The Prophet of Islam, Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said: "I have only been sent to perfect good moral character.” (Musnad Ahmed)
The purpose of all the revealed books has always been inner purification. The Prophet, Hadhrat Ibrahim (Abraham) prayed to his Lord to send to his descendants a Messenger who would recite His signs to them, teach them the scripture, and purify them. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) answered his prayer by sending the Last Prophet, Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam). Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
هُوَ ٱلَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي ٱلۡأُمِّيِّۧنَ رَسُولٗا مِّنۡهُمۡ يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡهِمۡ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ وَيُزَكِّيهِمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَ وَٱلۡحِكۡمَةَ وَإِن كَانُواْ مِن قَبۡلُ لَفِي ضَلَٰلٖ مُّبِينٖ (2)
“He is the One who raised amidst the unlettered people a messenger from among themselves who recites to them His verses, and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the wisdom, while they were earlier in open error.” (Al-Jumu’ah 62:2)
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) also says:
كَمَآ أَرۡسَلۡنَا فِيكُمۡ رَسُولٗا مِّنكُمۡ يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡكُمۡ ءَايَٰتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَ وَٱلۡحِكۡمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُم مَّا لَمۡ تَكُونُواْ تَعۡلَمُونَ (151)
“As also We have sent in your midst a messenger from among you, who recites to you Our verses, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and the wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know.” (Al-Baqarah 2:151)
This great purpose is what Last and Final, Beloved Prophet, Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) declared when he said:
»بُعِثْتُ لِأُتَمِّمَ حُسْنَ الْأَخْلَاقِ«
“I have been sent to perfect good character.” (Al-Muwattaa Imam Malik)
The "good character” referred to here is comprehensive. It includes how we conduct ourselves with our Lord, how each of us relates to his or her self, and how we treat other people.
The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s statement implies there may two types of good moral conduct. The first is common knowledge. People know it instinctively. But the other type is that which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) declares good. This cannot be known without Prophetic guidance received through Wahi (Revelation). The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) was sent to teach it to the people as part of “the Message” he brought.
The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s guidance in this matter is vast. Many books have been written about it. One of the most famous Hadeeth in this regard is where the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said:
»مَا شَيْءٌ أَثْقَلُ فِي مِيزَانِ الْمُؤْمِنِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مِنْ خُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيُبْغِضُ الْفَاحِشَ الْبَذِيءَ«
“Nothing is heavier upon the scale of the believer on the Day of Resurrection than his good character. Verily, Allah hates the vulgar, obscene person.” (At-Tirmizi)
The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) was asked what causes the most people to enter Jannah (Paradise). He said:
»تقوى الله وحسن الخلق«
"Fear of God and good character.”
He was then asked what brought the most people to the Hellfire. He said:
"The tongue and the private parts.” (At-Tirmizi)
The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s servant Hadhrat Anas observed: "Allah’s Messenger had the best character of all people.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
He also said: "I served the Prophet for ten years and he never once rebuked me. He never once said about something I did: ‘Why did you do that?’ and he never said about something I didn’t do: ‘Why didn’t you do that?’” (Bukhari & Muslim)
An-Nawwas bin Saman asked the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) about righteousness and sin. He replied:
الْبِرُّ حُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ وَالإِثْمُ مَا حَاكَ فِي صَدْرِكَ وَكَرِهْتَ أَنْ يَطَّلِعَ عَلَيْهِ النَّاسُ
"Righteousness is to exhibit good character. Sin is what disturbs your heart and you hate for others to know about it.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said:
«أَكْمَلُ المُؤْمِنِينَ إِيمَانًا أَحْسَنُهُمْ خُلُقًا، وَخَيْرُكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ لِنِسَائِهِمْ»
"The believers who have the most perfect faith are those who have the best character, and the best of them are those who are best to their womenfolk.” (At-Tirmizi & Abu Daawood)
He also said: "The most beloved and nearest of you to me on the Day of Judgment will be those of you with the best character. The most detestable and remote from me on the Day of Judgment will be those who are babblers, those who put people down, and those who are vainglorious.” (At-Tirmizi)
It is enough for us to look at the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s life, his relationship with his Lord, and how he treated people of all walks of life — his household, his relatives, his Sahaabah (Companions), and his enemies.
