Character Building: The Essence of a Believer

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Published August 18, 2021

By Sh. Abdool Rahman Khan

All praises are for Allah, Lord of all that exists; and peace and blessings of Allah be on His final messenger and his household.

Character is the solid foundation of a believer upon which both iman and amal (faith and practice) are based. It is what defines an individual and differentiates him or her from others. Character is that which will determine true success both in this world and the next as it will be among the heavyweight factors of positive value on the scales on the Day of Judgment.

In a sound hadith of al-Tirmidhii, Abu Darda (r) reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Nothing is heavier upon the scale of a believer on the Day of Resurrection than his good character. Verily, Allah hates the vulgar and obscene.” Jabir ibn Samurah (r) reported that the messenger of Allah (s), said, “Verily, obscenity and immorality are not part of Islam. Verily, the best people in Islam are those with the best character” (Aḥmad – sahih).

In fact, the one who possesses good character will be in the company of Rasoolullah (s) on the Day of Judgment. Abdullah ibn Amr (r) reported that the messenger of Allah said, “Shall I tell you about the most beloved to me and the closest to my assembly on the Day of Resurrection? Those with the best character” (Musnad Aḥmad), and it is a sound hadith.

On the other hand, those with evil character will be furthest away from Rasoolullah (s) on the Day of Judgment. Jabir ibn Abdullah (r) reported that the messenger of Allah (s) said, “Verily, the most beloved and nearest to my gathering on the Day of Resurrection are those of you with the best character. Verily, the most reprehensible of you to me and the furthest from my gathering on the Day of Resurrection will be the pompous, the extravagant, and the arrogant” (al-Tirmidhī – sahih).

It is interesting to note that noble qualities tend to connect with one another and are inter-related. Someone who is sincere, and kind would most likely be honest, respectful, and just — or at least would strive to embody those virtues. This becomes a lifelong quest, aiming for excellence of character. The opposite is also true. A bad quality tends to pave the way for other bad qualities until such person is characterized by ignoble qualities. Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r) reported that the messenger of Allah said, “You must be truthful. Verily, truthfulness leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man continues to be truthful and encourages honesty until he is recorded with Allah as truthful. And beware of falsehood. Verily, falsehood leads to wickedness and wickedness leads to the Hellfire. A man continues to tell lies and encourages falsehood until he is recorded with Allah as a liar” (Muslim).

Imaam Shafe’i, the great Muslim scholar, wrote in a couplet: “Many people have died, but their generosity lives on; And many are alive, but they are just as good as dead.” So, on whom must one model his character? Certainly not those who are void of morals but the one whose role was to perfect human character. He is none other than Muhammad (s). He has been sent by Allah SWT with many responsibilities, among which is as a teacher perfecting noble character. In a famous hadith, he (s) said, “I have been sent to perfect good character.” Allah SWT confirmed that by telling us in the Qur’an, “…You are not, [O Muhammad], by the favor of your Lord, a madman. And indeed, for you is a reward uninterrupted. And indeed, you are of a great moral character…” (68:2-5).

Out of the Darkness and into the Light

The result of the Prophet’s teaching should be evident to all of humanity. He (s) lived in a society where people would bury their female babies alive, out of societal shame. There was no sense of justice. They supported their tribe whether right or wrong. The strong took advantage of the weak and the rich exploited the poor.

He (s) brought them out from the darkness of ignorance into the light of Islam. The sahabah (r), as they proved themselves, have stood out as the unique generation. They took on the responsibility of extending the influence of Islam out into the world and demonstrating the commitment to excellent character as taught by the Prophet (s).

Just take the case of the second Khaliph Umar (r). Before converting to Islam, Umar (r) opposed the Prophet’s message and even threatened to kill him (s). He was adamant and cruel in opposing the messenger of Allah and very prominent in persecuting Muslims. But once he converted to Islam, he made a complete change in his life to the point that he was given the title of al-farouk, the one who distinguishes between right and wrong. He would often say, “Who is Umar without Islam?” Before Islam, his ignoble character would have taken him to eternal destruction. He now is in the company of the noblest of human beings.

After the passing of Rasoolullah (s), the sahabah (r) too began to liberate men from the bonds of the darkness of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance; unbelief) into the light of Islam. This historical achievement was the mark of a unique generation, the generation that Prophet Muhammad raised by instilling in them good and noble character. The Prophet (s) affirmed this when he said, “The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will come after them [the next generation], and then those who will come after them; and then after them, there will come people whose witness will precede their oaths, and whose oaths will precede their witness” (al-Bukhari).

Developing and Strengthening Character

The good news is that each individual has the potential to develop and strengthen his or her character, whatever their current status or nature — their personality traits and their moral and ethical qualities. One can develop qualities such as honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, compassion, sincerity, kindness and much more, as long as one strives on a daily basis with self-awareness and devotion. Indeed, these noble qualities combined together sum up a noble character and make one a true believer in Allah SWT and a great asset in society. Hasan Al-Basri, may Allah have mercy on him, in his book Jāmi’ Bayān al-‘Ilm, said: “Verily, from the character of the believer is strength in religion, determination with leniency, faith with certainty, eagerness for knowledge, sympathy with understanding, moderation in worship, mercy with effort, giving to those who ask, not wronging the one he hates, not sinning over the one he loves, dignified in turmoil, grateful in ease, content with what he has, speaking to impart understanding, being silent out of caution, and affirming the truth as a witness over him.”

Usamah ibn Shareek reported, “I witnessed the Bedouins ask the Prophet, ‘O messenger of Allah, what is the best thing a servant may be given?’ The messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Good character’” (Sunan Ibn Mājah – sahih). One can begin in his own home. Abu Huraira (r) reported that the messenger of Allah (s) said, “The most complete of the believers in faith are those with the most excellent character, and the best of you are the best in behavior to their women” (al-Tirmidhi — sahih). A similar hadith was narrated by Aisha (r) with a slight variation. The messenger of Allah said, “Verily, the most complete of believers in faith are those with the best character and who are most kind to their families” (al- Tirmidhi – sahih).No doubt good character raises one’s status, as if he has done major acts of worship. Aisha (r) reported that the messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, the believer may reach through his good character the status of one who regularly fasts and prays at night” (Sunan Abi Dawud – sahih).

In conclusion, seeking good character by our daily efforts should be joined with making sincere du’a to Allah SWT, as Rasoolullah (s) has guided us to do. Jabir ibn Abdullah reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, used to make this du’a: “O Allah, guide me to the best deeds and the best character, for no one guides to the best of them but you. Protect me from evil deeds and evil character, for no one protects from the evil of them but you.”

O Allah, I ask you to grant us health, good character, and contentment with qadr. Ameen!

Avatar photo Sh. Abdool Rahman KhanAuthor Sh. Abdool Rahman Khan is the chairman of the ICNA Shari’ah Council and a member of the Fiqh Council of North America. He also recently took charge as Executive Director of Tarbiyah.

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