[Chapter 22] Interpersonal Relations: A Question of Character - Makarim Akhlaq

Chapter 22
Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology

Interpersonal Relations:
A Question of Character – Makarim Akhlaq

If what I am saying is true, interpersonal relations are among the most important things in Islam. They acquire a central place in the scheme of things in Islam. That means, no matter what else you do, unless you are able to straighten out your relationship with your fellow-Muslims – and your fellow-human beings – you aren’t going anywhere as a Muslim nor is your association, organization, community or society.

Interpersonal relations are the sum total of all the positive qualities I mentioned earlier, minus the negative qualities plus Allah’s Rahmah (mercy), Ni’mah (bounty) and Fadl (boon). Some of these I have outlined earlier in this book. Some I list below. If we held each one of them as a mirror in front of us we would know why we have the kind of interpersonal relations we do.

Some – just some, not all – of the positive qualities required for good interpersonal relations are Ikhlas, openness, honesty, integrity, personal warmth, caring, solicitation, Du’a, well-wishing, respect, compassion, forgiveness, helpfulness, gentleness, truthfulness and trustworthiness.

Some other traits and qualities that enhance interpersonal relations include courtesy, kindness, an open and cheerful countenance, friendliness, easygoing attitude, helpfulness, generosity, gift-giving, tolerance and accommodation, clear and open communication, keeping promises, responsibility, meeting obligations, love for fellow-Muslims and fellow-human beings and such.

These are all part of the Islamic character that is required of us in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Instead of trying to learn and adopt them in our lives, and instead of trying to help each other to cultivate them, some of us try to find refuge from them in our own favorite teachings and aspects of Islam such as more Dhikr, more Nafl, more attention to the purity and perfection of the Aqeedah, more anger and contempt toward those who fall short of our ideals or more involvement in the activities of our own organizations or Jama’ats and communities.

Some – again, just some, not all – of the bad qualities that have a negative impact on interpersonal relations are Hasad (jealousy), Bughdh (hate), Bukhl (miserliness), Ghaibah (backbiting), Kibr (conceit and arrogance), lying, cheating, deception, calling names, taunting, faultfinding, manipulativeness, lack of trustworthiness and lack of dependability.

Some other negative qualities that ruin our dealings and relationships with others include lack of openness, lack of clear communication, exploitation, dominating and controlling behavior, contempt for others, breaking promises, failing to meet obligations, harshness, roughness, rudeness, impatience, irritability, being unduly critical of others, making fun of others, national, linguistic and cultural chauvinism, slavish worship of organizations and Jama’ats and using that as a criterion to judge and treat people, arrogance of power, wealth and status and other similar things.

These are all things we are supposed to avoid in our character and behavior. But unfortunately some of us are simply bad people – I am sorry, but that is what some of us good people have become. We have become bad people who lie, cheat, try to manipulate, dominate and control people, break promises, don’t want to meet their social commitments and obligations and are contemptuous and critical of others and treat people using narrow filters of our respective organizations, Jama’ats, communities, nationalities, languages and cultures. What kind of interpersonal relations would this spawn?

These are all part of what is called Akhlaq – character and personal qualities and attributes. The good qualities are Akhlaq Hameedah. The bad ones are Akhlaq Sayyi-ah, Rdi-ah or Madhmoomah. If I had the time and resources I would have cited for you, name by name and item by item, the relevant Ahaadeeth and Aayaat of the Qur’an.

But suffice it to say that character – meaning social character; the way we come across to people; the way we treat people; the core of our personalities; the sum total of our values and attitudes – is the very foundation of Islam. With it in place, you can say that a proper foundation for Islam exists. Without it, Islam is little more than a pipedream. This is the place to recall that Hadith that says that people are like metals: Best before Islam are also the best after Islam. Translation: Gold is gold, before Islam or after Islam, whereas lead will remain lead whether before or after Islam.

Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, possessed the most amazing character – Khuluq 'Azeem. Not only his friends and admirers but also his enemies were in awe of his character. And this is what he pointedly told us: I am here to give people a better character – Makarim Akhlaq, noble, decent and beautiful ways of behaving.

Makarim Akhlaq, thus, is the key to good interpersonal relations – in any community, not the least in the Muslim community. It is almost the be-all and end-all of working for Allah. Therefore, next time when we complain about bad interpersonal relations, remember what we are saying is that we are – on both sides, or at least on one side – bad people. Let me repeat that: Bad Relations, Bad People.

What is our problem Muslims? Our Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, had great relations with even some of his worst enemies – they were fascinated by his character. Where do you and I lie on that scale?

An important clue to good interpersonal relations is what our Aslaf – our spiritual ancestors – used to practice. They were in the habit of judging themselves much more strictly and harshly than they judged others. They were more forgiving of other people’s failings and shortcomings than they were of their own. This endeared them in the eyes of others. Many of us seem to have gotten this equation completely wrong. We seemed to have reversed the scale. We are generally most tolerant and forgiving of ourselves but not of others. We need to put it back in proper perspective.

When it comes to working for Allah, now or in the past or in the future, interpersonal relations are everything – of course, your belief in Allah counts; of course, you are supposed to pray, fast, give Zakat and go to Hajj. But these things themselves acquire their proper place in our lives only when our relations with others become better.

