Morals and Manners in Islam
Among the things on which the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings of the Lord be on him) has laid the greatest stress after belief – and maintained that the felicity and salvation of mankind is dependent upon them – one is that man cultivate good manners and noble qualities of mind and character, avoid evil and unseemly behaviour, and keep away from vicious habits and practices. In the Qur’an, where the objects of the raising up of the sacred Prophet, as the Apostle of God, are defined, it is, also, emphasized that it was to cleanse men and to purify them. [‘…And sanctify them.’ (2: 129)]
Moral reform and uplift occupies a place of highest importance in the aim and design of sanctification. As the Prophet (pbuh) himself he said: “I have been raised up by God to teach moral virtues”. It donates that moral correction and elevation was among the chief ends and purpose of the Apostleship of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), 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.
The sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) relating to moral reform are of two kinds: one in which he has laid emphasis on moral goodness, as a principle, explained the worth and importance of good and virtuous habits, and indicated the unique reward they are going to fetch in the Hereafter, and the other that contain the advice and instruction to acquire or avoid a particular moral attribute.
(1) It is related by Abdullah b. 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 Daarmi
(3) It is related by Abu Darda that the Apostle of God said: “One the Day of Reckoning, the most weighty item in the Scales of Deeds will be good manners”.
– Abu Dawood and Tirmizi
It would not be correct to assume from the above Traditions that good morals were even superior to Faith or the principal tenets like Salah, Roza, Zakat and Hajj. The holy 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 After-life 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
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)’”.
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 Medina, 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 and there was 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 the criminals, of course, within the limits of justice and the God-given law.
NOTE: the holy Prophet had also said to Hazrat Muad at that time, that “it is quite possible that we do not meet again after this year. It may be that (when you returned from Yemen), you visited my mosque and my grave instead of visiting me.”
Since it was not the custom of the Prophet to say such things, Muad concluded that the death of the Prophet was probably near, and he might not be able to see him again. Upon it, 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 Muad 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 has 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).
It tells 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 Quran as his special duty.
(7) It is related by Abdullah b. Amr that the Apostle of God said: “Nearest to me among you are those who have better manners”.
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”.
These show how essential good morals and desirable manners are for gaining the affection of the Prophet (pbuh) and his proximity on the Day of Resurrection.