Moral values rest on the good character traits that Allah accepts and loves to see in our actions. They are among the most precious gifts that humanity has received from Allah. In a Prophetic tradition we read, “Qualify yourselves with the qualities of Allah.” (Munâwî, at-Ta`ârif, p.564). Accordingly, good character traits are disclosures of divine attributes from the side of Beauty.
In this regard, to assume good character traits is our responsibility as servants, and is one of the most visible marks indicating our closeness to Allah. Good moral properties form and reveal the very dignity and integrity of human beings. That is why concern for the virtues is an attribute that singles humanity out from all creation.
The completed human being displays refined and subtle manifestations of divine artistry in this realm of trial. Such a person stands at the peak of creation. Humanity, which is created as an exceptional alloy of unreachable heights and unfathomable depths, may preserve its high importance in the cosmos only by dedicating itself to a servanthood illuminated by moral values.
The heart is a kind of envelope where good moral properties are secured. It is created with the capacity to develop into a mirror for the divine glance. With such potentials, it is a pity if people spend their lives running after shadowy worldly desires and neglect lighting up their hearts with virtues. Such a course ends in betraying the human integrity proper for a servant of Allah. Such people lose the high position chosen for them by Reality. This means that although human beings are created in the finest manner in all creation, and Allah has assigned us a noble position, people can still act profligately and waste it all.
The aim of the science of virtue is to help us to reach our proper ideal, the perfect human being, by reminding us constantly that we are always observed by Allah and by cleansing us of immature attributes. Its aim is to plant praiseworthy properties, such as refinement, sensitivity, courtesy, generosity, modesty, and mercy, within people, so that these may grow into our fundamental nature. In this regard morality is an indispensable part of religion and faith; it is even their spirit and essence. Acknowledging this truth, our guide the Prophet (pbuh), whom Allah told us was sent to be a mercy to worlds, himself described his task thus: “I am sent for the perfection of character.” (Muwatta’, Husn al-Khulq, 8).
Thus a religious life without moral cultivation is unimaginable. To have faith without fortifying it with moral values is like lighting a candle in the wind without protecting it in glass. Against worldly desires and the temptations of the Devil, such unprotected faith is always in danger and at risk.
Good moral properties protect our religion and faith like spiritual armor. In fact, our Prophet (pbuh), the pride of the universe, declared, “Gabriel told me that Allah says: ‘This religion is the religion I have chosen for Myself. For this religion, generosity and virtue are most suitable. As long as you live as Muslims, elevate religion by means of these two!” (Haythamî, VIII, 20; Ali- al-Muttaqî, Kanz, VI, 392).
Such is the importance of our good character to our religion. A life undirected by moral values is wasteful both of itself and of religion. But those whose hearts have a share in virtue reach the satisfaction that results from tasting the true pleasure and sweetness of faith. Here is an illustration of how good moral character serves human beings as a spiritual bridge.
There was a certain Hakîm ibn Hizâm among the Companions of the Prophet who strove for good moral qualities. He was a relative of our mother Khadîjah . Hakîm was extremely generous and compassionate, and used to love helping other people. At that time, during the Age of Ignorance, it was the custom to bury unwanted baby girls alive. Hakîm would buy such rejected daughters to protect them from their fathers.. One day he asked the Prophet (pbuh), “O the Messenger of Allah! I performed good deeds in the era before Islam, such as giving charity, freeing slaves, and visiting relative. Shall I receive any reward for those actions?”
The Prophet (pbuh) answered: “It is because of the good deeds you performed earlier that you have attained the honor of coming to Islam!” (Bukhârî, Zakâh, 24; Muslim, Îmân, 194-196).
There are many other examples showing the deep connection between character and faith. We might call to mind the court magicians whom Pharaoh, that claimant to divinity, brought forward to challenge Moses (pbuh). Before that encounter, those magicians had no notion of faith in Allah. Yet they had the good fortune of a share in the secret that character is the key to faith. Indeed, they were courteous enough to offer the first move in their competition to Moses. This must have pleased Allah, for at that moment they began to incline toward that Messenger. And later on, when they saw the miraculous disclosures, these resonated with the state of their hearts, so that they were honored by faith – a faith so strong that they were ready to sacrifice their lives for it.
