Character. We know it when we see it. Maybe, more importantly, we know it when it is missing. Good and bad character both know no boundaries. Good character is exemplified every day and too often goes unnoticed. For me, if I could be like anybody, I would wish to become more like my late grandfather, whose fond memories have inspired me to strive for success. As I remember him, he was a prolific poet, a religious scholar, a political enthusiast, a former administrator and an avid collector of books. His demeanour, his uniquely offbeat way of edifying us, reflected his wise, contemplative life. I distinctly remember many of his thought-provoking stories that he used to narrate, although not being in a good state of health. One of his anecdotes strikes me as being apt in contemporary times. Back in his youth, around 90 years ago from today, on a winter evening while coming back from work, as he was walking on a desolate street, he could hear some distant footsteps approaching him.
The sound of leaves getting crushed under boots came nearer, and within no time he was intercepted by a gang of robbers. Nervous as he was, unable to come to terms with what was happening, he just stood there, frozen. One of them asked him what his name was and where he lived. He answered these questions with utmost honesty. Honesty is impulsive, isn’t it? Upon hearing the answers, the robbers grew more curious and asked him what his father’s name was. Grandpa again answered quickly. After a brief pause, he suddenly noticed that there was an expression of guilt running through a robber’s face. He quickly addressed his fellow robbers, “Step back and leave him be. I have offered namaz behind his father.” He was quick to apologise afterwards. So, grandpa was left unharmed. Yes, this was the character of a robber back then.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree.” The importance of good character cannot be underscored. A gentleman is not defined by the content of his wallet or the cut of his suit. He is defined by his manners and the content of his character. We Kashmiris are known for our hospitality, our compassionate nature, and for our akhlaq, but today unfortunately, all these values and virtues are seemingly falling apart.
Academic education is highly stressed upon these days but acquiring the right set of etiquette, morals, ethics, values and virtues is not taken care of, as that won’t yield any materialistic fruits. All we are doing today is educating our minds, unconcerned about the education of our hearts. Today we see even scholars defaming each other with derogatory remarks, healthy debates turning into heated arguments as quick as a flash, old-age homes getting crowded, social media becoming a platform for hate-mongering, not to mention the rising intolerance. What has happened is that we have ignored our super-ego (the part of the personality that includes moral constraints) so often that it has shied away into the background, so much so that we cannot hear it anymore. This is a subtle voice deep inside, which cautions and admonishes, before and after we do something wrong. It also lauds us when we do something good.
We have given in to our Id, the part of our personality that operates on the pleasure principle, which is the idea that every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences. The id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy-oriented. This form of process thinking has no comprehension of objective reality and is selfish and wishful in nature while the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world. This is discussed at length in the psychoanalytic theory given by Sigmund Freud.
These matters have also been introduced and pointed out in Luqman’s admonitions to his son. These ten admonitions, which have been stated in an interesting way through six noble verses of the Holy Quran, contain both ideological matters and principles of religious duties and ethical subjects. Luqman advised his son to treat all people pleasantly, to not associate with mischief-mongers, to assist whoever asks for help, to protect his tongue while among people, to forget the favour he does to people or the vice that others do against him. Imam Sadiq(as) said about Luqman that he was a pious, kind, modest and sympathetic man. If two persons quarrelled and had hostility with each other he would settle reconciliation between them. Luqman used to associate with many men of knowledge. He used to struggle against his carnal soul. Once Luqman was asked how he gained that rank, and he answered that he obtained it as the result of trustworthiness, truthfulness, and his silence in what was not related to him.
Prophet Mohammad (saw) has in numerous hadith stressed upon the ummah to have the right set of etiquette and disposition. Abu Huraira(ra) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Be devout and you will be the most pious of people. Be content and you will be the most grateful of people. Love for people what you love for yourself and you will be a believer. Behave well with your neighbours and you will be a Muslim. Laugh less, for too much laughter, will deaden the heart.
Much emphasis has been attached in Islamic tradition on developing strong moral values. Faith is considered incomplete without having a sense of morality. The characteristics of honesty, loyalty, responsibility, compassion, humility and integrity are very dear to humanity at large. As Allah states in the Quran: “(Allah) created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the one most righteous of you.”
Hence we all endorse common values. Let us pray to God to enable us to act on the knowledge that we have and to mutually uphold our shared values.