How do I Improve my Character?

CharacterHere are some tips for you. Foremost is to stop doing Haram. Stop doing bad things. Don’t talk about adding good until you get rid of bad deeds. You can’t talk about giving a medicine unless you stop bleeding. It doesn’t make any sense. So, first of all, stop the entertainment addiction. You’ve got to stop watching films. You’ve got to start lowering your gaze when walking on the street, because you become less of a human every time you stare at a woman. You stare at her, as if she is a piece of meat or an animal. That just means that you’ve lost the respect of a fellow human being.

Gain your humanity first, and then embellish and beautify your life with good deeds. These simple small things, such as perfecting prayer, memorizing few supplications, trying to be honest in the workplace, and being kind to your mother are not complicated things.

This is what the Creator asks from us. Someone asks, “Why does He want this from me? How does it benefit Him?”

Don’t talk about adding good until you get rid of bad deeds. You can’t talk about giving a medicine unless you stop bleeding.

It’s a good question. One of His names is Al-Ghani. Ghani means: “The One who doesn’t need anything”. There is a verse in which He has commanded us to do certain things. He is Ghani; He is free of need. You are the ones who are bankrupt. He doesn’t need anything, and we need everything because we are the bankrupt. And then, He told us to do a few good things. And if you do those few good deeds, He will make you Ghani; He will make you free of need. He will give you a shower of huge blessings. Good deeds are beneficial to us because they are like medicines. They bring with them bonuses in this world and the next world.

For example, you’ve been looking for a job and you are also mean to your mother. Then you start being kind to your mother. Mysteriously, they call you back. They want you to come in for an interview. Thus, you receive the blessings of being kind to your mother.
One good deed will open up other doors for you. That’s what Allah (swt) does in this world. Whoever becomes conscious of Allah (swt), He starts opening doors for him, making a way out for him. He will provide him in a way he couldn’t have even imagined. All this happens because this person has become conscious about Allah (swt). That’s all Allah (swt) is asking us. And He wants us to ask Him only, to make our lives better.

And if you do those few good deeds, He will make you Ghani; He will make you free of need. He will give you a shower of huge blessings.

People ask: “What does Allah (swt) want from us?” That’s a really fundamental question. There are a few verses that tell us the answer. One of them is:

“Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak. ” (An-Nisa 4:28)

Raising Parents


Fathers and mothers are like shepherds. Their children are like their flocks.

Let us feel the seriousness of this Hadeeth narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar (rtam): Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Everyone of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges. The ruler who has authority over people is a guardian and is responsible for them. A man is a guardian of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is a guardian of her husband’s house and children, and is responsible for them. A slave is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. All of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges.” (Bukhari)

Our pious predecessors made Deen the top priority of their lives. Teaching their children Deen and raising them as good Muslims was a topmost concern. Asma bint Abi Bakr (rtaf) is a shining example, raising a son like Abdullah bin Zubair (rtam). So is Umm Sulaim (rtaf), mother of Anas bin Malik (rtam). In the later years, we have the mother of Imam Shafai, who, despite being a widow, sacrificed a lot to make her son a scholar.

A child’s first years of life are critical, as during this time, he absorbs a great deal. His mind and memory are remarkable. How can we capitalize on these years, in order to teach them Deen and raise them as good Muslims? Here are some thoughts:

Be a Role Model

Children don’t listen to what we say. They listen to our every deed. They observe what we do. Be a role-model for them. Acquire the qualities you wish to see in them. Rid yourself of traits and habits that you do not want in your child. Following are some examples:

