Mary was someone who had humility and modesty in her heart, as expressed in her relationship with God. It can be argued that no era of history has witnessed the widespread exposure to illicit images and lewd behavior on a global scale as the current times we live in.

From the easy access of internet to the effects of globalization, the world is in a state of consuming ‘all things immodest’ at an unnatural and exaggerated rate inflating the tendencies of shamelessness, showing off, vanity, the need for attention, and finally, perversion.

The debilitating related physical diseases, psychological disorders, and plagued marital, family, and community relationships that have emerged are a testament to the fact that the very nature of our humanity is being tested, and indeed under attack, as the ‘animal tendency’ is exploited.

At the core of modesty there is the profound sense of humility before God, and respecting His laws and creation on that level. In other words, this good characteristic in Islam starts spiritually in the heart, and then expresses itself in interactions.

Modesty in Personal Spaces

The first example of Mary’s modesty is when she encountered angel Gabriel alone, who appeared in the form of a man. She responded

{I seek refuge in the compassionate one if you are God-fearing} (19:18)

Mary was truly spiritually liberated. Her self-esteem was based on her relationship with God, not with the number of stares or purpose-less, random conversations she could provoke from strange men.

Still a radical idea, we learn from Mary that in Islam a woman’s worth is not defined by men, but by her Creator. A very handsome ‘man’ (Gabriel) was not an “opportunity” for Mary to flirt with or “check out.” He was seen as an immediate threat—because a law of God had been broken—and that was seclusion with a man. God cautions us about His laws when He states:

{These are the limits [set by] Allah, so do not approach (come close to) them} (2:187)

We can also learn from the way Mary guarded her personal space. Modesty in one’s personal space includes the issue of not being alone with the opposite gender, as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught us:

“Whenever a man is alone with a woman the Devil makes a third.” (At-Tirmidhi, 1171)

It also includes physical proximity, the way we dress, our body language, and lowering our gaze from what is unlawful and/or tempting. While modesty starts in the heart, its absence often shows up in these personal spaces.

Modesty in Speech

Whenever Mary’s speech is mentioned in the Quran, her language is very beautiful. There is an especially beautiful statement that deserves our deeper reflection here.

Once the Angel Gabriel presents who he is and that she will be given a son, she responds:

(How can I have a son when no man has touched me nor have I been unchaste?) (19:20)

What is beautiful about her choice of words is the reference to the physical act of intimacy in the form of a euphemism—this is also an evidence of her modesty. Her speech was pure. She used a lot of words to say something that could easily have been said in less.

Brothers and sisters, can we not benefit from Mary’s beautiful graceful manners and etiquette—who spoke about this issue privately with an angel, and even then did not speak too frankly.

We take from this example the lesson of being modest in our speech, guarding our tongues from vulgar language, and seeking to have modest manners. A point of clarification is that Mary did not avoid the opposite gender altogether.

She was taught by Prophet Zachariah as well as the other religious scholars of the mosque, as different works of tafasir include the opinion that the mihrab (discussed in Part 1) was specially built for her as a space she could use after she had started her menses.

The point is she had according to these opinions reached the age of maturity and was still learning from male teachers. A point to take is when there is reason for interaction in a trusted environment, speaking plainly and respectfully is fine. This is also seen in the examples of the companions.

Another point of clarification is that when it comes to imparting knowledge, clarifying legal issues, and some specific exceptions in dawah, it can be imperative to use direct and frank language for the purposes of achieving a needed clarity. But the general rule for our speech is as the Prophet Muhammad taught us:

“Speak well or keep silent.” (Al-Bukhari, 6136)

Humility and modesty in speech is expressed in more than just the issue of gender relations, but also in avoiding language and tones that reflect arrogance, pretension, and undue anger. It is also reflected in content that is prohibited, such as lying, gossiping, etc.

Modesty in the Heart

Mary was someone who had humility and modesty in her heart, as expressed in her relationship with God. While this relationship was detailed in Part 2 of this series, a few important points will also be mentioned here. God repeatedly affirms her modesty and chastity in the Quran, but He also says about her:

{…she was of the Qaniteen (obedient)} (66:12)

Only one who feels humility and shame in the presence of God is someone who can fully practice obedience to Him. This is evidenced in the Prophet’s statement:

“If you feel no shame, then do whatever you want.” (Al-Bukhari, 20)

This is why Mary was able to practice modesty in her speech in the presence of an Angel. We too, can embody that sense of shame in the presence of the Angels. The Angels who record our deeds, and are present with us are easy to forget, but we should strive to remember them and feel shame in sinning while we know they are witnesses, as we too hope to be written amongst the obedient.

Renewing the intention for actions, dhikr (remembering God), doing muhasaba (the act of taking account of one’s daily good and bad deeds), istighfar (seeking forgiveness), and remembering du`as (supplication) for different situations all help increase one’s sense of shame in front of God.

Furthermore, feeling shame before God encourages us not only to avoid the bad things, but also strive hard in doing the best we can because we know He is watching. It is in this light that we can appreciate the Prophet’s definition of our community:

“Every religion has a distinct characteristic, and the distinct characteristic of Islam is modesty.” (Ibn Majah, 4181)


It is with a very heavy heart that I end this series on our beloved example of Mary.

I know I have not done justice to my role model and heroine whose hands I pray I am allowed to kiss in Paradise for all that she has taught me as a slave of God, and as a woman, and I ask God to forgive me for my shortcomings in writing about the most beloved and honored ‘Muslim’ to have ever walked this earth, whose name He mentioned in His Revelation to us.

May His peace be upon her and may her rank be elevated in Paradise.

May God allow us to be inspired by her life, and embody humility and modesty in our hearts, speech, and personal spaces.

May we overcome the tests of modesty that present themselves with commitment and resolve, the way Mary did when she was faced with such challenges.

May we be a people whose humility and modesty are distinctly felt, reminding the souls around us of the nobility of their true nature and the honored cause for which they were created.

May our commitment to modesty be an invitation for the sense of humanity that must be regained in the world.

May we absorb and live the lessons we took from Mary as a wise and honored student, her spiritual journey, her devotion to the dawah to Islam, and her commitment to modesty.

By Muslema Purmul