I always used to wonder why the Prophet (saw) mentioned, that when selecting a spouse choose both religion AND good character. When I was a child, I thought both qualities were inseparable in all practicing individuals. I thought that if one is practicing Islam, then they must surely be of good character. That was until one day, I learnt that in the Qur’an, two types of goodness are mentioned; both which go hand in hand and both which should not be separated. Religious goodness and moral goodness. Meaning, a person not only has to fulfil their duties to Allah (religious), but must also be kind, courteous, caring, and good to the people (moral).
لَّيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَٰكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا ۖ وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” [2:177]
Notice how Allah (swt) began this verse by mentioning the absolute fundamental principles that Islam is built upon. Those principles without which one cannot even claim goodness or claim to be Muslim. Belief in Allah being the first, then belief in the last day, belief in angels and finally belief in His books.
Following on from this, Allah (swt) goes on to list all those things that comprise righteousness. In other words, if righteousness was a person, this is what it would be like. Now, Allah could have mentioned Salaah first, even Hajj, for aren’t they amazing acts of worship? Sure! Yet, Allah chose giving. He chose charity. He chose freeing slaves. He chose serving others. Why? Because when a person gives his time, money, or effort for the cause of Allah, it speaks volumes about his personality. It speaks volumes about his MORAL goodness, which, just like religious goodness, is equally as important.
This really struck me. Firstly, because today we live in an age where many claim to practice both types of goodness, yet in reality, more emphasis is given on religious acts, such as Hajj, Zakah, Salaah, and moral goodness is totally neglected. Now, this is not to say that one must not stress religious actions, rather it is to say, that moral goodness is often brushed under the carpet and is never really given the same amount of importance that religious duties are given.
How many times have we come across individuals, who have performed so many Hajj, are consistent in their prayers, give Zakah every year, and do as much voluntary acts of worship as possible, yet they are foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, dishonest, and unreliable and are drowning in pride and arrogance? Of course, we are not to judge, for Allah is the One who Judges, however, this example should give us an understanding of the reality we live in. The reality, where complete goodness is not being embodied, where good character and morals are not being emphasized along side religious duties, as they should. Where our children are being brought up as ill-mannered, and where akhlaaq is not taught or implemented as it should be.
We look at the state of the Ummah today. We reflect upon its state, and realize that so many are lacking moral goodness. Where is the trust? Where is the loyalty? Where is the respect? Where is the kindness and generousity?
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) is the best example and role model who implemented BOTH types of goodness. He was the one who always strove to perfect his salaah, the first to rush to give in the path of Allah; at the same time he also performed Hajj, gave Zakaah, and stood in lengthy night prayers. Yet, he (saw), understood that there was more to this, that it doesn’t stop there. In addition, he practiced modesty, was polte, bashful, caring, giving, loyal, trustworthy – so much so, that people knew him as ‘Al-Amin (the truthful)’, before they knew him as ‘Rasul. (messenger)’ They could make up plentiful lies about his prophethood, about the message he was preaching, yet they could never lie about his character.
The Prophet (saw) embodied both types of goodness, and he also instructed us to do so. I ask you and I, how is our character? How much effort do we put into improving and mending our character; our moral goodness? Do we emphasize moral goodness as much as we emphasize religious goodness?
In a beautiful hadith, the Prophet (saw) gave glad-tidings to the one with good character, he said:
“The best of people are those with the most excellent character.” [Tabarani, Sahih]
We are an Ummah who have been given the best book, to the best prophet, in the best month, in the best days, on the best night… Shouldn’t we then also strive to be the best in every way possible? We need to embody complete goodness. We need to strive to beautify our characters, beautify our acts of worship, but without forgetting that both go hand in hand, and that together they make-up complete goodness, a goodness which our Ummah today is lacking. Moral uprightness and religious uprightness are two sides of the same coin. May Allah (swt) perfect our eemaan and our character, ameen.