The importance of high ethics... The following is stated in a hadith: "The first thing to be placed on the Scale (Mizan) on the Day of Judgment is high ethics." What is the meaning of a deed being placed on the Scale first or later?

Details of the Question
The Prophet states the following in a hadith: "The first thing to be placed on the Scale (Mizan) on the Day of Judgment is high ethics." What is the meaning of a deed being placed on the Scale first or later? Will all of the deeds not be placed on Mizan anyway? I do not want to criticize the hadith here. I do not want to overstep my bounds.
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

In the hadith, that expression is used in order to state the importance of high ethics. High ethics is also a means for other deeds of worshipping. No matter how much clean food you put in a dirty bowl, it will still be dirty; similarly, no matter how much a person who is deprived of high ethics worships, his deeds of worship may be eliminated due to his bad ethics. Therefore, high ethics must be the most important characteristic of a believer.

There are a lot of hadiths about high ethics:

(1675)- Hz. Abud-Darda narrates: "The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

"Nothing is heavier on the believer's Scale on the Day of Judgment than good character. For indeed Allah, Most High, is angered by the shameless obscene person." [Tirmidhi, Birr 62, (2003, 2004); Abu Dawud, Adab 8, (4799) The following is stated in a narration by Tirmidhi:

"A person with high ethics reaches the level of a person with prayers and fasting thanks to his high ethics."]

EXPLANATION:

1. Both hadiths mention the importance of high ethics in the religion of Islam. Belief, which is the most valuable possession of a believer, becomes perfect only with high ethics. Then, he who wants to attain a higher degree in belief, which is the only means of eternal salvation, and to approach perfection should try to make his ethics higher.

2. Both hadiths show that the religion gives importance to our relationships with people. To express the principles of belief with the tongue is not enough in order to be a real believer. It is necessary to strengthen belief with high ethics, which becomes manifest in the form of treating people well.

3. We need to treat the closest people to us in the best way: our family. For, their rights on us are the most and we always see them. If we try to smile, show patience to, tolerate and say nice words to the people we always meet and force ourselves to act like that, it will be a habit of us. Thus, we can treat others in the same way. If a person is used to treating his family badly, it means his acts has become habitually bad. Such a person will naturally and automatically react in a bad way in various cases; even if he treats a person well willingly, it will not be sincere and natural and he cannot always act in the same way.

When it is considered that the family is a hearth of education, that the best education is given in a peaceful environment where love and respect are dominant and that those who are treated well will treat others well, the importance of treating one’s family well will be understood better. Thus, the statement of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) "The best one among you is the one who treats his family in the best way" expresses a natural fact.

4. That high ethics is the heaviest deed on the Scale on the Day of Judgment expresses a natural state and an important fact. For, high ethics completes a believer’s belief and makes it perfect. Belief at the level of perfection affects all deeds of a person and leads him. Such a person tries to do all of his deeds for Allah’s sake and in accordance with the Sunnah.

5. (1676) Hz. Jabir narrates: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) 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. And indeed, the most disliked among you to me, and the one sitting furthest from me on the Day of Judgement are the Thartharun, and the Mutashaddiqun and the Muthafayhiqun."

(Some people who were there asked): "O Messenger of Allah! Who are Muthafayhiqun?"

"They are arrogant (conceited) ones." [Rawi: Jabir, Tirmidhi, Birr 77, (2019)]

EXPLANATION:

1. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) often asked people to control their tongues in his talks. For instance, he said, "Whoever can guarantee (the chastity of) what is between his two jaw-bones and what is between his two legs, I guarantee Paradise for him." "He who believes in Allah and the hereafter should say good things or keep silent."

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did not exaggerate in those insistent warnings. For, it is definite by repeated verses of the Quran that a person will be called to account for his every moment, every deed and hence every word on the Day of Judgment. If a word that a person uttered with his tongue is not in favor of him, it will be against him in the hereafter.

The hadith we are analyzing warns those who speak a lot.Thartharun, mutashaddiqun and muthafayhiqun are words that describe people who speak a lot heedlessly and randomly. There are other words like chatterbox, babbler, chatterer, jabberer, gasbag, windbag and rattlebrain that express the same meaning.

A person who speaks a lot and who is used to speaking a lot cannot always say good things; therefore, he will inevitably talk idly, backbite, tell lies, speak slang and tell nasty stories while talking. They will all be placed on the left scale (scale of sins) on the Day of Judgment. It is significant that the hadith preventing speaking a lot is general.

To sum up, those hadiths teach us that when high ethics is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is controlling one’s tongue.

2. Taking into consideration the nuances, that is, small differences, between those words, some scholars attracted attention to what is forbidden in speaking styles. They say what is meant by thartharun is the talkative people who speak more than necessary, what is meant by mutashaddiqun is those who use a pompous language to show their forced eloquence and to show that they are superior to others and even to mock others. As a matter of fact, shidq means cheek pocket; so, mutashaddiq means a person who speaks pompously by filling his cheek pocket.

Muthafayhiqun means people who speak by widening and opening their mouths more than necessary; it is close to mutashaddiq in meaning. It is stated that this attitude originates from conceit and despising others.

