Developing Good Character

"It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet (know that) He sees you."

-- Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w.)

I had a rather difficult time trying to tell my non-Muslim colleague what exactly was the subject of the new series of lessons I was embarking on at the start of the new year. How does one describe Akhlaq? At that point of time I could only say something along the lines of "Oh, it's gonna teach us how to be at peace with our soul, you know, to be more zen." I sincerely wish that many years from now I will be able to look back at all these and laugh- though I don't really find it very funny now.

It is interesting how I could not find a way to explain it because there is no close equivalent form of study in secular education. It is the understanding and development of our disposition (or in simpler terms, what we would tend to do, something like a habit). (The closest would be a combination of psychology and moral education.) And the science of it, well how does one learn that! Isn't Islam just amazing :D

Our Natural Disposition/Habit

Islam teaches us that we were all born good and pure. How do we know this- it's when most of the time we are faced with a decision, we seem to have this ability to know what we should and shouldn't do (choosing what to do is another thing entirely, of course). And unlike the angels (who were not given free will), and the animals (who were not given the ability to control their desires, or nafs), we were given these 'superpowers'.

And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.

- Al-'Isra, 17:70

But of course, with power comes responsibility. While we were given free will, we could not just do as we please. We had to learn the right way to control our desires and exhibit the proper manners expected of us; otherwise, we would be worse than animals.

Verily, We created man in the best stature. Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low. Save those who believe and do righteous deeds.

- At-Tin, 95:4-6

Developing a Disposition/Habit

  1. We each have a unique character and natural make-up (Fitrah), for example, I could be naturally patient, while someone else could be naturally empathetic to others.
  2. Repeated acts of something also creates a habit after sometime. Going to bed late could become a habit if it is done long enough.
  3. However, conscious effort and persistence in doing something will also create a habit eventually.

So it is quite obvious that each of us has different habits which have developed from having been born into a diverse set of culture and teachings, experiencing and handling different life events etc. These all make us into who we are today.

And by knowing our existing habits and through a conscious effort to change ourselves such that what we do 'naturally' is for the sake of Allah..... That is the ideal state of being.

One sister so aptly compared the similarities of this state to a traditional Chinese teaching,

“人 之 初,性 本 善。 性 相 近,習 相 遠。 苟 不 教,性 乃 遷。教 之 道,貴 以 專…”

(People at birth are naturally good. Their natures are similar, Their habits become different. If negligently or foolishly, not taught, Their nature deteriorates / differ widely. The right way to teach, Is with absolute concentration/ thoroughness (i.e. patient, determined and constant striving/ disciplining).

Insya'Allah, may Allah grant me and my loved ones the privilege to achieve the most righteous personality and purification of our souls, Ameen.

"The most complete of believers in Iman (faith) are those who are best in character (Akhlaq)."

- Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w)


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