Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
A Question of Character – Makarim Akhlaq
If what I am saying is true, interpersonal relations are among the most important things in Islam. They acquire a central place in the scheme of things in Islam. That means, no matter what else you do, unless you are able to straighten out your relationship with your fellow-Muslims – and your fellow-human beings – you aren’t going anywhere as a Muslim nor is your association, organization, community or society.
Interpersonal relations are the sum total of all the positive qualities I mentioned earlier, minus the negative qualities plus Allah’s Rahmah (mercy), Ni’mah (bounty) and Fadl (boon). Some of these I have outlined earlier in this book. Some I list below. If we held each one of them as a mirror in front of us we would know why we have the kind of interpersonal relations we do.
Some – just some, not all – of the positive qualities required for good interpersonal relations are Ikhlas, openness, honesty, integrity, personal warmth, caring, solicitation, Du’a, well-wishing, respect, compassion, forgiveness, helpfulness, gentleness, truthfulness and trustworthiness.
Some other traits and qualities that enhance interpersonal relations include courtesy, kindness, an open and cheerful countenance, friendliness, easygoing attitude, helpfulness, generosity, gift-giving, tolerance and accommodation, clear and open communication, keeping promises, responsibility, meeting obligations, love for fellow-Muslims and fellow-human beings and such.
These are all part of the Islamic character that is required of us in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Instead of trying to learn and adopt them in our lives, and instead of trying to help each other to cultivate them, some of us try to find refuge from them in our own favorite teachings and aspects of Islam such as more Dhikr, more Nafl, more attention to the purity and perfection of the Aqeedah, more anger and contempt toward those who fall short of our ideals or more involvement in the activities of our own organizations or Jama’ats and communities.
Some – again, just some, not all – of the bad qualities that have a negative impact on interpersonal relations are Hasad (jealousy), Bughdh (hate), Bukhl (miserliness), Ghaibah (backbiting), Kibr (conceit and arrogance), lying, cheating, deception, calling names, taunting, faultfinding, manipulativeness, lack of trustworthiness and lack of dependability.
Some other negative qualities that ruin our dealings and relationships with others include lack of openness, lack of clear communication, exploitation, dominating and controlling behavior, contempt for others, breaking promises, failing to meet obligations, harshness, roughness, rudeness, impatience, irritability, being unduly critical of others, making fun of others, national, linguistic and cultural chauvinism, slavish worship of organizations and Jama’ats and using that as a criterion to judge and treat people, arrogance of power, wealth and status and other similar things.
These are all things we are supposed to avoid in our character and behavior. But unfortunately some of us are simply bad people – I am sorry, but that is what some of us good people have become. We have become bad people who lie, cheat, try to manipulate, dominate and control people, break promises, don’t want to meet their social commitments and obligations and are contemptuous and critical of others and treat people using narrow filters of our respective organizations, Jama’ats, communities, nationalities, languages and cultures. What kind of interpersonal relations would this spawn?
These are all part of what is called Akhlaq – character and personal qualities and attributes. The good qualities are Akhlaq Hameedah. The bad ones are Akhlaq Sayyi-ah, Rdi-ah or Madhmoomah. If I had the time and resources I would have cited for you, name by name and item by item, the relevant Ahaadeeth and Aayaat of the Qur’an.
But suffice it to say that character – meaning social character; the way we come across to people; the way we treat people; the core of our personalities; the sum total of our values and attitudes – is the very foundation of Islam. With it in place, you can say that a proper foundation for Islam exists. Without it, Islam is little more than a pipedream. This is the place to recall that Hadith that says that people are like metals: Best before Islam are also the best after Islam. Translation: Gold is gold, before Islam or after Islam, whereas lead will remain lead whether before or after Islam.
Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, possessed the most amazing character – Khuluq 'Azeem. Not only his friends and admirers but also his enemies were in awe of his character. And this is what he pointedly told us: I am here to give people a better character – Makarim Akhlaq, noble, decent and beautiful ways of behaving.
Makarim Akhlaq, thus, is the key to good interpersonal relations – in any community, not the least in the Muslim community. It is almost the be-all and end-all of working for Allah. Therefore, next time when we complain about bad interpersonal relations, remember what we are saying is that we are – on both sides, or at least on one side – bad people. Let me repeat that: Bad Relations, Bad People.
What is our problem Muslims? Our Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, had great relations with even some of his worst enemies – they were fascinated by his character. Where do you and I lie on that scale?
An important clue to good interpersonal relations is what our Aslaf – our spiritual ancestors – used to practice. They were in the habit of judging themselves much more strictly and harshly than they judged others. They were more forgiving of other people’s failings and shortcomings than they were of their own. This endeared them in the eyes of others. Many of us seem to have gotten this equation completely wrong. We seemed to have reversed the scale. We are generally most tolerant and forgiving of ourselves but not of others. We need to put it back in proper perspective.
When it comes to working for Allah, now or in the past or in the future, interpersonal relations are everything – of course, your belief in Allah counts; of course, you are supposed to pray, fast, give Zakat and go to Hajj. But these things themselves acquire their proper place in our lives only when our relations with others become better.