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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 8: Character Building

Chapter 8:
Character Building:

One of the earliest works to which the Prophet applied himself was the building up of character. His heart ailed, as we have already seen, for the physical ills of humanity; the slave, the widow, the orphan, the needy, the one in distress, the oppressed and the wronged, had a very high place in his heart, and he would do what he could to help them and to make others feel for them as he himself felt. But moral considerations had a still higher place in his programme of reformation, and long before he introduced any reforms in regard to social relations, sex problems and state polity, he was engaged in the moral uplift of man. All wrongs had to be redressed, later on, by means of laws and regulations, but he was aware that even good laws could benefit humanity only when they were worked out by men standing on a high moral plane. It was, therefore, at Mecca and in very early days that, while introducing the high ideals of One God and One Humanity and applying himself to lead men to prayer and charity, he was equally devoted to raising men to a very high moral level.

The Prophet was recognised by friend and foe as the most truthful of men. When Abu Bakr was told that his friend Muhammad claimed to have received revelation from on High, he remarked that he must be true in his claim because a man who had never uttered a falsehood against men could not utter a falsehood against God. It was in the very early days of his mission, when he received the commandment to warn his "nearest relatives," (26:214) that he called out all the different families of the Quraish, now his opponents, at Mount Safa; and when they had all gathered together, he asked them if they would believe him if he told them that a mighty army was lying in wait at the back of the hill to attack them. They all replied with one voice:

Yes, we would; we have never known anything but truth from thee. (Bukhari, 65--26:2)

On another occasion, his chief opponents gathered together to come to an agreed decision as to what was wrong with the Prophet. All kinds of questions were freely asked and answered. Was he a soothsayer? Was he a dreamer? Was he a poet? Was he a liar? And the answer to this last question was unanimous: "We have never known him tell a lie."

Still later, when opposition was at its highest and the Quraish were at war with the Prophet, Heraclius called Abu Sufyan, the Quraish leader of opposition, who was then in Syria for trading purposes, and asked him several questions regarding the Prophet. One of these questions was:

Did you ever blame him for telling a lie before he said that he was a Prophet?

Abu Sufyan's reply was, "No." (Ibid., 1:1)

Himself so eminently truthful -- and it was in fact on account of his truthfulness that he was called al-Amin (the Faithful one) by his compatriots -- he laid stress on truth as the basis of a high character:

Surely truth leads to virtue, and virtue leads to paradise, and a man continues to speak the truth until he becomes thoroughly truthful; and surely falsehood leads to vice and vice leads to the fire, and a man continues to tell lies until he is written down a great liar with Allah. (Ibid., 78:69)

He laid the basis of a society in which everyone was required to enjoin truth upon those with whom he came in contact, and to undergo every kind of suffering for the sake of truth:

Surely man is in a state of loss, Save those who believe and do good works, And exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance. (103: 2,3 )

Ja'far, describing the Prophet's teachings before the Negus, said:

God raised a Prophet for our reformation ... He called us to the worship of God ... He enjoined us to speak the truth, to make good our trusts, to respect ties of kinship and to do good to our neighbours.

With truth, falsehood could be challenged and vanquished:

Nay, We cast the truth against the falsehood so that it breaks its head, and lo! it vanishes. (21:18)

The truth has come and falsehood is a vanishing thing. (17:81)

Truth was to be adhered to at all costs, even if it went against one's own interests or the interests of one's friends and relatives:

O you who believe! Be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness for Allah's sake, though it be against your own selves or your parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is most competent to deal with both; do not follow your low desires lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, Allah is surely Aware of what you do. (4:135)

The principle of truth was not to be deviated from, even if it went in favour of an enemy:

O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and fulfil your duty to Allah; Allah is aware of what you do. (5:8)

And even if one was called upon to speak truth in the face of a tyrant, he must do it:

The most excellent jihad is the uttering of truth in the presence of an unjust ruler. (Mishkat, 17)

Only truth shall benefit in the final judgement:

This is the day when their truth shall benefit the truthful ones; they shall have gardens beneath which rivers flow to abide in them forever. Allah is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Allah; this is the mighty achievement. (5:119)

