Branches of Faith
(26) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Faith is composed of seventy and odd branches of which the highest is belief in La Ilaha Il-Lalah [i.e., the testimony of Divine Oneness] and the lowest is the removal of a hindrance from the road, and the sense of modesty is an important branch of Faith.”
-Bukhari and Muslim
Some authorities are of the opinion that the expression, “seventy and odd” occurring in this saying denotes only a multitude, The Arabs, often, use the number of seventy when they want to emphasize the abundance of a thing and the phase, “seventy and odd” has been used here to lend a greater force to it. Others say that it stands for seventy-seven and they have also tried to specify all the seventy-seven departments of Faith. But these interpretations are purely speculative and open to endless argument. What sounds more reasonable is that the Prophet did not want to fix an exact number but only to indicate profusion and to say that Faith was composed of many parts and modesty was one of them. Had there been a definite figure in his mind he would not have rest content with a vague and general statement but explained it fully and enumerated all the seventy or seventy-seven branches.
By the “Branches of Faith” are meant the deeds and virtues and internal and external states that should follow as a natural outcome of the ingress of Faith. Just as a verdant tree bears forth leaves and fruits, virtuous acts, good morals and noble states of thought and feeling are the offshoots of Faith though their grades are different.
The testimony of the Oneness of God has been described in it as the highest and the removal of a hindrance from the path as the lowest branch of Faith. Now, whatever good or virtuous acts can be imagined between the two grades constitute the departments or branches of Faith, whether they appertain to the rights of God or to the rights of men and their number will, naturally, run into hundreds.
Shame has, particularly, been mentioned as forming an important part of Faith. There can be two reasons for it. Either someone had fallen short of the Islamic standard of modesty at that time and the Prophet wanted to correct him through the admonition, as the way is with sagacious teachers and wise reformers, or seeing the crucial place the sense of modesty occupied in the moral scheme of things, the Prophet might have thought it appropriate to lay a special stress on it. Shame is the moral characteristic which acts as a preventive to numerous sins and follies, and, as such, there obtains a special affinity between it and Faith.
Modesty is not to be observed only in relation to human beings. The Almighty Creator comes first. Generally, a person who does not entertain respect for his elders and behaves reprehensibly towards or before them is considered to be shameless and impudent, but not one is more unfortunate and insolent than him who feels no shame before the Lord and knowing that God sees and hears directly all that he does or speaks does all sorts of dirty and deplorable things in His presence.
Accordingly, if the sense of modesty is alive and active in a person, his life will not only be clean in the sight of fellow-men but he will also commit very few acts of transgression against the claims of God.
It is stated in Tirmidhi that once the Prophet observed, while speaking to the Companions: “Practice modesty towards the Lord as it ought to be practised towards Him.” “God be praised,” replied the Companions, “We practise modesty towards Him”. “No”, the Prophet said, “It is not that. The proper way of observing modesty towards Allah is that you took care of the head and all the notions and ideas that are contained in it, and you took care of the belly and all that is contained in it [i.e., protected the mind against evil thoughts and the stomach against unlawful food], and remembered what your state is going to be on death and in the grave after death. Whoever did so, know that he fulfilled the duty of observing modesty towards Allah as it ought to be.”