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Wednesday, June 04, 2003  

An Exposition of the True Nature of Good and Bad Character Know that people have discoursed upon the true nature of good character, and upon what it constitutes, but have in fact treated only the fruit which it bears, and not its reality. They have not even grasped the entirety of its fruit, of which everyone has mentioned that which occurred to him and came to his mind; never have they directed their attention towards providing a definition for it or a discussion of its nature which takes all of its fruits into account in a detailed and comprehensive fashion. There is, for example, the saying of al-Hasan that 'Good character is a cheerful face, magnanimity, and doing no harm'. And al-Wasiti has said, 'It is that one should not argue with anyone or be argued with by anyone, because of one's firm knowledge of God (Exalted is He!)'. Shah al-Kirmani said, 'It is to do no harm, and to endure harm instead'. Someone said, 'It is that one should be friendly to people but remain a stranger in their midst'. Al-Wasiti once said, 'It is to please people secretly and in public'. Said Abu 'Uthman, 'It is to be content [rida] with [the will of] God'. When Sahl al-Tustari was asked about [good] character, he replied, 'Its least degree is tolerance, seeking no reward, compassion and piety for the wrongdoer, and asking God's pardon for him'. And he once said, 'It is that you do not direct accusations at your Lord concerning your sustenance, and that you trust in Him, being confident that He shall provide that which He has guaranteed you. It is that you obey Him and do not transgress against Him in any of your affairs, both in that which is between you and Him, and that which takes place between you and mankind'. And 'Ali (may God ennoble his face) said, 'Good character consists in three traits: avoiding that which is forbidden, seeking that which is permitted, and being generous to one's family'. Said al-Husayn ibn Mansur [al-Hallaj], 'It is that you should be unaffected by the harshness of mankind after having beheld the Truth'. Said Abu Sa'id al-Kharraz, 'It is that you should have no concern [himma] but for God'. There are many statements of this nature, but they all treat of the fruit of good character, not its essence; neither do they succeed even in encompassing all of these fruits. Since to unveil its true nature is more important than to cite various sayings on the matter, we shall proceed with our discourse as follows. 'Creation' [khalq] and 'character' [khuluq] are two expressions which may be used together. We say, for example, that 'So-and-so is good in his creation and in his character', meaning that both his outward and inward aspects are good. 'Creation' refers to the external, and 'character' to the internal, form. Now, man is composed of a body which perceives with ocular vision [basar], and a spirit [ruh] and a soul [nafs] which perceive with inner sight [basira]. Each of these things has an aspect and a form which is either ugly or beautiful. Furthermore, the soul which perceives with inner sight is of greater worth than the body which sees with ocular vision, which is why God has stresses its importance by ascribing it to Himself in His statement, I shall create a man from clay; and when I have fashioned him, and have breathed into him something of My spirit, then fall ye down before him in prostration! (Qur'an, 38:71). In this text He states that the body is ascribed to clay, but that the spirit is ascribed to the Lord of the Worlds; 'spirit' and 'soul' in this context referring to the selfsame thing. A trait of character, then, is a firmly established condition [hay'a] of the soul, from which actions proceed easily without any need for thinking or forethought. If this condition is disposed towards the production of beautiful and praiseworthy deeds, as these are acknowledged by the Law [al-shar'] and the intellect, it is termed a 'good character trait'; if, however, ugly acts proceed from it, the condition is known as a 'bad character trait'. We describe this condition as 'firmly established' [rasikha] because the character of a man who gives some of his wealth rarely and under transient circumstances cannot be described as generous, since this attribute has not become firmly established and fixed in his soul: as we specified, such acts must proceed from a man easily and without thinking, since the man who, with forethought and an effort, makes a show of generosity or remaining silent when angry is not to be called generous, or mild of character. Four things are thus involved. Firstly, there is the doing of something beautiful or ugly; secondly, the ability to act; thirdly, cognition of the act; and fourthly, a condition of the soul by which it inclines to one side or the other, and which renders the beautiful or the ugly thing easy to do. Therefore, character is not the same as action: there are many people of generous character who do not make donations from their wealth, either because they have none, or by reason of some other obstacle, just as there are people whose character is avaricious but who distribute their wealth for some motive or other, or out of ostentation and in the interests of their reputation. Neither is it the same as ability, since this does not differ whether it is ascribed to withholding or giving, or to the two opposite traits: every man has been created to be by disposition [fitra] capable of withholding and giving, yet this does not