Praise be to Allaah.
A good attitude is the
characteristic of the best of the Messengers and is the best action of the
righteous. It is – no doubt – half of religion, the fruit of the efforts of
the pious and the practice of the devoted worshipper. Bad characteristics
are lethal poison and lead to shameful consequences.
The Prophet (peace and
blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “I have only been sent to perfect
good characteristics.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari in al-Adab al-Mufrad
(273) and classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah
It was narrated that Abu
Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was asked about that which will
admit most people to Paradise. He said: “Fear of Allaah and a good
Narrated by al-Tirmidhi
(2004); he said it is saheeh ghareeb. It was classed as saheeh by al-Albaani
in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.
Hence Islam paid a great
deal of attention to laying down guidelines for treating diseases of the
heart (i.e., spiritual diseases) and ways of acquiring good characteristics,
which is regarded as one of the most important duties, because no heart will
be free of sicknesses. If the heart is neglected, sicknesses will
accumulate. No soul is free of inclinatons which, if they are given free
rein, will lead it to doom in this world and in the Hereafter.
This kind of medicine
requires profound knowledge of reasons and causes, then it needs hard work
to remedy it and set things straight, in order to reach a successful
outcome. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Indeed he succeeds who
purifies his ownself”
The Prophet (peace and
blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to pray for a good attitude, saying,
“O Allaah, You have made my outward form beautiful so make my attitude good
too.” Narrated by Ibn Hibbaan in his Saheeh (3/239) and classed as
saheeh by al-Albaani in Irwa’ al-Ghaleel (75).
If a person knows what his
shortcomings are he can do something to remedy them, but many people are
unaware of their faults and shortcomings. A person may see the speck in his
brother’s eye and not see the log in his own. The person who wants to know
what his own faults are may do four things:
He may sit before a Shaykh who
has insight into people’s faults and knowledge of the subtlety of some
problems and learn from him knowledge, good attitudes and manners.
He may ask a sincere friend who
has insight and is religiously committed to keep watch over him and take
note of his actions, so that he can draw attention to whatever he dislikes
of his attitude, actions, and inward and outward faults. This is what the
best and greatest imams of Islam used to do. ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased
with him) used to say: “May Allaah have mercy on a man who shows me my
He can learn about his faults
and shortcomings from the lips of his enemies, because the eye of one who is
resentful will always notice bad things about you. A man may benefit more
from an enemy who wants to cause trouble and mentions his faults than from a
friend who wants to flatter him by praising him and concealing his faults.
He can mix with people.
Everything that he sees as blameworthy among people, he should guard against
in his own self, because the believer is the mirror of his fellow believer,
and in the faults of others he can see his own faults. It was said to ‘Eesa
(peace be upon him): “Who taught you?” He said: “No one taught me; I saw the
ignorance of the ignorant as something bad and I avoided it.”
Attitude reflects how a
person thinks and the way he is inside. Just as, in general, a person’s
outward form cannot be beautiful if only the eyes are beautiful and not the
nose, mouth and cheek, and everything must be beautiful in order for the
entire outward form to be beautiful, so too there are four requirements of
inward beauty which must all be met in order for one’s attitude to be good
or beautiful. If all four requirements are met and balanced then a good
attitude is acquired, the characteristics of which are: strong knowledge,
control of anger, control of desire, and a proper balance between these
With regard to strong
knowledge, good and sound knowledge means understanding in such a way that
one can see the difference between telling the truth and telling lies in
speech, between truth and falsehood in beliefs, between beauty and ugliness
in actions. If this strength becomes sound, there will result from it
wisdom, and wisdom is the head of a good attitude.
With regard to strength of
anger, its beauty is that it is used in accordance with what is dictated by
wisdom. The same applies to desire; its beauty and strength should be
controlled by wisdom, meaning under the control of reason and sharee’ah.
With regard to balance, it
means proper control of desires and anger, under the control of wisdom and
Reason is like a sincere
adviser. Justice and balance is power, and it is like one who does what is
dictated by reason. Anger is to be subjected to control.
The one who acquires and
balances these characteristics is a man of good character in general, and
from it stem all good qualities.
No one achieved perfect
balance of these four characteristics except the Messenger of Allaah
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him); people after him vary in how
close or distant they are to him in character. Everyone who is close to him
in these characteristics is close to Allaah, to the extent that he is close
to the Messenger of Allaah.
This balance may be
achieved in two ways:
1 – By the blessing of
Allaah, as part of one's inherent nature
2 – By acquiring these
characteristics through effort and training, i.e., pushing oneself to do the
actions dictated by the desired characteristic.
The Messenger of Allaah
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Knowledge is
acquired by seeking it, and patience is acquiring by striving to be patient.
