Bismillah walhamdulillah wasalat wasalam alaa rasoolillah
I attended an event at a local masjid this past Friday. I was super excited because it was a famous speaker, and the event was an evening event, so I hadn’t expected to be able to attend. I had only received confirmation the day before that I would be able to go.
As soon as I entered, someone reached out to me. I looked down and saw my friend sitting in the back with her baby. She was excited to see me, so I sat next to her for a few seconds, but I couldn’t contain myself: “Could I please sit in the front?”
I quickly got up and made my way to the front, where there was a group of women sitting on the floor. I found a spot right behind the projector. I sat down on the carpet and put my bag down. I took out my notebook and then opened my pen case. It was full of highlighters and bright colored pens for margin notes, but no black note-taking pen. I considered using my maroon margin-notes pen, but immediately pushed away the ridiculous thought.
I felt around the inside and outside of my bag for a pen.
I waited all of two seconds before I quickly turned to the woman on my left and said, “Do you have a pen?”
I probably scared her (it was dark and my niqab was still on and I did sound a bit shady), because she barely thought about my question before she said “No.”
I swung around and then asked the lady behind me. She was an elderly sister, maybe in her 60s or 70s.
“Do you have a pen?”
She also looked a bit startled (I should really modify my approach lol…), but slowly moved towards me and cupped her hand around her ear to show me she didn’t hear.
I repeated it for her, and made a writing motion.
“A pen, do you have a pen?”
She looked like she had one, so I turned back around to watch the screen and wait for her to pull it out.
Then I think she tapped me, so I turned around and she was holding out a bright red pen.
“Thank you! Jazakallahu khair!” I whispered excitedly.
Oh no, I hope this doesn’t write in red… I thought to myself.
I started writing.
Phew, blue ink.
The lady on my left, having recovered and realizing that I really just wanted a pen, tried to get my attention and let me know that she has a pen. I held up the one in my hand like a trophy, “I already have one,” I said with a big smile.
And I went back to my notepad.
I kept thinking about this incident after it occurred, even days later.
I wondered about a feeling that I had felt but had not keyed in on.
I felt really nice when I turned around and the sister behind me handed me the pen. I have asked people for pens before, so what was different about this moment?
I thought about it and realized that my heart had inclined towards the sister simply because she took the cap off of the pen before she handed it to me. She took the cap off and placed it on the end of the pen. I thought about how she handled the pen with both of her hands before passing it to me, and I tried to make sense of what this made me feel.
This simple gesture had a profound effect on me. I felt valued.
That night at the masjid, I kept looking back at this elderly sister, not really knowing why. Before she left the masjid, she took one last look inside. I looked up to see that her face was covered in a black niqab.
I watched her walk out, and I felt dumbfounded.
* * *
Do you want to know the quickest way into someone’s heart?
Have good manners towards them. As one of my teachers says, “Burden them, weigh them down with your kindness.”
Your manners will have a much greater effect than your words. (Think about someone who gives good advice, but makes you feel humiliated at the same time – you don’t really want to listen to them, do you?)
Lately I have been hit with so many reminders of the importance of good manners. It’s not just a virtue, it’s a necessity. How can we claim to be followers of Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and have poor manners towards anyone? Especially other Muslims, and especially our families.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “I have only been sent to perfect good characteristics.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari in al-Adab al-Mufrad (273) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (45)
As people of Islam, people of Imaan, seekers of knowledge, people of the Qur’an, good character is something we MUST acquire. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala grant us sincerity. Because it is only those who are sincere who will develop and change their bad characteristics.
Anyone can memorize the Qur’an – but how many people take on the character of the Qur’an?
Anyone can dress modestly – but how many of those bodies have a soul to match?
Anyone can gain knowledge – but on how many people do you see the true effects of this knowledge?
“O my dear son, if it was easy to attain good and lofty characteristics, then the lowly debased ones would have competed with you towards them, but instead they are difficult and bitter, none can be patient over them except a person who knows their true virtues and hopes for their reward.”
Sa’id ibn al ‘Aas
* * *
Question: How does one acquire good character?
Praise be to Allaah.
A good attitude is the characteristic of the best of the Messengers and is the best action of the righteous. It is – no doubt – half of religion, the fruit of the efforts of the pious and the practice of the devoted worshipper. Bad characteristics are lethal poison and lead to shameful consequences.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “I have only been sent to perfect good characteristics.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari in al-Adab al-Mufrad (273) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (45).
