BEING AN EXAMPLE
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says in the Quraan: “Indeed in the Messenger of
Allah you have an excellent example to follow for him who hopes in (the meeting
with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much”. (al-Ahzaab:21)
This is a very great blessing for this Ummah. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has
given us a perfect example of how to apply this religion. In every aspect of our
lives, we have a human example to look to. We can see how he behaved under
different circumstances and we can know with certainty that the way he behaved
was in accordance with the revelation of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
This is just one of the many blessings that we Muslims have received. In the
other religions, such as Christianity or Judaism, they do not have such a
wonderful example. They do not possess a detailed and authentic record of how
their prophets lived. Hence, when it comes to day to day matters in their lives,
they have no authentic reference that they can turn to that will give them the
satisfaction of knowing what God wants from them in each and every moment of
If we look at how humans behave around us, it is common or normal for people to
look at others and to take them as their examples. Indeed, for the majority of
the people, it seems that they are in need of an example. Perhaps such examples
give them guidance, hope and confidence.
Al-Hamdulillaah, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has provided us with the best
possible example. We Muslims do not have to look to the kinds of people that the
non-Muslims are looking at as examples and sources of guidance. We don’t have to
look to movie actors, rock stars, athletes, or politicians as our sources of
guidance. Believe it or not, this is who the disbelievers are looking at as
their examples. This is why they always have such people give “public
broadcasting announcements” about AIDS, drinking while drunk and so forth. These
people are asked to give these announcements because they are the people that so
many others look up to, admire and take as their role models. The saddest thing
is when Muslims also start taking these people as their role models. Allah
(Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has blessed us with the most excellent role model and
yet we turn to people like this.
We must turn to the Messenger of Allah (saw) as our role model. However, not
everyone has access or the time to study the life of the Prophet Muhammad
(SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam). Furthermore, the time that he lived was many years
ago and some things have changed since that time — some people cannot see that
although things have seemed to change, in reality, they have not fundamentally
changed since the time of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam).
For these and other reasons, even devout Muslims look to other people as, you
could say, “supplementary” role models or examples. People who are closer to
their own situation and environment. Many of us need to see examples and role
models in front of us today who are reacting to the thing that are going on now.
All Muslims probably realise that the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) is
the best example but sometimes it is simply hard for them to figure out exactly
how that example fits into their life today when they are, for example, living
in a non-Muslim environment where Haraam things are all around them. How does
one cope in such an environment? What does one do when faced with specific
situations in this environment?
In these cases, who should we take as examples and role models? The answer is
those people who are taking their example from the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe
WaSallam) and through their knowledge and understanding of the Prophet
(SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) are applying his teachings to today’s situation.
That is, in essence, those people of knowledge and Taqwaa (Piety). They are the
heirs of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) as he stated in the Hadeeth,
“The scholars are the heirs of the Prophets” (Ahmad, at-Tirmizi, and others)
They have the knowledge to understand the Quraan and the Sunnah and see its
guidance for today. And they have the Taqwaa to apply that knowledge today.
Knowledge without Taqwaa is not sufficient, and Taqwaa without knowledge is also
That is who we should be taking as examples for our own lives. But there is
another very important aspect to this topic that I would like to stress. That
is, whether you like it or not, whether you even realize it or not, virtually
every single one of you is an example and a role model for somebody else. Again,
you may not realize that fact but it is the case. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa
Ta’aalaa)’s Messenger (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) was an example for the entire
Ummah, and this role has passed on to us with respect to certain individuals.
Some reflection will make you realize that this is exactly the case.
Many of you have younger brothers or sisters. It is very common for younger
brothers and sisters to look up to their older siblings. Many times their older
siblings are much closer to them than their parents, with respect to age,
lifestyle, environment, problems, concerns and so forth. Therefore, they may not
look to their parents in issues that concern drugs, alcohol, sex, dating and so
forth. There may be a generation gap and they feel that their parents are out of
touch with what is going on now. Perhaps even more dangerous, there may be a
cultural gap - wherein immigrant parents have children who grew up in any
western country while the parents are still somewhat Pakistani, or Arab or
Malaysian or whatever the case might be.
So they look up to their older brother or sister. They look to see how their
older siblings are coping with their own problems. They take their example
because of the love and mutual trust that usually exists among such siblings.
What kind of example do you set for younger siblings? Are they memorizing the
Quraan because they have seen you memorizing the Quraan and you have influenced
them or encouraged them to memorize the Quraan? Or are they spending all of
their time playing basketball and chasing after members of the opposite sex
because that is the example you set for them?
One of the greatest influences on others is the set of friends that a person
has. In fact, the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said:
“The person follows the way of his dear friend”. (Abu Dawood and at-Tirmizi)
People always want to impress their friends and fit in with the group that they
hang around with. Just think about when you were growing up, didn’t you do many
things just because your friends were doing them? If it was a fashion they were
following, you wanted to follow the same fashion. If it was something dangerous
or harmful, such as taking drugs or alcohol, it was your friends’ examples that
gave you the courage to try or do the same thing. What kind of example do you
set for your friends?
