By Sh. Yasir Fazaga
Each and every one of us has three components: our reputation, our personality, and our character. Our reputation is what people think of us. We invest most of our efforts in perfecting our reputations. Why? The reason is that the effort is very little, and the reward is immediate. All we have to do is watch a politician around election time to understand the concept. To be seen by people as kind, they take pictures with an orphan child and, if this news makes the headlines, then they have reached success. To repeat the point, our reputation is what people think of us.
When it comes to your character, you are in full control. Nobody can ruin your character.
Our personality, on the other hand, is how we present ourselves to people. We spend money, time, and effort on improving our personality. For example, personality enhancement classes teach us how to enhance our smiles. The intention here is to sell an image of ourselves. We are showing people not who we really are, but how we want to be seen.
Then, there is our character, which is who we really are. To sum up the definitions, reputation is what people think of us, personality is what we seem to be, and character is who we really are. Most of us do not invest enough in character. We like to invest more on reputation and personality, but tend to neglect our character. Sadly, it is our character that truly defines us. If we have good character, then the other two may follow close behind.
Rewards of having good character may not be immediate. In fact, many times people with good character may go unnoticed. Oftentimes, good character may be a problem for an individual in this life. When everyone around you is a cheater, your goodness and honesty becomes a problem. We may say, ok, forget character then! But, wait! People can only ruin our reputation, but our character can only be ruined by us! When it comes to your character, you are in full control. Nobody can ruin your character. Your character is of your own making, your own choice. As you live life, you are the author of your own life. Reputation is the camouflage. Character is the real thing. Our investment must go into our character, and the rest may or may not come. Alhamdulillah if they do come.
The 6 C’s of Character
Islam is a set of beliefs that must manifest themselves in a set of rituals. These rituals must have an impact on the character of the individual. The character of the individual manifests itself when we deal with other people. Therefore, it is a circle that is made of six vital components that will be discussed shortly.
If one engages in excellent Ibadah (worship), but has terrible Ikhlaaq (manners, character), then the Ibadah will not make up for the deficiency in character. However, if one has excellent Ikhlaaq and decent Ibadah, the excellent Ikhlaaq may make up for the deficiency in Ibadah. We extract this teaching from the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) in which he was informed about two women. One woman prayed, fasted, and performed all of her extra acts of worship, but she was extremely rude to her neighbors. The Prophet (pbuh) said that if she continues in this lifestyle, then her final abode would be the hellfire. The hadith then mentions another woman who did not pray or fast much, but only fulfilled her obligations in regards to people, like being kind to her neighbors. The Prophet (pbuh) said that if she continues in this lifestyle, then her final abode in the hereafter would be heaven.
It is not that the earth cannot cater to our needs, but the earth cannot cater to our greed. There are a lot of resources, but there is not enough compassion.
To underline this teaching, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Those of you who will be closest to me on the Day of Judgment will be those who have the best ikhlaaq.” These teachings do not undermine the importance of worship, but do underline the importance of good character. The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “Inna ahadakum layoudriku darajata si`am al qaa`im,” which means, “Due to your good character, you can attain equal position with someone who is constantly praying at night and who is constantly fasting during the day.” If someone has good character, he said, he/she will be able to reach that rank.
What is Character?
It is said that our character is made up by our words, actions, and habits. Perhaps that is why the saying goes, “Watch your thoughts, as your thoughts become your words. Watch your words, as your words become your actions. Watch your actions, as your actions become your habits. Watch your habits, as your habits formulate your character, and your character becomes your destiny.”
The Prophet (pbuh) has warned us to control our thoughts as well. One may wonder as to how thoughts can be controlled. We are not able to control what comes into our minds, but we are able to control the thoughts we dwell on. Therefore, it is essential to be careful about which thoughts we choose to dwell on.
In order to control these thoughts, it is important to know what the essential components of having a good character are. The following are the six essential components, and they all start with the letter “C.”
The first one is conscience or dhameer. The conscience is the innermost moral compass that Allah (SWT) has given us. It is by this internal moral compass that we (sometimes) are able to distinguish right from wrong. The Prophet (pbuh) has explained this beautifully. In one hadith, we are informed, “Al birru husnul khulooq,” which means, “Righteousness is about having good character.” He (pbuh) then said, “Wal ithmu”, (as for sin), ma haka fee sadrika wa khasheeta ay- ya-tali`a alayi Nas.” This translates as, “Sin is that which pricks into your heart, and you do not want it to be exposed to people.” Many times when our inner voice tries to stop us from committing sin, we ignore it. The next time it tries to do this, we are unable to hear it. It then comes to a point that we become de-synthesized and unaware of our inner voices.