  • We want our children to be close to Allah (swt). Are we close to Allah (swt)? Do we think of Him often? What’s our first response when something pleasing happens? How do we react when something displeasing happens?
  • Do we model gentle, kind and tolerant behaviour for our kids? Do we keep losing our cool, yelling and hitting often? Then when the kids yell and hit, we become angry and tell them not to do so. If yelling and hitting are bad, how come they find us doing that?
  • If they spoil or spill something, do we lose our temper, or are we patient and forgiving? Our behaviour in these everyday incidents can teach lifelong lessons to our children about patience and forgiveness.
  • Do we tell them not to touch our things? Then when they do not share their things with siblings and others, do we get irritated and advise: “You should share. It’s good to share”?
  • Do we always speak the truth, even when it is difficult? A Mumin (believer) does not lie.
  • Every now and then, we make promises to our kids. When they ask for something, we say: “I’ll give you later, or I’ll take you there, or I’ll show you that.” Now, that’s a promise, and it needs to be kept. If we keep our word, we’ve taught our kids, without lecturing, the importance of keeping one’s word. But if we don’t, we’ve taught our kids that promises can be broken without a second thought.
  • When we make mistakes, are we humble and honest enough to accept them? Can we say sorry, without trying to justify the wrong behaviour?
  • What kind of a relationship do we have with our spouse? Is it based on mutual respect, care and understanding? When children see their father respecting and caring for their mother, and their mother being obedient and caring towards their father, they learn similar good behaviour. For Allah’s (swt) sake and then for our own and our children’s sake, we have to care for and value our spouses. If we have differences with them, we should discuss them privately.
  • Do we fulfill the rights of our relatives? Do we prefer friends over family? Do we have good relations with our parents, siblings and in-laws? What kind of an example are we setting for our children?
  • Do our kids see us caring about others, especially our Muslim brethren? Do they see us giving away our favourite things to others? From as early as two, we can talk to our kids about poor people and together select things for giving away. We can also place things and money in their hands to give to the needy.
  • Adults often tell their little ones: “Say Salam to aunty/uncle.” The Prophet’s (sa) way was different. He used to say Salam to kids. There is a Hadeeth in Sahih Bukhari narrated by Anas bin Malik (rtam) that he (Anas) passed by a group of boys and greeted them (said Salam) and said: “The Prophet (sa) used to do so.” Often, small kids feel shy to say Salam to adults. Following the Prophet’s (sa) way, we should not hesitate to offer Salam to our kids and other people’s kids. Insha’Allah, as they grow up, they will return this goodness to us.
  • How important is Salah to us? Seeing their parents praying on time five times a day would teach kids a better lesson than an hour-long talk on the importance of prayers. (This is not to say that talks don’t have value.)
  • Is learning the Deen a priority for us? Do our kids see us spending regular time with the Quran? Do we attend at least one weekly class to increase our faith and knowledge? Late Khurram Murad (Daee, thinker, writer, and Director-General of Islamic Foundation, Leicester, UK) was educated at home till the primary level. He dedicated his book “Way to the Quran” to his mother, saying: “At her knees, I learnt to read the Quran; upon her insistence that I must learn Arabic, I was sent to the school of Maulvi Sahib, who gave me the rudimentary knowledge, upon which I could build later; seeing her devotion to the Quran, reading it with understanding, for hours and hours, kindled a spark in my heart, which has continued to illumine my way; finally, through her example and silent but solid support, I found my way to a life of struggle in the way of Allah (swt).”

Children learn their real, lasting Islamic lessons by observing us. Our primary effort has to be focused upon practising Islam ourselves. If we succeed, then, Insha’Allah, the supplementary education (through books, talks, etc.) will be more effective.

Education and Tarbiyah

It’s amazing how children learn so much through everyday conversations, book-reading and story-telling. Here are specific things I did with my children, all below the age of seven then. The following is not to portray myself as an exemplary mother. I’m far from that and make mistakes every day:

