A return to modesty – discovering the lost virtue By Wendy Shalit

An interesting read for me as a practicing Muslim. I confess that I had never considered the approach to modesty from a non Muslim perspective despite the fact that it has historically prevailed in all judeo-christian faiths as well. Having been born and raised in the West however, I have found very few non Muslim friends who have been observant or even conscious of modesty both sexual and otherwise.

I would have given this book a higher star rating if it weren’t for the fact that it is predominantly about sexual modesty rather than the rich message of modesty as a whole. To her credit, Shalit does touch on the more wholesome message of modesty and is aware that her focus is on sexual modesty which is perhaps merited by the age of (no) innocence in which we now inhabit as well as the fact that this book was originally borne out of Shalit’s college experiences of co-ed bathrooms and dorms in secular North America.

Shalit is challenging the status quo in American societies and the toxic feminism that is sewing the seeds of destructive behaviours within women who are becoming architects of their own misfortunes. Mayim Bialik is one of the endorsements of this book and I recall during the Harvey Weinstein fury, Mayim wrote an op-ed (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/opinion/mayim-bialik-feminist-harvey-weinstein.html) in which she skirted around the subject of modesty and not acting so coyly as women about the power of the feminine charm. I recall that Bialik was scathingly criticised for being anti women and a problem with her opinion piece. She apologised. She was silenced. This is the toxicity of today’s secular western feminism. It’s most brutalised victim is the woman wanting to promote feminine modesty and a restoration of her protective and sacred dignity. But in an age where people’s identities are no longer connected to the sacred but rather intrinsically connected to their bodies, gender and sexual identities, the concept of the sacred is a foreign language that few can any longer speak let alone comprehend its richness. This part of Shalit’s argument was the most exquisite and extensively researched – her extensive research of American society and the degradation of its culture is at the pinnacle of Shalit’s writing.

It is probably however also the American college centric narrative that then reduced my ability to give this book more stars though this does not take away from my overall agreement with Shalit’s refreshing perspectives on modesty in an age where sex and sexuality sells, even where modest fashion is now concerned. The objectification of women and their bodies continues and she writes to challenge the status quo in order to return society to an order in which men and women were both protectors of women and their honour rather than their being reduced to bodies of lust and satisfaction.

I raced through the first half of this book but I started to tire of the book about halfway through and felt like it could have been condensed down to half the size of the book that was turned out and instead the other half could have developed the concept of modesty beyond the shallow waters of sexual modesty.

For me, as a Muslim, modesty extends beyond what is sexual and apparent and transcends to a realm where my human experience and relationships are a conduit for my relationship and experience with what is sacred. What is sacred is what is unseen. It is like the idea of giving charity – let not your left hand come to know what your right hand has given. If we are modest, measured and dignified in our behaviour it is because we are God conscious. If there are some things that we hold sacred, it is because we do not reduce all things to being a free for all. If we conceal some things and share them with only God, it is because we hope to do good, not for others to see our performance and fall in love with us, but we do good in secret so that God may love us more and reward us. It was this rich and expansive aspect of modesty that was unfortunately missing from Shalit’s modest analysis of modesty and this was what rendered the book a little lacking for me.

This doesn’t take away from what the book was aiming to do – essentially, Shalit calls for a transformation in society. A return. A return to more Godly principles but sadly society has moved further in the wrong direction. Sexualised covers of swimsuit illustrated “hijab” edition can evidence that sufficiently. But I won’t labour on this point, it’s too depressing. I consider it a person’s own responsibility to transform their own selves and through that personal transformation one may be able to inspire a ripple effect in inspiring others to do the same. Societies can transform from one person and I admire Shalit’s outlier and hopeful perspective in a society which is long overdue in returning to itself, its humanity and sacred identity.

A good read.