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CHAPTER 8: The Muslim Character

The Five Pillars of Islam represent the foundation of our religion.  In striving to perfect them, we must establish a good foundation of character that is necessary to reach higher levels of goodness. In the process, we deepen and implement our faith. As we respond to faith with increasing mindfulness, we become believers.

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) said that faith consists of believing in God, in the angels, in divine scripture (the Qur’an), in the Prophets or Messengers, in the Day of Judgment, and in God’s determination of our fate. God has taught us through the Prophets that the religion of Islam contains three successive stages, or levels. First, we submit to God’s will; secondly, we acquire the stage of faith; the third and highest level is where we achieve full performance of our obligations and full righteousness.

Scholars help us to understand these levels by giving each a distinct term of reference. Thus at the first stage, of submission, one is called a Muslim; on reaching the acquisition of faith through thought, speech and action, one becomes a Believer; and finally, on achieving full potential in righteousness and obedience through striving for the sake of Allah, one is an Exceller.

Prophet Muhammad taught that in Islam, faith covers some 70 branches. Scholars have tried to gain more insight by dividing faith into areas such as the heart, the tongue, and actions of the body.

Faith of the heart includes love for God, love for the Prophet, the desire to follow God’s ways, and sincerity. It is also about avoiding bragging, self-pride, hypocrisy, anger, envy, despising others, and loving anything other than for the sake of God. Anything that is wrong should be distasteful to faith of the heart.  Virtuous qualities of the heart include respect for the elderly, mercy to the young, repentance for one’s sins, keeping promises, being patient, and accepting what happen in life without complaint.

Faithful qualities of the tongue include bearing witness that Allah is One and Prophet Muhammad is his messenger, reciting the Qur’an, learning and teaching religious knowledge, supplication through prayer, asking God’s forgiveness for wrongdoing and avoiding vain speech.

Faithful actions of the body are many. Just a few of them include:  purifying  and cleansing it, clothing it modestly, enacting the performance of prayers (both required and voluntary), doing generous acts, maintaining decency, extending hospitality to guests, encouraging others to do good and avoid vice through setting a good example, striving for the sake of God, respecting neighbors, practicing good manners, earning money in righteous ways, avoiding waste (of money and possessions), avoiding being hurtful to others, and discarding whatever in life may block the road to righteousness.

As an example of the comparative degrees of excellence between a Muslim (one who acquires the basis of Islam) and the Believer who has acquired faith, the Prophet (PBUH) explained that a Muslim one who does not hurt others physically or verbally, while a believer is additionally one in whom people can entrust their property and lives. Fear of God (a state also called deep reverence) is another important characteristic of a Believer. Believers are constantly mindful that everything they do must be pure for God.    Scholars have said that anyone who does not fear God must have some degree of hypocrisy.

Another crucial quality of the Believer’s faith is expressing one’s love for God and for the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). Love helps one to accept the commands of God and resist breaking them.  Believers also love the supreme and limitless attributes of God, including unlimited mercy and forgiveness. Moreover, they acquire a sense that can only be felt once they have reached this stage; it is a combined sense of fearing to transgress the borders in their relationship with God, as well as thankfulness for God’s blessings and presence.

In loving the Prophet, one must of course believe, trust, and try to imitate him. This love can only be expressed by following his ways, since he is not alive with us. Loving God and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prevents us from slipping into supporting one person or group over another at times when we are required to pass fair judgment. It thus protects us from favoring people who have closer ties to us over those who do not. We come to realize that observing God’s laws as practiced by the Prophet is more beneficial than supporting worldly issues based on human self-interest. Establishing the basis of Islam is necessary for individuals to be personally successful.  Establishing the second level further shapes our spiritual personality so that our individual qualities positively influence our surroundings.

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) described faithful believers as being like good palm trees, for everything that comes from the palm is beneficial. In this context, the religion of Islam helps to shape good men and women with superior moral qualities to lead their communities and societies.

Studying the history of the followers of the Prophet shows that they were always fearful and mindful of God, observant of religious laws, and acted justly toward one another and non-Muslims alike. They were tender and merciful, but strong and firm when necessary. One would never discover that these early followers of the Prophet were drunk or used addictive drugs. They were always devoted and obedient to God, working hard to earn an honest living and giving generously in charity for the poor and needy. They had no sense of arrogance or superiority over one another. They respected the elderly and were tender with the young and weak. The followers of the Prophet competed together, not against each other, for excellence in their religious duty and in doing so, developed an ultimately desirable community. The role of the Prophet (PBUH) can easily be seen as one who effectively changed the qualities of men and women from those of spiritual darkness, tribal tradition, continuous civil conflict and social disorganization into the virtues of a harmonious and well-governed community; they were the best example of what God wants humankind to be.

The religion of Islam translates those moral and spiritual beliefs into actions that solidly establish the Muslim character and build healthy societies. As the Qur’an states:

Say: ‘Come, I will recite unto you that which your Lord has made a sacred duty for you: that you ascribe nothing as partner unto Him and that you do good to parents, and that you slay not your children because of penury – We provide for you and for them – and that you draw not nigh to lewd things whether open or concealed.  And that you slay not the life which Allah has made sacred, save in the course of justice. This He has commanded you, in order that you may discern.

And approach not the wealth of the orphan save with that which is better, till he reach maturity. Give full measure and full weight, in justice. We task not any soul beyond its scope. And if you give your word, do justice thereunto, even though it be (against) a kinsman; and fulfill the covenant of Allah. This He commands you that haply you may remember’.

And (He commands you, saying): ‘This is My straight path, so follow it.  Follow not other ways, lest you be parted from His way. This has He ordained for you, that you may ward off (evil). He it is who has placed you as viceroys of the earth and has exalted some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by (the test of) that which He has given you. Lo!  Your Lord is swift in prosecution, and lo! He is Forgiving, Merciful.

