Good character before learning Islamic sciences

Good character before learning Islamic sciences

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Good character, morals, and manners are the heart of Islam. All of the Islamic sciences are directed towards refining peopleโ€™s inward and outward behavior and their relationship with Allah and humanity at large. Ethics is its own science in Islam and, in reality, is the most important science to precede all other advanced fields of knowledge.

It has been established from the Prophet (แนฃ) and his companions that the transmission of ethical knowledge is an essential objective of the religion of Islam.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ุจูุนูุซู’ุชู ู„ูุฃูุชูŽู…ูู‘ู…ูŽ ุตูŽุงู„ูุญูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฎู’ู„ูŽุงู‚ู

Verily, I have only been sent to perfect righteous character.

Source: Musnad Aแธฅmad 8729, Grade:ย Sahih

Al-Dahhak, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

ุงู„ุณูŽู‘ูŠูู‘ุฏู ุงู„ู’ุญูŽุณูŽู†ู ุงู„ู’ุฎูู„ูู‚ู

The head of the matter is good character.

Source: Makฤrim al-Akhlฤq lil-Kharฤโ€™iแนญฤซ 524

Hence, every rule, concept, and practice in Islam is meant to ultimately affect our inward and outward behavior.

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

ุงู„ุฏูู‘ูŠู†ู ูƒูู„ูู‘ู‡ู ุฎูู„ูู‚ูŒ ููŽู…ูŽู†ู’ ุฒูŽุงุฏูŽ ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ูƒูŽ ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุฎูู„ูู‚ู ุฒูŽุงุฏูŽ ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ูƒูŽ ูููŠ ุงู„ุฏูู‘ูŠู†ู

The religion itself is entirely good character, so whoever surpasses you in character has surpassed you in religion.

Source:ย Madฤrij al-Sฤlikฤซn 2/294

And Al-Shatibi writes:

ูˆูŽุงู„ุดูŽู‘ุฑููŠุนูŽุฉู ูƒูู„ูู‘ู‡ูŽุง ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ู‡ููŠูŽ ุชูŽุฎูŽู„ูู‘ู‚ูŒ ุจู…ูƒุงุฑู…ู ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฎู’ู„ูŽุงู‚ู

The Sharia in its entirety only createsย noble morals.

Source:ย al-Muwฤfaqฤt 2/124

The companions understood that ethics is a science distinguished but integral to other Islamic sciences. They encouraged their students and the Muslims as a whole to seek knowledge while at the same time learning good character and manners.

โ€˜Imran ibn Muslim reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

ุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ููˆุง ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ูŽ ูˆูŽุนูŽู„ูู‘ู…ููˆู‡ู ุงู„ู†ูŽู‘ุงุณูŽ ูˆูŽุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ููˆุง ู„ูŽู‡ู ุงู„ู’ูˆูŽู‚ูŽุงุฑูŽ ูˆูŽุงู„ุณูŽู‘ูƒููŠู†ูŽุฉูŽ ูˆูŽุชูŽูˆูŽุงุถูŽุนููˆุง ู„ูู…ูŽู†ู’ ูŠูุนูŽู„ูู‘ู…ููƒูู…ู’ ุนูู†ู’ุฏูŽ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ูˆูŽุชูŽูˆูŽุงุถูŽุนููˆุง ู„ูู…ูŽู†ู’ ุชูุนูŽู„ูู‘ู…ููˆู‡ู ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ูŽ ูˆูŽู„ุง ุชูŽูƒููˆู†ููˆุง ุฌูŽุจูŽุงุจูุฑูŽุฉูŽ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ูŽู…ูŽุงุกู ููŽู„ุง ูŠูŽู‚ููˆู…ู ุนูู„ู’ู…ููƒูู…ู’ ุจูุฌูŽู‡ู’ู„ููƒูู…ู’

Acquire knowledge and teach people. Learn along with it dignity and tranquility and humility for those who teach you and humility for those whom you teach. Do not be tyrannical scholars and thus base your knowledge upon your ignorance.

Source: Shuโ€™b al-Imฤn 1650, Grade:ย Sahih

Good character and manners is not something that comes without effort. Just as we study large books of commentary on the Quran and Sunnah, likewise we need to study ethics and etiquette.

Rajaโ€™ ibn Haywah reported: Abu Darda, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

ุฅูู†ูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ุจูุงู„ุชูŽู‘ุนูŽู„ูู‘ู…ู ูˆูŽุฅูู†ูŽู‘ู…ูŽุง ุงู„ู’ุญูู„ู’ู…ู ุจูุงู„ุชูŽู‘ุญูŽู„ูู‘ู…ู

Verily, knowledge only comes by learning and forbearance only comes by cultivating forbearance.

