Prophet’s Excellence in Morals

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How was the prophets excellence in morality? What was the morality of the prophet muhammad?

The word akhlaq is the plural form of the Arabic word khulq, which means habit, nature, disposition, and character. The word khulq also states an essence which can be perceived by the heart, felt by the senses, and represented by the soul. Khulq may refer to both good and bad morals. Good morals mean that the human self is in moderation in its characteristics and powers; and it also means that the human self chooses the moderate path. In other words, good moral is choosing goodness and abstaining from evil by free-will. And the opposite is called bad morals.

Good morals are considered like an elixir that completes the faith, makes virtue perfect, beautifies life, gets the believer closer to Allah the Almighty, and captivates everybody’s heart. They are the shadows of the Divine attributes upon human beings and they are the reflections of these attributes in servants. This is why adorning oneself with good morals is a sign of getting closer to Allah the Almighty and the opposite is a clear sign of getting away from the Divine attributes. Because of their significance, good morals have been considered as one of the objects of the acts of worship. For instance, one of the objects of ritual prayer and fasting in the month of Ramadan is to help the believer to achieve good morals. Good morals are sometimes even elevated to the level of supererogatory prayer and fasting. In addition, the spiritual rewards of such acts of worship can be obtained through good morals. In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) said in this regard that:

“By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 7)

Good morals are important not only for the members of a society but also for the society as a whole. Peace, happiness, and order in a society can be achieved through good morals. Just as the force of attraction among the planets in the universe is very essential, good morals have a similar significance for the individuals and the society. Degradation is inevitable for a society in which good morals have decayed. According to Abu Hurairah (r.a.) report, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“You cannot satisfy and make human beings happy by giving them charity. (Your wealth could not be enough for that.) Therefore try to make them happy by your smiling faces and good morals.” (Hakim, I, 212)

Allah the Almighty not only loves His servants who have good morals but also makes others love them, too. If a believer adorns himself/herself with good morals, then he/she lives the life of Paradise both in this world and in the Hereafter. When the Prophet (pbuh), who said that “the most mature of the believers in faith is the one who has the best morals” (Ibn Hibban, IX, 483), and was asked what gets a believer closer to Paradise, he replied saying:

“Being fearful of Allah the Almighty and good morals.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 62)

Again, those who have good morals will be the closest ones to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who has the highest place in the Hereafter. This good news was given by the Prophet himself in his following saying: “the most likable and the closest one of you to me in the Hereafter is the one who have good morals.” (Ibn Hibban, II, 231)

Islamic morals are certainly what make the believers achieve perfection in both worlds. Islamic ethics was arisen from the system of the universal principles of the Qur’an; then was formed by the traditions of the Prophet, and took its most perfect shape in the paradigm of the Messenger of Allah. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), who was a monument of good morals, was disciplined by Allah the Almighty. Thus, he received the principles of ethics, which he taught to his followers, directly from Allah the Almighty through revelation. Sa’d b. Hisham b. ‘Amir said to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with both of them):

“O Mother of the Faithful, tell me about the character of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).”

She asked:

“Don’t you read the Qur’an?” I replied:

“Yes, I do.” Upon this she said:

“The character of the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) was the Qur’an.” (Muslim, Musafirin, 139)

The famous Turkish poet Ziya Pasha expresses this in his following lines:

He attended to such a school

In which Allah was his teacher

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) summoned in himself all the characteristics praised in the Qur’an and became the excellent exemplar for all of humanity. The most obvious aspect of his character was his unique good morals. This is why Allah the Almighty praised him in the Qur’an saying:

“And lo! You are of a tremendous nature.” (al-Qalam 68; 4) The Prophet (pbuh), too, emphasized the significance of good morals by mentioning that one of the objects of his prophethood was to perfect the good morals as follows: “I was sent to perfect good morals.” (Muwatta, Husn al-Khuluq, 8)

In another saying, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) stated the significance of good morals while looking at his reflection in front of a mirror and praying as follows:

“O Allah! Make my morals (khulq) perfect just like You have made my creation (khalq) perfect.”