Many of you are also parents. Listening to one’s parents is something greatly
stressed in Islam. The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) called disobeyed
parents one of the greatest sins one could commit.
Parents usually have a great deal of influence over their behavior. There used
to be an anti-smoking commercial in this country in which a father sits down and
starts smoking and his small son sits next to him and picks up the cigarette
package. Then the ad stated, “Like father, like son”. This is very true. One
time I was visiting a Muslim family and they had a small child. The small child
kept looking at my beard and finally said, “You should remove that beard. See,
my father does not have a beard”.
It is very natural for children to have an extreme love for their parents. Love
is one of the greatest factors in following a role model. One loves them and
therefore, wants to be like them. In fact, sometimes children take their parents
as the standard by which they judge all other peoples and actions. Even to the
point that if they are told something from the Quraan or Sunnah, they reply,
“But my parents don’t do that and I believe that my parents are very good
Muslims and therefore...”
There is a very important aspect concerning any role model but I want to mention
it explicitly here while talking about parents as their children’s role models.
You have to remember that, as the cliché goes, “Actions speak louder than
words”. Many parents are very sincere and well-intended with respect to their
children. They tell their children that they have to be Muslim and apply the
laws of Islam. They teach this to their children over and over. However, at the
same time, their actions display something else. They are telling their children
one thing and they are behaving in a different manner. Many times it is your
actions that have a much greater effect on your children than the “theoretical
teachings” that you are giving them. If you tell your children that they have to
pray and you yourself do not pray, they may be more affected by your example
than what you are telling them.
You have an obligation to protect your children from the Hellfire. Part of that
protection is to teach and guide them properly. However, always remember, the
example you set for them may have the greatest influence over them. If it is a
good example, praise and thank Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). If it is an evil
example, seek refuge in Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), repent and mend your
Husbands and wives also can be very influential examples for one another. It is
not a coincidence that many times you find couples having some of the same
characteristics or tendencies. You can find many cases where both spouses are
dedicated to Islam or where both spouses are simply “marginal Muslims”. You can
even see how many a man or woman changes after marriage because of the influence
of the spouse.
Anyone who is in a position of authority may be taken as a role model by others.
If you are teacher, for example, your students will be looking up to you and may
admire you. They may wish to be like you and will look at you as their role
Those of you who go to overseas to study there may be in a very special
situation. You may be from a country where the majority of the people are
illiterate or where it is considered a great thing to go and study in the West.
When you return to your country, your friends, colleagues and even people you
hardly know may be looking up to you and respecting you. They may greatly admire
this man who got his degree from the West! What kind of example are you going to
set for them? Are you going to show them, by your deeds and your statements,
“Look, I studied in the West and I saw what it had to offer and it only
increased my conviction in Islam and my realization that I have to serve Allah
(Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) alone”. Or are you going to show them, by your deeds
and your statements, “Look, I am a very educated person - educated in the West -
and I know that it is not necessary to take religion that seriously and it is
basically for the ignorant and backwards folk”. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)
has given you
the chance to be a very influential example and role model for your people back
home. Make sure that you do not set the wrong example for them as that can be
very disastrous for both you and the poor Muslims who take you as their role
Those people who are committee members of Islamic Centers or Masjids also must
consider their position as examples for other people. What kind of effect do you
think it has when the President, Vice-President or any committee member of a
Masjid does not even join the Jamaa’at of obligatory Salaah in the Masjid? If
the leaders of the Masjid do not even care about attending the Masjid, why
should the others care about attending or looking after the affairs of the
Masjid? What kind of message is the President sending to others when the only
time they see him in the Masjid is on Friday, Eid and when there is a board
meeting? This is a disease that has afflicted many of our communities and many
people have come to me to personally complain about the example that these
people are setting. I have actually heard Muslims - especially the youth - say,
“Why should I attend the Masjid when the leaders of the Masjid themselves do not
even attend it?”
Any time we are put into positions of authority, we must consider that a great
trust from Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). We must think about our behavior and
that effect it is having on others. We must do our best to set the right example
for others as we never know who and how many people may be looking up to us and
following our example.
Living in a non Muslim country, in particular, you are also an example - again,
whether you realize it or not - for the non Muslims. In fact, you may be the
only example of a Muslim that they may see. What kind of example are you setting
for them? Are you setting an example that will lead them to want to know more
about Islam and perhaps eventually become Muslim? Or are you setting an example
for them that makes them believe that a Muslim is no different from anyone else
today and there is nothing special about Islam; it is a weak or useless religion
like all other religions today? Are you setting an example for them that makes
them abhor Islam by your un-Islamic behavior? Are you someone who is bringing
people closer to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) or taking people further away
from Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)? The answer to that question may have a lot
to do with the kind of example that you are setting for the non-Muslims who
witness your behavior.