It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was asked about that which will admit most people to Paradise. He said: “Fear of Allaah and a good attitude.”
Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2004); he said it is saheeh ghareeb. It was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.
Hence Islam paid a great deal of attention to laying down guidelines for treating diseases of the heart (i.e., spiritual diseases) and ways of acquiring good characteristics, which is regarded as one of the most important duties, because no heart will be free of sicknesses. If the heart is neglected, sicknesses will accumulate. No soul is free of inclinatons which, if they are given free rein, will lead it to doom in this world and in the Hereafter.
This kind of medicine requires profound knowledge of reasons and causes, then it needs hard work to remedy it and set things straight, in order to reach a successful outcome. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself”
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to pray for a good attitude, saying, “O Allaah, You have made my outward form beautiful so make my attitude good too.” Narrated by Ibn Hibbaan in his Saheeh (3/239) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel (75).
If a person knows what his shortcomings are he can do something to remedy them, but many people are unaware of their faults and shortcomings. A person may see the speck in his brother’s eye and not see the log in his own. The person who wants to know what his own faults are may do four things:
1. He may sit before a Shaykh who has insight into people’s faults and knowledge of the subtlety of some problems and learn from him knowledge, good attitudes and manners.
2. He may ask a sincere friend who has insight and is religiously committed to keep watch over him and take note of his actions, so that he can draw attention to whatever he dislikes of his attitude, actions, and inward and outward faults. This is what the best and greatest imams of Islam used to do. ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) used to say: “May Allaah have mercy on a man who shows me my shortcomings.”
3. He can learn about his faults and shortcomings from the lips of his enemies, because the eye of one who is resentful will always notice bad things about you. A man may benefit more from an enemy who wants to cause trouble and mentions his faults than from a friend who wants to flatter him by praising him and concealing his faults.
4. He can mix with people. Everything that he sees as blameworthy among people, he should guard against in his own self, because the believer is the mirror of his fellow believer, and in the faults of others he can see his own faults. It was said to ‘Eesa (peace be upon him): “Who taught you?” He said: “No one taught me; I saw the ignorance of the ignorant as something bad and I avoided it.”
Attitude reflects how a person thinks and the way he is inside. Just as, in general, a person’s outward form cannot be beautiful if only the eyes are beautiful and not the nose, mouth and cheek, and everything must be beautiful in order for the entire outward form to be beautiful, so too there are four requirements of inward beauty which must all be met in order for one’s attitude to be good or beautiful. If all four requirements are met and balanced then a good attitude is acquired, the characteristics of which are: strong knowledge, control of anger, control of desire, and a proper balance between these three aspects.
With regard to strong knowledge, good and sound knowledge means understanding in such a way that one can see the difference between telling the truth and telling lies in speech, between truth and falsehood in beliefs, between beauty and ugliness in actions. If this strength becomes sound, there will result from it wisdom, and wisdom is the head of a good attitude.
With regard to strength of anger, its beauty is that it is used in accordance with what is dictated by wisdom. The same applies to desire; its beauty and strength should be controlled by wisdom, meaning under the control of reason and sharee’ah.
With regard to balance, it means proper control of desires and anger, under the control of wisdom and sharee’ah.
Reason is like a sincere adviser. Justice and balance is power, and it is like one who does what is dictated by reason. Anger is to be subjected to control.
The one who acquires and balances these characteristics is a man of good character in general, and from it stem all good qualities.
No one achieved perfect balance of these four characteristics except the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him); people after him vary in how close or distant they are to him in character. Everyone who is close to him in these characteristics is close to Allaah, to the extent that he is close to the Messenger of Allaah.
This balance may be achieved in two ways:
1 – By the blessing of Allaah, as part of one’s inherent nature
2 – By acquiring these characteristics through effort and training, i.e., pushing oneself to do the actions dictated by the desired characteristic.
The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Knowledge is acquired by seeking it, and patience is acquiring by striving to be patient. The one who strives to attain good will be given it, and the one who strives to protect himself from evil will be protected. Narrated by al-Khateeb and others from the hadeeth of Abu’l-Darda’; classed as hasan by al-Albaani.
