بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the most Merciful.
Assalamualykum everyone. I hope you are all doing well on this wonderful Jummah.
My topic for today is the Quran and Good Character. Especially in a time of a pandemic, especially in a time of quarantine. If we look at the life of the Prophet (pbuh), his wife Aa’isha (ra) said, “He was a walking Quran”. He was the embodiment of the Quran in his character.
That says so many things about what the Prophet’s relationship with the Quran was and what our relationship today is. Unfortunately, most of the time, our relationship with the Quran is simply something to read, something to recite, to be a ritual, or that’s brought out during the Nikah, something that’s brought out during the Aqiqah, something that’s brought out during the funeral. It’s more of a ritual. Whereas the Prophet (pbuh)’s relationship with the Quran was not only one of worship and devotion, but also, and more importantly, to be a characterization or to personify the character that is mentioned in the Quran.
That is what his own wife spoke to, which is pretty powerful because your spouse knows your deepest and darkest secrets. Your spouse knows what you do in public versus what you do in private. For her to testify that he was a walking Quran is a big deal. And that is why the Quran says about the Prophet (pbuh):
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
Wainnaka laAAala khuluqin AAatheemin
And indeed, you are of a great moral character.
(Surah Qalam, Quran 68:4)
That his character as excellent. His character is on a certain level that no one else’s character is at. As if خُلُقٍ is a great mountain and Prophet Muhammad is on top of that mountain. The Arabic word for a good character is Akhlaq and the word Akhlaq is very interesting because it shares the same root as the word Khalq and Khalq is your outer appearance. Everyday you wake up before you go to work – even for your zoom meetings – and you look in the mirror and you say, “am I looking okay? Is my beard okay? Is my mustache okay? Is my hair okay? Is my color straight?” You do this external imaging. You take your external image and you rectify it using a mirror.
The scholars of language, they say – الصورة الداخلية – it is the internal image. It is the inner image of each individual. From that is Akhlaq, that word we may have heard of, that Arabic word for good character. The خُلُق is that inner image. So in the same way that we look in a mirror and look at our external image and we rectify that, we should also be looking inside. Now, especially, in times of quarantine, that is when our truest character can come out. It’s very easy to be polite and respectful day after day with your coworkers, with strangers on the streets, with those who you meet in the office, maybe you’ll see them once in a while, once in a month. That’s more difficult when you are with the same people, your family, day in and day out, or with the people who live with you day in and day out. Now your character is being tested. It is very easy to be polite, very easy to be generous, very easy to be noble, but then in a time where that character is tested, that’s when true character can be strenghthened.
At the end of the day, character is not something intrinsic. Part of it can be intrinsic, but it is also something that is built. It is something that is practiced. It is something that can be strengthened and can be worked upon. It was Umar, the great Khalifa, who said:
إِنَّمَا الْعِلْمُ بِالتَّعَلُّمِ وَإِنَّمَا الْحِلْمُ بِالتَّحَلُّمِ
Knowledge comes through learning and forbearance and patience comes through practice of that patience and forbearance.
Everyone is not extremely patient in that first instance, but if they practice, they self-reflect and they work on that, then they can get better. If we look at the method of the Prophet (pbuh), when it came to his leadership style, you can have many different leadership styles, right? You can have a gentle approach. You can have a hard approach. You can have many different approaches, but when the Prophet had a choice, he would lean towards the gentle approach. That was his approach. That was the divine leadership that he was granted. That was the divine leadership, which Allah trained him upon.
Allah says in the Quran:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ ۖ
Fabima rahmatin mina Allahi linta lahum walaw kunta faththan ghaleetha alqalbi lainfaddoo min hawlika
So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you.
(Surah Al-Imran, Quran 3:159 )
This is revealed in the context of the great conflict of Uhud, when many Muslims were killed, many Muslims lost their lives, trying to defend themselves against the Quraysh. It was, if not a stalemate, a loss for the Muslim. Part of that was because of the mistake that was made by some of them who wanted to collect the bounties of war and they left their positions. They left their battle positions. As a result, many lives were lost. The Prophet was injured, his uncle was killed. Yet, even in that certain situation, the Prophet is advised to seek that gentle approach and is reminded of his gentle approach in his entire time of his Prophethood. He was advised to pardon them and to ask forgiveness for their mistakes and to still consult them.