The Prophet enjoys the distinction that he made people walk in the ways which he pointed out. The quality of truthfulness was so ingrained in the hearts of his followers that they not only loved truth but underwent the severest hardships for the sake of truth. When about two centuries later, the critics laid down certain canons to judge the truthfulness of the transmitters of the Hadith, they all agreed on one point, that no Companion of the Prophet had ever uttered a deliberate falsehood. In fact, one of the lastest revelations of the Holy Quran itself bears evidence to this:

Allah has endeared the faith to you and has made it beautiful to your hearts, and He has made unbelief and transgression and disobedience hateful to you. (49:7)

Faith includes all virtues taught by the Prophet, and truthfulness was one of the most prominent of these. Earlier, when the Prophet's Companions were fleeing to Medina to escape the persecutions of the Quraish at Mecca, the Quran bore testimony to their truthfulness in the following words:

And they who do not bear witness to what is false, and when they pass by what is vain, they pass by nobly. (25:72)

Perseverance was another characteristic which shone prominently in the life of the Prophet. Persecuted on all sides, suffering the severest hardships, with no apparent prospects of success, he stood adamant when threatened with death. "Uncle," he said, addressing Abu Talib who had hitherto stood between him and the Quraish, but who now wavered, saying that the responsibility was becoming too heavy for him, "Should they place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left in order to make me renounce this mission, I would not do it. I will never give it up until it shall please Allah to make it triumph or I perish in the attempt."

Later, when temptations were offered, headship of the state, wealth and beauty, he spurned these and stood as firm as a mountain in the cause of the great reform to which he had set himself. Hemmed in narrowly for three years, he suffered all privations, but his faith was still as unshaken as ever. At the flight to Medina, hidden in the cave with a search party at its very mouth when a mere glance into the cave would have been sufficient to end his life, he still consoled his single Companion, Abu Bakr, with the words: "Do not grieve, Allah is surely with us." (9:40)

Next to truth, the Prophet laid stress on the quality of perseverance. These two qualities are combined in a short chapter which I have already quoted, ch. 103 of the Holy Quran: "They exhort one another to truth and they exhort one another to endurance."

Perseverance in the cause of truth brought down angels from heaven to console a man:

Those who say, Our Lord is Allah, then remain firm on the right way, the angels descend upon them, saying, Fear not, nor be grieved, and receive good news of the garden which you were promised:

We are your guardians in this world's life and in the Hereafter, and you shall have therein what your souls desire and you shall have therein what you ask for. (41:30,31)

It is the state of mind of the Companions that is depicted in the following words:

And what reason have we that we should not rely on Allah, and He has indeed guided us in our ways? And we would bear with patience your persecution of us; and on Allah should the reliant rely. (14:12)

Patience and perseverance were inculcated again and again in the early revelations as well as in the later ones:

To this then go on inviting, and go steadfastly in the right way as thou art commanded, and do not follow their low desires; and say, I believe in what Allah has revealed of the Book and I am commanded to do justice between you. (42:15)

Continue then in the right way as thou art commanded, as also he who has turned (to God) with thee ... And do not incline to those who are unjust, lest the fire touch you. (11:112, 113)

Patience and prayer are stated to be the two doors through which Divine help comes:

O you who believe! Seek assistance through patience and prayer for Allah is with the patient. (2:153)

Be patient, surely the good end is for the righteous. (11:49)

O you who believe! Be patient and vie with one another in endurance and remain steadfast, and fulfil your duty to Allah that you may be successful. (3:200)

The persecution which the Prophet's Companions had to undergo, combined with the faith that their sufferings were in the cause of truth, developed the quality of perseverance in them to such a high degree that they considered no difficulty insurmountable.

Courage was another great quality on which stress was laid. The heart in which there was fear of God could not entertain fear of others than God, and this made the Muslims fearless in the face of the severest opposition:

Those to whom the people said, Men have gathered against you, so fear them; but this increased their faith and they said, Allah is Sufficient for us and most excellent is the Protector. So they returned with favour from Allah and His grace; no evil touched them and they followed Allah's pleasure, and Allah is the Lord of mighty grace. It is only the devil that causes you to fear from his friends, so do not fear them, and fear Me if you are believers. (3:173-175)

Fear not; surely I am with you: I do hear and see. (20:46)

And I do not fear in any way those you set up with Him . . . And how should I fear what you have set up with Him while you do not fear that you have set up with Allah that for which He has not sent down any authority to you. (6:80, 81)

Those who deliver the messages of Allah and fear Him and do not fear any one but Allah; and Allah is sufficient to take account. (33:39)

