Ask any Muslim to describe the characteristics which are present in a true Muslim man and you’ll get a laundry list of traits. Courage, piety, chivalry, generosity, etc. There’s one characteristic, however, that we all intrinsically associate with manhood but often lack the vocabulary to articulate.
It was a quality that many of Imam Malik’s contemporaries described him with. It is a quality that Ali (ra) chose to mention when painting a literary portrait of the Prophet ﷺ. It is a quality that embodies the intangible, but very real, concept of true Islamic masculinity. It is a quality so encompassing that someone without it simply can not fake having it.
In Arabic, this quality is called hayba.
There is no one word in English which captures the full meaning of the word. Novice translators often translate it as “awe-inspiring” or “fear-inspiring”. Neither term comes even close to capturing the meaning of hayba. More adept translators render it into English as “presence” or “aura”. Perhaps the closest equivalent in English, however, is the Latin derived word “gravitas”.
“Gravitas”, etymologically related to the word “gravity”, implies that the person has a certain “weight” to them. They carry themselves with purpose and authority, radiating a strength of character and sense of dignity that speak for themselves. Without being able to find the right word, people will say, “There’s something about that guy that’s different, something about him that commands respect. I don’t know why exactly, but when he says something, I know I can trust him.” That is hayba.
In every time period and in every generation, someone who possesses hayba stands out. In the 21st century, however, the quality stands out even more. With the superficial, light, purposeless, dishonest, and often crass social culture that more and more people (young and old) are embracing, someone who has hayba is thrown into sharp contrast against those around him.
For the next few weeks, we will be exploring this trait in detail. The best way to learn about hayba is to learn about the men in Islamic history who embodied that trait. In the subsequent articles, we will look at what exactly these men did that caused people to attribute the word “hayba” to them. It is by learning from and emulating these men that we can begin to cultivate hayba in our own lives.