That’s an even bigger deal. Usually if someone makes a mistake, we don’t want to consult them anymore. We say, “you know what? Last time you were in the project, you messed up. Your opinion has no value anymore. Maybe I’ll trust you again in a few months. Maybe I’ll trust you again next year. We’ve already put you on the ranking. We’ve put you on probation. Your record is going to be looked at,” but Allah says forgive them. Ask forgiveness for them and consult them.
So we see how our Akhlaq is tied to our trust in Allah. Someone can not have trust in Allah and then have terrible Akhlaq. Well, they can, they can try to do such a thing, but having that terrible Akhlaq actually shows that lack of trust in Allah. It shows that lack of trust in Allah and with what He has given us, and with the people that He has put in our lives.
Other things that the Prophet (pbuh) mentioned to encourage good character is that the most beloved of you to Allah is the best of you in character and who does not want to be the most beloved to Allah? There is nothing weightier in the scales than good morals and manners. So this is something that is very heavy on the scales.
Yes, remembrance of Allah, reading Quran, praying, giving charity – these are heavy things on the scales, but there is nothing weightier than all of that then good morals and manners. Now this hadith really resonated with me because we are in a state of fasting right. In that last hour, isn’t it so difficult? It feels like time is frozen. Like it’s not getting there. You’re like, “when is it going to be 8:29?” You’re watching the seconds, so you’re going through this challenge of fasting day after day. What did the Prophet say? He said, “truly the believer can reach by means of good manners and morals, the degree of one who constantly fasts”. So imagine you’ve fasted every day of the year. You can attain such a level without having to do that. That is through good manners. That is the importance of good manners.
I also wanted to mention this saying of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
“Cleanliness is half of faith.”
We find this is used mostly by your parents when they want you to clean your room, right? When something is incredibly dirty and someone wants to get it cleaned, they say, “cleanliness is half of faith – الطُّهُورُ شَطْرُ الإِيمَانِ”. But that الطُّهُورُ – cleanliness – is not just physical purity. Physical purity is part of it but the purity is of the mind, actions, words, and purity of heart. That is the true purity that is half of faith.
Someone in the youth group told me after hearing this Hadith that they heard another Hadith, where the Prophet said that marriage is half of your faith. So he said, “if I’m clean and I get married, does that mean my faith is complete?” I said, there’s more to that cleanliness than simply physically being clean. Yes that is part of it – to be physically clean. Yes, that’s good but there is more to it than that. It’s important that, when we teach our children, we teach them that, not only is purity something in our physical self, but also in our internal self – in our heart, in our mind, in our sincerity and in our actions and in our deeds. That is also something that needs to be considered.
So in this time of COVID-19, we’ve become desensitized. There’s the news headlines, the cycles. There’s deaths every day. Thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of deaths, the totals keep going up and up, and on top of that, we are hungry. We are hungry and angry. That is why the Prophet (pbuh) emphasized that if someone comes to you and annoys you during your fast or angers you during the fast, then remind yourself that you are fasting. Why? Because when you are fasting, your stomach is empty. It’s six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock – as the time gets closer and closer, your ability to be annoyed or to be flustered or to be frustrated, it increases dramatically. That is when that anger is truly tested. That is when that character is truly tested. So number one, we’re desensitized, number two, we are hungry and more predisposed to having an outburst, and number three, we are cooped up with our family for better or worse. We are cooped up. And so how can we counteract that?
How can we take steps to fix that? It’s easy to have good character, when you have a nice day, when you have a nice lunch. You’re surrounded by mostly strangers. You don’t have to deal with them for more than a few hours a day – easy. But then when that good character is tested in times such as this, that’s when our true character can be strengthened and we will make mistakes along the way. Maybe we have made mistakes along the way, but we can rectify and we can get better. And we can reach that ideal of Ramadan.