Pharaoh and his entourage also witnessed the miraculous acts that led the magicians to faith. Yet the same miracles led those savage folk to hold all the more tightly to their rejection of faith in Allah. In the end, the magicians were brutally killed by Pharaoh, and so reached the station of martyrdom. They also received another divine grace, for their story is related in the Qur’an and so will remain a noble memory for all believers until the Day of Judgment
Thus the spiritual benefits of moral values such as courtesy, elegance, refinement of heart, generosity and mercy are clearly visible. Good moral character is so important for divine acceptance that it helps people who display it to attain faith, the most precious of divine gifts. Imagine how the cultivation of character might help those who already have faith to climb to higher spiritual levels!
On the other hand, profligate character results in the corruption of societies and the many grave disasters that follow, culminating in massive disappointment in the Hereafter. The peaceful existence and continuity of individuals as well as societies is possible only through educating future generations with good moral character. We need descendants mindful of Allah who love their homeland and are elegant and refined of spirit. As Muhammad Iqbal stated, “Muslims are responsible for the direction the world takes.”
In this regard, our Lord prohibits us from following those who fall into the madness of wastefulness by transgressing the bounds of good behavior.
And obey not the command of the prodigal, who spread corruption in the earth, and mend not (their ways).(ash-Shu’arâ, 26/151-152)
In another verse in the noble Qur’an Allah declares:
Indeed, those who love that slander should be spread concerning those who believe, theirs will be a painful punishment in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah knows. You do not know.(an-Nûr, 24/19).
Lack of modesty and good manners, which are among the most important of moral values, is the result of weakness of faith and fragile affiliation with religion. Our Prophet (pbuh) underlined the relationship between moral values and faith when he said that “Modesty is part of faith.” (Bukhârî, Imân, 3). Accordingly, those who encourage moral degeneration, such as the spread of immodesty and incivility in a society, commit a most loathsome crime against the faith held by that society. Certainly the common purpose of all true religions is first to establish the belief in the unity of Allah all over the world, and secondly to build a social structure shaped by good moral values.
The history of the world has witnessed many occasions when divine vengeance was activated against those who did not honor moral values but violated their boundaries. Thus history is full of lessons for those who can understand. It is sufficient education to travel the earth looking for signs to ponder. In the noble Qur’an Allah declares:
Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but the hearts that are in their breasts.(Hajj, 22/46)
When societies fall into the madness of extravagance by violating their own limits with regard to moral values, it is one of the signs indicating the coming of the Day of Judgment, which means the destruction of the whole world. That is the degree of danger attached to the waste of human character.. There are many traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) telling us about the immoral acts and transgressions that will occur as the Day of Judgment approaches. Let me quote a few examples.
“There will come a time upon humanity that all people’s effort and care will be directed toward their own bellies. The noble among them will be determined on the basis of wealth. Women will be their direction of prayer, and money will be their religion. Beware! These are the most dangerous of creatures. They will have no share (of the divine mercy) in the presence of Allah. (Ali al-Muttaqî, Kanzu’l-Ummâl, XI, 192/31186).
“There will come such a time upon humanity that people will not care whether they earn their livings lawfully or unlawfully.” (Bukhârî, Buyû’, 7).
“There will come a time upon humanity when those who tell the truth will be refuted and those who tell lies will be approved. Those who are reliable will be considered treacherous, and those who are treacherous will be held reliable. Then people will testify without being summoned, swear oaths without being asked.” (Tabarânî, XXIII, 314).
“There will come such a time upon humanity that people will stop fulfilling their responsibility of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.” (Haythamî, Majma`az-Zawâ’id, VII, 280). That is, they will not encourage good deeds and discourage bad deeds.
And one day, the Messenger of Allah said, “There will come a time upon humanity when the hearts of the faithful will dissolve like salt dissolves in water!”
They asked, “Why will it be so, O Messenger of Allah?”
And he replied: “It will be so, because they will not be able to eliminate the evil they encounter.” (Ali a-Muttaqî, Kanz, III, 686/8463).
Abdullah ibn `Umar related the following:
The Messenger of Allah turned his face towards us and said, “O emigrants! There are five things. If you happen to like those things, I take refuge in Allah lest you attain them. They are:
If unlawful sexuality spreads in a society so that it is committed publicly, diseases like plague, and diseases never seen before, will spread among its people.” (In my opinion, diseases like AIDS may be the realization of the warning in this tradition.)
“Those societies in which the scales of commerce are not kept honest will suffer famine, loss of livelihood, and injustice committed by their rulers.