  • I starting reciting Duas for different occasions right from the time they were born, for instance, I would say Salam to them when they woke up, and recite the Dua when waking up and going to sleep, when going to the toilet, when leaving the house and returning, when sitting in the car, during illness, when getting up from a gathering, when sneezing, when seeing someone in a hardship, when it rained and so on. Often, after saying the Dua, I would further say out loud its meaning in simple words. This way, they would pick the meanings and realize that all these (Arabic) words have a meaning. For example, when saying the meaning of the Dua for boarding a vehicle (Subhan alladhee Sakhkhara lana…), I would say: ”Allah (swt) is Paak (glorified), Who gave this car in our control; otherwise, we could not have controlled it, and to Allah (swt), we are going back.” I would break up the Duas for my son to repeat after me, for example, Al-hum-du-lillah, as it was difficult for him to say it in one go.
  • When they were babies (and also when they were older), I would recite the Quran to them. I didn’t fix a time or place for this. I would do so when putting them to sleep or while working in the kitchen, or when on the go. Children pick up a lot this way. My elder daughter could recite Surah Fatihah when she was 2 ½ but my son could not. Each child is different, and we should understand and respect that. When reciting the Quran, I would sometimes say its meaning in simple words. My daughter understood that these words have meanings, and often she would stop me during my recitation and ask what this or that word meant.
  • I would refer to the Quran or Ahadeeth, as the situation arose. For example, once we were outdoors. It was cloudy. My daughter asked when it would rain; I replied: “I don’t know. Only Allah (swt) knows. He has mentioned in the Quran five things that only He knows (rain being one of them; see Surah Luqman, verse 34)”. If the child yawned and didn’t cover the mouth, I would tell them to do so and mention the Hadeeth about it.
  • Learning the Deen must be a daily activity for Muslims. We read Islamic books and stories almost every day. If we want our children to follow the Prophet’s (sa) footsteps, then we must regularly tell them stories of the Prophet (sa), his companions and other prophets of Allah (swt). Children love stories, and these are the best stories. Avoid telling them nonsense stories because story-telling is not just for fun – it shapes their character.

When my son was a toddler, I told him the story of Prophet Yunus (as) in simple words, using actions (for instance, of the fish swallowing him). I’ve told him the ‘doggy’ story about a thirsty man who, after fulfilling his own thirst, gave the water also to a thirsty dog, for which Allah (swt) forgave his sins. My son loved this story and wanted to hear the ‘doggy’ story again and again. I would tell him about Prophet Musa’s (as) miracle. To explain this, I would take his hand, put it in his armpit, take it out and say that it would be shining. I’ve told him about Prophet Sulaiman (as) and the ants and about the Prophet’s (sa) grandson riding on his back when he was leading the prayer (and that the Prophet (sa) loved children).

Once, when I was telling my daughter about the Prophet’s (sa) stay in the cave of Thawr during the Hijrah, I showed her a picture of Mount Thawr. My son got curious. I showed him the picture and told him a little about it. There will be such spontaneous moments every day for children to learn something. I don’t tell them fairy tales which contain such incorrect ideas as Shirk, pre-marital friendship, magic, lies or plain stupidity.

Our Deen differentiates between beneficial and non-beneficial knowledge. The Prophet (sa) has taught us Duas for seeking beneficial knowledge and Duas for seeking Allah’s (swt) protection from non-beneficial knowledge. Through personal example and guidance, we have to encourage our children to seek beneficial knowledge, and not to waste time and pollute the minds with non-beneficial knowledge. By refraining from junk literature, we set a good example for our children.

