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OnIslam.net

Righteousness Is Good Character

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An-Nawas ibn Sam`an reported that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Righteousness is good character, and sin is whatever bothers you and you do not want people to know.” (Muslim)

An-Nawas ibn Sam`an is a famous Companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).  He belonged to the Arab tribe of Kalab and settled in Syria after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

 The above hadith is so important as it sheds light on some of the more subtle aspects of righteousness and sin, helping to define them both.  Since Islam gives so much importance to the belief in and worship of One God, one may incorrectly think that this alone is enough to be righteous.  This hadith, however, shows that one of the main consequences of correct and true belief is good character, and that it is an intrinsic aspect of the meaning of righteousness.  It emphasizes some of the meanings found in the saying of God which mentions that righteousness, as well as a being a combination of correct belief and prescribed worship, is also proper conduct in human relations:

{Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east and the west [in prayer].  But righteous is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Scripture and the Prophets; who gives his wealth in spite of love for it to kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the wayfarer, to those who ask and to set slaves free.  And (righteous are) those who pray, pay alms, honor their agreements, and are patient in (times of) poverty, ailment and during conflict.  Such are the people of truth.  And they are the God-Fearing.} (Al-Baqarah 2:177)

Rather than being an end in itself, one of the main purposes of worship is to bring about traits beneficial to the self and society.  Allah says about the salah (prayer):

{Surely, the salah prevents lewd acts and bad deeds…} (Al-`Ankabut 29: 45)

Hence one can say without any qualms that Islam as a whole came to perfect good manners, as did the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself:

“Indeed, I was only sent to complete the most noble character traits.” (Muslim)

Good character is any trait that is beneficial to humans, both to oneself as well as to others, at the same time not being generally or specifically prohibited by Islam.

As Islam is not a mere religion but a complete way of life, incorporating all of its various facets and aspects, good manners is actually regarded as a means of worship by which one may achieve the same reward of doing other more obvious voluntary acts of worship.  The Prophet, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stated:

“Through his manners and good conduct, the believer can attain the status of a person who frequently fasts and prays at night.” (Abu Dawud)

Rather, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) even stated it to be one of the best forms of worship, second to none but the obligatory mandates of Islam:

“On the Day of Resurrection, nothing will be heavier in the scale (of good deeds) of the believer than good conduct.  Allah hates the one who swears and hurls obscenities.” (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)

Through maintaining good conduct, one becomes one of the beloved servants of Alllah.  The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“The most beloved servants of Allah to Him are those who have the best manners.” (Al-Hakim)

When one realizes the importance of good character and its essentiality in defining righteousness, an aspect which is the goal of Islam, this exhorts Muslims to fulfill this aspect of faith as well, since one can not become “righteous” through mere belief and devotion to Allah in themselves without good character.

But what is regarded as good character?  We find that the Qur'an and Sunnah in various texts define it to be any trait that is beneficial to humans, both to oneself as well as to others, at the same time not being generally or specifically prohibited by Islam.  For example, Allah says:

{Those who suppress their anger, and forgive other people – assuredly, Allah loves those who do good.} (Aal `Imran 3: 134)

Righteousness is dealing fairly, justly and politely with one’s family.  The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“The believers with the most perfect faith are those with the most perfect conduct and manners.  And the best ones amongst you are those who are best to their families.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Truthfulness is an essential aspect of good character which leads to Paradise.  The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Indeed truthfulness is righteousness, and indeed righteousness leads to Paradise.” (Muslim)

These are but a few examples of the numerous texts which define and exhort Muslims to excel in their character and manner.  Although righteousness is those deeds which are naturally pleasing to the conscience of humans, religion plays a vital role in defining what it is.  For example, anything of which its harm is greater than its goodness cannot be defined as righteousness, even if it may be otherwise regarded as goodness and righteousness.  The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“It is not righteousness that you fast during travel.” (Al-Bukhari)

As long as a person seeks righteousness, they will know when they have done something wrong through their conscience, even though they might find numerous ways to excuse themselves for what they are doing.

Although fasting is one of the most meritorious of deeds, here it is not considered righteousness due to the harm it may incur to the individual during a journey.  Also, to steal from the rich in order to give to the poor may not be regarded as righteousness, as stealing has been specifically prohibited in the religion.

At the same time, a deed which may sometimes be seen as harsh may also be considered good character at times, such as striking a child at certain age as a means of education.  The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

“Command your children to pray when they are seven, and strike them [if they do not] when they are ten…” (Abu Dawud)

For this reason, we look to divine guidance in order to define for us good manners and character, exemplified by the Prophet, as Allah says:

{Surely, you (O Muhammad) are upon a high standard of moral character.} (Al-Qalam 68: 4)

Allah also says:

{Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have a beautiful example of conduct to follow…}(Al-Azab 33: 21)

`A'ishah, the wife of the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), was asked about his character.  She replied:

“His character was that of the Qur'an.” (Muslim and Abu Dawud)

In the second part of this hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) mentioned another subtle aspect of sin, which is that sin is anything which bothers a righteous person’s conscience and which a person seeks to hide from others. An array of actions comes into a person’s mind once they hear these words.

Allah has inspired within each soul the ability, although limited, to recognize truth from falsehood.

{He inspired it (the soul) to know its sin and its piety.} (As-Shams  91: 8)

As long as a person seeks righteousness, they will know when they have done something wrong through their conscience, even though they might find numerous ways to excuse themselves for what they are doing.  They would never like anyone to come to know of that thing, for they are ashamed of it; their religion is enriched with bashfulness and modesty (haya').  The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Modesty (haya') is from the perfection of faith.” (Al-Bukhari)

Modesty or haya' is something which can prevent a person from committing evil.  The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“If you have no haya', then do as you please.” (Al-Bukhari)

These sentiments of conscience and modesty are a natural consequence to true belief and faith, and this is what the religion of Islam seeks to create within an individual, an Islamic conscience which guides humans through their lives.

This inner conscience is what tells the state of the heart of the individual, whether it is alive seeking the truth, or dead, filled with the desires of this worldly life.  Lack of religiosity and indulging in sin caused a person to lose one’s conscience, and it can no longer be used as a source of guidance.

{…why then did they not believe with humility?  But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made fair seeming to them that which they used to do.} (Al-`An`am 6: 43)

{Have they not traversed through the land, and have they heart with which they perceive, or ears with which they hear?  Indeed it is not the sight which is blinded, but rather what is blinded is the hearts which are in the breasts.} (Al-Haj 22: 46)

The heart can be used as a guide, in conjunction with the intellect and revelation, in order to ease the search for the truth.  The heart of one who is searching for the truth is indeed one which is alive, for it is this life and yearning which causes them to search for it.  This type of person will never find peace at heart in any other religion except the religion which Allah ordained for humanity, and as long as their yearning for the truth exists, their conscience will continue to bother them until they find the true religion of Allah.  Indeed if the person is sincere, Allah will guide them to the truth:

{And those who desire Guidance, He (God) will increase them in Guidance, and inspire them with [the way to] piety.} (Muhammad 47: 17)

of Allah
Taken, with editorial modifications, from: www.islamreligion.com

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