“Those societies which refrain from paying out the share of the poor (zakâh) from their possessions shall be deprived of rain. If it were not for their animals, Allah would not give them a single drop of rain.
“Those societies which do not keep their promises to Allah and give up following the practice of His messenger to them shall be sent external enemies who capture their wealth.
“When the leaders of a society do not follow the guidance of the Qur’an but select only what they please, Allah will arrange for their punishment to arise among themselves.” (Ibn Mâja, Fitan, 22; Hâkim, IV, 583/8623).
Allah the Almighty has issued many warnings in the noble Qur’an so that we may keep away from falling into such situations. He also reminded us that we are not left on our own, but are always under observation.
He utters no word but there is with him an observer ready.(Qâf, 50/18)
Thus Allah invites us to be wakeful of heart and to observe the divine limits concerning our behavior. He wishes that we refrain from extremes, from savagery, from too much and too little, from occupying ourselves with futile issues and thus squandering our lives..
Indeed there are many verses in the noble Qur’an commanding moderation in our actions and advising good moral properties. Let me cite some examples:
…And who shun vain conversation…(Mu’minûn, 23/3)
Be modest in your bearing and subdue your voice. Lo! the harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass.(Luqmân, 31 /19)
Certainly rudeness is one of the major forms of behavior that lead human beings to waste of character. Rudeness results from abandoning good moral qualities like sensitivity and courtesy. It is almost like rejecting human nature, saying farewell to what makes us human, as the example of the ass mentioned in the Qur’an would indicate.
The manner of conversation proper to human beings is, to use the Qur’anic expression, qawl layyin:gentle language. (Tâhâ, 20/44) Allah the Almighty commanded Moses (pbuh) to use gentle language when He sent him to Pharaoh. And our Lord says:
Tell My servants to speak that which is kindlier. Indeed, the Devil sows discord among them. Indeed, the Devil is an open foe to humanity.(Isra’, 17/53).
Thus Allah reminds us that we should observe the rules of courtesy when addressing other people. In another verse, Allah explains one such rule of courtesy to us, though He addresses the Prophet (pbuh) :
(O Muhammad) It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them, for if you had been stern and fierce of heart, they would have dispersed from round about you. (Âl-Imrân, 3/159)
On the other hand, one must be as moderate in morality as in other affairs. Many kinds of behavior are praiseworthy when moderate, but damaging if there is either excess or shortfall in their exercise..
For example, humility is among the good moral properties. But if one is excessive in displaying humility, it becomes a sort of self-praise. This is extravagance concerning humility.
There are people who seek to convince other people of their own humbleness: ultimately the practice serves self-satisfaction. But assuming any virtue for the sake of something else is not sincere. It is hypocritical, and indeed “boasting of humility” is clearly contradictory and absurd. For example, take the following statements: “I humbly confess it takes three long days for me to recite the whole Qur’an.” “Being a poor person, I was able to erect only one mosque” or “I was only able to feed such- and-such a number of people.” These are all expressions displaying hypocrisy and pride under the guise of humility. Yet to humble oneself before an arrogant person and not require that a decent respect be shown, so that one falls into abasement, is another kind of waste of humility.
Both prideful distance for the sake of protecting your honor and too much casualness in human relations and friendships, especially in family life, are wastes of intimacy. Damage can result from both forms of immoderation. There is even measure to be observed in helping others. Offering too much help and too little must equally be avoided if we are to refrain from wastefulness.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was sensitive to issues of human dignity. He advised, “None of you should call people under your authority “my slave” or “my handmaid.” All of you together are servants of Allah. Your wives also are servants of Allah. When you address the people in your family, use expressions like “my son,” “my daughter” or “my brave-hearted one.” (Muslim, Alfâdh, 13).
However, the Prophet (pbuh) also told us also to address debauched people, who lay waste the realm of the heart and deserve divine wrath, according to their level. “Do not call a hypocrite “sir.” If you take him as a gentleman, you attract the wrath of the Mighty and Majestic Lord.” (Abû Dâwûd, Adab, 83; Ahmad b. Hanbal, V.346).
Thus it becomes clear that applying moral stances such as humility and courtesy in the same way in every sort of situation, without discernment, is like putting on eyeglasses without checking the prescription. This is extravagance in morality. Certainly, approving actions that deserve approval, disapproving actions that deserve disapproval, and treating people according to their merits is a moral requirement. The important thing is to observe the divine measure and preserve the balance of moderation in moral issues just as we are supposed to do in other issues. Only then will we be able to display the characteristics of mature believers.
