquette and titles are like an empty balloon. There is oxygen at the core of the “personality”. If that oxygen does not exist, then the personality is also absent. It renders the person hardworking but indecent, skilled but shameless, successful but dishonored, brave but wicked. We will all be tested in our desires and each will undoubtedly fail due to a lack of dignity. There are many examples in history that have shown that even thought there were men and women of dignity, bravery and honor who were unparalleled in the challenges that confronted them, they were still destroyed by a lack of moral fiber. Their life-time achievements disappeared or at least paled into insignificance due to their shame and their charisma being eliminated.
Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) said: “Haya is beautiful, but if a woman has it, it is even more beautiful.” When Aristotle was asked what men liked the most in women, he replied: “The rose (rosiness) that blooms on her face when she feels shyness.” I think it is not an exaggeration if I say that there is nothing that looks more beautiful, smells more pleasant or looks more aesthetic than the blush on the faces of children, women, and men. Isn’t it a shame that some women today try to attain these roses through make-up, as they cannot anymore feel that genuine shyness that derives from haya? How artificial. The words are shameless, the speech is brazen, and the artificial blemishes on the face… No make-up can replace the natural rose that appears on the modest faces and on the rosy-cheeked from haya, because haya is not only a pink rose blossoming on a chaste cheek. It is an entire spring blossoming all over the body; on the face, in the eyes, in the speech, on arms and hands, in the posture, in gestures. It blossoms as flowers, as roses, in fact it blossoms as Heaven.
Haya is a feeling of embarrassment about a word, action or behavior that is regarded as unacceptable by the moral values of humanity, or where Muslims are concerned, of Islam and which goes against the very nature (fitra) of a human being. The clearest expression of this is an inner feeling of disappointment, of self-recrimination that is reflected by a feeling of guilt manifesting itself in gestures and attitude. This feeling of guilt is a state of the soul and resides within the human being as part of its own creation. Islam, being a religion of fitra, or the natural inclination or state of the human being, blends this aspect of haya, which ultimately originates from the fitra, to bring about a sense of happiness based on good moral judgment and manners to every human being.
Although a sense of haya without faith could bring joy and happiness in this world, it would be of no use in the Hereafter. However one should not forget that just as there can be haya without faith, there can be faith without haya.
According to the beloved Prophet (pbuh) the true haya comes from Iman (faith). It is one of the particles that make up the entire faith and at the same time it is one of the most important signs of the existence of iman in a person. The faith of a person without haya is weak and unfulfilled.
When we, as parents and teachers, are entrusted to implant the seeds of belief into the hearts and minds of our children so that we nurture the natural fitra we feed, water and nourish it so that it becomes the measuring stick for our children’s actions which are rooted in the foundations of Islam and within its parameters; these were referred to as ‘thamarat-ul fuad’ – the ‘fruit of the heart’, by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). If we educate children to worship with meaning and with wisdom, not only will they be a source of pride for their parents but, in the words of the Qur’an, they will be “kurrat ayn” (Qur’an:25/74; 28/9), the ‘one which gives pleasure to the eyes’ in both this world and the next.
The natural feeling of haya that children have from birth will reach its perfection when it blends at a later stage with iffat (the haya combined with will), which develops during the years of early adulthood.
Finally, the haya will be an exalted (sublime) throne in the ninth heaven of human virtues and the owner/possessor of it will be a sultan (king) of the virtues of paradise.
“Good manners are a crown from the divine light of Allah.
Wear that crown, and be secure from every evil.”
The flush of haya (shame, bashfulness) and blushes of iffat (chastity, virtue) that blossom as pink roses on virtuous cheeks and the modest are probably like the pictures of Paradise which can be seen and perfumes of Heaven that can be smelled in this world! And these in turn can only be felt or observed in children, who are like little human angels, who are the result, or fruits, of a education based on faith. “A person who loves roses must put up with their thorns.”
The question is: How much do individuals, families, social groups, charities, schools and states invest in the moral and physical values of our new generations? Sadly not enough and some would say not at all. The answer to this penultimate question will determine the color of our future…