Once the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) borrowed money from a man, and the man came demanding payment, speaking very harshly. The Sahaabah wanted to respond to the man’s harshness, but the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said: "Leave him alone. The one who has a right to something is allowed to speak.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
Whenever the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) borrowed something from someone, he would always return it with more and pray for that person. He used to say: "The only reward for a loan is complete repayment and praise.” (Musnad Ahmed)
Before coming to the folds of Islam, Hadhrat Abdullah bin Salam was one of the leading Jewish scholars in Madinah al Munawwarah. He was just-minded and a seeker of the truth. When he heard about Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s arrival, he went to have a look at him. When he saw the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s face, he knew that it was not the face of a liar. The first thing he heard the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) say was: "O people! If you spread the Salam (Greeting of peace) among you, feed those who are in need, maintain family relations, and pray at night while people are sleeping, you will enter Jannah with ease.” (At-Tirmizi)
Hadhrat Abdullah bin Salam was able to read from the Prophet (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam)’s countenance the signs that he was honest, trustworthy, and pure-hearted. Such a countenance is only for people whose hearts are truly pure, whose conduct is righteous, and who devote themselves to Allah (Subhaanahu WaTa’aalaa).
The Four Foundations of Good Character
There are many ways to exhibit good character. However, it all goes back to four essentials.
It takes patience to be obedient to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), and to be gentle and kind under trying circumstances. It takes patience to swallow back anger and exercise self-restraint. Patience is necessary for the qualities of forgiveness, pardon, and self-restraint.
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
وَلۡيَعۡفُواْ وَلۡيَصۡفَحُوٓاْۗ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغۡفِرَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمۡۚ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (22)
“…..and they should forgive and forego. Do you not like that Allah forgives you? Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very- Merciful.” (An-Noor 24:22)
2. Decency: This is the quality that helps people abstain from base and ignoble behavior and turns their hearts to that which is noble and high-minded. A decent heart will be honest with the Creator and to those he or she deals with.
3. Courage: This is the quality that inspires people to greatness and generosity and prevents them from succumbing to anger and rash behavior.
4. Justice: One needs to be moderate in one’s behavior. Every noble character trait stands between two ignoble traits at opposite extremes. For instance, gentleness is a good character trait, akin to kindness. However, taking it to an excess leads to indignity and humiliation, while being neglectful of it leads to harshness, cruelty, and severity. Generosity is another good and desirable character trait. Taking it too far leads to reckless spending and wastefulness, while neglecting it makes one a greedy, envious miser.
People naturally possess many good qualities and character traits, some of which they learnt from their parents or picked up from their social environment. These qualities become part of their personalities.
Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) said to Ashajj Abdal-Qays: "You possess two qualities that Allah loves: gentleness and forbearance.” (Muslim)
In some narrations of this event, Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho Alaihe WaSallam) goes on to tell Ashajj that Allah made these traits part of his natural disposition, to which Ashajj replied: "Praise be to Allah who placed within me two qualities that Allah and His Messenger love.” (Abu Daawood)
How to Develop Good Character
1. Striving. To strive within yourself to exhibit good character traits and refrain from bad ones. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
وَٱلَّذِينَ جَٰهَدُواْ فِينَا لَنَهۡدِيَنَّهُمۡ سُبُلَنَاۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَمَعَ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ (69)
“As for those who strive in Our way, We will certainly take them onto Our paths” (Al-‘Ankaboot) 29:69)
Good character is part of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s guidance.
2. Self-assessment. This means to look back on one’s own behavior. Those who call themselves to account benefit from it in all aspects of their lives. This is why Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) swears by the "self-reproaching spirit” in the Quraan. Al-Hasan al-Basri explains that the self-reproaching spirit describes the spirit of the believer.
3. Aspiring for the best. We should aspire to be the best we can be, and this includes our behavior. We should seek out and even create opportunities to exhibit good behavior.
4. Substitution. We should find alternatives to the bad behavior that we exhibit, alternatives that allow us to express and develop our good traits.
We are influenced by the people around us, by our families, classmates, colleagues, and friends. However, the greatest influence over us is the influence we have upon our own individual selves, in how we approach and understand ourselves, train ourselves and censure ourselves. This means we need to recognize our faults and our weaknesses as well as our virtues and strengths.
O Allah (Subhaanahu WaTa’aalaa)! Help us to see the weaknesses within ourselves and help us to overcome them. Do not leave us without Your assistance for a moment. Aameen!