Is it possible to change?

Can you change your character?

People often wonder if it is possible to change your character.

Allah Almighty talked about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) in many verses in the Quran, but one of the unique verses, were when he said:

Indeed you have the best character. (68:4)

We all long to follow his footsteps and copy his character Peace be upon him.

As we know, Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:

I have been sent to perfect good character. (Muwatta)

In the following story we can see that there are certain qualities which we should aspire to.

The man from Yemen

Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) said to the leader of a Yemeni delegation, Ashaj Abdul Qais (may Allah be pleased with him:

وعن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما قال‏:‏ قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لأشج عبد القيس‏:‏ ‘إن فيك خصلتين يحبهما الله‏:‏ الحلم والأناة’‏. (‏رواه مسلم‏)‏‏.‏

You possess two qualities that Allah loves. These are clemency and tolerance. (Muslim)

When the delegation arrived in Madinah they left their camels and rushed to the mosque to see the Prophet (peace be on him), leaving their camels untied because they were so excited to see him. By contrast, their leader descended from his camel tied it, and walking slowly, he tied the camels of his companions, took out his luggage, bathed and changed into his new clothes, then eventually made his way to meet the Prophet (peace be on him).

Meanwhile, the companions brimming with excitement were kissing the hands of the Prophet (peace be on him) which is seen as an evidence that it is permissible to kiss the hands of scholars and fathers. Ashaj arrived with dignity and poise and filled respect for the Prophet (peace be on him) and this is when the Prophet (peace be on him) commented that he possessed two qualities which Allah Almighty loves. What were these? Al hilm (tolerance) and Anat (clemency).

Pinpointing these two qualities, the Prophet (peace be on him) shone a spotlight on these characteristics and their importance.

Which raises the question is it possible to change your character?

Innate vs developed characteristics

When the Prophet (peace be on him) told Ashaj that he had two qualities Allah loves, Ashaj was delighted and asked if these were innate qualities created by Allah in him or qualities that he had acquired. And Allah said they were innate in him.

These are two qualities we need to emulate. It is possible to increase these qualities in ourselves. We need to train ourselves. We need to respond consciously with calmness and decrease our haste, as we saw in the peaceful demeanour of Ashaj, which is the prophetic way. As the Prophet (peace be on him) stated:

Clemency is from Allah and haste is from Satan. (Tirmidhi)

How do we adopt these qualities?

Follow the prophetic way (al hadyy al-salih)

In another hadith Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:

Right behaviour, good appearance and moderation is from a twenty-fifth portion of prophethood. (Abu Dawoud and al-Adab al-Mufrad)

This does not mean that prophethood can be divided into parts, as it is a gift from Allah Almighty, but it highlights that these qualities are the prophetic way.

Appearance is not just your clothes but how you hold yourself and how you move, Ashaj walked slowly with composure.

In a similar narration, moderation was highlighted as one of the characteristics of the prophets and the followers of the prophets. Sahl ibn Sa’d reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

Good character (appearance), clemency, and moderation is one part of 24 of prophethood. (Tirmidhi)

Develop the qualities within yourself

The fact that we can improve ourselves is evidenced in the following hadith:

Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that certain people of the Ansar asked the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) and he gave them; then they again asked him and he gave them until all what he possessed was exhausted. Then the Prophet (peace be on him) said,

Whatever wealth I have, I will not withhold from you.

Whoever abstains from asking others, Allah will make him contented, and whoever tries to make himself self-sufficient, Allah will make him self-sufficient. And whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Is it possible to change?

We can change

This hadith is very important because it shows us that we can change.

We see here that if you act with patience, Allah increases your patience; whoever refrains from asking others, and works towards being self-sufficient, Allah makes him self-sufficient. This means it is possible to change your character.

This is what we do in Ramadan, people try their best to control their anger and their emotional responses, and increase their sabr (patience). Allah Almighty is teaching us that if you try hard enough and ask Allah with sincerity, He will give it to you.

Change your mindset

Don’t say ‘This is me. Take me as I am or you are not my friend’. This is the wrong approach to life. The Prophet (peace be on him) through the hadith proved that change can happen. First you have to acknowledge that you are not The Finished Article. You have gaps and aspects to improve.

The way forward is to keep trying. Don’t have the attitude that you cannot change. This is unacceptable. We can change. Not 100 % in all issues but we can improve by working on ourselves. You may even need to see a specialist to help you change.

Have the will to change yourself

Jabir narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:

Indeed the most beloved among you to me, and the nearest to sit with me on the Day of Judgment is the best of you in character. (Tirmidhi)

If you want to be close to the Prophet (peace be on him) and have his shafa’ah (intercession) don’t give up. Have tolerance, forbearance and moderation.

The importance of good behaviour, and having peace and tranquillity in our reactions shouldn’t be underestimated.

Let’s work on these qualities. And Allah will make us better.

May Allah enable us to improve and grant us closeness to Him and to His Prophet (peace be on him). Ameen.

The Friday Thought of the Week delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 19th June 2020.

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001.His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College).He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.