– Writer and Researcher
Anyone who reads the life story of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) will be amazed by the weight put on morals and good manners be it between the Prophet and his Lord, his Companions, his family, his neighbors, and the whole society including the unfaithful.
Here is the testimony of one of the Companions who accompanied the Prophet for a very long time. It is Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet’s servant, who said, “I served the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) for ten years, and, by Allah, he never said to me any harsh word, and he never said to me about a thing as to why I had done that and as to why I had not done that.” (Muslim)
They say that in times of anger and fear the inner self surfaces. In such unusual emotional conditions the real self intertwined with its innate characteristics appear and one acts accordingly. None of these emotions, however, has ever changed the attitude or reaction of Prophet Muhammad whatever the stimulus was. This can be attested to by the following narration by Anas ibn Malik who said, “While I was walking with the Prophet who was wearing a Najrani outer garment with a thick hem, a Bedouin came upon the Prophet and pulled his garment so violently that I could recognize the impress of the hem of the garment on his shoulder, caused by the violence of his pull. Then the Bedouin said, ‘Order for me something from Allah’s Fortune which you have.’ The Prophet turned to him and smiled, and ordered that a gift be given to him.” (Al-Bukhari)
Yes, the Prophet (PBUH) turned to him in a friendly manner, gave him a radiant smile, and he further rewarded him with a financial gift!
Good manners occupy one of the greatest positions in Islam as the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said, “I was sent (by Allah) to perfect the sublime morals.” (Ahmed’s Musnad) As if the Prophet (PBUH) summed up his entire divine mission in this matter.
There is nothing weird in this if we come to understand ‘morals’ as the relationship between man and Allah and between him and the rest of mankind; a matter which sums up the whole faith of Islam. How to deal with the Creator? How to worship Him and avoid what may incur His wrath? How to deal with the created including the Angels, Prophets and Messengers, righteous people and otherwise, relatives and all the others?
Notwithstanding, if we understand ‘morals’ in the narrow sense of the word which is dealing with mankind only, then the hadith denotes the significance of good manners and the lofty position it occupies in the religion of Allah.
Indeed, both understandings are correct and valid and both denote the immense significance of good morals in Islam.
In fact, Allah gifted His Prophet (PBUH) with the sum of all noble and lofty manners. The Almighty says,
And indeed, you are of a great moral character. (Al-Qalam 68: 4)
In the same vein, when Lady `A’ishah was asked about the character or morals of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) she said, “His morals were the morals of the Qur’an.” (Muslim)
On the authority of `Abdullah ibn `Amr who mentioned Allah’s Apostle saying that he was neither a Fahish nor a Mutafahish (never used bad language). `Abdullah ibn `Amr added, Allah’s Apostle said, ‘The best among you are those who have the best manners and character.’ (Al-Bukhari)
Indeed, morals are not something superficial that can be expended or done without. Rather, they are the basics of life as advocated by religion. Even the acts-of-worship ordained in Islam are not empty or vague rituals that may burden man with obscure or meaningless movements or exercises. Instead, they are regular exercises to help man live one’s beliefs while observing good manners no matter what the conditions are. Concerning Salah (i.e., Prayer), for example, Allah says,
…and establish Prayer. Indeed, Prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing. (Al-`Ankabut 29: 45)
In connection with the above hadith where the Prophet (PBUH) says, “I was sent (by Allah) to perfect the sublime morals.”, scholars say that the previous divine missions brought to humanity by preceding Messengers and Prophets of Allah all of them advocated good morals, but, in this last message, the Prophet (PBUH) brought with him the most perfect of all manners. Consider the following example of retaliation (Arabic: Qisas) to get this straight forward. In Judaism, for instance, it was inevitable that a killed person be avenged by killing the murderer while the heir or defender of the killed person’s rights had no other choice but accepting retaliation. In Christianity, forgiveness was mandatory and revenge or retaliation never was an option. However, the two options are available as far as Islam, the seal of all divine legislation, is concerned. The heir or defender of the killed person’s rights is free to choose either to take revenge or to show mercy. He is allowed either to retaliate in a way as to deter all other wrongdoers in the society, or to pardon the murderer as a sign of showing mercy and magnanimity. Thus, Islam never ignores or overlooks any of the needs of man or his psychological demands. In short, one is entirely free either to take revenge and establish justice on earth or to forgive and set a good example of grace.
Manners: Gifted or Earned?
Morals can be defined as the reflection of man’s inner deep self. Man has two images: an apparent image which is his outer physical appearance; and, an inner image which represents his inherent innate self. The former can be described as attractive, ugly or ordinary; while the latter can be described as good or bad. This is what is referred to as morals or ethics. This raises a very important question: are morals gifted or acquired? In short, some morals are gifts from Allah while others can be earned and obtained through striving against one’s self on the way of purification and seeking moral perfection. There is no doubt about this.
The Prophet (PBUH) used to pray to Allah to perfect his manners and refine them as saying, “O Lord! As You have beautified my image, so beautify my manners.” (Ahmed’s Musnad) Here, he is referring to the above outer as well as inner images of the human self.
