Heavy on the scales…the importance of good character in Islam
Abu Darda (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated the Prophet (peace be on him said:
عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ مَا شَيْءٌ أَثْقَلُ فِي مِيزَانِ الْمُؤْمِنِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مِنْ خُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ
‘There isn’t anything, which will be put on the scale (on the Day of Resurrection), heavier than good character.”’[Abu Da’ud (Sunan), At-Tirmidhi and Imam Ahmad and it’s an authentic good hadith]
This is a one-line hadith which is a very important hadith and there are many, many narrations in the sunnah which mention the importance of good character.
There is a similar hadith, in which we came across earlier, in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Al Nawwas bin Sam’an:
عَنْ النَّوَّاسِ بْنِ سَمْعَانَ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه و سلم قَالَ:
الْبِرُّ حُسْنُ الْخُلُقِ
، وَالْإِثْمُ مَا حَاكَ فِي صَدْرِك، وَكَرِهْت أَنْ يَطَّلِعَ عَلَيْهِ النَّاسُ
“Righteousness (birr) is in good character (husnul khuluq) and wrongdoing is that which wavers in your soul, and which you dislike people finding out about.”(Muslim)
This hadith has been mentioned in the 40 Hadith by Imam Nawawi, and is one of the very comprehensive narrations.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) defined righteousness as being husnul khuluq (good character) and he kept reminding people of this on different occasions.
Accordingly scholars talk about the virtues of good character, the reward of good character and conversely the punishment for having bad character, and the ugliness of having bad character etc.
Heavy on the Scale – quantifying the unquantifiable
In this hadith the unique point is that it mentions the heaviest thing in your scale on the Day of Judgement is good character.
This means firstly that character which we do not see as a measurable quality, can be weighed on the scales on the Day of Judgement. Moreover deeds are actions so how do we put them on the scales? Some scholars reply to this and say that we can measure things that could not be measured before like temperature, and Allah’s scale is more accurate and sensitive than any other scale and it can measure what is not material or quantifiable for us.
Importance of Good Character
The Day of Judgement is make or break time when deeds are weighed and will determine whether you enter Paradise or not.
Here we have a very striking image, because the Prophet (peace be on him) is juxtaposing good character with the heavy scales. This connects them visually and reinforces the importance of good character graphically.
We can now see the scene that when deeds will be weighed character will be on top – above all good deeds.
Previously we have a very famous, authentic narration from Hadith Qudsi, in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned that the heaviest thing on one’s scale on the Day of Judgement is la illaha illallah, i.e. the shahadah, known as Hadith Bitaqa or Hadith of the Card, on which is written la illaha illallah Muhammada Rasoolullah, the shahadah.
يُصَاحُ بِرَجُلٍ مِنْ أُمَّتِي يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ عَلَى رُءُوسِ الْخَلاَئِقِ فَيُنْشَرُ لَهُ تِسْعَةٌ وَتِسْعُونَ سِجِلاًّ كُلُّ سِجِلٍّ مَدَّ الْبَصَرِ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ هَلْ تُنْكِرُ مِنْ هَذَا شَيْئًا فَيَقُولُ لاَ يَا رَبِّ فَيَقُولُ أَظَلَمَتْكَ كَتَبَتِي الْحَافِظُونَ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ أَلَكَ عُذْرٌ أَلَكَ حَسَنَةٌ فَيُهَابُ الرَّجُلُ فَيَقُولُ لاَ . فَيَقُولُ بَلَى إِنَّ لَكَ عِنْدَنَا حَسَنَاتٍ وَإِنَّهُ لاَ ظُلْمَ عَلَيْكَ الْيَوْمَ فَتُخْرَجُ لَهُ بِطَاقَةٌ فِيهَا أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ قَالَ فَيَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ مَا هَذِهِ الْبِطَاقَةُ مَعَ هَذِهِ السِّجِلاَّتِ فَيَقُولُ إِنَّكَ لاَ تُظْلَمُ . فَتُوضَعُ السِّجِلاَّتُ فِي كِفَّةٍ وَالْبِطَاقَةُ فِي كِفَّةٍ فَطَاشَتِ السِّجِلاَّتُ وَثَقُلَتِ الْبِطَاقَةُ ” .
Abdullah ibn al Aas (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
Allah will select a man from my ummah before all the creatures on the day of resurrection. He will select one of the ummah and he will display to him 99 records of deeds and these records will be long as the sight can reach.
Then Allah will say, ‘Do you deny anything from this? Were my guardian scribes unjust to you?’
He will say, ‘No! Oh, My Lord’’
Allah will say, ‘Do you have any excuse?’
He will say, ‘No, My Lord!’
Allah will say, ‘Yes, you have! For there is a good deed and on this day you will not suffer any injustice from us’.
Then a card containing la illaha illallah will appear.
Allah with say, ‘Come and witness the scale!’
He will say, ‘My Lord! what is this card supposed to do with all these records!’ (Remember the man had 99 bad records and each one as far as the eye can see)
Then the records will be put on one side of the scale and the card on the other and the records will weigh lighter and the card will be heavier.
