The Great Importance of Good Manners by Muslims
The Great Importance of Good Manners by Muslims
"According to most scholars, one of the reasons that Islam spread in the region of South-East Asia, to places like Indonesia and Malaysia was the fact that Muslim traders appeared to have excellent manners. There was no Jihad in Indonesia. We must also remember that the converse applies and that bad manners reflect badly on Islam."
A khutbah (sermon) by M. Waleed Kadous.
In the name of Allah, and praises and peace be upon the Prophet of Allah. I advise us all to fear Allah, and to be conscious of his omniscience, for whoever does so, Allah will provide for him a way out of trouble.
There is no God but Allah the Kind and Merciful, and thanks be to Allah, the lord of the Great Throne. We ask that you bring upon us your mercy and the doors of your forgiveness, and protection from our own sins, and forgiveness of our minor transgressions.
I declare that the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) fulfilled the trust, and conveyed the message, and we are witnesses to that reality.
Whom Allah chooses to guide, there is nothing and no-one that can mislead him and whom he chooses mislead, there is nothing and no-one that can guide him.
Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. May the peace, blessings and mercy of Allah be upon you all.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an Iftar organised by the UTS Muslim Society. There, Soadad Doureihi, whom I notice is in the audience today gave a very interesting seminar, discussing the relationship between faith and action, between belief and behaviour, among a number of other points he touched on. I thought that this was a fundamental point. If you have a belief, then it affects the way you behave.
If you believe that a particular area is full of landmines, it's unlikely that you'll go walking through that area. If you see a spider in front of you, which you believe is poisonous, you're going to move out of the way pretty much quickly to avoid being bitten; unless you've got some serious psychological problems. If you didn't move out of the way, and I knew you were reasonably sane, what would I conclude? I would have no choice but to conclude that you didn't believe that the spider was poisonous.
What about the Muslim then? The basic criteria of being a Muslim is the shahadah - (say the shahadah) - I believe that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad (SAWS) is the Prophet of Allah. Like any other belief, there are consequences of this belief. The point made by Soadad was that the consequences of the Shahadah were that we accepted that Allah was the one who should define our behaviour and tell us how to behave and that we should always obey Allah, as conveyed through the Qur'an and the actions of our Prophet which form the basis of our Hadith.
In consequence, if someone was to assert that you could be a Muslim in heart only, without the belief manifesting itself in behaviour, then the strength of belief in the original statement must be weak or flawed in the first place.
What I want to talk about today is a specialisation of the above - one way which belief is manifested in behaviour. It's an area which I think is sometimes ignored; we sometimes become preoccupied with other issues. Still it is fundamentally important - and it is not just me who says it is important, but the Prophet (SAWS).
Before I tell you what I am talking about, let me put in a proviso - I am a human, and I have flaws - and in a way I am reminding myself about this aspect of Islam just as much as I am reminding you. There's an old saying which I've found to be very true: the best way to learn is to teach. By teaching something it forces you to compile, realise and reorganise. So if I do make a mistake, I ask you to forgive me.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about manners, adaab, akhlaaq - whatever you want to call it. I can almost see some of the eyes rolling in the audience - oh no, yet another lecture on the importance of manners. But it's an important topic, one which I think needs to be addressed, and one which people who are asked to give talks will continue to give talks until they can see that all the talk is finally sinking in.
Just to give you some idea of how seriously Islam takes this issue, let's look at some sayings of the Prophet. The Prophet, in Muwatta Imam Malik said (Wa ma awtita illa li'utamima makarim al-akhlaaq). ``Verily, I was sent for no other reason, except to perfect the noble traits of character'' - in other words; one of the Prophet's goals, in fact, the primary mission was the perfection of how people behave - their manners.
Furthermore, the connection between Iman and manners is also made clear by the hadith of the Prophet which says that faith consists of seventy branches, the least of which is the removal of a treebranch blocking the road, and in another narration, sixty branches, and Hayaa' (which is an Arabic term, which is hard to translate and covers manners, modesty, guarding of chastity, etc) is a part of faith. So again, manners and behaviour are linked directly to Iman.
Furthermore, there are many other specific areas of manners that the Prophet (SAWS) and the Qur'an went to great extremes to emphasise. This is intended short talk, but let's just sample some areas in which we can see how important manners are.
In the area of family, the Prophet (SAWS) said: The best of you is the best of you to his family, and I am the best to his family.
In the area of neighbours, the Prophet (SAWS) said: The angel Gabriel kept advising me about neighbours until I thought he would make him entitled to some part of the inheritance.
In speech, the Prophet (SAWS) said: Nothing is weightier on the scales of the day of judgement than his good behaviour. Allah treats a person who is given to loose and vulgar talk with displeasure.
With regards to backbiting, the Qur'an says: ``wa la yaghtab ba'dukum ba'da ayuhibby ahadukum and ya'kula la'hma akheehi mayyitan fakarihtumuuhu''.(surah al hujuurat, verse 12) And do not backbite, would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother; you would surely hate it (so you should likewise hate backbiting).