The Prophet (pbuh) told us that many people, all they get out of there fast is hunger and thirst, but we can surpass that. We can be more than just the minimum. We can be more than the minimum level of fasting. We can level up, we can go to that next level where we are not only fasting from food and thirst, but also from impurities, from diseases of the heart, from anger, from bad character and so on. Emphasizing good character is even more important, emphasizing it to ourselves, to our families, to our children and to those around us.
Even the Prophet (pbuh) said, “I was sent only to perfect good character”. What do we conclude from this Hadith? Have you really thought deeply about these words? Or is it just something that goes in through one ear and comes out the other. What do we actually conclude? Could one possible conclusion be that everything in Islam goes back to that good character?
First, we take the testimony, our Shahada, our testimony of faith:
أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا ٱللَّٰهُ وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ ٱللَّٰهِ
That rectifies our character because it is a promise to follow Allah and his Messenger and, to them, character was important.
Second, Allah tells us in the Quran the prayer is meant to make us better as people, the prayer is not simply something that we do as a ritual. The prayer has a purpose. Salah prevents from evil and shameful deeds. Salah improves our good character.
Third, when we give charity, do we do it by showing off, do we do it because we want to have a favor over someone? Or do we do it with that purifying of character? Even when we love our wealth so much, and we have this feeling like, “we earned this, we did this ourselves, no one helped us do this”, then Allah says “give two and a half percent”. That’s when that good character comes into play.
Fourth, fasting will also strengthen our character because we are practicing. We are disciplining. We have that control. How many times after Ramadan is over do you hesitate before picking up food, thinking you’re still fasting? That is training that Ramdan has put into us. We can see it through the lens of good character, and that is why the Prophet emphasized that he was sent only to perfect good character.
But it’s one thing to discuss good character in theory. It’s another to actually see the example that the Quran gives for good character. And that’s what I’d like to focus on today – some examples from the Quran itself.
One of the beautiful principles in the Quran of good character is to repel evil with good. Allah says good and evil cannot be equal. “O Prophet, repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend”.
Look at our nature. I mean, how many times have two children been fighting and all of a sudden they’re best friends and they’re able to overcome it? Repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend. Someone who you can look upon for help and for trust, but you have to repel that evil with good. And that’s an amazing example in the Quran. How many times do we feel wronged in our life? How many times do we feel wronged by our cousin, by our brother, by our sister, by someone close to us? We feel like they should have done better to us that they did not do good by us, that they have betrayed us and betrayed our trust. So repel that evil with good. Be the better man. Be the better woman. Be the one who takes the first step, initiate that forgiveness, don’t fall into that mode of holding a grudge.
Allah tells us that the one who reconnects with their relatives, Allah will connect with them. And the one who disconnects, Allah will disconnect from them, and what better time to connect with Allah in the time of Ramadan, and make intention by the time Eid comes around that you want to fix our relationships with your family members – at the very least our relatives who’d have that Haq, who have that priority.
There’s the incredible story of the man of Jannah. Many of us might’ve heard this but every time you hear about it, it’s a brilliant reminder. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “A man is going to enter the mosque. And he is a man of Jannah. He is a man of Paradise”. The companions all turned around and this random person wasn’t Abu Bakr. He wasn’t Umar. He wasn’t Ali. He wasn’t any of the famous companions – just a normal Sahabah.
So one of the companions followed him, went to his home, investigated, used an excuse and said, “Hey, I’m having trouble with my family. I have to live with you. Please offer me your hospitality”. The man of Paradise said, “Yes, you can stay with me”. And so the default at the time was that people would accept you in their homes for three days, with no questions asked. That was there culture. So he said, “yes, of course stay with me”.
