Righteousness is good character

The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Righteousness is good character. And sin is that which wavers in your soul and which you dislike the people finding out about.”

[Sahih Muslim]


The above Hadith is another important and comprehensive Hadith of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), wherein he has explained the essence of righteousness and sinfulness.

‘Al-Birr’ translated above as ‘righteousness’ can also be translated as ‘piety’. The word ‘Al-Birr’ is used in two senses. The first is treating others in a good fashion. For example, treating one’s parents in a good manner is known as ‘birr al-waalidain’. The word, though is used in a more general sense to behave well towards anyone, not just one’s parents.

The second sense in which ‘birr’ is used refers to all acts of worship and obedience to Allah, both inward and outward. This usage is found in the following verse, Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):

It is not Al-Birr (piety, righteousness, and each and every act of obedience to Allah, etc.) that you turn your faces towards east and (or) west (in prayers); but Al-Birr is (the quality of) the one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, the Prophets and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to Al-Masakin (the poor), and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set slaves free, performs As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and gives the Zakat, and who fulfill their covenant when they make it, and who are As- Sabirin (the patient ones, etc.) in extreme poverty and ailment (disease) and at the time of fighting (during the battles). Such are the people of the truth and they are Al-Muttaqun (pious). [Al-Baqara 2:177]

‘Al-Khuluq’ (character), one’s khuluq is a combination of understanding, intention and deeds, with the last two aspects playing the most important role. If a person has good intentions followed by good deeds, it is said that he has good character or good morals. If a person has bad intentions followed by bad deeds, it is said that he has bad character or bad morals.

Khuluq is often divided into three categories: Khuluq (behaviour) with respect to the Creator, khuluq with respect to other humans and khuluq with respect to oneself. Two other categories should also be added to the commonly mentioned three categories: khuluq with respect to all other creatures that Allah has created, and khuluq with respect to the Earth and all of its natural resources.

All of these categories comprise a person’s khuluq. For a person to have good khuluq, as stressed in many Hadith of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), he must have good khuluq with respect to all of the different categories of khuluq. It is not sufficient to be good in one category and then fail with respect to the other categories.

‘Ithm’ or sin is defined as an act for which its performer is deserving of blame and censure and it encompasses every form of evil deed, whether large or small.

In the above Hadith, the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) gave two very important signs of a sin. The first sign is a completely internal sign within the human being. It is a feeling of the soul with respect to that act. The second sign is also regarding an internal feeling but deals with outward reaction to the act itself.

In summary we benefit the following from the above Hadith:

  1. “The main or essential aspect of righteousness is good character.” Or, “Righteousness is good character.”
  2. Sin has a direct result on a pious person’s heart. It makes his soul uneasy and wavering.
  3. Another sign of sin is that a person dislikes to have people witness or find out about act.

And Allah knows best!

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