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The paradox of Haybah
Haybah is inherently paradoxical. You can see this in one of Ali (ra)’s description of the Prophet ﷺ. He said,
مَنْ رَآهُ بَدِيهَةً هَابَهُ، وَمَنْ خَالَطَهُ مَعْرِفَةً أَحَبَّهُ
“Those who saw him from afar were in awe [had haybah] of him but those who knew him closely loved him.”
The same Prophet ﷺ whose mere presence frightened a man so much that he couldn’t speak without trembling was also the one who was so approachable that little girls in the streets of Madinah would boldly take his hand and ask him for help with their errands.
Haybah is not a quality that comes from being harsh and tyrannical. In fact, the Prophet ﷺ said, “You must be gentle. Verily, gentleness is not found in anything except that it adorns it, and it is not removed from anything except that it disgraces it.”
Some men, repelled by how modern society often denigrates the entire concept of masculinity and encourages effeminate behavior in men have gone to the other extreme and turned to reactionary movements such as the Red Pill and the various forums of the “manosphere”. A common thread of advice in all of these websites, blogs, and books is the importance of being an “alpha.” Aside from how cringe-worthy that terminology is, it’s problematic from an Islamic point of view. For one, the concept of “alpha” males is shoddy science and shoddy psychology. More importantly however, the very concept of “alpha” males and “beta” males goes against the mindset needed to cultivate haybah. Haybah is not an aggressive, arrogant, or cold demeanor. Rather, it’s an iron core surrounded by a gentle exterior. The 19th century Algerian warrior-scholar, Emir Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi was described by a European poet with the following verses:
Nor less quick to slay in battle than in peace to spare and save,
Of brave men wisest councillor, of wise councillors most brave;
How the eye that flashed destruction could beam gentleness and love,
How lion in thee mated lamb, how eagle mated dove!
Your inner core
When a material becomes too hard, it becomes brittle and prone to breakage. Similarly, a man with a harsh exterior is fragile and can fracture at any moment. To have haybah, you need both a firm, unyielding core and a soft, understanding demeanor that envelops the core. The question is, what exactly is the unyielding core of haybah composed of?
The answer for a Muslim man is Islam. The only way you can ever have haybah is by making Islam the foundation of your life, the lens through which you view everything around you. When that is the core of your being, everything else will fall in place. Your behavior, your ethics, your filtering of different ideologies, even your attitude towards the people around you. All of that requires that you center your moral compass on Islam. When Aisha (ra) was asked about the Prophet ﷺ’s character, she replied, “His character was the Qur’an.”
The bedrock of every Muslim man with haybah is an unbending iman. A strong faith in Allah ﷻ which gives him both an aura of dignity as well as a gentleness and kindness that attracts other rather than repels them from him.
So the very first, and by far the most important step, in developing haybah is developing your relationship with Allah ﷻ. Put very bluntly, a man who does not humbly put his head on the ground five times a day for his Lord will never command respect from his fellow men.
‘Umar (ra) once said, “We were a disgraced people and Allah honored us with Islam. If we seek honor from anything besides that which Allah has honored us, then he will disgrace us.”
Developing iman is, of course, a lifetime endeavor. Every person goes through ups and downs in their iman. Crucial to this development, however, is purpose. As simple as it may sounds, you need to actually intend to be a better Muslim and a better person. Without that purposeful, intentional decision to develop your iman, you will never achieve your goal.
Make a purposeful decision today to be a better Muslim. Look at where you are and decide where you want to be in a month. Be realistic. Choose one action to become regular in, one behavior to get rid of, one characteristic to develop. Mold your inner core into a firm, unrelenting belief in Allah ﷻ.
Insha’Allah in the next installment of this series, we’ll talk about the important role ihsan plays in developing haybah. If you want to get this series delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to follow the blog below:
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Haybah Part I
Haybah Part II