Or, put alternatively, all those 'Ibadaat are supposed to improve our relations with our fellow-Muslims and with the non-Muslims around us. Let me state the same thing differently: We want to have a great relationship with Allah? Let us build a great relationship with people. That means one should be an index and a measure of the other – our relationship with Allah and our relationship with people.

The problem is not new; nor will be the outcomes. Just imagine if people had treated the third Khalifah, Uthman, (May Allah be pleased with him) with greater respect and understanding – and had not killed him. Or imagine if only Ali and Talhah and Zubair – may Allah be pleased with them all – had been able to get along. Can you contemplate the kind of world we would have built if these differences and fights had not occurred?

Nothing has changed. We Muslims are still our worst enemies – in a number of ways and at a number of levels. Nothing and no one is immune – movements, organizations, associations, Jama’ats and communities. They all fall short when it comes to the question of interpersonal relationships – in different ways and to different degrees.

Koonu Ibadallahi Ikhwana! cries out the Hadith – O Allah’s slaves become brothers! Makes sense, doesn’t it? Everyone a slave of Allah, all working on the same plantation – shouldn’t they all work together, stand by each other and treat each other right?

Innamal Mu’minoona Ikhwah (49:10). That is how the Qur’an describes the believers – why, the believers are but brothers. But the truth is, mutual love and respect and the gift of working together is a boon that is granted by Allah – a special favor. It is he, Allah – and only he – who can and does unite human hearts – as an act of mercy from him. If he did not want to confer that boon upon us, we would not be able to achieve that goal even if we were to spend all the treasures of the world in its pursuit.

That is why we need to work to deserve that mercy and that boon – that gift – from Allah. And that is why we always need to work along the right lines.

I once wrote an article – in the early 1970s it was – on the question of Muslim Unity. It was published in the publication of the Muslim community in Trinidad called The Torch of Islam. I have been trying to get hold of a copy of it ever since – but I am yet to succeed in that effort. I am mentioning it here, because my recollection of that article is that it was a fairly thorough theoretical analysis – theory again! – of the concept of Muslim Unity from an Islamic point of view.

What Muslims need to understand is the fact that Allah has not left us entirely to our own devices. He has provided us some clues on how to go about working for – and deserving – that boon of unity, bonded hearts and kindred souls. One of them – and a critical one – is what is in that Aayah in Surah Al-Ahzab – speak the truth; say the right thing. That means, let us work on keeping our dealings straight – on keeping our words and actions straight – our relationships will have a chance to fall in place.

I saw that in the life of my father – May Allah give him Jannah! All my life, I never caught him in a lie or in fuzzy, woolly speech. He said and did the right thing – no matter what the time or the occasion. And that is how the people – far and near – knew him: as the man who said and did the right thing. Not as the man who went to multiple Hajj; or as a man who fasted or prayed more than everybody else; but as a man who said and did what was right.

So, Islam shows us how our relationships can become better. It provides a behavioral basis for them. Nothing illustrates this better than that AayahAayah 70 – from Surah Al-Ahzab. It asks the believers to say the right thing. Then it promises them two things: this world and the next world – all for saying the right thing and of course for having the fear of Allah in their hearts. What more could anyone want?

“O Those Who Believe!” says the Aayah in paraphrase. “Fear Allah and say the right thing. He will straighten out your actions and forgive your sins.”

Well, actions – everything in this world, would you say? And if sins are forgiven, what is waiting for us but Jannah in the next world? Thus, Dunya and Deen (Aakhirah) both promised by Allah for cultivating Taqwa and for saying the right thing – Qawl Sadeed.

It is important to note that loving your fellow-Muslims does not happen in a vacuum – even though I have often in my speeches advocated a unilateral surrender of your rights when it comes to dealing with Muslims. More than preach that to others, I have tried to hold that as a model for myself – within some broad bounds of endurance. But it is often a very hard thing to do – quite a serious test of your Iman as well as your basic humanity.

But Allah in this Aayah not only makes us the promise of a better life in this world, he also shows us how it is to become so – say the right thing, he says. That, as anyone can see, must also extend to doing the right thing. For, if you are a truthful person, your words will also be a mirror of your actions and vice versa. That means, you will say what you mean; and you will act what you say. Very much like my father, Rahimahullah, did, something that even as a child I did not fail to notice.

In Surah Al-Anfal, Allah directly talks about the need for people to straighten out their mutual relations. Paraphrase: “Fear Allah and straighten out your mutual relations” Qur’an (8:1).

This is a test and a challenge that we continue to face. And it is something that we need to work on continually. Among those who would need to devote considerable attention and energy to meet this challenge are Prime Minister Abdullah Gul of Turkey and the ruling party leader Mr. Erdogan. One is de jure – official – prime minister, while the other is the de facto leader not only of the party but also of the parliamentary group. How this situation is going to play out is going to depend largely on how they both resolve their interpersonal relations. Let us hope and pray Allah will make their mutual relations stronger and better through this experience.

That is where Nafs gets in the way of our success and happiness. Nafs among other things is a destroyer of interpersonal relations among Muslims – even among some of the so-called good people. So we need to be constantly on our guard in dealing with this thing called Nafs.

Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology

© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha

Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional 
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at] 
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.