On the Perfecting of Morals and Manners

Moral reform and uplift occupies a place of great importance in the objective and design of Islamic life. For, as the Prophet Muhammad (saws) once said, “I have been raised up by God to teach moral virtues.” This implies that moral correction and elevation were among the chief ends and purpose of the Apostleship of the Prophet and formed a fundamental part in moulding a man’s life. A person with good morals will not only lead a happy and peaceful life himself, but his existence will be a source of comfort to others as well. On the other hand, if his social conduct and moral disposition are bad, his life will be devoid of real joy, and he will also make the lives of his relatives, and all others around him, miserable.

(1) It is related by Abdullah bin Amr that the Apostle of God said: “The best of you are those who possess the best of manners.”

Bukhari and Muslim

(2) Abu Hurairah related to us that the Apostle of God said: “Muslims who possess better morals are the most perfect in faith.”

Abu Dawood and Daarimi

(3) It is related by Abu Darda that the Apostle of God said: “One the Day of Reckoning, the weightiest item in the Scales of Deeds will be good manners.”

Abu Dawood and Tirmizi

Commentary

It would not be correct to assume from the above Traditions that good morals are even superior to Faith or the principal tenets like Prayer (Salah), Fasting (Sawm), Poor-due (Zakah) and the annual pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj). The Companions to whom these sayings were directly addressed had already learnt from the Prophet that among the various branches of Islam, the most important were Faith and the doctrine of Divine Unity, and then came the fundamental duties. As for the rest of the departments of religious life, some of them take precedence over others in various ways, and the place of moral virtues, undoubtedly, is very high, and in the attainment of success and salvation in the Life Hereafter and the gaining of the countenance of the Lord, their significance is beyond question.

(4) Ayesha relates that she heard the Apostle of God say: “A Believer with good manners and a good moral disposition gets the same reward as he who fasts (permanently) and spends his nights in prayer.”

Abu Dawood

Commentary

It shows that a person who is a true Muslim, both in Belief and Action, and also possesses good manners, but does not engage himself much in supererogatory fasts and prayers attains the same degree of excellence, through moral goodness, as the one who, generally, stands up in prayer throughout the night and fasts all the day long.

(5) M’uad ralated to us, saying: “The best advice given to me by the Apostle of God, when I had put my foot in the stirrups of my mount, was that he said: ‘Make your manners good for the people. (Behave well with them).’”

Muwatta

Commentary

Towards the end of his life, the holy Prophet had sent Hazrat M’uad as the Governor of Yemen, and while bidding him farewell in Madinah, he had given him a number of instructions which are mentioned, under various headings, in the compilations of the Traditions. In the above narrative, M’uad has spoken of the same occasion. What he means to convey is that as he was leaving for Yemen, to take up the assignment, the last thing the Prophet told him was to deal gently with its inhabitants.

It needs, however, be remembered that ‘good manners’ do not entail that even hardened criminals and habitual evil-doers who deserved to be dealt with severely – with no other way to reform them than through chastisement – were also to be treated with leniency. It would, on the contrary, amount to the neglect of one’s duty and lending encouragement to sinfulness and wrongdoing.

In any case, it is not against moral goodness, by any code of ethics, to be severe on criminals, of course, within the limits of justice and the God-given law.

Note: The Prophet had also told Hazrat M’uad at that time, thus: “It is quite possible that we do not meet again after this year. It may be that (when you return from Yemen), you will visit my mosque and my grave instead of visiting me.” Since it was not the custom of the Prophet to say such things, M’uad concluded that the death of the Prophet was probably near and he might not be able to see him again. Upon this realization, he began to cry. The Prophet then consoled him saying: “Much closer to me are people who fear God and observe piety, whoever and wherever they may be.” What the Prophet had said to M’uad turned out to be true, and, on his return from Yemen, M’uad did not see him, but his grave.

(6) Imam Maalik reports that it had been related to him that the Apostle of God said: “I have been sent down by God to evolve moral virtues to the highest perfection.” ~ This Tradition had been mentioned by Imam Maalik, in the same form as above, in Muwatta, without giving the name of the narrator, while Imam Ahmad has related it on the authority of Abu Hurairah in his Musnad.

Commentary

It tells us that moral reform and development of good manners were among the chief objects of the Apostleship of the holy Prophet and formed an important part of the sanctification set forth in the Qur’an as his special duty.

(7) It is related by Abdullah bin Amr that the Apostle of God said: “Nearest to me among you are those who have better manners.”

Bukhari

Commentary

In Hazrat Jabir’s account of the above Tradition, quoted in Tirmizi, it is stated that the Apostle of God said: “On the Day of Last Judgement, nearest to me, among you, will be those who display the best of manners.”

This shows how essential good morals and desirable manners are for gaining the affection of the Prophet and his propinquity on the Day of Resurrection.

(8) Ayesha relates that the Apostle of God used to pray: “Oh God! Thou hast, by Thy grace, made my body good; make my morals good as well.”

Commentary

Note: This prayer of the Prophet for good morals and polite behaviour has been reproduced in different words and at different places in the collections of the Traditions. It is related, on the authority of Hazrat Ali, in Sahih Muslim, that one of the prayers the Apostle of God used to make during Tahajjud was: “Oh Lord! Lead me on to the best of moral virtues. No one, aside of Thee, can guide to moral excellence. And remove bad manners from me. No one, aside of Thee, can remove them.”