[These are rough notes of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed (db) in South Africa i’tikaf, 2015]
Importance of having a noble character
وَأَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ ٱلنَّاسَ فَيَمۡكُثُ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِۚ كَذَٲلِكَ يَضۡرِبُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡأَمۡثَالَ
As for the scum, it goes to be thrown away, while that which benefits people remains on the earth. This is how Allah brings out the parables. [13:17]
We must be of benefit to others. The way a person benefits others is called akhlaq; it is the way of managing difficult situations, the way of dealing with others. This is not something skin deep, everyone will smile initially, real character comes out in less than ideal situations. You will always love someone if they say something that you agree with, but your akhlaq will be tested when they say something you don’t agree with.
One of purposes of Nabi sws was to train people to have the most noble and pure form of character. Getting along with those who are agreeable with you, what is the wonder in that? Even atoms can get along with other atoms to form matter. Like water. We have become such people that we cannot get along with any other atom. That’s why ummah has become such that they cannot get along with any other person. This particular training is done under mashaikh and ulema because your fellows here will come from different backgrounds and have different personalities.
Those who don’t have good adab and akhlaq then they will not be able to get along with anyone else. They can even reach the stage that they don’t like to pray with someone who they don’t like. Oh he put his feet next to mine! It disturbs you, but maybe he did it thinking it’s the correct thing to do, and you should have accepted that. This is a big sign that people have lost the adab and akhlaq, when they lose it, they fall into sins like backbiting.
One Sahaba (ra) said what if it’s true, it’s gheebah then it is worse than zina, if I tell you someone did zina in sunnah itekaf you would say la hawla wala quwwata, and this is even worse than that. All because we have no tolerance for one another. Last year we had a bayan on hilm, but people could still not learn the lesson. If you like the bayan, that means nothing to us. If you lived the bayan, yes then that is something. So if you heard bayan on hilm and ever since you lived according to forbearance, then it is an achievement. But you say I liked the bayan, and I got others to like the bayan, it means nothing. I got others to live it, that is something you can say. Are we some model of cars to be liked?
This adab and akhlaq is a major aspect of deen. Our mashaikh explain that the tree is known from its fruit. If you want to know how good the tree is, you will pluck a fruit and see, if it is juicy and sweet then you will love the tree. If a person has good akhlaq and good character then he will be beneficial to others. If he is not beneficial to others then he will not be beloved to others.
Nabi sws has said that the person who has most complete imaan is the one who has the best character. When we work on our imaan, it’s not just a particular thing. It’s every single thing mentioned in Qur’an and Sunnah. Even the word seerah means character or akhlaq. It means the life events in which his sws wonderful akhlaq unfolded. It’s an account of the unfolding of the characters of akhlaq. We are not just students of seerah, we also want to adopt that seerah.
Adab is a great blessing. If you have adab, you will be loving towards others, and they will be loving towards you. Love is about trust and love. If you love someone truly it is not possible to backbite about them, slander them, etc. This can sometimes be due to lack of adab, and it can also sometimes be due to lack of love. You will see when people have adab and love for others, they even try to help them and do goodwill behind their back. That is called a mu’min. Where do we see that? We just see undercutting, putting others down to get ahead. Very rare to find support secretly. But this is Islam – to have goodwill for others.
Nabi sws made dua to Allah swt, it captures everything. Me and you can make an imitation but the way Nabi sws made the du’a, it was unique. Ya Allah swt like You made my outward form beautiful, please make my inward form beautiful. He was the most beautiful. It means be concerned about this, while you are concerned about your outward beauty, even men are concerned about their outward now, but our real concern should be inner beauty. He sws taught us this dua.
More ugly and foul your adab and akhlaq, the more ugly and foul and dishonest is your imaan. They are directly related to one another. Indeed a believer through his fasting and qyam ul layl, keeps drawing closer to Allah swt. Someone asked how to keep up the same level after Ramadan? Yes if you get noble character you will always be like this, that’s how you keep the same level.
We feel that there is a very special power in hadith narrated in Imam Ahmed’s Musnad because he was from the kibaair e muhaditheen of taba tabi’in and his halaqa (teaching circle) was one of the greatest centre of hadith. It captures the sunnah of the golden age of taba tabi’in. His hadith were very widely circulated in taba tabi’in, you want to get these attributes, then we will be like the person who fasts all day and prays all night.
What’s the best thing to give someone? Nabi sws said it is good character; they behave with others in the best of way or somehow train them to have the best behaviour. This character is priceless, money cannot buy it, it cannot come at any price. Money can buy a lot of things but there are many things money can’t buy – usually the priceless things.
Syedna Ayesha (ra) was a great alimah of Qur’an and a great knower of Nabi sws. Someone asked her about Nabi sws, she replied that his (sws) character was Qur’an. How many women can say that about their husband? When she was asked about him (sws), what she chose to describe about him was his character. She could have said his ibadah was like this, or his spiritual rank was something, or he is imam al-anbiya. This was what she thought was his sws major thing about him. Character is a major thing.
People didn’t get associated with mashaikh just to increase their qurb and feelings for Allah swt and to increase their ibadah, they also came to fix their akhlaq. It’s called taleeq. Many people would come who were already good at their ibadah, but they were not good at akhlaq so they would come to learn it. Who had the most close character to Nabi sws were Sahaba ra then tabi’in then taba tabi’in.