The one who strives to attain good will be given it, and the one who strives
to protect himself from evil will be protected. Narrated by al-Khateeb and
others from the hadeeth of Abu’l-Darda’; classed as hasan by al-Albaani.
If a person wants to attain
the characteristic of generosity, the way to attain that is by pushing
himself to do the actions of one who is generous, which is giving away
wealth. So he keeps pushing himself and persisting in that, striving against
his own inclinations, until that becomes second nature and it becomes easy
for him, thus he becomes generous.
Similarly, if a person
wants to attain the characteristic of humility, when he is inclined to be
arrogant, the way he does it is by persisting in doing the actions of the
humble for a long time, striving and pushing himself until that becomes one
of his characteristics, and it becomes second nature to him and easy for
characteristics that are prescribed in Islam may be acquired in this way.
Religious characteristics will never become entrenched in the soul unless
the soul gets accustomed to doing all good habits, unless it gives up all
bad habits, and unless it persists in doing good deeds like one who loves
good deeds and enjoys doing them, and hates bad deeds and is pained by them.
This may be explained by
means of examples:
The one who wants to become
proficient in writing, so that this becomes one of his characteristics and
writing beautifully becomes second nature to him, has no other way but to
hold in his hand that which the proficient writer holds, and persist for a
long time, trying to imitate beautiful hand writing, and keep on doing so
until it becomes well established in him, then finally beautiful writing
will become second nature to him.
Similarly, if a person
wants to become a faqeeh, he has no choice but to do what the fuqaha’ do,
which is to keep studying issues of fiqh until his heart develops a love of
And if a person wants to
become generous and refrain from asking people, and become patient and
humble, he has to keep on doing the actions of those people until they
become second nature to him. He should not despair of attaining those
characteristics if he fails to study for one night, for he will not be able
to attain it with one night’s study. Perfecting the soul and adorning it
with good deeds will not be attained by worshipping for one day, and he will
not be deprived of it if he sins for one day. But slacking off for one day
may lead to another day, then slowly one becomes accustomed to laziness.
The likeness of the soul
and the way to treat it to rid it of bad characteristics and make it attain
good characteristics is that of the body, when treating it to rid it of
disease and bring it good health.
Although the humours are
usually in balance, the stomach may become sick due to food, drink or
circumstances. Similarly, everyone is born with a balanced nature, but his
parents make him a Jew, Christian or Magian, i.e., by training and teaching
one acquires bad characteristics.
Just as the body is not
created perfect in the first place, rather it is made perfect by rearing and
food, similarly the soul is also created imperfect but with the potential to
become perfect, and it can only be perfected by means of education,
discipline and nourishment with knowledge. If the body is sound, the
doctor’s role is to show one the way to maintain good health; if it is sick,
then the doctor’s job is to restore health. The same applies to the soul; if
it is pure and sound then one should strive to preserve it and bring it more
strength and acquire more good characteristics; if it is imperfect then one
should strive to perfect it and purify it.
Sickness that causes
imbalance in the body can only be treated by its opposite, so if it is
caused by cold it is treated with heat and vice versa. Similarly, bad
characteristics, which are diseases of the heart, are treated by applying
the opposite. So the remedy for the disease of ignorance is seeking
knowledge, and the remedy for the disease of miserliness is pushing oneself
to be generous, and the remedy for the disease of arrogance is pushing
oneself to be humble, and the remedy for the sickness of eating too much is
imposing self restraint.
Just as it is essential to
put up with the bitterness of the remedy and show patience in refraining
from what one desires when treating physical sickness, so too it is
essential to put up with the bitterness of striving and being patient when
treating diseases of the heart; rather it is more important, because one
gets rid of physical sickness when one dies, but the sicknesses of the heart
– Allaah forbid – may persist after death and continue forever and ever.
These examples show you the
way to treat diseases of the heart, and demonstrate that the holistic way is
to treat them with the opposite of whatever one is inclined towards and
likes. Allah has summed up all of that in His Holy Book, when He said
(interpretation of the meaning):
“But as for him who
feared standing before his Lord, and restrained himself from impure evil
desires and lusts.
41. Verily, Paradise
will be his abode”
What matters with regard to
striving is fulfilling what one resolves to do. If a person resolves to give
up a desire, then he must show patience and persist, because if he gets used
to giving up what he resolved to do, that will lead to corruption. If it so
happens that he falls short of what he resolved to do, then he must impose
some punishment on himself because of that, because if he does not scare
himself with that punishment, his evil inclinations will overwhelm him and
he will be attracted to indulging in desires, and all his efforts will be
Summarized and adapted from
Ihya’ ‘Uloom al-Deen by al-Ghazaali (3/62-98).
And Allaah knows best.