If we have courage, then we have what it takes to bring about a change.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “A believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbor is hungry” (Bukhari). The person who knows that his/her neighbor is going to bed with an empty belly and does not take action has a dead conscience. The Prophet (pbuh) would say that this person cannot really claim to be of the community of the believers.
It is incumbent on us to listen to our conscience. When we cannot sleep at night because something is bothering our conscience, then, at times like this, we must be our own policemen. Many times, we can be technically right but ethically wrong. If we have a living conscience, sin can be defined as something that pricks into the heart and what we would not want to expose to others. Usually, we try to hide things that we are ashamed of, so the Prophet (pbuh) said that the moment we feel this way, we must listen to our conscience.
The second component of having good character is compassion. This is our ability to feel for others and with others. Today, the poverty and starvation we see in the world is not due to the lack of resources. At no time in the history of mankind was the food production as abundant as it is now. It is not that the earth cannot cater to our needs, but the earth cannot cater to our greed. There are a lot of resources, but there is not enough compassion. The three richest people in the world have more money than the 48 poorest countries in the world combined.
Those who are compassionate in this world, Allah (swt) will be compassionate towards them in the hereafter. It is easy to be compassionate to those who deserve compassion, like those who are sick, poor, or needy. However, real compassion occurs when it is least expected. Once, Ibn Umar (ra) went to the market, and someone picked his pocket. When people in the market realized that his money was stolen, they started to make duaa to destroy the person that robbed Ibn Umar (ra). At this moment, Ibn Umar (R) raised his hands and said, “Oh Allah, if this person took it because he was in need, Oh Allah, bless this money for him. Oh Allah, if he is a professional thief, Oh Allah, then make this one the last of his sins.” Now, that is compassion!
Another example of real compassion is the moment of the conquest of Makkah. After all of the evil things that the people of Makkah did to the Prophet (pbuh), and despite him having the power now, he chose to let everyone go free. Indeed, he was the most compassionate human being.
Having good character also means that you are able to feel for others. When the Prophet’s (pbuh) son died and he was crying, he said, “It is the mercy that Allah (SWT) places in the heart of the believers.” We are also reminded of the incident when the Prophet (pbuh) was kissing his young grandchildren Hassan and Hussain, and a bedouin said with arrogance, “I have ten children and I have not kissed a single one of them.” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “What can I do to you if mercy has been snatched away from your heart?” Muslims are to follow the example of the Prophet (pbuh) and be compassionate to everyone.
We have discussed the conscience and compassion; now, we move onto consideration. What does it mean to be considerate? It means to be deliberate and to think before you speak in regards to the following questions: How are my actions and my words going to impact others? Is my behavior going to crush their spirits? Or is it going to please them? Therefore, being considerate is the ability to think before you take action.
The seerah again gives us the best examples in this regard. One day, the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting with his companions, and he told them that Ikrimah (the son of Abu Jahl, the worst enemy of Islam) is coming to accept Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) cautioned his companions to not mention anything ill about his father Abu Jahl. He said that cursing those who are dead only affects those who are alive as the dead cannot hear you. In other words, he told them to be considerate of Ikrimah’s feelings.
Being considerate means respecting the feelings of others. For example, the Prophet (pbuh) said that if there are three people present, then two people should not be whispering to one another. Why? The reason for this is that this behavior would hurt the third person who is present. The Prophet (pbuh) also said that when you lead people in salah, be considerate of them by shortening your prayers. The Prophet (pbuh) would be leading the prayers, and when he heard a child crying, the Prophet (pbuh) expedited the salah in a very noticeable way. When asked after the salah about why he was in such a hurry, he said, “I heard a child crying and I knew that his mother would want to attend to him. So, I wanted to finish the salah as soon as possible.”
Are we as considerate in our masajid today? What would we do if a child started crying in the salah? The parent would be told not to bring their children to the prayer. In Islam, we are urged to be sensitive; this covers all aspects of life. The Prophet (pbuh) said, addressing men, “Do not be like beasts when you have an intimate relationship with your wife and you have your own desires fulfilled, but you are so inconsiderate whether your wife has received the same fulfillment or not.” Intimacy is something that it supposed to be enjoyed by two people. There are some men who joke with their wives about getting a second wife, and they believe it is amusing. It is important to remember that if the other person is not laughing, then they do not believe it is funny. Be considerate to the feelings of your spouses.
