Character in Islam: An Introduction

By Nageen Khan

An individual’s character is one of the most important aspects of Islam. While acts of worship hold great significance, Islam is a way of life. Everything in a Muslim’s life, including manners and personality, should be in line with Islam. Thus, proper Islamic values and traits are extremely important, not to mention relevant, in the daily lives of Muslims, even though they are unfortunately neglected at times.

The Quran, the holy book of Islam, alludes to various Islamic values at different points. One of the best examples is found in the chapter called “Luqman” in the Quran:

We endowed Luqman with wisdom: ‘Be thankful to God: whoever gives thanks benefits his own soul, and as for those who are thankless––God is self-sufficient, worthy of all praise.’ Luqman counseled his son, ‘My son, do not attribute any partners to God: attributing partners to Him is a terrible wrong.’

We have commanded people to be good to their parents … If they strive to make you associate with Me anything about which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. Yet keep their company in this life according to what is right, and follow the path of those who turn to Me… (31:12-15)

The very first virtue mentioned in this passage is thankfulness. Too often we hear complaints, and no one is innocent of this charge. Too many times, the voice of “I want…” or the question of “Why me? Why now?” consume us. In this verse, we are reminded that we should be grateful to God, regardless of the situation.

There are always those who are worse off than us, and no matter what is happening to us, we should constantly keep this in mind. We are the ones that need to be thankful to God; if we are not, it is our own loss. Thus, gratefulness is a significant aspect of Islamic character.

Luqman the Wise then counsels his son to worship the One God. Faith in God alone is the single most important value in Islam: it is the first pillar of Islam, and joining others in worship with God is the only unforgivable sin. This verse reiterates the importance of this as an Islamic value. Next, God reminds us to be respectful to parents so much so that we are commanded to be kind and considerate to them even if they try to make us associate partners with Him. Prophet Abraham is a prime example of this: he constantly remained caring and gentle towards his father even though he rejected idolatry. This exemplifies the absolute importance of always being respectful towards our parents in Islam.

After that, Luqman offers further advice to his son:

‘My son, if even the weight of a mustard seed were hidden in a rock or anywhere in the heavens or earth, God would bring it [to light], for He is all subtle and all aware. Keep up the prayer, my son; command what is right; forbid what is wrong; bear anything that happens to you steadfastly: these are things to be aspired to. Do not turn your nose up at people, nor walk about the place arrogantly, for God does not love arrogant or boastful people. Go at a moderate pace and lower your voice, for the ugliest of all voices is the braying of asses.’  (Quran, 31: 16-19)

Here, Luqman warns his son that God is all-aware of even the tiniest of things which may seem hidden to our eyes. This awareness of God’s comprehensive knowledge is an essential characteristic of Islam. This world and all it contains is God’s creation and He is conscious of everything within it. Similarly, God is always watching over us and every deed is recorded.

After laying down the foundations of faith, we are reminded of essential Muslim values: praying, performing good acts, forbidding wrong, and being patient in all circumstances. These are basic Islamic obligations which enable people to beautify their relationship with God as well as those around them.

Luqman’s last lessons for his son teach him about communicating with others. Pride and arrogance are to be shunned. They are hateful traits not only in the Eyes of God, but in the eyes of other people as well. Everyone hates those who are arrogant: no one can stand to be around one who constantly boasts about him or herself. We are also reminded not to speak too loudly; shouting is compared to the braying of a donkey, the worst of all sounds.

These characteristics are not only relevant to Islam, they are also very dear to humanity at large. After all, historically, the guidance which has come to us, through different prophets and revelations, is from the same One God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them) all brought the same message: to worship the One God and to live a morally upright life.

As God states in the Quran: “(God) created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you.” (49:13)

Hence, we all endorse common values. Let us pray to God to enable us to act on the knowledge that we have and to mutually uphold our shared values.

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