With regards to parents, the Qur'an says: (fa la taqullahmuaa uffin wa la tanharhumaa) - say not even a word to them in contempt and don't repel them (surah al-israa verse 23).
In controlling one's temper, the Prophet (SAWS) says: The strong man is not the good wrestler, but the strong man is he who controls himself when he is angry.
With regards to being forgiving and kind, the Prophet (SAWS), said to one of the Sahabah: ``You have two qualities which Allah (SWT) likes and loves: one is mildness and the other is toleration''.
These are just some of the hadith and ayahs that cover different aspects of manners. While the hadiths are themselves important and the points they make even more so, what I am trying to get to is that these aspects of manners are linked with such high praise, and deviation from these manners is condemned with such denigrating disgust.
Furthermore, if you tried to summarise this; tried to extract the essence of all these manners and tried to pull out the one link that connects them all; I personally think that you would find that there is one aspect that they all have in common; and that is considerateness. What does it mean to be considerate? Once again, there are no better words on this matter than the words of the Prophet (SAWS): ``None of you will have true faith until he wishes for his Muslim brother what he wishes for himself''.
This hadith summarises the whole of the issues that I am trying to make - considerateness; thinking about your Muslim brother and what he is going through, and what impact your actions will have on him. Furthermore, it also, once again, emphasises the link between belief and action - that faith manifests itself in our behaviour to our brothers and sisters in Islam.
The sad thing is that you don't see this considerateness. For example, if you've ever tried to park near a mosque, you'll know that people will double park you, locking you in your place for hours on end, without showing any consideration. It happened to me yesterday. When you go use our bathroom upstairs, sometimes you'll find that the person before you left a mess with water on the ground. When you go to Friday prayers, there'll be people speaking while the Imam is speaking as if nothing was going on, showing little or no consideration for either the Imam or the people trying to listen to the Khutbah. And these are in things that are related to Islam; how do people behave in situations where Islam is not involved?
Some of you are probably thinking, ``Yeah, those are minor inconveniences, the guy's gone a bit overboard just to address a simple issue''. But manners are not a little issue, and the above are just some of the more salient versions of the problem.
Why should you choose to adopt good manners, even if they apparently inconvenience you? The primary reason you should adopt manners is out of obedience for Allah and his Prophet - they feel it is important, and it's quite clear that good manners are directly connected with Iman.
But what we find in the rest of Islam, as a number of scholars have put it is that Allah has not made anything Haram which benefits us, or allowed anything that hurts us. So while we would have good manners even if we did not know why Allah enjoined them, there are very good reasons for having good manners. So what are the possible reasons?
The first reason is that good manners are the best form of Da'wah. We all know the story of the Jew who was a neighbour of the Prophet (SAWS) who used to dump rubbish on his doorstep. One day, the Prophet found no rubbish. The next day he found no rubbish, so he asked about the Jew, only to find that he was sick. He then visited the sick Jew and tried to make him feel better. As a result, the Jew became Muslim.
According to most scholars, one of the reasons that Islam spread in the region of South-East Asia, to places like Indonesia and Malaysia was the fact that Muslim traders appeared to have excellent manners. There was no Jihad in Indonesia.
We must also remember that the converse applies and that bad manners reflect badly on Islam. For example, we received a letter from the sports association, complaining that the bathrooms for Friday prayer were left in a complete mess. They then asserted ``that it was known that Muslims wash their feet in the toilet''. Clearly, if the bathrooms were left clean such strange comments would not appear. Instead of being thought of as clean, decent, hygienic, well-mannered, mild, tolerant people; the image of Muslims here is that they are loud-mouthed, unclean, dole-bludging, violent and dodgy in their business dealings. While a certain amount of this is media beat-up, it is also self-inflicted to a certain extent, out of our not sticking to the Sunnah.
It is amazing how much one mild-mannered, polite Muslim can do to improve the reputation of Islam among his friends. So I would advise you all to be good, well-behaved, polite Muslims as a form of Da'wah.
A second reason, I think, is that I think we sometimes do not see the big picture. It is difficult to imagine for us that the lack of good manners could have drastic social effects. We think, ``so what if people are not always 100 per cent polite to one another - it's not a major thing for me to inconvenience someone else for a few minutes, nobody will mind''. But things are not always that simple.
I am not an anthropologist, but you don't need to be one to understand that society in general is a complex thing, and that it is extremely sensitive to things that, to many, do not appear to be major. Good manners is one of these.
Let me give you an example from our modern times, and then we'll look at how Islam and this modern research are related.
Some of you may have heard of some interesting research on crime, called the ``broken window'' effect. Two researchers did the following test. They put one car in the poorer areas of New York, with the hood open. They put another car in a really affluent suburb in California. The car in New York got pulled to pieces within 24 hours. The car in California remained untouched for two weeks. Then one of the researchers smashed one window in the car and within a day, the car ended up like the one in New York.
