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Moral Excellence in Islam

Moral Excellence in Islam
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Author: Shaykh Muhammad Al-Khidhr Husayn  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him

Islam was revealed to people so that they would build with it a moral civilization in this worldly life and savor genuine bliss in the Hereafter. One of the requirements of achieving this lofty goal entailed that the Islamic teachings should incorporate systems regulating the relationships between the created beings and their Creator; i.e., the provisions of ‘Ibaadaat (Sharee‘ah rulings pertaining to the acts of worship), and those regulating the relationships among people; i.e., the provisions of Mu‘aamalaat (Sharee‘ah rulings regulating the interactions and transactions among people), including the judicial and political matters.

The proper and regular performance of acts of worship and the conducting of interactions and transactions among people entail that they should be informed by a well-established moral and ethical system.

Therefore, the wisdom of Islam necessitated that it should foster moral cultivation rather than settling for the establishment of Sharee‘ah rulings organizing people’s actions that are the central focus of religious obligations.

This is why the ethics and morality were extensively discussed in the various Sharee‘ah sciences.

If we contemplate the ethical and moral values that are conducive to carrying out the practical religious duties, we will realize that they revolve around forbearance, munificence, courage, Hayaa’ (bashfulness and modesty), truthfulness, patience, dignity, humbleness, firm resolve, fulfillment of covenant, asceticism, justice, and honesty.

This article does not aim to delineate these moral qualities like psychologists do, investigating their essence, dividing them into primary and subsidiary categories, highlighting the similarities and differences between the subsidiary categories, identifying their implications and effects, and culminating their discussions with proposing ways to cultivate them within young children. Such detailed account requires allocating a lecture for each moral quality at the very least.

What I can do in this article, though, is to provide a glimpse of these moral values, briefly touch upon the correlation between the Islamic guidance and them, and how the Islamic teachings emphasize their lofty status and urge people to adorn themselves with them, so that our youth would be better aware that the true religion of Islam aims to foster morality, being the very basis on which the happiness of nations is founded. This is why Islam emphasizes moral cultivation and urges Muslims to embody the (lofty) ethical and moral values in a more logical and applicable manner, compared to the philosophers’ approach.

Moral Excellence: Forbearance

As for forbearance, which refers to self-control and restraining anger so as not to be easily and quickly provoked, the Quran mentioned it among the characteristics of the true believers. Allah, The Exalted, Says (what means): {and those who restrain anger} [Quran 3:134] When experiencing inner peace generated by the restraint of anger, a person is inclined to give up retaliation for the offence he took, and this is the pardon to which the Quran referred in His Saying (which means): {and who pardon the people} [Quran 3:134].

So, the inner peace experienced by the offended person in this context, empowering him to keep his anger in check, is a manifestation of perfect moral refinement, and when it is joined with graciously resisting the urge to retaliate, moral refinement is further perfected.

The correlation between pardon and the Islamic teachings is that one of the objectives of the Islamic Da‘wah is to build a united Ummah (nation), whose members cooperate in righteousness and piety, and this objective can only be achieved by eliminating the causes of  dissension and discord. In addition, since the members of a large social group are bound to offend one another by some word or deed, one of the moral values promoted and fostered by Islam is turning a blind eye to such lapses and pardoning them.

Forbearance, in the sense of keeping one’s anger in check, has a significant impact on the success of politics. In fact, forbearance, in the sense of turning a blind eye to some lapses, is also considered one of the requirements of good governance. Under the care of forbearing and magnanimous statesmen, the reformers can find the field of Da‘wah wide open before them to work in an atmosphere of reassurance and confidence in realizing the most sublime objectives and the most favorable results.

Moral Excellence: Munificence

As for munificence, one of the higher objectives of the Sharee‘ah is to fulfill the needs of the poor and help them meet their living costs. This is why Zakaah is prescribed, charity is recommended, and the Sharee‘ah prescribes financial duties on men, like the obligation of providing for wives, children, and some relatives. There is no doubt that Islam aims to purify the human self from the vice of miserliness and replace it with the virtue of munificence, so that whenever Muslims are commanded to spend in charity, they would hasten to comply with good grace, embodying unsparing generosity.

It would not be wrong to say that one of the reasons for the unfavorable conditions of many Muslim peoples is withholding charity for the Sake of Allah.

