On the 18th of Dhil Hajjah, upon the completion of his farewell hajj pilgrimage, with…
Perfecting One’s Character: The Importance of Being Good-Natured
For many people, their understanding of the religion of Islam is solely a collection of rituals and acts of worship, such as prayers, fasting, and charity. In addition, our elementary education often leaves issues of character on the periphery. However, it is important for us to recognize the unique character and etiquette of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) and his family (pbut), and through emulating their beautiful actions we have an opportunity to achieve success in this world and the next. Moreover, among the most important sciences in the study of the religion is ethics and how we strive to emphasize the positive values that God has innately instilled within us, which include mercy, generosity, love, compassion, beauty, justice and many others. Life should be about striving to embody and emulate the perfect nature of the Prophet’s character, especially in a world where we encounter so much darkness. In modeling our lives after our infallible guides and teachers, we can be the light that our communities so desperately need.
Husn al-khulq or good-naturedness is the process by which we perfect our character and nature and a common theme noted in the Quran and traditions of the Messenger and his family. The Quran refers to the Prophet to as having khuluqin athim or “a great moral standard.”1 It is crucial to understand that the character of the Prophet not only made him a role model but enabled him to spread his message. God says in the Holy Quran, “Only through the Divine Mercy have you (Muhammad) been able to deal with your followers so gently. If you had been stern and hard-hearted, they would all have deserted you a long time ago. Forgive them and ask God to forgive (their sins) and consult with them in certain matters.”2 It was the very softness, gentleness, and lenience of the Prophet that enabled him to touch the hearts of people and draw them to Islam. This same lenience, forgiveness, and good-naturedness is what we must implement in our lives to make our Muslim communities and all communities in our country positive spaces and mechanisms for change.
What Does Good-Naturedness Entail?
The attainment of praiseworthy characteristics is something that every believer can attain, and we should not view it as only possible for scholars or saints. It requires we take very practical steps to emanate good behavior to those around us. When asked about the meaning of husn al-khuluq or good-naturedness, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) said, “Good-naturedness means to soften your wings [i.e., behavior], to purify your words, and to meet your brothers with a beautiful face.”3 Softness is a key quality that is often overlooked, especially in the way we raise young men in our communities. The Prophet and the Imams were firm and just in situations which demanded such qualities, but amongst the people, particularly women and children, they were soft.
Furthermore, we know that the Prophet himself was never harsh with his followers; rather, he was always cheerful and overlooked the faults of others. Overlooking the deficiencies of others and allowing time for Muslims to simply enjoy each other’s company is a crucial part of the faith. God wants us to be happy, have good relationships, and create a positive community. These bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood will give us longevity in faith. The Prophet said, “The best among you are those whose behavior is more pleasant, those whom people surround them and approach them.”4
In another tradition, the Prophet (pbuh&hp) speaks to the tangible benefits of being someone who is good-natured. He states, “There is nothing placed on the scale heavier for a human being than good-naturedness.”5 Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (p) emphasizes the benefit of perfecting our character as he states, “In the increasing of good qualities, there is the treasure of sustenance.”6 Of course, it is not sufficient that we act in an appropriate manner just to receive God’s reward, but rather be aware that it is a reflection of faith that stems from our hearts and souls.
Good-Naturedness is a Reflection of Faith
Amongst the most important transformations we must make to truly perfect our character and eradicate vice is to remove the ill-nature within us or the pride and arrogance that so many are afflicted with. It is our arrogance that propels us to express disdain toward others or a belief that our time is too valuable to give undivided attention and cheerfulness to others. On the other side, at the root of good-naturedness is humility. Those who are good-natured are at peace with God and know that every person they come across is an opportunity to spread goodwill and blessings. Moreover, it is the sentiment that recognizes the innate value and the individual beauty and potential in each human being.
The Prophet himself, who was the best of creation, would not draw attention to or address the flaws of people in gatherings. He was jovial, friendly, and was a magnetic personality. In striving to emulate his perfect mold, we should look inwardly at our hearts and determine if we see ourselves as above anyone or if we choose to speak down to others. Illuminating beauty in our character is that which we should consistently strive toward. God tells us in the Quran that the pious are those “who spend their property for the cause of God in prosperity as well as in adversity, and who also [harness] their anger and forgive the people. God loves the righteous ones.”7
Mindfulness of Our Character in Turbulent Times
Being good-natured is not always easy, and that is why it is so important. There are certain times during the day or certain environments which trigger our anger. Other times, we may feel sullen or tired and do not feel the motivation to be cheerful and attentive toward others. But in the same way that we must pray and obey God no matter how we feel, acting with kindness and generosity to those around us is an obligation. After all, it is a reflection of God’s kindness and generosity to us. We often emphasize feeling over just being and presence. As such, we are just reactive to the circumstances of life rather than consciously cultivating a foundation of good character and well-being. Thus, it is vital that we put forth the best of our efforts to truly illuminate light amid all the darkness that we see so often. By looking at advice from the Quran and the Holy Household (pbut), perhaps we can be mindful of the following:
1. Do not indulge in negative speech. If someone expresses anger or ill-nature to you, respond with respect and goodness. God reminds us in the Quran, “Can anything else be a response to a favor but a favor?”8
2. Reflect on your shortcomings. Before you express anger or criticize someone, reflect on your own sins and humble yourself before God, for the famous narration states, “Hold yourselves to account before you are held to account [by God].”9
3. Place God at the center of your intentions when you interact with people. Will what you say please Him? What will be the outcome of your words? How will what you say affect the person you are interacting with?
Numerous traditions and advice from the infallibles point us to the reality that if we are merciful and compassionate with others, our Lord and Creator will certainly be merciful and compassionate to us.
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1. The Holy Quran 68:4. Quranic quotes in this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2. The Holy Quran 3:159.
3. Sayyid al-Burujurdi, Jami ahadith al-Shia, vol. 15, p. 524.
4. Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 102.
5. Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 99.
6. Tuhaf al-Uqul an al al-Rasul, p. 214.
7. The Holy Quran 3:134.
8. The Holy Quran 55:60.
9. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 67, p. 73.
1- قال الله تعالى: ((وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ))
2- قال الله تعالى: ((فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ))
3- عن ابن محبوب عن بعض أصحابه عن أبي عبد الله (ع): قال قلت له ما حد حسن الخلق؟ قال تلين جناحك وتطيب كلامك وتلقى اخاك ببشر حسن.
4- روي عن النبي (ص): أفاضلكم أحسنكم أخلاقا الموطؤون أكنافا الذين يألفون ويؤلفون وتوطأ رحالهم
5- عن النبي (ص): ما يوضع في ميزان امرئ يوم القيامة أفضل من حسن الخلق
6- روي عن الإمام علي (ع): في سعة الأخلاق كنوز الأرزاق
7- قال الله تعالى: ((الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ))
8- قال الله تعالى: ((هَلْ جَزَاءُ الْإِحْسَانِ إِلَّا الْإِحْسَانُ))
9- روي عن النبي (ص): حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا
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