Akhlaaq – the missing link
Whereas we flirtingly talk superfluously about Akhlaaq and its importance in Islam, the Satori (sudden enlightenment) that we are now experiencing, the so-called age of information, seems to have blindsided us into believing we are all well mannered.
Perhaps, it would be useful to start from the beginning. The importance of Akhlaaq was the highlight of the Holy Prophet (SAW)’s life and his teachings. And why is Akhlaq Important? Because it defines one as a person personally and socially.
So, for instance how one walks and talks, how he or she responds and gestures, the treatment of others, the words one utters, all of these and more fall under the gambit of Akhlaaq.
Yet, defining what good character is, is by no means an easy task, which makes it all the more difficult a trait to pass over to subsequent generations. What each one of us and our respective families can be thought of as the code of conduct that we hold dear as constituting good character. The most troubling and antagonistic challenge is what society wants us to become, or at least what it tends to reward. You cannot get a seat on the bus, if you do not use body force to push your way in, audacity is what gives us the ticket in high life and high society, loud talk provides us with the attention we seek from others, gossiping is the passport to social networks, good deeds must now be calculated into optics for mileage, and the list goes on. In the gamut of all of this, sincerity (another good character trait), is dead and dusted. Before we know it, we are just as uncultured as we think others are.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” The famous basketball coach John Wooden said something very similar: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
Young people often get confused by the difference between “having good character” and “being a good person.” While there definitely is some overlap between these (many good people also have good character), they are two very distinct things.
It all boils down to a person’s core values and to their motivations for acting as they do. In general, people who are considered to have good character often have traits like integrity, honesty, courage, loyalty, fortitude, and other important virtues that promote good behaviour. These character traits define who they are as people—and highly influence the choices they make in their lives.
Furthermore, a person with a positive character does the right thing because he or she believes it is the right thing to do. They do not act because someone else is influencing or pressuring them to do so, and they do not do something just because they want to look good in front of others. They take the right action because it is important to them to live life according to their personal values.
On the other hand, some people simply take positive actions because of other influences. Say, someone may donate money to a charity when they are solicited in front of other people—but they may not have donated had they been out alone at the time. While the action of donating, in this case, is objectively good (and the person who donated is very likely “a good person”), this action is not necessarily a marker of good character. It is also not a marker of poor character by any means—but the distinction of how you act in front of others versus how you act in solitude, is the key.
At its innard, character is something that intrinsically occurs within a person and surpasses other factors like race, religion, age, gender, education, and even personality in determining how we respond when faced with tough situations in life. Other factors and our experiences may influence the character traits we have—but it is ultimately our character itself that truly dictates how we act.
These are hard lessons for children to understand, so it is often helpful to break them down into some smaller parts.
Our society, claimant of adhering to the teachings of this holy personality, must ask this critical question – are we setting the right ‘good character examples for our children? Are we fit to be teachers in a Madrasah, a school, or in other informal learning settings on account of our doing the right thing or having a good character? The longer this question is pending, the harder the journey in retracing the Holy Prophet’s footsteps will b, as we try to navigate our way into a path of the Almighty’s ultimate pleasure.