Source: Rawแธat al-สปUqalฤ 100, Grade:ย Sahih

Character and manners are actually two side of the same coin, two aspects of single ethical reality. Character (al-akhlaq) are the qualities that reside in the heart, and manners (al-adab) are the outward behavior that people manifest. In other words, good manners is the result of good character.

As such, we need to learn about the methods of achieving a pure heart and the social behavior that should follow it.

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

ูˆูŽุญูŽู‚ููŠู‚ูŽุฉู ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฏูŽุจู ุงุณู’ุชูุนู’ู…ูŽุงู„ู ุงู„ู’ุฎูู„ูู‚ู ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽู…ููŠู„ู ูˆูŽู„ูู‡ูŽุฐูŽุง ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฏูŽุจู ุงุณู’ุชูุฎู’ุฑูŽุงุฌูŽ ู…ูŽุง ูููŠ ุงู„ุทูŽู‘ุจููŠุนูŽุฉู ู…ูู†ูŽ ุงู„ู’ูƒูŽู…ูŽุงู„ู ู…ูู†ูŽ ุงู„ู’ู‚ููˆูŽู‘ุฉู ุฅูู„ูŽู‰ ุงู„ู’ููุนู’ู„ู

The reality of manners is that it results from beautiful character. Thus, manners is the externalization of the integrity and strength in oneโ€™s inward disposition into action.

Source:ย Madฤrij al-Sฤlikฤซn 2/361

Since ethics has such an important place in Islam, it should be our top concern after learning the basics of Islamic beliefs and worship. It was the practice of the righteous predecessors (al-salaf al-salihin) to focus on acquiring good character and manners before seriously approaching the advanced fields of Islamic knowledge related to Quranic exegesis (al-tafsir), the Sunnah (al-hadith), creed (al-โ€˜aqidah), law (al-fiqh), biography (al-sirah), history (al-tarikh), leadership (al-imamah), and other subjects.

Malik ibn Anas, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

ุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ู ุงู„ุฃูŽุฏูŽุจูŽ ู‚ูŽุจู’ู„ูŽ ุฃูŽู†ู’ ุชูŽุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ูŽ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ูŽ

Learn good manners before seeking knowledge.

Source:ย Gharฤสผib Mฤlik ibn Anas 45

And Malik said:

ูƒุงู†ุช ุฃู…ูŠ ุชุนู…ู…ู†ูŠ ูˆุชู‚ูˆู„ ู„ูŠ ุงุฐู‡ุจ ุฅู„ู‰ ุฑุจูŠุนุฉ ูุชุนู„ู… ู…ู† ุฃุฏุจู‡ ู‚ุจู„ ุนู„ู…ู‡

My mother would dress me up and say to me: Go to Sheikh Rabiโ€™ah and learn from his manners before his knowledge.

Source:ย Tartฤซb al-Madฤrik 1/130

Ibn al-Mubarak, may Allah have mercy on him, said to the people of hadฤซth:

ุฃู†ุชู… ุฅูู„ูŽู‰ ู‚ูŽู„ููŠู„ู ู…ูู†ูŽ ุงู„ู’ุฃูŽุฏูŽุจู ุฃูŽุญู’ูˆูŽุฌู ู…ู†ูƒู… ุฅูู„ูŽู‰ ูƒูŽุซููŠุฑู ู…ูู†ูŽ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู

You are in greater need of a little manners than a great deal of knowledge.

Source:ย Tฤrฤซkh Dimashq 32918

And he said:

ุทู„ุจุช ุงู„ุฃุฏุจ ุซู„ุงุซูŠู† ุณู†ุฉ ูˆุทู„ุจุช ุงู„ุนู„ู… ุนุดุฑูŠู† ุณู†ุฉ ูˆูƒุงู†ูˆุง ูŠุทู„ุจูˆู† ุงู„ุฃุฏุจ ุซู… ุงู„ุนู„ู…

I sought manners for thirty years and I sought knowledge for twenty years. The righteous predecessors would seek manners and then seek knowledge.

Source:ย Ghฤyat al-Nihฤyah 1/446

Sufyan al-Thawri, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

ูƒูŽุงู†ูŽ ุงู„ุฑูŽู‘ุฌูู„ู ุฅูุฐูŽุง ุฃูŽุฑูŽุงุฏูŽ ุฃูŽู†ู’ ูŠูŽูƒู’ุชูุจูŽ ุงู„ู’ุญูŽุฏููŠุซูŽ ุชูŽุฃูŽุฏูŽู‘ุจูŽ ูˆูŽุชูŽุนูŽุจูŽู‘ุฏูŽ ู‚ูŽุจู’ู„ูŽ ุฐูŽู„ููƒูŽ ุจูุนูุดู’ุฑููŠู†ูŽ ุณูŽู†ูŽุฉู‹

If a man intended to write the hadฤซth, he would study good manners and worship for twenty years before doing so.