Nothing is heavier than the name of Allah.(Tirmidhi and Imam Ahmad and ibn Majah)
Is there a contradiction between this hadith and the first hadith as one hadith says the heaviest thing on the scale is the shahada while the other says it is good character?
On the surface there is a contradiction, but we know that there is no contradiction in the shariah, only in our understanding. How do we reconcile them?
Authenticity and Understanding
First we check the authenticity of these hadiths – are they strong or weak? If they are both authentic narrations then scholars delve into the interpretation. In this instance both narrations are authentic; so we check our understanding without discarding either hadith, but reconciling their meaning.
Is it possible to reconcile between the two narrations?
Our Shaykh Nooruddin al Itr (may Allah have mercy on him), the great mufassir in his commentary on the collection of hadith compiled by Hajar ibn al Asqalani, Bulugh al Maram, observed, that good character is the heaviest on the scale after the obligations have been weighed. The obligations begin with the shahadah, la illaha illallah Muhammada Rasoolullah, then prayer, fasting, and Hajj, followed by good character. This eliminates the apparent contradiction – so both hadith are valid and make same sense and do not contradict each other. This is great insight and I have not read this interpretation from any other scholar.
Definition of good character (Al Birr/Righteousness)
How did the Prophet (peace be upon him) define good character, as it is a very broad term? Before seeing the commentaries of scholars lets read what Allah Almighty said about good character.
In the very famous verse, which Allah revealed in the early Makkan period, he described the Prophet (peace be upon him):
‘Indeed you have the best form of character.’ [68:4]
By the Prophet (peace be upon him)
In the other hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned to Al Nawwas bin Sam’an, that the definition of al birr, which is the comprehensive word for goodness was husunul khuluq.
In the Quran
Allah defined al birr in the Quran as all goodness. In Surah Baqarah, in a very long beautiful and comprehensive verse, He said:
‘Righteousness does not consist of turning your faces towards the east or the west; but righteousness is about the one who believes in Allah, and the last day and angels, and the scriptures and the prophets and it’s about who gives his money for Allah’s sake, for his relatives, for the orphans, for the needy, for the homeless and the beggars and freeing slaves and those who perform salah and pay zakah and fulfill their promises and patiently persevere in the face of persecution, hardship and in time of conflict. These are the sincere and these are the righteous.’ [2:177]
In this verse, Allah Almighty is defining al birr (goodness)/ husnul khuluq (good character) as righteous belief and actions.
Qadi Iyad (may Allah have mercy on him) said husnul khuluq is:
- dealing with people nicely
- having cheerful face
- showing consideration, love and care for others
- tolerating people
- having patience
- avoiding kibr (arrogance), harshness and anger.
Qadi Iyad (1083–1149) is a very famous Maliki muhadith, whose beautiful commentary in Al-Shifa bi Ta’rif Huquq al-Mustafa (The Remedy by the Recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One [Muhammad]) describes the life of Muhammad (peace be on him), his qualities and his miracles in great detail. It has been translated into English by Aisha Bewley.
Other scholars have said:
The outer reality is the exterior as Allah created the body and the nafs/soul. The exterior is our outer appearance while the inner reality is our character.
The outward is visible to the eyes (basr) but the inward can be perceived by your heart, which is insight or basirah. The exterior may be good looking or ugly and the interior can be also be beautiful or ugly.
Nurture or Nature
Scholars have considered whether good character is something Allah instilled in us or whether it can be learned. Is it nurture or nature? Some people by nature have a very good character. Some people have a very bad character. So can it be improved? Can one learn how to become a better person? Or are you stuck with the personality you are born with?
Scholars say our character has been instilled in us by Allah i.e. fitrah, our innate instinct to prefer good, and the purity which He created in in every single human being – the ability to recognise goodness and evil. And the ability to recognise the truth – by default, every human being is born with this.
We have varying degrees of qualities and some have a basic package, while others have extra. Regardless how much one has, we can learn to become better and improve some bad characteristics. It is not that case that you cannot change yourself.
Dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him) for good character
The proof that we can develop better character is the supplication of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to say in his opening supplication in his salah:
اللَّهُمَّ اهدني لِأَحْسَنِ الْأَعْمَالِ وَأَحْسَنِ الْأَخْلَاقِ لَا يَهْدِي لِأَحْسَنِهَا إِلَّا أَنْتَ وَقِنِي سَيِّئَ الْأَعْمَالِ وَسَيِّئَ الْأَخْلَاقِ لَا يَقِي سَيِّئَهَا إِلَّا أَنْتَ» . رَوَاهُ النَّسَائِيُّ
‘O Allah guide me to the best character, no one can guide me to it but You. Protect me from bad character, no one can protect me but You.’
If there was no possibility of changing then there would be no point making this dua.
Furthermore, in Ramadan we see many people who have a fiery temperament becoming calmer in Ramadan. Not all of them of course but many will do their best to tame their anger. People try to control their tongue, and watch their language etc. so if you make the effort and put your mind to it you can become more patient and kinder and gentler.
