What is the place of character in Islam?
Character is central to Islam as is indicated by the statement of the Messenger of God, “I have been sent only to perfect moral character.” The Messenger of God further said:
The most beloved of you to me and the nearest seated to me on the Day of Resurrection are the best of you in character, and the most despised of you to me and the furthest seated from me on the Day of Resurrection are the prattlers, the boasters, and the prolix. The companions responded, “By God we understand the prattlers and the boasters, but who are the prolix ones? The Messenger of God said, “the arrogant ones.”
The Messenger of God also stated, “God is most generous and He loves generosity and high character, and He despises base character.”
These three hadith as well as numerous others highlight the importance of character to the point that the first text cited summarizes Prophet Muhammad’s prophetic mission as one to elevate the character of humanity as is indicated by the word only which constricts the verb “sent” and its meaning. Character is not only important by virtue of the Prophet having said it; it is a central human quality that people with pure primordial states understand. All intelligent people agree that honesty, fulfilling promises, kindness, patience, and valor are all positive character traits that all should attain to as all intelligent people agree that traits such as deceit, lying, trickery, cowardliness, and miserliness are all negative and not praiseworthy. So the Muslim is one who aspires to adorn his self with positive character traits and struggles to rid himself of negative character traits. The best of character traits is as the Messenger of God advised his companion ‘Uqba ibn ‘Amir, “O ‘Uqba shall I not inform of you of the best character trait of the people of this life and the hereafter? Maintain ties with those who have severed them with you, forgive those who have transgressed against you, and give to those who do not give to you.”
The masters of this field, i.e. perfecting character, have gathered the principal traits: modesty, righteousness, honesty, speaking little and doing much good work, leaving that which does not concern one, filial piety, maintaining family ties, patience, thankfulness, kindness, and uprightness. However, all of these can be summarized in having humility and high aspirations.
Moral character also plays a role in a societies strength and weakness. Whenever positive and honorable traits are common, society flourishes, and whenever negative traits are rampant society becomes diseased. This concept has been summarized by the famous Egyptian poet, “the prince of poets”, Ahmad Shawqi:
Nations are but character as long as they last
If they disappear [character], so will the nations
Moral character is what distinguishes the sound heart, the sound soul, sound belief, sound thought, and makes one’s self and faith firm and established. Moral character is therefore the outward form of all of this just as corrupt character is an indication of deficiency in one of these areas. We ask God to protect us and all Muslims from corrupt character and our final supplication is all praise is due to God Lord of the worlds and God is most high and all knowledgeable.