So the companion is wondering what is so special about this person. Why is he a person of Paradise? He didn’t understand. After three nights he said, “I give up. I haven’t seen you pray extra. I haven’t seen you fast extra.I haven’t seen you do extra reading of Quran. I haven’t seen you do anything extra that I think should make you a person of Paradise. I just don’t see it. What is it?” The man of Paradise thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything that I do that makes me a person a Paradise”. The companion was confused, thinking there must be something. He asked the man of Paradise to think, and at last the man said, “You know, one thing I do is, every night before I go to bed, I remove any hatred for anyone from my heart”. The companion understood then. He said, “That is exactly it. That is not extra prayer, extra fast, extra Quran reading. That you removed hatred from your heart – that makes you a person of Paradise”.
Isn’t that beautiful? Every time I hear it, I get goosebumps because of what an incredible story that is and how, a lot of times, the things that we think are emphasized in our religion and our faith are not the things that were as emphasized by the Prophet (pbuh). There were so many other things that he emphasized.
Let’s go ahead and move on to some action items that we can do to aim towards achieving better character.
Number one – empathize with one another. You might find yourself desensitized, or find that you are not able to be on the same page as your spouse. You find yourself bickering over small things. You find yourself having arguments over little things, with your cousin, with your sibling, with your children. Try spending some quality one-on-one time with them, doing something different, like going and changing your scenery, going out somewhere, going for a stroll, going for a walk, going for a hike. Changing your scenery can help you to empathize with that person. Where’s that person coming from? What has that person gone through? Empathize with them. Think about what they have been going through.
Number two – renegotiate your family responsibilities. If you feel that, while everyone is quarantined, you are taking up most of the bulk of the responsibility, and the household, or more than you should be, communicate that to your family, communicate that to your spouse. If your children are old enough, communicate it to your children. And actually the most of them will be old enough honesty. They can understand very early. We don’t give them enough credit. Children can understand very early. They understand right away. So renegotiate those sound responsibilities, if you feel overwhelmed.
Number three – give each other a break. Time off is okay. If you see that your spouse needs 30 minutes of just zombie mode after work, then give them that 30 minutes. If your child needs an hour of video games after school, it’s okay. It’s okay. Just don’t fight over it. The homework will get done after within limits, it’s okay. Within limits, I know the children are probably looking at their parents, right? But within limits, whatever is best for the family, whatever is best in the situation.
Number four – catch yourselves. If we find ourselves in the middle of arguing over something so petty and our voices are escalating and it’s getting worse and worse, catch yourself and say, “if you were to ask me two weeks from now, will I even remember why I said the things that I did?” Probably not honestly, most of the time, probably not. So catch yourself, take a break, pause, practice what the Prophet (pbuh) taught us about managing our anger. If we are standing to sit down, if we are sitting, lay down, to go and make wudu, to give ourselves a break.
Number five – come up with activities to do as a family, something different that you haven’t tried before, a game night, a craft, something, Google something. Look at what other people are doing during COVID-19. People are learning languages, people are repairing bikes, people are learning new skills. Commit to some type of daily outing – “let’s go for a walk, let’s go for a stroke, let’s go for a drive” – within the guidelines, of course, but commit to something where you’re able to spend time focusing on, something else outside of the four walls of your home.
And finally sixth – try to rediscover a mutual interest with your family. Something that you all can do together. My son and I recently started watching rocket ship videos and he wants to watch the same rocket ship launches over and over. The space X rockets are landing, the final space shuttle that lifted off six years ago. We’ve been watching those videos and he loves them. He enjoys them so much. I know I just said outside of sleeping and TV, but try to find something that you can do together outside of sleeping and TV. Try to find a mutual interest, a mutual hobby, something that you can spend our time on together.
So we ask the Allah that He helps us to have good character. So we ask the Allah that He gives us patience. We ask Allah that He cures those that are sick, that He helps us to get out of this crisis. I ask Allah that if anyone has any need then Ya Allah fulfill their need. I ask Allah that He helps us to act upon what has been said, and to help us to take the steps towards good character, like the Prophet (pbuh)and the character of the Quran and I ask Allah that He forgives us for our mistakes and shortcomings .
أقول قولي هذا وأستغفر الله لي ولكم ولسائر المسلمين فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
I say what you have heard and I seek forgiveness from Allah for me and you from every sin.