The reward of good character
In the other hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned that a person can reach the level of the one who’s is praying in the night (performing qiyamul layl) and fasting all day, just by having good character. As mentioned by Imam Bukhari in his book Al Adab Al Mufrad, and many others as well narrated this hadith, on the authority of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) and other companions (may Allah be pleased with them) as well.
Aisha reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لَيُدْرِكُ بِحُسْنِ خُلُقِهِ دَرَجَةَ الصَّائِمِ الْقَائِمِ
“Verily, the believer may reach by his good character the rank of one who regularly fasts and stands for prayer at night.”(Sunan Abu Dawoud)
Abu Darda (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Nothing is placed on the scale that is heavier than good character. Indeed the person with good character will have attained the rank of the person of fasting and prayer.”(Tirmidhi)
Raised in Dunya and Akhirah
A good character can lift you in the dunya and elevate you to the highest level in the akhirah. Jabir ibn Abdullah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ جَابِرٍ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ إِنَّ مِنْ أَحَبِّكُمْ إِلَيَّ وَأَقْرَبِكُمْ مِنِّي مَجْلِسًا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَحَاسِنَكُمْ أَخْلَاقًا
‘The closest to me on the Day of Judgment are those who have the best character.’(Tirmidhi)
Those with the best character are loved by Allah Almighty and loved by people; and elevated in the akhirah to the status of the siddiqin (the truthful- which is one of the highest stations) and to the level of the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Performing all religious obligations is number one and good character is number two. However, somebody who is praying and fasting and giving charity, but unpleasant to people will be punished for it as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that a woman who prays in the night (qiyamul layl) but is bad her neighbours, would be in hellfire. Whereas a woman who did not pray in the night but is good to her neighbours would be in paradise.
Manifestation of the Quran
Religious duties are therefore are the foundation of anything but not enough by themselves, as you need to have a good character which is the translation of the duties into application, into our relationships with others. Performing the obligations are part of faith, but they have to be applied in our lives – they have to manifest the teachings of the Quran.
The Quran is teaching us to be agents of goodness. This goodness is demonstrated through your character. If you were to pray properly understanding the implications of the prayer then it should reflect in your behaviour with others. It should make your heart and tongue better and your mental status.
It’s a complete package. The Prophet (peace be upon him) wants us to train our minds, our hearts, our tongues to be good as the Quran keeps telling us to ‘say what is best to the people and do what is best.’ [16:125] To long for perfection. Of course we are not perfect, we will not reach perfection in dunya, but we should long for perfection and aim high.
Don’t be satisfied with what you have prepared for your akhirah. Always try to improve your actions, improve your character without creating hardship for yourself.
Kinds of Actions
Actions are of two kinds: one benefits you and the other benefits those around you. When you improve your character it improves your friendships and relationships, and our bond ship with those in our community – creating a society of loving and caring people and this is how we come together.
Otherwise it’s very difficult to live with somebody who keeps harming you, who keeps ignoring you, who keeps treating your badly. Such behaviour leads to very fragmented family, society, and community etc.
Even the smallest act of goodness will be considered as good character as the Prophet (peace be upon him) says, ‘meeting your brother with a cheerful face is a charity.’ This is the good character. See the simple things. You don’t need to go through difficult training to get a smile on your face, although some people might need that because they are always frowning.
We need to be more careful in our interactions – to mind our language, check if we are frowning and how we comment on things, how we see things; then slowly, we can improve our self and be better especially starting with obligation number one: being good to our parents.
Be good to your parents
As Allah stated in the Quran, Allah Almighty commanded us ‘to worship none but Him, and to be good to your parents.’ [17:23]. Being good to parents means you have to have good behaviour with them. Regardless even if they are Muslims or non-Muslims. It means having a good tone when we speak to them, not being sarcastic or mocking. We are not equal to our parents.
Having said this it doesn’t mean that parents have the right to abuse their position, or be dictators. We need balance as parents have to be good to their children as well – it’s a two way street.
In addition we need to be good to our siblings, spouses, children, friends, neighbours and colleagues etc. The ripple effect starts from the nucleus of the home.
Definition of husnul khuluq
In addition husnul khuluq is not to harm people, to be truthful, to have few words, not to be talkative, to have more actions than words, to be patient, grateful, kind, nice and you don’t backbite people, you are not hasty, you don’t have envy, or miserliness and you should be cheerful and loving Allah Almighty and what pleases Him. As well it’s a beautiful definition of husnul khuluq.
This hadith talks about the mizan. We understand from the Arabic language that mizan is a and we believe in the scale, but we don’t know the true reality and nature of the scale. It’s a tool that Allah Almighty has created to weigh the deeds although He doesn’t need any tool to know the deeds it shows His fairness and justice when these will be measured. There are plenty of verses in the Quran and narrations in the sunnah about weighing the deeds in the scale on the Day of Judgement.
In order to have heavy scales, we therefore need to fulfil our religious obligations, follow the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and work on our character and insha’Allah ta’ala we will be safe.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim 19th Sept 2022 Sunday Hadith Class. Transcribed by Rose Roslan
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