The Meaning of Good Character

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Mufti Taqi Usmani, an Islamic scholar from Pakistan, is an expert in the fields of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh), economics and Hadith.

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. 

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