And it was indeed character – before Islam and after – that made Ali the kind of hero that he was and that at the same time got him to walk away from a subdued foe after he, the conquered foe, in an act of desperation, spat on his face.
Here is how we can paraphrase that situation.
“Ali,” said the surprised man. “Why would you walk away from me and not kill me when I spat on you?”
“It is simple,” said Ali. “When we battled each other, you fought for your self-interest and I fought for God Almighty’s sake. I had no other reason. I had no personal stake in our fight. And I had no reason to hate you as a person. But when you spat on me, you made my blood boil and you made me furious over this personal insult the kind of which I had never suffered before.”
“If I had killed you at that moment of rage,” Ali continued as his conquered combatant listened in utter bewilderment and stupefaction, “that would have been a pure act of personal revenge on my part. My killing you in that state of personal anger then would not have been in the service of the higher cause of justice, human equality and universal peace to which I have dedicated my life.”
To control that towering rage, to resist that provocation, and walk away from a conquered foe! That was Ali’s character before and after Islam. Ali was a mere boy when he came into Islam with that character, which was later nurtured and built personally by none other than the Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, himself.
Focus on Changing Character
So, the cure for Muslim ills is character. But Muslims fail to come to terms with questions of character by confusing it with Iman, even though Iman is inextricably intertwined with character.
In fact, Iman is the best and surest foundation upon which to build character.
But in a certain sense people can have character without Iman Billah or belief in God. They could have a generalized kind of strong belief – in anything. That will give them character, albeit not Islamic character.
That is why I kept repeating the words “before Islam and after” in previous paragraphs. Those words are almost a direct translation of a Hadith that can be paraphrased as “Gold before Islam, gold after Islam.”
Khairukum fil jaahiliyyah, khairukum fil Islam.
Thus, it is entirely possible for those without Iman Billah to possess superior qualities of heart and mind – character. But the best and highest level of character exists when it is rooted in Iman Billah.
And no character was more solid or supreme than that of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, which was not only grounded in the teachings of the Qur’an but which was a full and complete embodiment of the entire Qur’an.
Innaka la-‘alaa khuluqin ‘azeem, says the Qur’an: “Your character indeed is great.”
“His character simply was the Qur’an,” says the Hadith: Kaana Khuluquhul Qur’an.
Thus, if the Muslims make claims of Iman, then that claim must be backed up by a solid personal character on the ground. They must embody the best and highest qualities of human character.
Muslims must embody the Qur’an. Nothing less is acceptable.
That, however, is not generally the case. Not because Muslims don’t have it, but more because Muslims generally don’t even seem to be aware of it. By and large, they simply seem to have no understanding of what character really means and how to go about building and acquiring it.
So, if character is a fatal flaw among Muslims, the way to fix that flaw is to start building character. Merely trumpeting claims of Iman, while neglecting to focus on the question of character, will not cure Muslim ailment on the character front.
That means the Muslim situation will not change, as the Qur’an makes it clear, till Muslims change their character: Hattaa yughaiyyiroo maa bi-anfusihim.
Let me repeat: Till Muslims change their character.
While Muslims around the world need this new lesson in character, in some ways Muslims of India may need it more urgently than the others.
© 2009 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.
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