Good Character

Summary


Allah SWT says:

“There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent example for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.”

– Surah Al-Ahzaab, Verses 21


Today’s topic is a central part of our religion. A topic that is fundamental if we are to live by our religion. A topic that underlies a crucial component of being a practicing Muslim. And that is good character.

In the introduction, we explore the importance of knowing our source of “good” character, for what is “good” changes depending on societal context – whether that be time, place or person. But alhamdulillah, as Muslims, we have been blessed, because part of the perfection of our religion is that we already have the golden standard in terms of what “good” character entails.

We have it detailed in a clearly defined handbook. The manual which we use to guide our lives. A criterion which tells us, not just what is good, but what is also bad. And that is our divine revelation. Allah SWT’s speech. The Holy Quran. And in addition to that, we have the Sunnah (way) of the best of Creation. Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

And what a role model he is, for Allah SWT praises our beloved Prophet ﷺ in Surah Al-Qalam Verse 4, where He says: “Indeed you are of a great moral character.”

And what were those manners and exemplary character? Indeed we can spend days quoting story after story, for volumes upon volumes have been written about him but for brevity’s sake, here are a few…

Examples of The Prophet ﷺ Perfect Character

  • Feeling Loved: he made people so loved, to the extent that none of the people who sat around him felt that there was anyone else who was more honoured than him in the eyes of Prophet ﷺ.
  • Humility: whenever someone would enter a gathering with the Prophet Mohammad ﷺ, they wouldn’t be able to differentiate him amongst his companions. He wouldn’t sit in a comfy chair, or dress differently, but be just his companions, demonstrating his humility.
  • Smiling: The companions would also say, “I have never seen a man who smiled as much as the Messenger of Allah.” [Tirmidhi]
  • Undivided Attention: The Prophet ﷺ used to give every single person undivided attention. Whenever they had something to say to him, he used to listen intently and not turn his face away from them.

We also mentioned, that on the way in improving our character, and reflecting on this topic, some people can unfortunately fall into one of two extremes. So we must be careful in…

Avoiding Two Extremes

  • Religiosity doesn’t matter, only ‘good’ character does: yes, the creation have a right over you, but so does the Creator, and that is the upmost important right to fulfill, as it embodies the purpose of our creation. Two additional points to also understand here-

(1) How can we define what is good? First, we must acknowledge that it is our Creator who knows best what is good, as that is stated in a divine law that does not change based on people’s whims and desires.

(2) How can we begin to claim good character when we are using the teeth that he created to smile at others, the tongue He created to sweet talk others. The one who fashioned you, who bought you to existence, who made you Muslim, who gave you the ability to think and demonstrate this so called ‘good character’, yet you turn away? The One Nurtured you? Fed you? Clothed you? Sheltered you? Protected you? Forgives you? Cures you? Guided you? Granted you safety? And Blessed you with Islam? How can we even begin to ignore those same blessings that we claim to be using in the sake of good character?

  • Good character doesn’t matter, only ‘religiosity’ does: some go to the other extreme, who may be religious in the worship sense, but ignore akhlaaq completely, causing them to be arrogant, look down on, trivialize, backbite, and stab others in the back. This is not the way of the believer. The Prophet ﷺ was not of this character. When you become more practicing, you should become more humble, not more arrogant or judgmental.

Practical Tips

The practical steps we shared in trying to internalise the topic are as follows. We must:

  • Treat people the way we want to be treated: in an authentic hadith, The Prophet ﷺ says, “Whoever would love to be delivered from the Hellfire and entered into Paradise, then let him die with faith in Allah and the Last Day, and let him treat the people the way he would love to be treated.” [Muslim] Treat others with kindness, regardless of the response you get from them. Whether someone thanks you for doing them a favour or not, or smiles back at you or not, we need to remain consistent in our good character. How? By internalising the hadith above which insha’Allah, is a sure fire way in demonstrating that exceptional character of the Prophet ﷺ as much as possible. We treat others how we want to be treated, not based on the feedback we get from them, whether positive or negative.
  • Spread the Salaam: greet people with the biggest smile and the biggest hug around uni, whether you know them or not, whether they’re Muslim or not, whether they’re so called ‘practicing’ or not, it does not matter. As muslims we should be giving the best greetings, the biggest hugs, not just a mere handshake, make people feel warm and welcome.
  • Show Appreciation: whenever someone does something good, say thanks and make dua’a for them. As The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever has a favour done for him and says to the one who did it, ‘Jazak Allaahu khayran,’ has done enough to thank him.” In another hadith, He ﷺsays, Guard yourself from the Hellfire even with half of a date in charity. If he cannot find it, then with a kind word.” In another hadith, He ﷺalso states, He has not thanked Allah who has not thanked people.” For we if we cannot recognise or see things that are given to us (through Allah’s grace) by the creation who are the “seen”, then how can we begin to appreciate The One who has given us in the unseen (Allah SWT)

The Prophetﷺ said,

“The heaviest thing which will be put on the believer’s scale (on the Day of Resurrection) will be good morals.”

