I was taught as a child that a good deed is that which you want people to meet you performing and a bad deed is that you prefer to do in secret. Alas, as an adult, I have realised things are not quite so black and white.
During one Ramadan, my husband had some lower denomination currency he wanted to give in charity so he parked in front of a mosque and beckoned to the children in front of it. Initially reluctant, they quickly lost inhibition and ran in to call others once they realised he was giving out mint notes. Their numbers quickly swelled and I shrunk in my seat. I was just embarrassed we were drawing attention although that wasn’t my husband’s intention. I couldn’t wait for him to get it over with and for us to leave!
Some of us feel closer to Allah in the privacy of our rooms, prefer to donate anonymously, and keep good acts between ourselves and the concerned party. That sex between married couples is behind closed doors does not make it a shameful or sinful act. We should however not equate shyness or modesty with shame and vice-versa.
We sisters like to decline praying in the masjid (mosque) at the expense of praying on time. We say we would rather observe salat at home (kilometres away) even while other sisters are praying. Some Muslims shun sisters in hijab/niqab or brothers whose trousers are not as long because we feel ‘shy’ to say salaam; shy or ashamed? In the company of our friends, we hesitate to reply salaam thrown our way. We mumble when we introduce ourselves by our Muslim names and try to use nicknames instead, to hide its ‘Islamicness’. We push away from our mum’s kisses because she is ruining our ‘rep’. Indeed, we hesitate to answer our parents’ call so we can prove our independence to our peers. We have our Islamic clothing hanging in the back of our closet gathering dust. That is shame.
On the other hand, some of us are shy to do good deeds for fear of showing off. We see a stick on the road which may harm others but neglect to remove it lest someone behind us thinks we are holy. We observe a person needs our help but shun the person so as not draw attention to ourselves. Our wife needs our help but we are less willing to give up our macho image. We are too shy to excuse ourselves from our circle of friends to go for prayers. If there is a multi-religious gathering and a Muslim is called upon to give opening/closing prayer, we join others in searching for one who is bold enough.
While our intentions need to be purified so that we are not simply doing deeds to be seen of men, we should also not suppress our good instincts and conceal our Islamic identity. Muslims are a people of moderation; we just have to strike that balance between shyness and doing the right thing. So long as we perform a good deed (covert or overt), we will be rewarded accordingly, depending on our intentions.