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Hadith 27: Righteousness is in Good Character

On the authority of an-Nawas bin Sam'an (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

"Righteousness is in good character, and wrongdoing is that which wavers in your soul, and which you dislike people finding out about."

[Muslim]

And on the authority of Wabisah bin Ma'bad (may Allah be pleased with him) who said,

"I came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and he (peace be upon him) said, 'You have come to ask about righteousness.' I said, 'Yes.' He (peace be upon him) said, 'Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels at ease and the heart feels tranquil. And wrongdoing is that which wavers in the soul and causes uneasiness in the breast, even though people have repeatedly given their legal opinion [in its favour].'"

A good hadeeth transmitted from the musnads of the two imams, Ahmed bin Hambal and Al-Darimi, with a good chain of authorities.


Commentary Summary

Righteousness ‘Bir’ is in Good Character

"Righteousness (al-Bir) is in good character," is a statement of the Prophet (saws) that points to good character being the greatest characteristic of Bir. Bir is what encourages people to perform righteous actions, and is associated with Al-Abraar - righteous, pious people who are obedient to Allah (swt).

Bir encompasses many characteristics: justice in one’s dealings, kindness, consideration in one’s endeavors, being generous in offering help, as well as other traits of the believers whom Allah (swt) has described by saying:

"Successful indeed are the believers. Those who offer their Salat with all solemnity and full submissiveness. And those who turn away from Al-Laghuw (dirty, false, evil, vain talk). And those who pay the Zakat. And those who guard their chastity. Except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then, they are free from blame; but whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors; those who are faithfully true to their Amanat (all the duties which Allah has ordained, honesty, trusts, etc.) and to their covenants; and those who strictly guard their (five compulsory congregational) Salawat (prayers) (at their fixed stated hours). These are indeed the inheritors [of Paradise]." [Surah al-Mu'minoon, 23:1-10]

Whoever is unsure of his condition, he should measure these characteristics within himself; if he finds in himself these good qualities, then this is a sign of possessing good character. If he finds that he does not possess any of these characteristics, this is a sign of bad character. If he finds only some of them, then he should strive to retain what he possesses and to obtain what he does not.

Sin is What Wavers or Trembles Your Soul

Sin causes aversion or dislike in the heart; it is that thing which wavers in the breast, and the individual hates that people should come to know of it. The commentators of this hadith stress that the 'people' referred to in this hadith are respected and righteous people. Ustadh Jamaludin Zarabozo states that in this hadith, the Prophet (saws) gave very important signs of sin. The first one is an internal sign within the human being: a feeling of aversion in the soul with respect to the particular act. The second sign also involves internal feelings, but deals with the outward reaction to the act itself: sin causes a wholesome soul to be uneasy and troubled. These signs occur because a person is naturally disposed to favor what leads to positive results and avoid what leads to negative results.

Consult Your Heart

Allah has created us with a pure, innate disposition that is called fitra. This means to love the truth and the good, and to hate falsehood and evil. Consequently, good believers with pure fitra should never confuse truth with falsehood.

To develop the capacity of knowing right from wrong in your heart, you have to realize that what’s good in your heart can be affected by what you consume in terms of ideas and knowledge. So the more you know about the Prophet (sas) - who he was, how he acted in different situations - the more you will be able to distinguish right from wrong. Get to know the Prophet (sas) so you know how he will act in any context.

The second hadith guides us to consult our heart regarding doubtful matters. If the heart is tranquil, that implies that it has bir or righteousness. If the heart is not tranquil when approaching an act, one should abstain from carrying out the act or doubtful matter. However, it should be noted that fitra is subject to corruption and can be spoiled due to the influence of a bad environment - a person may start to like and appreciate what is bad or evil, and dislike truth and goodness. Here, the heart is diseased or even dead. Such a person cannot use his heart as a measure to judge what is good and bad because the fitra is already corrupted.

Prophet Muhammad (sas) said even if other people over and over again give their opinion, yet you still have that feeling in your heart, even with their badgering or reassurance, your fitra is what is giving you that feeling and that is a sign of what you should do. The fact that they keep pushing you, and your soul still waivers, is proof that this is something wrong. Even if you’re uneasy and the thing you were considering turns out to be permissible, it’s best to follow your heart in that gray area.

The Internal Controlling and Guiding System

These two ahadith reveal a significant aspect of Islam: our internal guiding system. This system is established as a result of several factors:

  1. The pure fitra (natural disposition). Allah created everybody with a pure fitra, not just Muslims. The Prophet (sas) mentions many factors in the environment that play an influential role in subjecting the fitra to corruption.
  2. The realization of tawhid (Oneness of Allah). This means practicing all the essentials of tawhid like loving Allah, seeking His Help as the only refuge, depending on Him (tawakul), asking for His Mercy, and many other essentials associated with the idea of tawhid.
  3. Adhering to shari'ah instructions.
  4. Seeking knowledge.
  5. Tazkiyah and tarbiyah - that is the purification of the soul and the heart of the Muslim.

These factors, along with many others, are interrelated and lead to the establishment of the internal controlling system. However, this system needs to be 'updated' and 'upgraded' regularly by educators and da'ies. It is very important that educators and da'ies pay attention to the individual's and the community's built-in system. They have to create awareness about contemporary challenges. They should plan future strategies to deal with such challenges.

Only through such proper reconstruction of the consciousness can we be certain about the validity and effectiveness of the internal controlling system. Muslims need to be aware of this fact, and activate their system in order to be sensitive towards doubtful acts and sinful matters. Unless this system is 'upgraded', the person may not act in the right way. It is like installing 'anti-virus software' within ourselves: with such software in place, our internal system will prevent 'viruses', i.e. bad/evil acts, from entering our thoughts or hearts.

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