necessarily bring about an avaricious or a generous character. Nor yet is it the same as one's cognition of the act, for cognition pertains to the beautiful and the ugly in the same way. Instead it is to be identified with the fourth sense, namely, the condition through which the soul prepares itself for the issuing of 'giving' or 'withholding'. Character, therefore, is a term for the condition and inner aspect of the soul. Just as one's external appearance can never be beautiful when the eyes are beautiful but not the nose, the mouth and the cheek - for all [the features] must be beautiful if one's outward aspect is to be beautiful also - so too there exist things, four in number, which must all be beautiful if one is to be possessed of a beautiful character, which will obtain when these four things are settled, balanced, and in the correct proportion to each other. These are the rational faculty, the irascible faculty, the appetitive faculty, and the faculty which effects a just equilibrium between these three things. The rational faculty is sound and good when it is easily able to discriminate, that is, to distinguish honesty from lies in speech, truth from falsehood in questions of belief, and beauty from ugliness in actions. When this faculty is sound it bears fruit in the form of Wisdom [hikma], which is the chief of the good traits of character, and regarding which God has said, And whosoever is granted wisdom has truly been granted abundant good, (Qur'an, 2:269). Regarding the irascible faculty, this is sound when its movements lie within the bounds required by Wisdom. Likewise, the appetitive faculty is sound and good when it is under the command of Wisdom, by which I mean the command of the Law and the intellect. As for the faculty to effect a just equilibrium, it is this which sets desire and anger under the command of the intellect and the Law. For the intellect has the status of a guiding counsellor, while the faculty for just equilibrium is the [actualising] power, and has the status of something which carries out its orders. The same command is carried out by the irascible faculty, which is like a hunting dog which needs to be trained before its unleashing and restraint can conform to orders rather than to the outbursts of the soul's desire. In turn, desire is like a horse which one rides during the chase, and which is sometimes tractable and well-disciplined, and sometimes endeavours to bolt. Therefore, the man in whom these characteristics are sound and balanced is possessed of a good character under all circumstances. The man in whom some of them are balanced and not others is good of character in respect of his balanced traits alone, in the manner of a man only some of whose facial features are handsome. The irascible faculty, when sound and balanced, is called 'Courage' [shuja'a]; similarly, the appetitive faculty, when sound and balanced, is known as 'Temperance' ['iffa]. Should the former faculty lose its balance and incline towards excess it is called 'recklessness' [tahawwur], while should it incline towards weakness and insufficiency it is termed 'cowardice' [jubn] and 'languor' [khur]. Should the appetitive faculty move to the point of excess it is called 'cupidity' [sharah], while if it should incline to defect it is known as 'indifference' [jumud]. The mean is the praiseworthy thing, and it is this which constitutes virtue, while the two extremes are blameworthy vices. The faculty for just equilibrium, however, when in disorder, has no extremes of excess and defect; rather it has one opposite, which is tyranny [jur]. As for Wisdom, exceeding the bounds in its regard by using it for corrupt ends is called 'swindling' and 'fraud', while its insufficient application is termed 'stupidity' [balah]. Again, it is the mean to which the word 'Wisdom' is applied. Therefore the fundamental good traits of character are four in number: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice. By 'Wisdom' we mean a condition of the soul by which it distinguishes true from false in all volitional acts, by 'Justice' a condition and potency in the soul by which it controls the expansion and contraction of anger and desire as directed by Wisdom. By 'Courage' we refer to the subjection of the irascible faculty to the intellect, while by 'Temperance' we have in mind the disciplining of the appetitive faculty by the intellect and the Law. It is from the equilibrium of these four principles that all the good traits of character proceed, since when the intellect is balanced it will bring forth discretion [husn al-tadbir] and excellence of discernment [jawdat al-dhihn], penetration of thought [thaqabat al-ra'y] and correctness of conjecture [isabat al-zann], and an understanding of the subtle implications of actions and the hidden defects of the soul. When unbalanced in the direction of excess, then cunning, swindling, deception and slyness result, and when in that of defect, then stupidity [balah], inexperience [ghimara], foolishness [hamq], heedlessness and insanity are the consequences. By inexperience I mean an insufficient experience which is nonetheless combined with sound understanding: a man may be inexperienced in one matter and not in another. The difference between stupidity and insanity is that the intention of the stupid man is sound, only his means of realising it are defective, since he is not possessed of a correct understanding of how to follow the way leading to his goal; the madman, on the other hand, chooses that which