Do we ever reflect on the fact that sometimes we make people hate the Sunnah or the Deen because of our actions? In the name of Islam, how can we be rude? In the name of Islam, how can we yell at people, demoralize people, crush the spirits of people? A Muslim is supposed to be considerate. In every way that we do things, it displays our character, like the way we drive or where we park our cars. Constantly, we are displaying our character. The Prophet (pbuh) would tell his companions to avoid eating garlic or onions before they plan on going to the Masjid. This is to make sure that our presence brings joy to others. Be considerate. Have a conscience. Be compassionate.
The fourth “C” is courage. Courage is about being able to stand up for what we believe in. It is about the ability to stand up for the principles and the values that we hold. An individual is a person of courage when he/she is challenged and stands up for beliefs, principles, and values. It may be noticed that whenever Prophet Musa (pbuh) is mentioned in the Quran, it is always in situations involving fear. His stick turned into a serpent so he was afraid to pick it up. He was told to go to Pharaoh and was afraid. Nevertheless, Prophet Musa (pbuh) was not a coward, because courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing what is right despite the existence of fear. Prophet Musa (pbuh) was afraid, but his fear did not stop him from doing what is right.
Courage is needed especially when we must challenge the social status quo. The Arabs did not allow women to inherit; it took social courage for the Prophet (pbuh) to come and address such an issue. People would say our forefathers never did this, but it took courage to speak the truth to the people in power. If we have courage, then we have what it takes to bring about a change.
We must have a conscience, compassion, consideration, courage, and also control. A person of character is a person of control. It is the ability to control our desires and anger, the ability to control and be able to abstain and hold back, that defines this characteristic. Many times, we want to express ourselves in a negative way. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger” (Bukhari). Strength is not determined by the ability to wrestle people down to the ground. A strong person is the one who is able to take hold of himself/herself when the anger is powerful. The Prophet (pbuh) said that if you are able to this, then you are a strong person. Sometimes we have rage and we want to steal or do something wrong, but then there is that conscience, that control, and that power to hold us back. This idea of control should be in charge of our desires and not the other way around.
We have discussed the conscience, compassion, consideration, courage, control, and now the last one is confidence. What do we need to have confidence in? Oftentimes, we know what is right, but we cannot see the results immediately and therefore have doubt. We need to do the right thing at all times, whether we reap the benefit or not. We need to be confident that the right thing needs to be done all the time with no exceptions. Then, if we see the results, Alhamdulillah, and if we do not see the results, then it was actually to begin doing the right thing that was the most important.
A story can illustrate this point: A man was once given a surprise bonus of $1,000 by his company. While on his way home, he was planning to buy gifts for his family so that his wife and children would be happy. However, he was approached by a crying woman holding a young baby in her hands. She said, “Sir, my baby is dying! I need help. I cannot afford to buy any medication for my baby.” The man was so moved by this woman and baby that he put his hands in his pocket and gave her the entire $1,000. When his family found out, they told him he had been tricked by this woman. They made fun of him and told him that this was on the TV news. Instead of getting upset at the situation, the man said, “Alhamdulillah, this is the best news I have heard today. I gave the money to that woman because I didn’t want that baby to die. What really matters is the fact that the baby is not dying.”
The beauty of Islam is when Islam is implemented. We can say all of the nice things that we want, at the end of the day, it is not about what we say, but it is really about what we do. With every passing moment, we are constantly giving people clues about who we really are; we are constantly displaying what kind of character we have.
To conclude, consider this story: A man had a very nice car. He once saw a young boy walking around and admiring his car. So, the man asked the young boy, “Do you like it, son?” The boy responded, “Sir, I love it; this is the most beautiful car I have ever seen.” The man then told him that my brother gave it to me as a gift. The young boy immediately responded by saying, “Sir, I wish I could be like your brother.” Notice, he did not say that I wish I can have a brother like yours. This is what most of us would have said. Instead, he chose to say that I wish I was like your brother. This is a beautiful display of character. Remember, have a conscience along with compassion, consideration, courage, control, and confidence.
Having Good Character is Not a Goal, but a Process!
Having good character is not a goal, but having good character is a process. What is the difference? Any time we mix our goals with our means, we become stagnant, which is the recipe for disaster. For example, building a mosque – is it a goal or a means? It is a means. What happens is that we think that our goal is to build a mosque, and once the mosque is built, then what? Nothing. We already achieved our goal, which leads us to become very stagnant. Is giving zakah a goal or a means? It is a means, because the goal is to eliminate poverty. Is fasting in Ramadan, in itself, a goal or a means? It is a means to transform us into better people. Performing salah – is that a goal or a means? It is a means so that we become more purified.
When we set anything as a means, it becomes a process, such as having good character. It’s a process because there is always room for improvement. It requires determination and patience for us to constantly work on our bettering our character.