The Islamic Shree‘ah does not settle for urging Muslims to spend in charity from the surplus of their wealth but rather lauds altruism and putting others’ needs before one’s own needs, describing it as the peak of munificence. Allah, The Exalted, Says (what means): {… but they give [them] preference over themselves, even though they are in privation.} [Quran 59:9]

Moral Excellence: Bravery

There are two kinds of bravery: military bravery, which refers to self-sacrifice for the sake of religion, honor, or wealth; and moral bravery, which refers to a man’s striving to speak out and proclaim the truth before people in power by enjoining good or forbidding evil while being indifferent to the harm that may be afflicted on him, and both kinds of bravery were given considerable attention by Islam.

As for military bravery, Islam commands the Muslim soldiers to adhere to steadfastness on the battlefield when the enemy’s troops are twice their number, and renders fleeing from the battlefield a grave sin incurring the wrath of Allah, The Almighty, punishable by Hellfire on the Day of Resurrection.

As for moral bravery, Islam considers enjoining good and forbidding evil one of the obligations of faith, and it is not the exclusive duty of the appointed ‘official’ scholars, nor some scholars in a special uniform, but rather an individual duty required of each and every Muslim who witnesses the neglect of good, while knowing it to be good, or the commission of evil, while knowing it to be evil. The researching jurists have discussed this religious obligation in length, and it is sufficient to point out here that Imaam ‘Arafah issued a Fatwa indicating that the fear of being deposed from office is not a valid excuse to give up the obligation of forbidding evils.

Every Muslim is required to embody the two virtues: military and moral bravery to the best of his ability. Whoever knows that the Muslim Ummah does not fall under a ruthless foreign domination except when it loses military bravery, and that dissoluteness and oppression do not prevail among Muslims except when moral bravery is lost, realizes the secret behind the special attention given by the wise Sharee‘ah to these two virtues.

Moral Excellence: Hayaa’ (bashfulness and modesty)

Hayaa’ refers to the emotional response that deters a person from doing what is unbecoming of him (and what may constitute a breach of decorum). Islam gives considerable care and attention to this moral value, so much so that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) made it the slogan of Islam. In a Saheeh (authentic) Hadeeth, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: “Every religion has a distinct characteristic and the characteristic of Islam is Hayaa’.”  

He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) also underlined that a person who is deprived of this moral quality is not hoped to be rightly guided nor relish virtuousness. He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: “If you fail to embody Hayaa’, do whatever you want!”

Perhaps you have sensed, like I have, that the word ‘freedom’ is being circulated by people who do not realize its true essence nor value it as due, and this has undermined the virtue of Hayaa’ in the hearts of some Muslims. Alas, we find some Muslim youth who may boldly say or do what is unbecoming of them in the presence of their parents, older relatives, or others, claiming that it is one of the requirements of freedom in this age!

In fact, Hayaa’ is a moral adornment that adds to the dignity of an old man and the courteousness of a young one. I believe that a parent should allow his child to express himself in his presence and discuss worldly or scientific issues to train him, under his supervision, on expressing and discussing sound opinions, and whenever he deviates from the virtue of Hayaa’ in words or gestures, the parent should alert him gently and advise him wisely.

Moral Excellence: Truthfulness

Truthfulness has a great impact on the nobility of the individual and the regulation of civil affairs. When a person is known for lying, he is despised by others and disdained in their gatherings, disqualifying him from any chance of supremacy.

Moreover, habitual lying spoils one’s interactions and dealings with people and renders his narration and testimony rejected. It is not strange that religion, which aims to rectify the affairs of both individuals and groups, fosters the virtue of truthfulness and deems lying uncompromisingly forbidden, so much so that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) considered it among the meanest of all vices and warned that genuine faith cannot take root in a heart along with lying. It was narrated by Imaam Maalik in Al-Muwatta’ that the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) was asked: “Can a believer be a liar?” He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: “No!”

Moral Excellence: Patience

Patience refers to inner peace and tranquility when an unpleasant event occurs, such as the loss of wealth or the death of a loved one. This implies steadfastness in the pursuit of a praiseworthy attainment and enduring potential hardship in this regard. It also refers to patience in performing acts of obedience, which implies restraining oneself from following desires and committing prohibitions. It refers as well to patience in refraining from committing sins.

Each of these three meanings is founded on harnessing abundant virtue and sound mind, for a person adheres to patience when unexpected calamities befall him, when striving to obtain a laudable attainment, or when he is overwhelmed by sinful desires, only if he is equipped with in-depth knowledge and awareness of the causes and consequences of things. This is why patience, with its three meanings, is one of the foremost moral values to which Islam assigns great care. One of its merits is that it helps a person adhere to frugality, shielding him against incurring debts and sparing him its humiliation.