should not be chosen, so that the basis of his decisions and preferences is flawed. As for the trait of Courage, this gives rise to nobility [karam], intrepidity [najda], manliness [shahama], greatness of soul, endurance [ihtimal], clemency [hilm], steadfastness [thabat], the suppression of rage [kazm al-ghayz], dignity [waqar], affection and other such praiseworthy qualities. When unbalanced on the side of excess, which is recklessness, it leads to arrogance [salaf], conceit [badhkh], quickness to anger [istishata], pride [takabbur] and vainglory ['ujb], and when on the side of defect, to ignominy [mahana], self-abasement [dhilla], cowardice [jaza'], meanness [khasasa], lack of resolution [sighar al-nafs], and holding oneself back from doing that which is right and obligatory. As for the quality of Temperance, this gives rise to generosity [sakha'], modesty [haya'], patience [sabr], tolerance [musamaha], contentedness with one's lot [qina'a], scrupulousness, wit, helping others [musa'ada], cheerfulness [zarf] and absence of craving [qillat al-tama']. When it deviates towards excess or defect, greed [hirs], cupidity [sharah] and obscenity [waqaha] result, as do spite [khubth], extravagance [tabdhir], stinginess [taqsir], ostentation [riya'], immorality [hutka], obscenity [majana], triviality ['abath], flattery [malq], envy [hasad], malice [shamata], self-abasement before the rich, disdain for the poor, and so forth. The fundamental noble traits of character are therefore these four virtues, namely Wisdom, Courage, Temperance and Justice; and all the other traits constitute branches of these things. A perfectly just equilibrium in these four has been attained by none but the Emissary of God (may God bless him and grant him peace); other people are of divergent degrees of proximity and distance from them. Thus a man is close to God (Exalted is He!) in proportion to his closeness to His Emissary (may God bless him and grant him peace). He who combines within himself all of these traits is worthy to be a powerful king among men whom all creatures submit to and follow in all their deeds. In like wise, he who is divested of all these qualities and acquires their opposites deserves to be exiled from all lands and all peoples, for he has become close to the accursed and banished devil, and should be banished even as he was banished, just as the former is close to the king, who is close [to God], and who should therefore be emulated and drawn close to. For the Emissary of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) was 'sent only to perfect the noble qualities of character', as he himself said. The Qur'an has referred to these qualities when describing the moral qualities of the believers: God (Exalted is He!) has said, The believers are only those who have faith in God and His Emissary, and do not then doubt, and who strive with their wealth and their selves in the path of God. Such are the sincere, (Qur'an, 49:15) Therefore, faith in God and His Emissary which is free from doubt is powerful certainty, which is the fruit of the intellect and the utmost limit of Wisdom. Striving with one's wealth is generosity, which comes from controlling the appetitive faculty, while striving with one's self is Courage, which proceeds from the use of the irascible faculty under the control of the intellect and with just moderation. And in describing the Companions, God (Exalted is He!) has said, Severe against the unbelievers, compassionate amongst themselves, (Qur'an, 48:29) indicating that severity and compassion both have their place: perfection is not to be found through severity or compassion in every situation. Thus, then, [is concluded] the exposition of the meaning of 'character', and how it may be good or ugly, and of its pillars, consequences and ramifications. -Hujjatul Islam, Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din) Translated by Shaykh 'Abdul Hakim Murad (may Allah reward him for his effort and initiative)

posted by SuFiSTiC | 6/04/2003 07:29:00 AM |
As for him who fears to stand before his Lord and restrains the ego its desires, the Garden is shelter.
(The Snatchers:40)
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "The Fire is surrounded by all kinds of desires and passions, while Paradise is surrounded by all kinds of disliked, undesirable things."
Whoever does good at night is rewarded during the day and whoever does good during the day is rewarded at night. Whoever is sincere in abandoning a desire is saved from catering to it. God is too noble to punish a heart that has abandoned a desire for His sake.
(Abu Sulayman ad-Darani)
Beware of your ego, and trust not its mischief;
The ego is worse than seventy devils.
(Arabic Poem)
Abu Bakar Balkhi
Md Mubaraq
Md Firdaus

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I seek God's forgiveness, and do not claim that my intention in producing this Blog is confined to good religious purposes; how may I do so when I am aware of the hidden desires, egotistic passions, and worldly wishes that I harbour? I do not claim innocence for myself; the ego is indeed an inciter to evil, save when my Lord shows mercy; my Lord is indeed Forgiving, Merciful. O God! I seek Your protection against my committing idolatry [shirk] knowingly, and Your forgiveness for that of which I am not aware! I ask God to make me and all other believers benefit from this Blog and to render my production of it purely for the sake of His Noble Countenance.

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