(The Cattle, Surah 6; 151-153,165)

The religion of Islam gives the foundation for success both at the individual and national levels. Again, it is found clearly in the Qur’an:

If anyone is seeking honor, let him know that all the honor belongs to Allah alone. Good words ascend to Him and good deeds are exalted by Him.  As for those who plan evil deeds, they shall have severe punishment and their plots will be brought to nothing.

(The Originator of Creation, Surah 35; 10)

The foregoing passages make it easy for us to picture to ourselves what one possessing a Muslim character can do.

1.   Our Lord knows us so well, for He created us.  So in fearing and loving Him, we respect and love others.

2.   By enjoining  right  and  forbidding  vice, we can deter whatever is morally reprehensible and disgraceful, punish the criminal and open wide the gates of renewal for those with broken hearts or emotional distress.

3.   Muslims understand that the wisdom of the Qur’an contains ample illustrations to confer good qualities on them; they are continuously preoccupied in spiritually improving themselves.

4.   Muslims intuitively appreciate that there are realities beyond the reach of one’s perception. So they are content and do not envy others.

5.   A Muslim is in harmony with the universe.

6.   A Muslim knows that this life is a test and that we have been permitted by God to choose our actions, for we have been given the intellect to weigh  the consequences of what we do.  In surrendering to God’s commands, the Muslim is strengthened to resist sin.

7.   Muslims do not need spiritual police or judges to control their behavior, for they have willingly committed themselves to a higher code of behavior.

8.   Non-believers in God know few limits when it comes to personal conduct and choices. For such people, Hell is not eternal damnation in the next life, but just a silly idea in this life. Their span of comprehension is limited to the reach of their senses but they remain unsatisfied with what they achieve. They live in the realm of materialism with very limited spiritual experience. They gain nothing after their physical death – such a  hard fact that they ignore its importance. A Muslim understands this fact very well.

This raises the intriguing question: If Islam is the best system of life for humanity, why are Muslims not leaders of the world? Simply put, the importance of the religion of Islam and its practices have gravely decreased in the hearts of Muslims in this era. Their collective level of faith is too low to influence the events of the world. Regression throughout the global Muslim community (Ummah) is clearly due to diminished interest in following the prescribed guidance we were given by God.

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) predicted what would happen to Muslims if their Islamic practices deteriorated. He said: “Be happy, and expect the things which will give you pleasure.  By Allah!  It is not your poverty for which I am worried about you. What I am concerned with is that you will be enriched with landed property and wealth in abundance, as the people before you had acquired, and then you will start longing for the same things as the people before you did. The result will be that your desire for worldly acquisitions will destroy you, as it did destroy those people who preceded you.”

Scholars have concluded that decay in the hearts of Muslims stems from three general causes. Ironically, the Qur’an itself has warned about them.

The first cause is loss of interest:

Keep yourself content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening seeking His good pleasure; and let not your eyes turn away from them desiring the attraction of Worldly Life; nor obey the one whose heart We have permitted to neglect Our remembrance, who follows his own desires and goes to extremes in the conduct of his affairs.

(The Cave, Surah 18; 28)

Certainly, We have destined many Jinn and human beings for hell; those are the ones who have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, they have ears with which they do not hear. They are like animals – or even worse than them, because they are those who are heedless.

(The Heights, Surah 7; 179)

The second cause is a desire for the false attractions of this life.

These are they unto whom Allah showed favor from among the Prophets, of the seed of Adam and of those whom We carried (in the ship) with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and from among those whom We guided and chose.   When the revelations of the Beneficent were recited unto them, they fell down, adoring and weeping. Now there has succeeded them a later generation who have missed Prayer and have followed lusts.  But they will meet deception.

(Mary, Surah 19; 58, 59)

The third cause is false pride.

I will turn away from My signs the eyes of those who are unjustly arrogant in the land, so that even if they see each and every sign they will not believe in it. If they see the Right Way before them they will not follow it; but if they see a crooked way they will follow it; this is because they denied Our revelations and were heedless of them.

(The Heights, Surah 7; 146)

Obviously these “spiritual diseases” exert a cancer-like effect. They force people to hear, but not convert what they hear into actions and practices. Such diseases require a specific treatment plan, based on the knowledge that:

1.   We have been sent to earth as vicegerents for a specific task;

2.   We must learn that this life is a test from God to see who among us will perform better;

3.   We are accountable. We shall die and be resurrected and each of us will be sent either to paradise or hell-fire. The spiritual diseases mentioned above explain why some human beings unfortunately dismiss the importance of fearing and obeying God, despite the many repetitions of the consequences in the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Fear of God is the only sure antidote to the moral sicknesses in this world.

God gave us the freedom of will to make choices that will ultimately affect our eternal lives in the Hereafter. A wise person should be thankful that God blessed us with the knowledge and warnings we need in order to escape what lies ahead if we fail in making the right choices.

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Al-Azhar Mosque is a mosque in Islamic Cairo in Egypt.It is constructed in 970. Its name is usually thought to allude to the Islamic prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatimah, a revered figure in Islam who was given the title az-Zahrā′ ("the shining or resplendent one"). It was the first mosque established in Cairo, a city that has since gained the nickname "the City of a Thousand Minarets."

After its dedication in 972, and with the hiring by mosque authorities of 35 scholars in 989, the mosque slowly developed into what is today the second oldest continuously run university in the world after Al Karaouine in Umayyad Fes. Al-Azhar University has long been regarded as the foremost institution in the Islamic world for the study of Sunni theology and sharia, or Islamic law.Today, al-Azhar remains a deeply influential institution in Egyptian society that is highly revered in the Sunni Muslim world and a symbol of Islamic Egypt.

 

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