Those who say, Our Lord is Allah, then continue on the right way, they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. (46:13)

Now surely the friends of Allah, they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. (10:62)

It was on account of their fearlessness and great moral courage that even without the weapons which the enemy possessed, they were told to fight double their numbers:

If there are a hundred patient ones of you, they shall overcome two hundred, and if there are a thousand they shall overcome two thousand by Allah's permission, and Allah is with the patient. (8:66)

But when they grew stronger in arms and as well-equipped as the enemy, they could fight ten times their number:

If there are twenty patient ones of you, they shall overcome two hundred, and if there are a hundred of you they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve. (8:65)

Actually the Muslims fought against three times their number on the field of Badr, against four times their number on the field of Uhud, and against ten times their number in the battle of the Allies, and they won the battle on all these occasions. And in the battles which they had to fight against Persia and the Roman Empire, their numbers bore no comparison with the enemy forces, and they were almost always victorious. The courage which they showed on the battle-fields was in fact due to their faith.

But while facing so boldly all opposition to the cause of truth, they were also required to develop the quality of humility:

And do not go about in the land exultingly, for thou canst not cut through the earth, nor reach the mountains in height. All this -- the evil of it is hateful in the sight of thy Lord. (17:37, 38)

And do not turn thy face away from people in contempt, nor go about in the land exulting overmuch; surely Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster. And pursue the right course in thy going about and lower thy voice. (31:18, 19)

Thus does Allah set a seal over the heart of every proud, haughty one. (40:35)

Surely He does not love the proud. (16:23)

And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones. (2:45)

Humility became, in fact, deeply rooted in their hearts by the five daily prayers when all, standing on terms of perfect equality bowed down before their Lord and prostrated themselves as one body. The Prophet's own example was a beaconlight to them in this respect. In his dealings with others he never placed himself on a higher pedestal. He was their spiritual guide and their ruler, but he was just one of them, being true to his picture as portrayed in the Holy Quran: "I am only a mortal like you." Out in the wood with his Companions the time came for the preparation of food. Everybody was allotted a piece of work, and the spiritual and temporal overlord of all undertook the picking up of fuel. He would never scold a servant for doing a thing or for not doing a thing. A Jew to whom he owed some money addressed him very harshly and rudely while he was sitting with his Companions: "You Banu Hashim, never pay back when you once get something out of another." Instead of being offended with him, he paid him more than his due.

Selflessness was another great quality with which the Prophet armed his followers to fight the battle of life. God's pleasure was to be the only motive of one's actions, not one's gain or loss:

And no one has with him any boon for which he should be rewarded, except the seeking of the pleasure of his Lord, the most High. (92:19, 20)

Say, My prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. (6:162)

And hear and obey and spend, ... And whoever is saved from the greediness of his soul, these it is that are the successful. (64:16)

They prefer others before themselves though poverty may afflict them, and whoever is preserved from the niggardliness of his soul, these it is that are the successful ones. (59:9)

And among men is he who sells himself away to seek the pleasure of Allah, and Allah is Affectionate to His servants. (2:207)

Great stress was laid on faithfulness to agreements and trusts:

And those who are keepers of their trusts and their covenant. (23:8; 70:32)

And fulfil the promise, for every promise shall be called in question. (17:34)

O you who believe! Fulfil the obligations. (5:1)

And fulfil the covenant of Allah when you have made a covenant, and do not break the oaths after making them fast, and you have indeed made Allah a surety for you. (16:91)

Nations are particularly enjoined to fulfil their agreements, because they it is who, intoxicated with power, treat agreements as scraps of paper:

And be not like her who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces after she has spun it strongly. You make your oaths to be means of deceit between you because one nation is more numerous than another nation. (16:92)

True to the spirit of these teachings, the Prophet and his followers stood firmly by their agreements under the most trying circumstances. There is not a single instance on record in which they broke their agreement with any other nation. A very critical situation arose under the truce of Hudaibiya. The agreement had just been signed, when Abu Jandal, a refugee from Mecca, appeared on the scene. He was a convert to Islam and had, on this account, been severely persecuted at Mecca. He showed the scars of his tortures to the Muslims. Under the conditions of the agreement, the Muslims could not give him shelter. The Prophet was moved and tried to secure an exception to the rigorous condition, but the other party did not agree to this, and Abu Jandal had to be sent back to his persecutors to be dealt with as they liked.

