On Good Character

The importance of good character can be gauged by the following profound hadith where Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) said: “I was only sent to perfect noble character,” (Ahmad) God confirms the tremendous nature of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) character and the importance of emulating him: “And you (stand) on an exalted standard of character”. (Quran 68:4) “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in God and the Final Day, and who engages much in the praise of God”. (Quran 33:21) “…If you love God, follow me; God will love you and forgive you your sins. God is forgiving, merciful.” (Quran 3:31)

According to some ahadith the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) states that: “The believers most perfect in faith are those best in character.” (Tirmidhi) “The most complete in faith are those best in character and kindest to their families.” (Tirmidhi) “What enables people to enter paradise more than anything is piety and good character.” (Tirmidhi) “Indeed, from the most beloved of you to me, and the closest of you to me on the Day of Judgment, are the best of you in character.” (Tirmidhi) Indeed, a believer will reach, by his good character, the level of a person who fasts the days and gets up regularly to pray at night.” (Abu Dawud) Hazrat Hamid Hasan (may God preserve him) says “Visions, spiritual experiences are of no consequence if your character is flawed.”

Spiritual practices such as Muraqaba, Dhikr (remembrance of God) and recitation of Durud (salutations on the Prophet s.a.w.s.) all help to eliminate vices (diseases of the spiritual heart ‘qalb’) and to enlighten our being, thereby refining our character. One of the surest ways of determining our progress in attaining God’s love and proximity is to reflect on the state of our character.

So what is good character? Good character, Imam Ghazali (r.a) explains in his Ihya’, is an inward disposition that causes one to incline towards praiseworthy inward traits and praiseworthy outward actions.

How is good character manifest? Good morals, manners, etiquette (adab) and fulfilling the rights of others especially in relation to God, His Prophets, your parents, your Shaykh, your teachers, your relations (spouse, siblings, children etc.), neighbours and the rest of creation.

Ahadith concerning specific character traits
“Love for humanity what you love for yourself.” (Bukhari)
“After Obligatory rites the action most beloved to God is delighting other Muslims” (Tabarani)
“The most virtuous behaviour is to engage those who sever relations, to give to those who withhold from you and to forgive those who wrong you.” (Tabarani)
“Practice humility until no one oppresses or belittles another.” (Muslim)
“Modesty is part of faith and only fosters goodness.” (Muslim)
“May God have mercy on a servant who spoke well and gained good, or kept silent and avoided harm.” (Ibn al-Mubarak)
Those who show mercy have God’s mercy show to them. Have mercy on those here on earth and the One there in Heaven will have mercy on you.” (Ahmad)
“Whoever fails to care for our youth, respect our aged, enjoin right and denounce wrong is not counted amongst us.” (Ahmad)
“Gentleness never accompanies anything without enhancing it, nor is it removed without demeaning it.” (Bayhaqi)
“Never do in private what you would conceal from others in public.” (Ibn Majah)
“A person’s spiritual practice is only as good as that of his close friends; so consider well whom you befriend.” (Tirmidhi)

Supplications
The following are prayers that the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) made in relation to character:
“Oh God!  Guide me to the most perfect character, none can guide to it except You, and turn away from me bad character, and none can turn its evil away from me except You.” (Ahmad)
“Oh God, as you have perfected my outward creation, so too perfect my inward character.” (Ahmad)
“Oh God, I seek refuge in you from despicable character, and desires, and actions, and illnesses of the heart, tongue, soul, vision, and body.” (Tirmidhi)

Further reading
Al-Adab Al Mufrad by Imam Bukhari (ISBN 1-872531-18-0)
The Adab of the True Seeker by Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Al-Buzaydi (ISBN 0-9553581-0-8)
The Content of Character Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (ISBN 1-933294-00-0)
Islamic Manners by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah (ISBN 0953758273)

Osman Khan