  • We don’t have a T.V. We used to have a small TV set that was used sparingly for watching videos (Islamic or scientific). The harms of TV far, far outweigh its benefits, and given what Allah (swt) has said about alcohol and gambling’s sin exceeding their benefits, it’s best to say ‘bye bye’ to the TV set.
  • Children learn much more by asking questions, than by answering them. I take my children’s questions seriously. This often means stopping what I’m doing to answer them or to look up the answer. They feel satisfied and their curiosity stays alive and grows. Once, before going to sleep, my daughter asked me who a Shaheed (martyr) was. I told her what I knew and asked her to remind me in the morning to look up more. In the morning, we found a list of possible Shaheeds: one who drowns, dies under a wall-collapse, dies due to plague, etc.
  • From an early age (between the ages of 1 and 2), I informed them about the difference between our things and other people’s, for example, if they’d pick up an object belonging to someone else, I would tell them: “It’s not ours. We can’t use it without their permission.”
  • I would encourage them to make Dua (though I need to do more of this). We had kept food for birds on our window-sill. Sometimes, the birds would come and sometimes not. My toddler son liked them very much and felt upset when none would come. I would say: “Oh Allah! Please send birds for him. Ameen.” As time went by, he got used to this, and when no birds would come, he would say to me: “Ameen,” which was his way of asking me to make Dua.
  • I would try to link events to Allah (swt)’s Will and Qudrah. Once, when it rained, my son asked why, and I responded: “By Allah’s (swt) command.” I also told him about the water-cycle in simple words.
  • I would tell them: “Allah (swt) would be happy, if we do such-and-such”, instead of: “He will punish us if we don’t do it.” Don’t mention hell-fire excessively when they are small (say, under 7). Present Jannah in a way they understand and feel attracted to. I tell my kids that the toffees and chocolates in Jannah would be such that they won’t spoil our teeth, and that we could eat as much as we want. I tell them about the Bazar held every Friday in Jannah. I tell them that we will see Allah (swt) there.
  • I would attend Islamic classes (as a listener as well as a teacher). My kids would accompany me. While teaching the ladies, I would attend to the children’s needs, too (peeling an orange for them or nursing the baby). Somehow, adults in Islamic classes and Masajid often deal with children in a surprisingly harsh and cold way, which bears no resemblance to the Prophet’s (sa) way of dealing with them. Why don’t we consider this aspect of Sunnah as applicable to us? For shaping their Islamic character, it is important for Muslim children to attend these gatherings from a young age. In the Prophet’s (sa) time, children were a part of these gatherings and were not cut off from the lives of adults, as they are today. It would do the Ummah a lot of good, if Muslims studied and emulated the Prophet’s (sa) dealing with children. If children are welcomed in Islamic gatherings, they would turn out to be mature and better Muslims, and more loving towards their elders. Insha’Allah, we wouldn’t need to complain later that the youth is not interested in Islamic gatherings or the Masjid!

Parenting is hard work. We want this hard work to pay off in the Akhirah. Let raising our children as good Muslims be the focus of our parenting endeavours. Let pleasing Allah (swt) be the Niyyah in our journey. I pray Allah (swt) accepts the efforts Muslim families are making. Ameen.

Character versus Personality


In “The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking”, author Susan Cain writes: “We moved from what cultural historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality. During the culture of character, what was important was the good deeds that you performed when nobody was looking.” Prophet Muhammad (sa) symbolizes the culture of character, where he was only cognizant of the fact that he was answerable to Allah (swt) alone.

Today, our kids are personifications of the new ideal person. “…we suddenly had the rise of movies and movie stars. Movie stars, of course, were the embodiment of what it meant to be a charismatic figure. So, part of people’s [our kids’] fascination with these movie stars was for what they could learn from them…” (Susan Cain) They learn about being popular and getting ahead. Welcome to the culture of personality!

We wonder why our children are disobedient, do not listen, are rude towards others and give tart replies. The answer is obvious. It is the prevailing culture and model of success that has made them so. What can we do to counter it? After a survey of 8 to 15 year olds (boys and girls across 3 continents), we have compiled a practical guide.

  1. Be decisive: When you make a decision, stick to it. If something is off limits and not allowed, then under no amount of pleading or duress will it be permissible. Granted there are certain grey areas, but define those. For example, missing Salah is a straight ‘not to be done’. However, completing homework right now can be negotiable.
  2. Say it like you mean it: Kids of all ages have this uncanny sense of knowing, when you can be persuaded. They detect weakness in resolve and then move in with their innocent faces to plead till you relent. If something is non-negotiable, then mean it when you forbid it. Do not use “I’ll tell Abbu/Ammi” or “let your father/mother come and then we will see”, or any other such statements. You are the parent. You have the authority. Use it.
  3. The Rubric: A rubric is a tool used by teachers to assess a particular task given to students. Often, the students are given these criteria, so they know what areas they will be assessed in. Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy has given us such a tool; sadly, we rarely use it. Make a copy of the rubric below, personalize it and sit with your kids to decide, where each task falls and then hold them to it.