In that case, the hadith attracts attention to the issue of speaking, stating that this is an issue that a believer has to give primary importance whether the hadith is interpreted as expressing speaking a lot, which is generally emphasized, or speaking in a way that is different from the majority of the people.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) states the following:

"The most complete of the believers in faith, is the one with the best character among them. And the best of you are those who are best to your women." [Rawi: Abu Hurayra, Tirmidhi, Rada 11, (1162); Abu Dawud, Sunnah 16, (4682)]

Khulq (or khuluq) is explained as religion, nature and character (moral quality) in the book an-Nihaya. It is the equivalent of temper. Sometimes, the word nature is also used in this sense.

The word khulq expresses the inner appearance and qualities of man, which is man’s soul, in a sense. His outer appearance and qualities are called khalq. The soul has good and bad qualities. Thawab (reward) and iqab (punishment) are related to the qualities of the inner appearance rather than the outer appearance.    

According to the following hadith, khulq is an inborn and natural quality:

"Allah shared your ethics among you as He shared your sustenance."

Another hadith stating that temper is inborn is the following sentence the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to al-Ashajj:

"There are two characteristics that Allah loves in you: mildness and modesty." Ashajj asked,

"O Messenger of Allah! Do I have them since the beginning or did they occur afterwards (after I became a Muslim)?"

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) gave the following answer, which has a separate importance regarding our issue:

"You have them from the beginning." Thereupon, the following statement of gratitude by Ashajj, who was from the tribe of Abdul-Qays, sheds light on our issue:

"Praise be to Allah, who created me with two characteristics that He loves!"

That Ashajj asked whether thosetwo characteristics were old or new and that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stated that they existed from the beginning in the hadith show that somecharacteristics are inborn.

However, it cannot be denied that some characteristics are obtained later and that it is possible to own good characteristics through will and effort. In fact, ethicists all over the world have discussed throughout history whether character is inborn or obtained later.

Not only the philosophers in the East but also the philosophers in the West took part in this discussion. There are observations and evidences that are based on dogma and nass that support both views. Some philosophers and pedagogues like Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau and Erasmus liken human spirit to a blank tablet, wax and an empty field ready to be sown while Goethe, Schopenhauer and others state that character is inborn and that the education and training given later will not change anything.

"O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones..." (at-Tahrim, 66/6).

"Truly he succeeds that purifies it (soul), And he fails that corrupts it." (ash-Shams, 91/9, 10)

The verses above and the hadiths below,

"I have been sent as a teacher",

"Good deeds is a habit",

"Give food and drinks to your children; give them good education",

which attract attention to and encourage pedagogical activities, state that good characteristics that will lead man to salvation will be obtained by education. What would be the meaning of the institution of prophethood, heavenly books, calling people to Islam and guidance if this belief were not essential?

Evaluating the issue in both aspects, Islamic scholars decree that the good characteristics that are inborn need to be supported by willing efforts and be transformed into habits and that bad characteristics need to suppressed. For instance, Hz. Umar said,

"There are ten inborn characteristics in man; nine of them are good, one of them is bad. If the bad one is left unattended, it will harm the others."

Ibnul-Arabi states the following:

"... The number of people created with high ethics is very small. The people created with bad ethics form the majority. For, what is dominant in human nature is evil. Therefore, if man lets himself free to the course of nature without using his thought, power of discrimination, sense of shame and the ability to protect himself, his animal traits will be dominant. For, man is separated from animals with his qualities of thought and discrimination. If he does not use them, he will act like them in their customs; the power of lust with all kinds will invade him; sense of shame will leave him and disappear..."

Holding the same view, Mawardi attracts attention to the fact that it is necessary to be busy with the education of the soul all the time without trusting the intellect, etc., and adds,

"For, good manners are obtained through experience."

)1673) Muadh Ibn Jabal narrates:

"The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said to me,

"O Muadh! Be good-mannered toward people." [Muwatta, Husnul-Khulq 1.]

EXPLANATION:

1. In the origin of the hadith, Muadh describes this advice as the last sentence that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) says to him while sending him to Yemen. The version of the hadith in Tirmidhi is as follows: I said, "O Messenger of Allah! Teach me what will be useful for me." He gave me the following advice: "Fear Allah no matter where you are. Do good deeds in return for bad deeds so that you will eliminate bad deeds. Treat people with high ethics."

2. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent Hz. Muadh to Yemen as a qadi (judge), tax collector and teacher and with several other authorities and duties. There are other statements and instructions of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) gave to Muadh during this appointment. Thus, the warning mentioned above about treating people well is the last word and instruction of the Prophet to Muadh.

3. The explainers of hadith understand showing a smiling face, lenience and mercy to the people who visit one and sit with him, to show patience while teaching and to show love to everybody – who deserves it – whether young or old when treating people well is mentioned. We say who deserves it because there are also people who are unbelievers, who insist on committing major sins and who oppress others. They might not be influenced by being treated well and it might even cause them to act worse. It is necessary to treat such people justly and authoritatively.

That "doing good deeds" in return for bad deeds is shown as the way of eliminating bad deeds in the hadith is a principle of the understanding of Islamic ethics that should not be forgotten.

(Prof. Dr. İbrahim CANAN, Kutub as-Sittah Translation and Explanation)

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