– At-Tirmidhi


Full Sermon 

Allah SWT says to His Prophet ﷺ,

“And indeed you are of great moral character.”

– Surah Al Qalam, Verse 4

Introduction

Today’s topic is a central part of our religion. A topic that is fundamental if we are to live by our religion. A topic that underlies a crucial component of being a Muslim. And that topic brothers and sisters, is good character.

Before we go onto explain what is ‘good’ character, we must first know the parameters by which we are gauging this so called ‘good character’, for what is good, changes based on societal context, by time, place and person.

How Do We Judge What Is “Good” Character?

Alhamdulillah, part of the perfection of our religion, is that as Muslims, we already have a clearly defined handbook. A manual in which we use to guide our lives. A criterion which tells us not just what is good and bad, but what is excellent and abhorrent. A gold standard. Our divine revelation. Allah SWT’s speech, The Holy Quran. And the Sunnah from the best of Creation, His Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

And what a role model he is. Allah SWT praises our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in Suraht Al-Qalam Verse 4, where He says: “Indeed you are of a great moral character.”

In fact, in an authentic hadith (narration) our Prophet ﷺ said “Indeed I was sent to perfect the best of all manners and character.” [Bukhari]

And what were those manners and exemplary character? Indeed we can spend days quoting story after story, for volumes upon volumes have been written about him ﷺ, but for the sake of time, we’ll go about listing a few examples:

Examples of the Prophet’s Perfect Character

  • Feeling Loved: The Prophet ﷺ made so much time for so many people. He made people so loved, to the extent that none of the people who sat around him felt that there was anyone else who was more honoured than him in the eyes of Prophet ﷺ.
  • Humility: whenever someone would enter a gathering with the Prophet Mohammad ﷺ, they wouldn’t be able to differentiate him amongst his companions. He wouldn’t sit in a comfy chair, or dress differently, but be just his companions, demonstrating his humility.
  • Smiling: The companions would also say, “I have never seen a man who smiled as much as the Messenger of Allah.” [Tirmidhi]
  • Undivided Attention: The Prophet ﷺ used to give every single person undivided attention. Whenever they had something to say to him, he used to listen intently and not turn his face away from them.
  • Never Berating Others: not even the young. Anas ibn Malik narrates, “I served the Prophet for ten years, I lived with him for ten years and not once did he rebuke me. Not once did the word ‘Uh’ come from his mouth. He never said to me why did you do this or why didn’t you do that.” [Bukhari]

A Beautiful Narration

In an amazing narration, Anas ibn Malik says, “Once the Prophet asked me to do a chore but one my way to I saw a group of children playing. I completely forgot about the chore and I started playing with them.”

Anas was about 7 years old at that time. After a while, the Prophet came out looking for Anas because whatever the chore was, it wasn’t completed. He found Anas playing with the street children. Then Anas says, somebody held onto my ears (pushing two hands against his head) and picked me up and I turned around to find the Prophet smiling at me.”

The Prophet was playing with him, forget about getting angry or irritated with him. Subhanallah, such was the manner of our Prophet. Where do we stand in comparison to this? How easy is it for us to get irritated? Especially with children?

His Treatment Towards Animals

I’ll narrate one more story to illustrate that the Prophet ﷺ had this exemplary character not just to the young and old, or to is peers, but to humans and animals.

The Prophet ﷺ narrates a story of a man who suffered from thirst while he was walking on a journey. When he found a well, he climbed down into it and drank from it. Then he came out and saw a dog lolling its tongue from thirst and licking the ground. The man said: This dog has suffered thirst just as I have suffered from it. He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, and caught it in his mouth as he climbed up. Then he gave the dog a drink. Allah appreciated this deed, so he forgave him. It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward for charity even for the animals?”

The Prophet ﷺ said, “In every being with a warm liver there is a reward for charity.”

Finding The Middle Ground: Being A “Good” Human Being vs Religious

In finding this path to good akhlaaq (character, manners), it is very important to avoid two extremes.

The First Extreme – Being A “Good Human Being”

Some people, unfortunately, emphasize akhlaaq more than their worship of Allah. One thing you may hear is, “Oh, as long as I’m good to them, as long as I show peace and harmony to society and culture and nature, then it doesn’t matter, even if I commit sins or don’t pray at all, as long as I’m good to everyone else.”

Yes, no doubt, the creation have a right over you – that is a crucial concept that forms part of our religion. Indeed, your manners towards the creation matter, but your manners towards the Creator matter even more.