In the time of 'Umar, the Muslim general, Abu `Ubaida, was obliged to evacuate the occupied territory of Hims, which the enemy was now going to occupy; and he ordered that the tax received from the people as a condition for their protection should be paid back to them because the Muslims could not afford them protection any longer. Another example of such scrupulous regard for agreements can hardly be met with elsewhere.

One of the evils to which man falls a prey easily is sexual indulgence. The Prophet's own chastity is testified by his severest critics. Muir's remarks have already been quoted. And chastity was one of the rare virtues on which he laid great stress. Fornication was pointed out to be one of the three heinous sins:

And they who do not call upon another god with Allah, and do not slay the soul which Allah has forbidden except in the requirements of justice, and who do not commit fornication. (25:68)

One was to keep at a safe distance from fornication:

And go not nigh to fornication; surely it is an indecency and evil is the way. (17:32)

He further pointed out the ways by walking in which a man could guard against falling into this evil. He directed both sexes to keep their looks cast down when in the presence of each other:

Say to the believing men that they cast down their looks and guard their chastity; that is purer for them; Allah is Aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their chastity. (24:30, 31)

But women were further required not to make a display of their beauty or ornaments:

And do not display their ornaments, except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms. (24:31)

Thus in the case of women it was deemed necessary that they should keep covered all parts of the body excepting the face and the hands which it was customary and natural to uncover. Those who could not find the means to marry were required to adopt other methods of keeping their passions in control:

And let those who do not find the means to marry keep chaste until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace. (24:33)

The quality of sincerity was to be developed by being first sincere in obedience to God:

And they are not enjoined anything except that they should serve Allah, being sincere to Him, upright. (98:5)

Serve Allah, being sincere to Him in obedience; now surely sincere obedience is due to Allah alone. (39:2, 3)

Hypocrisy was condemned in the severest terms:

Surely the hypocrites are in the lowest stage of the fire, and thou shalt not find a helper for them. (4:145)

They were on that day much nearer to unbelief than to belief. They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts. (3:167)

All qualities which make man stand on a high moral plane were inculcated one after another. Thankfulness was one of them:

And when your Lord made it known, if you are thankful I will certainly give you more; and if you are ungrateful, My chastisement is truly severe. (14:7)

Eat of the good things We have provided you with, and give thanks to Allah if He it is that you serve. (2:172)

If you are ungrateful, then surely Allah is Self-sufficient, above all need of you, and He does not like ungratefulness in His servants; and if you are grateful, He likes it in you. (39:7)

One was required to be grateful to men as well. The Prophet said:

Whoever is not thankful to men is not thankful to Allah.

Thankfulness to men meant repaying their kindness:

Is the reward of goodness aught but goodness. (55:60) 

Social virtues were taught and evils which arise from ease and comfort were denounced: 

O you who believe! Let not one people deride another people, perchance they may be better than they; nor let women deride other women, perchance they may be better than they; and do not find fault with your people, nor call one another by nicknames; evil is a bad name after faith; and whoever does not turn (to the right course), these it is that are the unjust.

O you who believe! Avoid most of suspicion, for suspicion in some cases is a sin; and do not spy, nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You abhor it. (49:11, 12)

The high morals depicted in the Holy Quran were the morals of the Prophet, and it was in this shape that he wanted to mould the character of his followers. Even a cursory glance at the lives of his first four successors, Abu Bakr, 'Umar, `Uthman and `Ali, men who were the rulers of a vast empire, would show that the Prophet achieved a mighty success in this respect. I may quote only one description of the high moral plane on which the Prophet's Companions stood:

And the servants of the Beneficent God are they who walk on the earth in humbleness, and when the ignorant address them, they say, Peace.

And they who pass the night prostrating themselves before their Lord and standing.

And they who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, and keep between these the just mean.

And they who do not call upon another god with Allah and do not slay the soul which Allah has forbidden except in the requirements of justice and who do not commit fornication


And they who do not bear witness to what is false, and when they pass by what is vain, they pass by nobly.

And they who, when reminded of the communications of their Lord do not fall down thereat, deaf and blind.

And they who say, Our Lord! Grant us in our wives and our offspring the joy of our eyes, and make us a guide for the righteous.

They shall be rewarded with high places because they were patient, and shall be offered therein greetings and salutations. (25:63-75)


Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 8: Character Building


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