Morality & Ethics

Moses: An Example for Chastity and Modesty

Moses and the Two Women

I read an article by ‘Aqeel bin Saalim al-Shimri entitled, ‘Reflections on Expressions of Chastity.’ I liked it so much that I immediately decided to capture most of what he wrote in English. May Allah benefit me first of all, and others who might read it.

Long time before he became a prophet, Moses unintentionally killed a man in Egypt following which he fled to Midian, the territory east of the Jordan River and southward through the desert wilderness.

When he arrived there, the Quran describes what happened:

“And when he arrived at the water of Midian he found there a group of men watering (their flocks), and besides them he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: “What is the matter with you?” They said: “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take (their flocks). And our father is a very old man.”

So he watered (their flocks) for them, then he turned back to shade, and said: “My Lord! Truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!”

Then there came to him one of the two women, walking shyly. She said: “Indeed, my father calls you that he may reward you for having watered (our flocks) for us.” So when he came to him and narrated the story, he said: “Fear you not. You have escaped from the people who are wrongdoers.”

And said one of them (the two women): “O my father! Hire him! Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.” (Surah al-Qasas, 23-26)

The Quranic description of how Moses dealt with the two women and their behavior is a beautiful lesson in chastity for those who reflect.

(1) The women were standing far from the men as Allah says: 

“…who were keeping back (their flocks).”

(2) They were taking all measures to keep their flock separate from the sheep belonging to men to avoid mixing with them:

“…keeping back (their flocks).”

(3) The two chaste women avoided having a long conversation with Moses, because he was a man not related to them. Thats why they responded to Moses’ inquiry in one sentence, giving him all the details he could possibly inquire of like:

  • why are you holding your flock back?
  • why are you not watering your flock?
  • when will you water them?
  • do you not have a man to do this for you?
  • why did he not come and do this work?

There was a possibility of the conversation becoming long, so the two girls responded to everything in one simple and modest sentence,

“They said: “We cannot water until the shepherds do and our father is a very old man.”

(4) The women’s chastity was reflected by their simple and short answer. Moses, may Allah bless him and make us as modest as him, was even more bashful than the two women as he addressed them with just one word: “He said: “Ma khatbookuma” [‘What is the matter with you?’]”

Yet, when he met the father, Moses “narrated the story” (Qasas: 25) and indulged in a long conversation.

(5) After listening to their response, Moses simply stood up and watered the flock. His modesty can be seen by the fact he did not inquire anything else as there was no need to. He did what he had to do.

(6) After he was done watering their flock, he simply took to the shade, he did not wait to receive their thanks! For some people it would have been an opportunity to flirt and increase the disease of lust within their hearts. Yet, Moses did it without the women requesting him.

(7) The women did not like to mix with unrelated men, even though:

  • they could have justified it
  • they had to leave their house
  • they did not have a male to do this work
  • there were a lot of herdsmen at the well and there was no chance of being ‘alone’ with an unrelated man
  • lifestyle of the age
  • waiting meant getting delayed 

(8) They were determined to wait for as long as it might take as they began the answer in the negative which in Arabic implies firmness of intention. They did not say, ‘We will water our flock in a little bit.’ Rather they said, “We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds do…

(9) The reason for waiting and not mixing with men was not till the crowd got smaller, but till the shepherds were done. Their answer made it clear their reason for waiting was to avoid mixing with unrelated men.

(10) Their modesty can also be seen in that the second time they spoke was when they reached home and one of the women went in to talk to their father and then came out to Moses. She was brief. Moses could have asked her:

  • what brings you back?
  • who send you?
  • what does he want?

She answered them all before Moses could inquire, all in one simple sentence: “’Surely, my father calls you that he may reward you for having watered (our flocks) for us.’”

(11) Now that they had reached home, how did the woman approach Moses? The words used in the Quran indicate it was devoid of trampling on the ground, immodesty, strutting, swinging gait, or seduction – all is implied in the word “istihyaa’.” “Isthiyaa’” is different than ‘haya’, it is more than ‘haya’ as the alif, seen, and ta’ indicate in the Arabic language.

(12) When the father send for Moses, they both did not come to him unlike before, rather only one did. There was no need for both to come.

(13) When she came to Moses, she did not say anything to him of her own, rather she just passed her father’s message to him: “…my father calls you…”

(14) When one of them spoke well of Moses, she did not mention Moses directly, but rather insinuated towards him by mentioning the qualities of a dependable worker – strength and trustworthiness. She was modest even in her choice of words!

(15) ‘Umar reports she came to Moses with her face covered, not in a seducing, tempting manner. Ibn Kathir states this report from ‘Umar is authentic.

(16) Moses was unusually brief with the women, but he held a normal conversation when he met another man (their father). He did not limit himself to a few words or just one story, rather he told narrated ‘stories’ to him.

May Allah increase us in our chastity and modesty.
May Allah grant us understanding of the embedded gems in the Quran.


 Feature Image Credit: Flickr