Source:ย Hilyat al-Awliyฤ 361

Al-Layth ibn Saโ€™d, may Allah have mercy on him, said to the people of Hadith:

ุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ููˆุง ุงู„ู’ุญูู„ู’ู…ูŽ ู‚ูŽุจู’ู„ูŽ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู

Learn forbearance before seeking knowledge.

Source:ย Jฤmiโ€™ Bayฤn al-โ€˜Ilm 581

In fact, the righteous predecessors would learn more from a scholarโ€™s manners than they would from his knowledge.

Al-Zuhri, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

ูƒูู†ูŽู‘ุง ู†ูŽุฃู’ุชููŠ ุงู„ู’ุนูŽุงู„ูู…ูŽ ููŽู…ูŽุง ู†ูŽุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ู ู…ูู†ู’ ุฃูŽุฏูŽุจูู‡ู ุฃูŽุญูŽุจูู‘ ุฅูู„ูŽูŠู’ู†ูŽุง ู…ูู†ู’ ุนูู„ู’ู…ูู‡ู

We would come to a scholar and what we learned from his manners was more beloved to us than his knowledge.

Source:ย Hilyat al-Awliyฤ 4575

Ibn Wahb, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

ู…ูŽุง ุชูŽุนูŽู„ูŽู‘ู…ู’ุชู ู…ูู†ู’ ุฃูŽุฏูŽุจู ู…ูŽุงู„ููƒู ุฃูŽูู’ุถูŽู„ูŽ ู…ูู†ู’ ุนูู„ู’ู…ูู‡ู

What I learned from the manners of Malik was better than his knowledge.

Source:ย Jฤmiโ€™ Bayฤn al-โ€˜Ilm 581

Failure to understand the importance of ethics and its status among the fields of knowledge is causing much misguidance among Muslims today. The reason is that the advanced Islamic sciences contain complicated details related to creed, sects, differences of opinion, and confusing issues that most people do not know about it.

Only those who are strongly grounded in Islamic ethics are able to approach these issues in the best way, without causing confusion among the masses or indulging in fruitless arguments. In contrast, many young people learn a little bit of advanced knowledge, without its requisite manners, and thus they engage in sectarianism and transgression against other Muslims.

The Prophet (แนฃ) and righteous scholars warned us that bitter and self-righteous debates in the religion are one of the main causes that lead people astray and foment hatred.

Abu Umamah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

ู…ูŽุง ุถูŽู„ูŽู‘ ู‚ูŽูˆู’ู…ูŒ ุจูŽุนู’ุฏูŽ ู‡ูุฏู‹ู‰ ูƒูŽุงู†ููˆุง ุนูŽู„ูŽูŠู’ู‡ู ุฅูู„ูŽู‘ุง ุฃููˆุชููˆุง ุงู„ู’ุฌูŽุฏูŽู„ูŽ

No people go astray after being guided except that they indulge in arguments.

Then, the Prophet (แนฃ) recited the verse:

ู…ูŽุง ุถูŽุฑูŽุจููˆู‡ู ู„ูŽูƒูŽ ุฅูู„ูŽู‘ุง ุฌูŽุฏูŽู„ู‹ุง ุจูŽู„ู’ ู‡ูู…ู’ ู‚ูŽูˆู’ู…ูŒ ุฎูŽุตูู…ููˆู†ูŽ

They strike an example for you only to argue. Rather, they are a quarrelsome people.ย (43:58)

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhฤซ 3253, Grade:ย Sahih

Malik ibn Anas, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

ุงู„ู’ู…ูุฑูŽุงุกู ูˆูŽุงู„ู’ุฌูุฏูŽุงู„ู ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ูŠูŽุฐู’ู‡ูŽุจู ุจูู†ููˆุฑู ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ู…ูู†ู’ ู‚ูŽู„ู’ุจู ุงู„ุฑูŽู‘ุฌูู„ู

Disputation and arguments about sacred knowledge cause the light of knowledge to extinguish in a manโ€™s heart.

And he said:

ุงู„ู’ู…ูุฑูŽุงุกู ูููŠ ุงู„ู’ุนูู„ู’ู…ู ูŠูู‚ูŽุณูู‘ูŠ ุงู„ู’ู‚ูŽู„ู’ุจูŽ ูˆูŽูŠูุคูŽุซูู‘ุฑู ุงู„ุถูŽู‘ุบู’ู†ูŽ

Disputation about sacred knowledge causes the heart to harden and results in hatred.

Source: Jฤmiโ€™ al-โ€˜Ulลซm wal-แธคikam 1/248

The solution is to return to the ethical knowledge in the Quran and Sunnah as the primary Islamic science. The purpose of everything that we learn in Islam is to make us better people, better servants of Allah and better companions to humanity at large. When we understand this, we will be able to confront modern problems and complicated issues without descending into misguidance and hatred.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.