He also used to supplicate to Allah, saying, “O Lord! I seek refuge in You from dissension, hypocrisy and bad manners.” (Abu Dawud)
Asking Allah to endow him with good manners and remove his sins, the Prophet is reported to have said, “…and guide me in the best of conduct for none but Thee guideth anyone (in) good conduct. Remove sins from me, for none else but Thou can remove sins from me. Here I am at Thy service, and Grace is to Thee and the whole of good is in Thine hand, and one cannot get nearest to Thee through evil. My (power as well as existence) is due to Thee (Thine grace) and I turn to Thee (for supplication). Thou art blessed and Thou art exalted.” (Muslim)
Based on the above, a true Muslim should be marked with good manners as good manners are one of the objectives of the mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Allah says in His Ever-Glorious Qur’an,
It is He who has sent among the unlettered a Messenger from themselves reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book [i.e., the Qur’an] and wisdom [i.e., the Sunnah] – although they were before in clear error. (Al-Jumu`ah 62: 2)
The ‘purification’ mentioned in the above ayah (i.e., verse) encompasses purification and disciplining of the soul in accordance with the best of all morals as well as refining the soul and riding it of dirt be it physical or spiritual. Hence, one can derive from the above ayah as well as the aforementioned hadiths that morals constitute one of the most outstanding objectives of Islam and the mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Fruits of Good Manners
The Prophet was ‘the ideal’ da`iyah who practiced da`wah through observing the best of all manners; a matter which made many incline with their hearts towards him and urged them to willingly and lovingly sacrifice their own lives for him. Allah Almighty says,
So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. (Aal `Imran 3: 159)
Truly, the Companions had a great love of the Prophet (PBUH) so that many of the then contemporary observers were amazed by seeing such unprecedented love or any of its signs. It was during the Hudaibiyah Treaty when `Urwah ibn Mas`ud came to the Prophet (PBUH) to negotiate with him and after he returned to the Quraishites he told them commenting on what he had seen as saying, “O people! By Allah, I have been to the kings and to Caesar, Khosrau and An-Najashi, yet I have never seen any of them respected by his courtiers as much as Muhammad is respected by his companions. By Allah, if he spat, the spittle would fall in the hand of one of them (i.e. the Prophet’s companions) who would rub it on his face and skin; if he ordered them, they would carry out his order immediately; if he performed ablution, they would struggle to take the remaining water; and when they spoke, they would lower their voices and would not look at his face constantly out of respect.” (Al-Bukhari)
Many Companions sacrificed their lives for the protection of the Prophet during battles and otherwise with their own free will and to the pleasure of Allah and His Messenger (PBUH). They preferred that they would be slaughtered and that the Prophet (PBUH) would not be pierced with a thorn or hurt in any manner.
But, why was that? Why did the Companions feel that great love for him to the extent that they forsook their families, properties, wealth and everything for his sake? The answer to this is simple. They did so -and even much more- because they themselves were eyewitnesses of the great morals the Prophet enjoyed and represented during his entire life even before receiving revelation from Allah the Almighty. It was the good nature and noble character of the Prophet (PBUH) that made all people feel passionate toward him. Amazingly, many of his past enemies turned into intimate friends who loved him and would sacrifice their fathers and mothers for him as well.
This exceptional love of the Companions for the Prophet (PBUH) indicates the good manners which constitute one of the greatest secrets of the Prophet’s noble character. As a man, the Prophet (PBUH) witnessed the ups and downs of life: he went through richness and poverty, power and weakness, health and illness, and living away from home and stable settlement, etc. Notwithstanding, he was a prime example of the noblest of morals throughout.
Therefore, it is ordinary that Allah addresses him in the Qur’an as saying,
And indeed, you are of a great moral character. (Al-Qalam 68: 4)
and, it is ordinary as well that the Prophet himself sums up his entire mission as saying, “I was sent (by Allah) to perfect the sublime morals.” (Ahmed’s Musnad)
Last but not least!
Many are those who can speak well and invite people to Allah and at the same time educate them about morals. However, teaching manners cannot be carried out through giving lectures, attending training courses or reading textbooks. A skilled teacher can assign his students to read a textbook on good manners. But, this is not the best way possible to inculcate morals in the minds and hearts of others. Morals are not pieces of information to be learnt by heart and then recalled whenever need necessitates. Instead, morals are conduct, practice and application. Of the greatest things we need today is to provide role models of good manners for others to emulate. One might be touched by an eloquent lecturer on manners such as loyalty, truthfulness, benevolence and say, “That’s very nice!” However, as they say, “Actions speak louder than words.” One cannot really impress the hearts of his audience unless he practices what he preaches or as some say, “To walk the talk!” The Orator of all Prophets, Shu`aib (PBUH), said in the Ever-Glorious Qur’an,
And I do not intend to differ from you in that which I have forbidden you. (Hud 11: 88)
In the same vein, the late Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali cites in his book, Manners of the Muslim (P. 6), the following dialogue. Once a Muslim scholar was asked, ‘Have you ever read Aristotle’s Morals of the Soul?’ He answered, ‘No. But I have ‘read’ Muhammad ibn `Abdullah’s morals of the soul!’ Yes, some people might have read Aristotle’s and other philosophers’ as well. However, Muslims have read -and many of them have already lived and witnessed- the noble morals of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for quite a long time. In so doing, they found all that which has been imagined by the past philosophers -and even much more- represented in and personified by the character of the Prophet. That is the noble character and good morals of the Prophet (PBUH).
Taken with kind permission from www.onislam.net.
Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation, Misr University for Science Technology (MUST); Former Editor-in-Chief of the Electronic Da`wah Committee (EDC), Kuwait; Former Deputy Chief Editor and Managing Editor of the Living Shari`ah Department,www.islamOnline.net; Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS); and member of the World Association of Arab Translators Linguists (WATA). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.