(permitted – neither good nor bad)

Makruh (disliked but not forbidden) Haram (forbidden)
Parent’s expectations non- negotiable discussion Negotiable discussion but probably not allowed or limited access not allowed – non- negotiable
Parent’s Reaction thrilled pleased concerned dislike angry
Tasks Salah (all the time and on time) studying and homework email friends Facebook/social media/TV going to clubs/movies that have Haram content
  reciting Quran everyday helping siblings/ taking out the garbage cell phone usage going out to the mall with friends reading books that have Haram content

Be as specific as you can be. Try not to generalize – that way there is no room for a: “I wasn’t sure what that meant” reply, which has become oh so popular.

  1. Islam as a Deen, not only rituals: Prioritize and schedule your activities and day according to Islam. If you make Deen a part of daily life, so will your kids. This is, of course, common sense, but we, as parents, do digress and as a result give our kids mixed messages. The most common example is lying on the phone about being busy, etc. Kids are confused: lying in any form is a sin, so why is what the parent just did acceptable, but when she/he lies it is not? Be the role model, do not let others (movie stars/singers/sports personalities) usurp that spot.
  1. Be fair: A rule that applies to one child, by default also applies to the rest. For example, if you do not let one child snack between meals then you cannot allow the others either. For most rules, age/gender does not play a factor. Treat them equally, so they know they are loved equally.
  1. Be a friend: “Most parents want a mutually respectful and loving relationship with their children, (…) this means giving in to their harmless pleasures, saying yes to the little things, so when you do say no to things that are absolutely unacceptable, they trust that you are not trying to control them but are ‘raising’ them. Parents need to know that kids are hitting puberty earlier, but we do not let them become adults until much later in life. Psychologists tell us that the reward centers of the adolescent brain are much more active than those of either children or adults.” ( So, let them have their absolute moment of joy, as long as it is permissible. Communicate with them, enjoy their exuberance. Do you remember how it felt to win?
  1. Responsibility and choices: Teach them that if they want choices, they will have to be responsible for the consequences. We do not teach them how to think critically. Let them make mistakes, nurture their hurt and teach them to become stronger after the fall. A mistake is not a failure – it is a learning situation.
  1. Be tech savvy: In the social media, super-connected world of today, parents really do themselves a disservice, when they do not educate themselves about gadgets and technology. Don’t give your child a smartphone, if you do not know how to use it yourself.” (
  1. Be informed: All kids are good; however, be vigilant. This is not a trust issue but a smart parenting move. Know who the friends/peer groups are. Check up on them unexpectedly. Have access to his/her phone, Facebook account, etc. Know what their daily routine is, ask them what they did that day. Communicate! Show them that you care enough to be there when needed.
  1. There is a connection between sensitivity and conscience. The more sensitive a person is, the more moral choices they will make. Guide your child to be sensitive to others’ needs and views, and not to criticize. The ‘cool’ of today is insensitivity. We need to cultivate kids, who think before they act/speak. To do this, programme yourself with this new line of action – your kids will follow.

Subhan’Allah, and may the odds be ever in your favour.

The Meaning of Good Character

character-traitsA speech by Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani at Masjid Bait-ul-Mukarram

In common parlance, character is said to be good conduct with other people. In Shariah, it has a very wide meaning and besides these things, it also refers to compassion and the conditions of the heart in terms of the sentiments and desires that grow in it. These manners can be good or bad, depending on the kind of sentiments. It is a significant part of the Shariah that man corrects his manners and reforms the sentiments that grow in his heart.

Check your instincts

Every person possesses certain natural instincts in his heart. Everyone has the potential to become angry, lustful and egoistic. These are instinctive qualities present in the heart and they vary in degree from person to person. One must keep them in check and to keep them in check is to possess good character. As long as they are in balance, it is a good sign. If they are below or above moderation, it means the character needs to be corrected. 


