The Position of Good Character in Islam
- Perfection of noble character was one of the most important objectives of the Prophet’s mission
Allah ﷻ says, “It is He who raised up among the unlettered [Arabs] a Messenger from them to recite His verses to them and purify them and teach them the Book and Wisdom, even though before that they were clearly misguided.” (Soorat Al-Jumu‛ah, 62:2) This verse reveals one of the favours Allah ﷻ has bestowed on the believers, stating that He has sent them His Messenger, Muhammad ﷺ, to teach them the Qur’an and to purify them. Purification can only be attained by purging one’s heart from such imperfections as associating others with Allah in worship, having bad moral character like hatred and jealousy and ridding one’s speech and deeds of all forms of evil practices. The Prophet ﷺ once declared, “I have been sent to perfect noble character.” (Sunan Al-Bayhaqee: 21301) This statement makes it clear that one of the reasons behind the Prophet’s mission was to elevate and perfect the moral character of the individual and society at large.
- Noble character is part and parcel of faith and belief
Perfection of noble character was one of the most important objectives of the Prophet’s mission.
When asked about the best of the believers, the Prophet ﷺ replied, “They are those who have the best character and manners.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 1162; Sunan Abu Daawood: 4682)
In fact, the Qur’an uses the comprehensive Arabic word birr to refer to faith. As the Qur’an states, “Righteousness (birr) does not lie in turning your faces [during prayer] to the East or to the West. Rather, those with true devoutness are the ones who believe in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the Prophets…” (Soorat Al-Baqarah, 2:177) The word birr is a rather comprehensive term which includes all forms of righteousness, in word and deed. It is for this reason that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Righteousness (birr) is good character.” (Saheeh Muslim: 2553)
This becomes clear in the Prophet’s declaration: “Faith (eemaan) has sixty odd branches. The uppermost of all these is the Testimony of Faith: Laa ilaaha illallaah (There is no god worthy of worship except Allah) while the least of them is the removal of a harmful object from the road. Shyness is a branch of faith.” (Saheeh Muslim: 35)
- Noble character permeates all acts of worship
Every time Allah commands the believers to perform an act of worship, He draws their attention to its moral significance or its positive effect on the individual and society. Examples of this are numerous and include the following:
The Prayer: “Establish the prayer, for the prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds.” (Soorat Al-‛Ankaboot, 29:45).
The Obligatory Charity Payment (Zakaat): “Take zakaat from their wealth to purify and cleanse themwith it.” (Soorat At-Tawbah: 9:103) Besides showing kindness and giving comfort to people, zakaat refines benefactor’s character and purges it from evil practices.
Fasting: O You who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you just as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may remain conscious of Allah.” (Soorat Al-Baqarah: 183) This verse makes it abundantly clear that the foremost objective of fasting is to realise consciousness of Allah by obeying His commands and avoiding all words and deeds He has prohibited. As the Prophet ﷺ said, “ Whoever does not abandon false speech and false conduct, then Allah has no need of his abandoning of food and drink.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 1804) Therefore, if fasting fails to effect a change in one’s character and dealings with others, it will by no means serve its real purpose.
- The immense rewards Allah ﷻ has in store for those who observe good character Textual proofs from the Qur’an and the Sunnah to this effect are numerous, including the following:
- Good character will be the heaviest righteous deed to be placed on a person’s scale of deeds on the Day of Judgement.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “No deed that will be placed on the scale of deeds [on the Day of Judgement] will be heavier than good character. Indeed, a person with good character will attain the rank of those with a good record of voluntary fasts and prayers.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 2003)
- It is the very deed that will lead people to enter Paradise the most.
When the Prophet ﷺ was asked about which act leads people to enter Paradise the most, he replied, “Piety and good character.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 2004; Sunan Ibn Maajah: 4246)
- Of all people, those who have good character will be the closest to the Prophet ﷺ on the Day of Judgement.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “The dearest to me among you and the nearest to me on the Day of Judgement are those who have the best character.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 2018)
- The Prophet ﷺ guarantees a house in the highest part of Paradise to those who have good character:
“I guarantee a house in the surroundings of Paradise for those who give up arguing, even if they are in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Paradise for those who abandon lying even when joking; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Paradise for those who have good character and manners.” (Sunan Abu Daawood: 4800)
Good character is one of the meritorious deeds in the sight of Allah and serves to give us a sense of inner fulfilment and happiness.