“O Lord! Help me to achieve the most perfect morals. Indeed You are the only One who can help me to achieve that.” (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, X, 456)

Aziz Mahmud Hudayi (q.s.) states in the following lines how Allah the Almighty’s attributes were reflected onto the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the form of good morals and physical beauty as follows:

Âyinedir bu âlem herşey Hak ile kâim

Mir’ât-ı Muhammed’den Allâh görünür dâim.

“This universe is a mirror and the shadow images in it exist only because of the Truth. Manifestations of Allah the Almighty are always seen from the mirror of Muhammad.”

When we consider the two major subjects of the verses revealed during the Meccan period, i.e. faith and ethics, we can understand how much importance the Qur’an gives to good morals. Faith constitutes the basis of the connection with Allah the Almighty; while ethics makes up the essence of a servant’s relationship with his/her society. Because Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was the most excellent exemplar not just in matters of faith but also in ethics, Islam conquered the hearts of many in such a short time.

If we would like to see how the Prophet’s morals were in general, the reports of Husain (r.a.), the Prophet’s grandson, and Hind b. Abu Hala, the Prophet’s stepson, nicely summarize them. Once Husain (r.a.) asked his father Ali (r.a.) how the Messenger of Allah would act outside his home, Ali (r.a.) gave the following answer:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would not speak much. However when he spoke, his words were benefiting to the believers, getting them closer to each other, and solving the problems of division among them. He would help the dignified members of the tribes and appoint them as the leaders of their tribes.

He would never withhold his smile and good morals from anybody. He would ask for his companions whom he had not seen for a while and check their states. He praised and encouraged the good; while he decried and forbade the evil. All his acts were conscious, wise, and in place. He would neither overdo nor refrain from performing the right acts. He had the best of the people around him. For him the most superior of his companions was the one who had the best morals. And their highest one in degree was the one who helped the needy the most.”

Then, Husain (r.a.) asked his father Ali (r.a.) about our Prophet’s behavior in an assembly. Ali (r.a.) said that:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would always remember Allah when he was sitting or standing. He would not reserve a special place for himself in the assembly and he would enjoin others to do the same. When he attended to a congregation, he would never sit at the head of the congregation but he would sit at the end of it and advise his companions to do the same. He would compliment everybody in the assembly such that everybody would think that he was the most favorable one in the eyes of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). When a needy person came to him for his needs, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would endure his entire burden until he left. When someone asked for something from him, he would not refuse him/her. If he had the means, he would help; and if he did not, he would at least talk nicely. His tolerance was so vast that it encompassed all of humanity. His morals were so mature that they became examples for all of humanity. He became like a benign father to everybody. In respect to justice everybody was equal in his eyes.

The Prophet’s congregations were assemblies of knowledge, modesty, patience, and trust. In his assemblies nobody would raise their voice, nor would anybody be accused of wrongdoings. No one’s misconduct or flaw would be revealed to the public. Everybody in his congregation was equal and piety was the only measure of superiority among them. All members of his congregation were humble people. They showed respect to the elders and treated the youngsters with compassion and mercy. They would primarily deal with the needy and try to take care of their needs. They would protect the foreigners and lonely people.” Ali (r.a.) continued his words about the Prophet’s behavior in an assembly as follows:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would always treat the members of his congregation graciously and leniently. His mercy and forgiveness was abundant. He would never quarrel with anybody. He would always act calmly and with dignity and say nice words. He was a very generous and altruistic person. He abstained from three things:

  • Quarreling with others
  • Speaking too much
  • And dealing with useless and vain acts.

He would refrain from three things about people:

  • He would never reproach anybody neither to his face nor in his absence
  • He would never look for anyone’s faults and flaws
  • He would never say a useless word to anybody.