Our Prophet (pbuh) implemented Islamic moral values in his life with his courteous and sensitive style. Through the example of his noble personality and exquisite behavior he educated his community in many delicate points. For example, the Prophet (pbuh) would never speak publicly of people’s mistakes. Instead, in open gatherings he would express his critiques by saying, “What is it with me, that I see such-and-such going on?” (Bukhârî, Manâqib 25; Muslim, Salât 119). He used to frame his criticism as if there were something wrong with his sight.
Here is another example of his carefully designed method of education. One day at a feast the Prophet (pbuh) noticed that someone had passed gas. He announced, “Those who have eaten camel meat should renew their ablutions!” Thus he did not single out one embarrassed person. The undesirable act became unattributable, since he technically asked all the Companions present to renew their ablution.
Certainly the Prophet’s own moral standards always suggested compassion, subtlety, refinement, and empathy. This is why the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was unfailingly kind to the Bedouins coming from the desert. They used to clamor at him, “Muhammad! Muhammad!” But he would answer them kindly “Please be welcome. What would you like to ask?” (Muslim, Nuzur, 8; Abû Dâwûd, Aymân, 21/3316).
Like him, we should take into account people’s level of understanding when we warn them against their faults and attempt to improve them. we should also pay attention to other Prophetic examples of courtesy and rules of good manners.
It is an extremely important condition of generosity and distributing charity to observe the principles of good manners in giving. These are among the most important manifestations of good character. Indulging in regrettable actions such as reproachfully reminding other people of our help, placing them under obligation for our kindness, breaking their hearts, showing them arrogance…all this results in the loss of the reward due for good deeds and is therefore profligate. Our ancestors were quite careful about not wasting their good deeds in this way.
Our Ottoman forefathers were careful of the hearts of the mentally incompetent. It was their custom to address them by saying, “O respectable disabled one!” They did not think that such disability was a divine punishment (as was believed in Europe at the time), but viewed it as a test for able people, to see whether they would offer help. Similarly our forefathers extended a helping hand to the leprous when society pushed them out. They built a dwelling place called Miskinler Tekkesi (Lodge of the Pitiable).
They also established foundations to protect the honor of old people without relatives, since because of their modesty and dignity such people might not share their needs with others. Some foundations would provide destitute elderly women with washed and combed wool so that they could spin it and produce yarn. They would then buy back the yarn at high prices, so that the women could have the satisfaction of earning their living with their own hands.
Our forefathers also designed charity boxes for mosques that would allow people to either leave money or take it out, anonymously, so that no one would know who gave and who received.
They would deliver food to the needy in closed pots during the night, so that the feelings of the poor would not be wounded by being made identifiable to others.
Bezmialem Valide Sultan established a foundation dedicated to paying compensation for the damage caused by servants when they accidentally broke or damaged property of their master. She intended to protect the dignity of servants who were obliged to work for rude and ill-mannered people.
Indeed Allah the Almighty does not accept that His servants be humiliated. Hearts, which receive the glance of Allah, should not be hurt. Our blessed forefathers knew this very well. The courtesy, delicacy, elegance and sensitivity with which they implemented the moral principles of Islam are good examples that have gone before us.
Our Lord commands that we organize our lives according to good moral rules, that we live with hearts sensitive to the dignity of being human. In fact, Allah the Almighty has distinguished us from other creatures through moral virtues worthy of praise, since for them, moral reflection is impossible.
Given this situation, to waste the distinctive quality of being human and instead live one’s life in the manner of an animal, or to fall below the level of the animals, is a grave loss to the honor of humanity and a terrible madness of extravagance .
May our Lord protect us from all kinds of evil and profligacy that might lay waste our life in the Hereafter. May He grant our hearts a share of the blessing of these prayers that emerged from the gracious mouth of the Messenger of Allah: “O my Allah! May You make my inner character as beautiful as You have made my outer constitution! “O my Lord! May You lead me to attain the best of moral qualities! Certainly it is You alone who can lead me to attain them!”
. It is interesting that the old Zahiri legal school took this Prophetic comment to mean that eating camel meat removes ablution! It seems that those scholars did not grasp the wisdom behind the delicate approach of the Prophet.
. Ibn Hajar, Fath al–Bârî, X, 456.