Allah (swt) has created the instinctive sentiment of anger in every person – it is a natural instinct. It is also a necessary trait, for if anyone lacks the sentiment of anger, then he cannot defend himself. If anyone attacks another person unjustly and he does not react in the least, it means his sentiment of anger is below the balance. If someone attacks a man’s father or wife, and he quietly watches him, not feeling angry at all, he is a coward and there is no room in Shariah for such a person.

We have to use anger at the right place. “Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you, and let them find harshness in you.” (At-Tawbah 9:123) Anger used at the right place is praiseworthy and is a sign of good manners.

Anger should be used within limits. Do not overdo it. Display only so much anger as is necessary. If your children do wrong and do not heed your advice and warnings, then your anger must be directed at a proper place. No doubt, their conduct has called for it. However, if you beat them so much that you disfigure them, it means you have exceeded the limits.

The limits of anger are determined by Shariah. The Prophet (sa) said: “When a child is seven years old, teach him the Salah, so that he is accustomed to it in childhood.” He is not to be beaten at this age.  “When he is ten and he does not offer the Salah, then you may beat him.” Thus, the limit is determined. He e also said: “Do not hit him on the face. And do not give him a beating that leaves marks on the body.”  This is the limit set by the Prophet (sa), who made everything very clear.

Self-respect and arrogance

No man wishes to be disgraced before others; rather, every one desires to be respected as a Muslim and a human being. This sentiment is praiseworthy, because Shariah forbids us to disgrace ourselves. Without a sense of self-respect, a man is like a toy in the hands of the other and anyone can disgrace him. However, if this sentiment increases beyond limit, and he regards himself as superior to other people, it means that he is arrogant. Thus, if a rich man looks down upon a poor hawker, then he is arrogant and has transgressed the limits of self-respect. Arrogance is such an evil trait that Allah (swt) detests it more than any other evil in man.

Arrogance is the root of all evil that breeds such other evils as jealousy, hatred and so on. This is why the Quran says that success awaits those who purge their character of these evils. They must display anger only where necessary and within limits. They must observe self-respect within limits and must not be arrogant. They must be sincere in whatever they do, without being ostentatious. This is the true purification of character, to teach which the Prophet (sa) was sent.

Pious companionship

The method for purifying the character is the same as adopted by the Prophet (sa) and his companions. It is pious companionship. The Sahabah had the company of the Prophet (saw) and their manners were moderate and balanced. They entrusted themselves to him, resolving to mould their lives according to what they heard from him and saw him do, and to obey him in whatever he said. He observed each of them and learnt of their lives and sometimes they told him of their experiences and feelings. He would advise them on what they should do and how far they could go. Soon they had the same manners as he had brought.

In the pre-Islamic days, the Sahabah were very short-tempered. They sought lame excuses to start wars, which would last for a long time, sometimes as much as forty years. But, with the Prophet’s (sa), association they transformed into mild-tempered people, who expressed their anger only where it was necessary and within limits.

Umar Ibn al-Khattab (rta) of the Jahiliyah was known for his anger. He had rushed out of his home once to put an end to the Prophet’s (sa) life because of the new religion he had brought. But, before he could meet the Prophet (sa), Allah (swt) enabled him to hear verses of the Quran, which made him turn over a new leaf. He met the Prophet (sa) and presented his life for Islam.

The Sahabah used the same method with their successors and students (The Tabieen). In their turn, the Tabieen used it with their students (the Taba Tabieen).

Hence, we too should improve our manners and keep the company of those, who are friends of Allah (swt), who have fear of Allah (swt) in their hearts; those, who think about the hereafter and whose manners are clean and bright.

Adapted (with permission) from “”Extracts from Discourses on Islamic Way of Life to Preach and Practice” (Collection of Speeches) By Justice (R) Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani published by Darul Ishaat.