Moral Excellence: Dignity

Dignity means that a person should know his own value and reject humiliation and insult. One of the higher objectives of the Sharee‘ah is for the Muslim Ummah to lead a decent life, and this essentially eliminates the possibility of tolerating humiliation. Another higher objective of the Sharee‘ah is for the Ummah to build a powerful revered nation.

Dignity prevents the Muslim Ummah from accepting injustice and urges the Muslim individual to avoid whatever may lead to his humiliation. It may prompt an employee to perform his tasks as due to avoid the reproach of his superior, and prompts a person who is able to work to earn a living and spare himself the humiliation of begging people for money.

Moral Excellence: Firm Resolve

Having a firm resolve empowers a person to seek after far-reaching objectives and accordingly aspire to the most honorable deeds and the most prestigious ranks. He would not settle for the less honorable deeds or lower ranks as long as he is capable of doing and attaining better ones.

An Arab poet said (what means): “A great strong-willed person perceives the hardest challenges effortless, and a weak-willed person perceives the least challenges insurmountable.”

 

Islam urges Muslims to embody this noble moral value, for the great conquests, huge projects, brilliance, and significant advances in various fields of knowledge are nothing but the fruits of firm resolve. Informed by his firm resolve, Ibn Hazm  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him gave up his office in the cabinet to devote himself entirely to acquiring more knowledge.

Moral Excellence: Fulfillment of Covenants

The fulfillment of covenants is one of the noblest moral values emphasized by Islam. It strongly warns against the breach of covenants, deems obligatory on the individuals to honor them to discipline their conduct and rectify their interactions, and requires statesmen to honor their covenants so that countries trust their treaties and they rule in an upright manner. Allah, The Exalted, Says (what means): {And fulfill the covenant of Allah when you have taken it, [O believers] …} [Quran 16:91] He also Says (what means): {… so complete for them their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him].} [Quran 9:4]

Islam also forbids Muslims from acting in a way contrary to what they say and considers it one of the deeds that incur the wrath of Allah, The Exalted. He Says (what means): {O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do.} [Quran 61:2-3]

Fulfilling covenants includes the fulfillment of promises, provided that it is within a person’s ability to fulfil them. This noble verse indicates the obligation of fulfilling the promise, as it renders the promised good among the rights of the promised person, and breaking such promise is like an act of transgression against him.

Another relevant moral value is graciousness towards old friends, and it refers to upholding and honoring the rights of friendship and companionship, if there should be discord between a person and his friend or he happened to relish ease after hardship. When an honorable person relishes ease after hardship, he does not forget those who stood by his side at the time of hardship. It was narrated in a Saheeh (authentic) Hadeeth that a woman visited the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) and he met her with a warm welcome and compassionately asked after her. When she left, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: “She used to visit us in the days of Khadeejah, and graciousness towards old friends is part of faith.”

Moral Excellence: Asceticism

The Islamic Sharee‘ah promotes asceticism (Zuhd) and lauds those who embody it. Asceticism refers to the renunciation of wealth, comfort and (worldly) adornment, and detaching one’s heart from their charm that lure a person into seeking after them even by unlawful means.

In this sense, asceticism helps a person have dignity, munificence, and chastity. However, some people have misunderstood asceticism, which is a refined moral value, and associated it with a person who refrains from working and earning a living despite his ability and is content with being among the poor who rely on the charitable giving of the rich.

As for justice, it is a moral value that urges a person to give everyone his due, and its merits best manifest in judging among the disputing people. To embody justice, a person needs to cultivate several moral virtues such as moral bravery, dignity, and having little interest in the pursuit of material gains.

Many Quranic verses and Hadeeth texts underlined the command to uphold justice, and the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) highlighted the categories of people whom Allah, The Exalted, shall shade in the shade of His Throne on the Day of Resurrection, and mentioned at the top of the list a just ruler.

As to honesty, it refers to a moral value by means of which a person keenly honors the wealth or work entrusted to him. The Sharee‘ah laid significant emphasis on honesty; it forbids a Muslim from disposing of what is entrusted to his care, such as a trust or a loaned or leased property, except within the scope of the authorization of the owner (principal). It also commands a person to fulfill his job as due. This category also incorporates the enjoined professional proficiency, good governance, and sincerity in teaching. Whoever cheats his clients or fails to display honesty in the governance of his country has betrayed his nation, and whoever fails to apply the best and most effective educational curricula has betrayed his students.

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As-Sumuw Al-Khuluqi Fee Al-Islaam, summarized and modified.

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