The conclusion? That by breaking the window on the car, they essentially marked the car as ``neglected'' and thus people thought of it as ``fair game'', even though it was in a good neighbourhood. Similarly, the authors concluded, if you allow little things to get away, like the breaking of windows, unless the window gets fixed very soon, all the windows get smashed.
So what? Well, three years ago, in New York, they got a new police commissioner. He decided to implement this idea, by ensuring that the police no longer just attack the big issues, the homicides, the car stealings, the breaking and entering; but also the little things, like making sure streets were clean, fixing broken windows. The net effect? Crime rates in New York, formerly one of the world's crime centres, fell by almost one third in three years.
Why does this work? By taking care of the little things, you give people a sense of security, of what in Arabic we call ``amanah''. Is this a new idea? No! If you look at the way Islam is structured, you will find that indeed this is a basic principle, that taking care of the ``micro'' if you like, leads to improvement in the ``macro''. In fact, in the Qur'an, Allah SWT is discussing what is said and Allah describes saying things without knowledge (in Surah Al-Nur) ``wa tahsabunahu hayyinan wa huwa 'indallahi 'atheem'' - you think of it as a light matter, while it is in the sight of allah, extremely serious.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of manners. By taking what some people think is a little thing and emphasising it, manners lay the foundation for a civilised society, and create that sense of ``amanah'', of security, that make it possible for people to become better Muslims. People will feel more comfortable, they will be less irritable, they will be more relaxed and have more energy to worship, to improve manners. If you like, the broken window is the manners, the little things that we have ignored, and by doing something that appears irrelevant, like adopting good manners, it may have a much greater effect than we can probably imagine.
Thirdly, human nature is such that when we do actions, they reinforce our beliefs. When we make Du'a to Allah, is that for Allah's sake? Allah knows what we want, we don't need to tell him. But it is the act of asking Allah, it is a symbol of our devotion to Allah and acknowledging that He is the only one who can grant us what we ask for. By making Du'a, we are reinforcing this belief, and this is why the Prophet (SAWS) encouraged it, saying things like ``du'a is the brain of worship'' and ``Allah likes the slave who is constantly making du'a''.
Similarly, by adopting good manners, we reinforce in ourselves the notion of consideration for other Muslims; that we have a responsibility to other Muslims, whether it be simple manners, or helping them to fight for freedom from oppressors. We create among ourselves a sense of brotherhood. And we strengthen our faith.
So how do we improve our manners? I'll just point to three steps that I think are important.
Imitation One way to learn how to do something is to pick a master at that particular thing and learn from him. And indeed in Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) we find that excellent example. In the Qur'an we find it says ``La qad kaana lakum fi rasulillahi 'uswatun hasanah liman kaana yarju llaha wal yawmil aakhir wa thakara Allaha kathiran'' (In suratul Ahzaab, verse 21). Indeed you have in the messenger of Allah an excellent example for anyone who him who looks to Allah and the Final Day and remembers Allah a lot. And in another verse in Suratul Qalam: ``Wa innaka la'ala khuluqin atheem''. And you (i.e the prophet) are indeed possesed of awesome manners. Ai'sha (RAA) when asked about the behaviour of the Prophet (SAWS) said that ``His manners were the Qur'an''.
So we should study the manners of the Prophet and try our best to imitate them.
Consideration However, there may be situations where the Prophet did not explicitly explain what we should do under particular conditions. In this case, the general rule discussed earlier applies, namely that none of us truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself. So before I undertake a particular action, I should always consider: Will this affect anybody else unduly? Who will I cause problems for by undertaking such an action?
Consultation The final way I think we can improve our manners is by advising each other. In the Qur'an, Allah says ``Wal Asr, in...'' By the age, indeed man is in loss, except for those who Believe, and do good Deeds, and advise each other in the Truth, and advise each other in patience.
The Prophet (SAWS) said: al-deen an-nasihah. Religion is advising one another. However, two things need to be clarified:
a.. The advice has to be given in the right way. You don't give advice in public in front of others; you give it in private - otherwise you embarass the person. It should be given as calmly and delicately as possible. b.. The advice must be received correctly. You shouldn't get angry about this person offering you advice, rather you should be grateful to this person for taking the time to discuss with you something that is not easy for him to discuss; and taking the risk that you might grow angry with him. Conclusion In conclusion, those of us who accept the Shahadah (and I hope that is all of us) must also accept that that belief has consequences. One of the most important of those is in having good manners. The benefits of good manners are many, three of which I think are important are da'wah, amanah and commitment to the Muslim community. How do we improve our manners? By imitating the prophet, by having consideration for other Muslims and consulting one another.
Thanks for your time. May Allah accept our fasting, and indeed, all our good deeds.
Wassalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullah.
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