There are 3 levels of akhlaq:
1. Akhlaq e hameeda: This is the character given to Jews. Allah swt says in Qur’an they were prescribed, the law of life for a life, an eye for an eye, you may have law of retaliation, but it must be completely equal.
2. Akhlaq e kareema: The character of Christianity was to turn the other cheek. This is a different concept – don’t react even in the just way, rather turn the other cheek.
3. Akhlaq e azeema: This is given to ummat e Muhammad sws, because this is how Nabi sws is described that you sws are permanently established on a tremendous character. That’s the sunnah. It’s a big sunnah to follow and will take a tremendous effort to get it in our heart, it will not happen automatically or by the barakah of something else. Allah swt says in Qur’an:
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ۬
And you are surely on an excellent standard of character. [68:4]
Allah swt is al-Azeem and He is, in Qur’an al-Azeem, describing the character as azeem, then imagine how azeem it is! And it is a part of aswat al-hasana – the model we have to follow.
What is it? Lesson is that if someone did wrong to you, pardon them and ask Allah swt to forgive them and consult them again, bring them back to your fold of close consultation. It’s very difficult to do this. Qur’an says:
and those who control anger [3:134]
They swallow their anger.
وَٱلۡعَافِينَ عَنِ ٱلنَّاسِۗ
and forgive people. [3:134]
And they forgive people, not just mu’mineen. They had wronged you but you forgave them.
وَٱللَّهُ يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ
And Allah loves those who are good in their deeds [3:134]
Allah swt loves the muhsineeen.
They repel the evil with good. How many follow this? It takes a lot of training to get these qualities. Today we cannot even pardon our own people, shaykh can’t pardon the students and vice versa, husband can’t forgive his wife, brother can’t forgive his brother, we are not even on the first step; we explode with anger. It starts with muttering then grumbling, then it turns into a war. It’s a lot of work and effort. It’s ajeeb last year we also recited this third ayah to describe akhlaq e azeema.
The virtuous deeds, and the wrong way of doing things, will never be equal. Don’t think not doing something bad makes it equal. No other type of character is fine, you will end up being different, with a very different quality of imaan, with a very different place in akhirah. Respond with that which is even better, that person with you there is some hostility, Allah swt will put barakah and turn it into a good relation. It will not only effect our feeling and give us patience, it will also make the enemy our friend.
Nabi sws on fateh makkah did not take any revenge. Hind and Wahshi became Sahaba (ra). They lived with one another like brothers. We should have love for others, especially for the servants of Allah swt. It comes in a hadith that all of creation is dependent on Allah swt, and the most beloved of all people to Allah swt are the ones who are best towards the dependent creation of Allah swt.
This is why the woman from Bani Israel was forgiven for giving water to a thirsty dog. She became ahabb- most beloved of Allah swt. This is what tasawwuf is; to become beloved of Allah swt. You want to become beloved, okay but it will require a lot of change on your part. The change has to take place, it cannot take place with one appearance in one gathering.
Forget other creation even, lets just look at our own family. He who is most virtuous towards his wife, family, neighbours, etc. will be beloved to Allah swt. Nabi sws has said that you must have mercy towards those in this physical universe (any creature) and the Being who transcends this physical universe will be merciful towards you. It means being kind and gentle to them even though they are undeserving.
When we make du’a that Allah swt send Your mercy, we mean that love me anyway, despite my sins and my shortcomings. So you should also love other people anyway, even though they did wrong, or they had faults. Allah swt is giving us an incentive to forgive others. Allah swt is saying move on, people say I can’t move on, they are saying no. Allah swt is saying be merciful towards others, they are saying no. If you say no to first part, then you will not get the second part. What if on the Day of Judgement Allah swt says no, let’s resolve this, or address this book of deeds first? Then? The only resolve for us would be fire of Jahannam.
If anyone were to say would you like to get the guaranteed way of mercy? Nabi sws is sadiq al-ameen so it’s guaranteed you will get it, because Nabi sws has told us this. Some people are so deep in their grudge, some people still say I heard this hadith but I can’t and I won’t let it go. It’s very dangerous when you say that. You can feel/think like that. If you are doing that then you are jeopardizing your very imaan.
This is the beauty of our deen that it has mercy all around. Mercy between and among creation, what a wonderful deen; deen of mercy. Allah swt, the greatest Merciful and a Nabi sws who is Rehmatul lil alameen. Islam has a way of bringing about peace, and noble akhlaq and adab are a part of bringing about that peace.
إِنَّمَا ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ إِخۡوَةٌ۬فَأَصۡلِحُواْ بَيۡنَ أَخَوَيۡكُمۡۚ وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُرۡحَمُونَ
All believers are but brothers, therefore seek reconciliation between your two brothers, and fear Allah, so that you may be blessed with mercy. [49:10]
Indeed mu’mineen are brotherens among one another. There is no concept of ummah anymore because people have lost these close ties. Therefore, you should try to bring reconciliation between your brothers and fear Allah swt with regards to it. Ulema say that if Allah swt mentions taqwah right after something, then it means if you don’t do this then fear Allah swt and then do it out of that fear. Do it out of the fear of Allah swt so that the Rehmah of Allah swt may overwhelm you. At the end Allah swt is the one giving Rehm.