Also two critical points to mention here-

(1) How can we even define what is good in an irreligious worldview (as discussed at the beginning)? First, we must acknowledge that it is our Creator who knows best what is good, as that is stated in a divine law that does not change based on people’s whims and desires.

(2) How can we begin to claim good character when we are using the teeth that he created to smile at others, the tongue He created to sweet talk others. The one who fashioned you, who bought you to existence, who made you Muslim, who gave you the ability to think and demonstrate this so called ‘good character’, yet you turn away? The One Nurtured you? Fed you? Clothed you? Sheltered you? Protected you? Forgives you? Cures you? Guided you? Granted you safety? And Blessed you with Islam? How can we even begin to ignore those same blessings that we claim to be using in the sake of good character?

So let’s not neglect our obligatory duties, for we may reap the rewards of being a ‘good human’ in this life, but what will we answer when we have nothing to show in the next? What about being a ‘good human’ to the one Who created said humans?

The Second Extreme – As Long As I Pray, Character Doesn’t Matter

But of course then we have the other extreme is that some ignore akhlaaq completely. Those that worship think they can ignore all of the aayaat and ahadith about akhlaaq. This then causes them to be arrogant, look down on, trivialize, backbite, and stab others in the back. This is not the way of the believer. The Prophet ﷺ was not of this character.

If a person has bad akhlaaq, if he is arrogant, vulgar, and foul-mouthed, then this is not a person with strong eman. If people do not want to be around him, and he is always criticizing everybody else, then this person is not a person with strong eman. When you become more practicing, you should become more humble, not more arrogant or judgemental.

But beware of the trap of Shaytaan! Don’t justify your sins or lack of worship due to so called practicing people who may pray 5 times a day and who happen to have bad character. First of all, you’ll find people who pray 5 times a day and more to have the best of character, our Prophet ﷺ for starters who is our God-given role model, and secondly, your imaan and duties towards Allah, is not dependent on others – even if none of the earth had believed, and didn’t believe in god, or had the worst of character, or worst of faith, there will always be One worthy of worship. Don’t let shaytaan lure you into that trap in hinging your faith onto others.

Practical Steps in Demonstrating Good Character

The practical steps we shared in trying to internalise the topic are as follows. We must:

  • Treat people the way we want to be treated: in an authentic hadith, The Prophet ﷺ says, “Whoever would love to be delivered from the Hellfire and entered into Paradise, then let him die with faith in Allah and the Last Day, and let him treat the people the way he would love to be treated.” [Muslim]

What a powerful statement. One that we hear time and time again, yet 1400 years ago our beloved Prophet ﷺ said that. What does that mean? It means being selfless, giving to others what you love for yourself. In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad SAW says love for your brother what you love for yourself. In another verse, you will not attain true piety until you spend/give from that which you love. Giving others the best and biggest slice of pizza, serve the best food, the best help/advice. Regardless of the feedback you get from them – whether someone’s says thanks or not, internalising the hadith above is a sure way to remain consistent in demonstrating that exemplary character of the Prophet ﷺ.

  • Spread the Salaam: greet people with the biggest smile and the biggest hug around uni, whether you know them or not, whether they’re Muslim or not, whether they’re so called ‘practicing’ or not, it does not matter. As muslims we should be giving the best greetings, the biggest hugs, not just a mere handshake, make people feel warm and welcome, even if it is after salah, give the person next to you the widest smile.
  • Show Appreciation: whenever someone does something good, say thanks and make dua’a for them. As The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever has a favour done for him and says to the one who did it, ‘Jazak Allaahu khayran,’ has done enough to thank him.” In another hadith, He ﷺ  says, Guard yourself from the Hellfire even with half of a date in charity. If he cannot find it, then with a kind word.” In another hadith, He ﷺ also states, He has not thanked Allah who has not thanked people.” For we if we cannot recognise or see things that are given to us (bi’ithnillah) by the creation who are the “seen”, then how can we begin to appreciate The One who has given us in the unseen (Allah SWT).

Ending Reminder

In an authenticated narration, The Prophet ﷺ says,

“The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to the people. The most beloved deed to Allah is to make a Muslim happy, or to remove one of his troubles, or to forgive his debt, or to feed his hunger. That I walk with a brother regarding a need is more beloved to me than that I seclude myself in this mosque in Medina for a month. Whoever swallows his anger, then Allah will conceal his faults. Whoever suppresses his rage, even though he could fulfill his anger if he wished, then Allah will secure his heart on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever walks with his brother regarding a need until he secures it for him, then Allah the Exalted will make his footing firm across the bridge on the day when the footings are shaken.”

– At-Tabarani