As already being Muslims, you must realize that many newly converted Muslims may
also take you as an example. When a person first becomes Muslim, he sees much
variation in the practice of Islam among their application of the teachings of
Islam. He will also see Muslims who practice to some extent but not fully. And
he will also see Muslims who virtually do not practice anything at all. He is a
new Muslim. He does not have all the knowledge he needs to know which of these
different groups is actually applying Islam correctly. Which one of these
different groups is he going to befriend and take as an example in Islam?
Suppose he takes you as his friend and he is looking to you to show him how he
is supposed to behave as a Muslim. The example that you set for him may have a
great deal of influence over how much he actually applies Islam. Again, beware!
Beware of that example you are setting for others even when you may not realize
that you are setting an example for others!
There is one last group of people who are also role models that I would like to
talk about. This last group, in fact, can have the greatest positive effect as a
role model or it can have the greatest negative effect. These are those people
who are known to be knowledgeable about Islam. This group includes those who
truly have knowledge and other Muslims recognize this fact. And this group also
includes those who probably don’t have much knowledge but people believe or at
least expect to have a great deal of knowledge like the common preachers of
Islam (who are actually in the process of learning Islam). Some people might be
misled by Shaitaan (Satan) to make them believe to associate this group’s
weakness or un-Islamic behavior with Islam.
One of the worst things that happens in some communities is that those people
who are considered the people of knowledge set bad examples for the others in
the community. They do not attend the Masjid on a regular basis. Their public
appearance is not one that reflects true Islamic knowledge - for example, a man
with his beard shaved off or a woman who does not wear Hijaab. They engage in
things that are well-known not to be proper in Islam.
What is the effect of people of this nature? People will look at them and say,
“Look this is a person of knowledge and he doesn’t do this and that”, or, “and
he does this and that”. They will conclude that there must not be anything wrong
with those deeds as otherwise such a knowledgeable person would not be doing
those things. Let us take the simple example of shaving the beard. A Muslim may
look at a so-called learned Muslim and see that he has shaved his beard. Then he
may say to himself, “I don’t have his level of knowledge and those who tell me
that I have to grow a beard also do not have his level of knowledge. Therefore
it must not really be necessary for me to grow a beard”.
Shaitaan may use that bad example as a source of excuses for others. Even if
they feel that something is wrong, they will say to themselves, “Ah, but so and
so does it so it couldn’t really be that bad”, and therefore they do it.
At this point, someone might argue that he is not responsible for the example
that others get from him. He is only responsible for his deeds and everybody
else is responsible for their own deeds. In fact, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)
says clearly in the Quraan in more than one place:
“No bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another” (al-An’aam:164)
However, that verse does not mean that you are not responsible for the kind of
influence you assert over others. The effect you have over others is, in fact,
the result of your own deeds and part of the burden that you must bear. This is
made clear in a number of Hadeeth of the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam).
For example, he said:
“No one is killed unjustly but a share of his blood will be upon the first son
of Adam for he was the first to introduce killing” (al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Obviously, that son of Adam did not teach or encourage the later murderers to
commit murder. But he set the example for them and, therefore, he shares in the
sin of all of those who commit murder after him.
Another Hadeeth states: “Whoever introduces some good practice in Islam which
was followed after him (by people) would be assured of reward like the one who
followed it without the reward of either fo them being diminished in anyway. And
he who introduced some evil practice in Islam which was followed by others would
bear the burden like that of the one who followed this (evil practice), without
the burden of either of them being diminished in any way”. (Muslim)
This particular Hadeeth shows us the positive result of setting a good example
and the negative result of setting a bad example. The story behind the Hadeeth,
which was concerned with giving charity, was wherein one Muslim set a good
example for the others and the others followed suit. It was not that he had
introduced something new deed or innovation into Islam as some people may
mistakenly conclude from that Hadeeth.
Therefore, the effect that you have on others and the examples that you set for
others can very well be considered part of your deeds and part of what you
earned. If it is a good example, you may receive great rewards for all of those
people whom you influenced in a positive manner. If it is an evil example, you
may be responsible for all of those people who followed your evil example.
Keep in mind, also, that you may not consider yourself an example or role model
for anyone. In reality, as I tried to stress, whether you realize it or not and
whether you like it or not, there is a great chance that you are a role model or
example for some people around you. Think about your life and think about how
you are influencing other people.
Look at the people close to you and see how they are behaving. Try to see if the
mistakes they are making are the same mistakes that you make and that they, in
fact, got them from you. Look to see if the good things they are doing are the
same as the good things that you do and see if they actually got them from you.
Take the time to study this and take the time to think about it. The possibility
of setting a good example is a wonderful opportunity to please Allah (Subhaanahu
Wa Ta’aalaa). It is an opportunity to follow the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe
WaSallam). The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) set an excellent example and
we are supposed to follow his example by also setting an excellent example