If a person wants to attain the characteristic of generosity, the way to attain that is by pushing himself to do the actions of one who is generous, which is giving away wealth. So he keeps pushing himself and persisting in that, striving against his own inclinations, until that becomes second nature and it becomes easy for him, thus he becomes generous.
Similarly, if a person wants to attain the characteristic of humility, when he is inclined to be arrogant, the way he does it is by persisting in doing the actions of the humble for a long time, striving and pushing himself until that becomes one of his characteristics, and it becomes second nature to him and easy for him.
All praiseworthy characteristics that are prescribed in Islam may be acquired in this way. Religious characteristics will never become entrenched in the soul unless the soul gets accustomed to doing all good habits, unless it gives up all bad habits, and unless it persists in doing good deeds like one who loves good deeds and enjoys doing them, and hates bad deeds and is pained by them.
This may be explained by means of examples:
The one who wants to become proficient in writing, so that this becomes one of his characteristics and writing beautifully becomes second nature to him, has no other way but to hold in his hand that which the proficient writer holds, and persist for a long time, trying to imitate beautiful hand writing, and keep on doing so until it becomes well established in him, then finally beautiful writing will become second nature to him.
Similarly, if a person wants to become a faqeeh, he has no choice but to do what the fuqaha’ do, which is to keep studying issues of fiqh until his heart develops a love of the subject.
And if a person wants to become generous and refrain from asking people, and become patient and humble, he has to keep on doing the actions of those people until they become second nature to him. He should not despair of attaining those characteristics if he fails to study for one night, for he will not be able to attain it with one night’s study. Perfecting the soul and adorning it with good deeds will not be attained by worshipping for one day, and he will not be deprived of it if he sins for one day. But slacking off for one day may lead to another day, then slowly one becomes accustomed to laziness.
The likeness of the soul and the way to treat it to rid it of bad characteristics and make it attain good characteristics is that of the body, when treating it to rid it of disease and bring it good health.
Although the humours are usually in balance, the stomach may become sick due to food, drink or circumstances. Similarly, everyone is born with a balanced nature, but his parents make him a Jew, Christian or Magian, i.e., by training and teaching one acquires bad characteristics.
Just as the body is not created perfect in the first place, rather it is made perfect by rearing and food, similarly the soul is also created imperfect but with the potential to become perfect, and it can only be perfected by means of education, discipline and nourishment with knowledge. If the body is sound, the doctor’s role is to show one the way to maintain good health; if it is sick, then the doctor’s job is to restore health. The same applies to the soul; if it is pure and sound then one should strive to preserve it and bring it more strength and acquire more good characteristics; if it is imperfect then one should strive to perfect it and purify it.
Sickness that causes imbalance in the body can only be treated by its opposite, so if it is caused by cold it is treated with heat and vice versa. Similarly, bad characteristics, which are diseases of the heart, are treated by applying the opposite. So the remedy for the disease of ignorance is seeking knowledge, and the remedy for the disease of miserliness is pushing oneself to be generous, and the remedy for the disease of arrogance is pushing oneself to be humble, and the remedy for the sickness of eating too much is imposing self restraint.
Just as it is essential to put up with the bitterness of the remedy and show patience in refraining from what one desires when treating physical sickness, so too it is essential to put up with the bitterness of striving and being patient when treating diseases of the heart; rather it is more important, because one gets rid of physical sickness when one dies, but the sicknesses of the heart – Allaah forbid – may persist after death and continue forever and ever.
These examples show you the way to treat diseases of the heart, and demonstrate that the holistic way is to treat them with the opposite of whatever one is inclined towards and likes. Allah has summed up all of that in His Holy Book, when He said (interpretation of the meaning):
“But as for him who feared standing before his Lord, and restrained himself from impure evil desires and lusts.
41. Verily, Paradise will be his abode”
What matters with regard to striving is fulfilling what one resolves to do. If a person resolves to give up a desire, then he must show patience and persist, because if he gets used to giving up what he resolved to do, that will lead to corruption. If it so happens that he falls short of what he resolved to do, then he must impose some punishment on himself because of that, because if he does not scare himself with that punishment, his evil inclinations will overwhelm him and he will be attracted to indulging in desires, and all his efforts will be spoiled.
Summarized and adapted from Ihya’ ‘Uloom al-Deen by al-Ghazaali (3/62-98).
And Allaah knows best.