When Allah’s Messenger was talking in an assembly, everybody in the congregation would stand still like they had birds on their heads. They would talk, only after he finished his words, however, they would never dispute before the Prophet (pbuh). If someone spoke before the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), everybody else in the congregation would stay quiet until he finished his words.

When people in his congregation laughed or were surprised at something, he would laugh and be surprised with them.[1] He would endure the harsh and rude demands of the foreigners, even though his companions could not stand and interfere with the situation. He would advise: “Help those who present their needs to you.”

He would not approve false praises. He would not interrupt anybody’s words unless they violated someone’s rights. When someone violated other people’s rights, he would either stop him from this or stand up and leave the assembly.” (Ibn Sa’d, I, 423-25)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would abstain from saying “no” at the utmost level. In other words, he does not have “لا or no” in his vocabulary. When something which he approved was asked from him, he would say “okay”; if something that he did not approve was asked, he would just keep his silence, and his reluctance could be understood from his silence. (Haythami, IX, 13)

The Prophet’s stepson, Hind b. Abu Hala, talks about the Messenger of Allah in response to Hasan’s (r.a.) question as follows:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would turn his entire body to the direction at which he wanted to look. He would not look around haphazardly. He would usually look in front of him. His look was of contemplation and exemplary. He would have his companions walk in front of him; and he would walk behind them. When he met someone, he would be the first one to greet. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was usually sad and thoughtful. He would not speak in vain. His silence was long. He would speak clearly and fluently from the beginning to the end. He would use concise and succinct words in his speech. He would neither say less nor more.

His talk was very soft and intelligible; it would neither hurt nor humiliate anybody. He would show respect and would never despise even the smallest blessings from Allah the Almighty. He would neither praise nor criticize anything just for his own pleasure. He would not get angry for anything or any deed of this world; but, when a person’s right was violated, then he would not be calm until he fixed the violation. He would never get angry for personal reasons, and would always forgive. His anger would pass easily, and besides he would never show his anger. When he was happy or relaxed, he would close his eyes. His laugh was usually in the form of a smile. When he smiled, his teeth looked like the pieces of pearls.” (Ibn Sa’d, I, 422-23) Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was the nicest, most polite, and most smiling human being. (Ibn Sa’d, I, 365)

Even before his prophethood, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) had been praised by his tribe for his good morals. This is stated in the historical sources as follows:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was the most superior one of his tribe in courage and kindness, the best one in morals, the most honorable one in ancestry, the most sensitive one in observing his neighbors’ rights, the gentlest, the most truthful, the most trustworthy, and the most careful one not to hurt anybody. It was never seen that he criticized or reproached someone; nor was he seen quarrelling with anybody. He had such excellent virtues that he was called by his tribe as “the trustworthy one.” (Ibn Sa’d, I, 121)

The Prophet (pbuh) said that: “There exist no wisdom like precaution, no abstention like being chaste, and no honor and greatness like good morals.” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 24) Thus, he depicted good morals as the best merit that could adorn a person.

If moral characteristics are used properly, they get praised by everybody. Otherwise, they might end up with unwanted results. This is why Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did everything properly. He never showed an ill-timed bravery. If forgiveness was not appropriate, then he did not forgive; or when it was not necessary, he did not show mercy. The Prophet’s actions and behaviors are measures for all of humanity. By means of his exemplary behaviors and actions, limits of ethics were drawn and no ethical measure went beyond its limits.

After this general overview about the Prophet’s ethical sensitivity, let’s have a look at his virtues individually, and let’s examine his sayings which are a guide for humanity.

[1] What is emphasized here is that the Prophet (pbuh) would pay attention to the interests and inclinations of his congregation and would not exclude anybody from it. He would abstain from deeds which might have lead people to think that he was different than other people. He would maintain his spiritual and heartfelt relationship with others. He was very careful about establishing good relations with people except in obligatory or prohibited matters. His sensitivity in such matters has been followed by the friends of Allah. In this respect, the late Musa Topbaş (q.s.) said that “Mildness with people is a higher station than contentment.”

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality

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