By Umer Ahmed
“Treat others the way you would like to be treated”
[Sunan Ibn Majah, 3956]
A Prophetic saying that neatly sums up the essence of good manners. It is counter to another popular aphorism “treat others how they treat you”, which dictates a self-centered attitude, eventually leading to a spiral of egoistic social norms.
Our religion is beautiful. It’s not just limited to rituals and special events, it is a manual to life. All of us are writing something in our book of deeds every single moment of our lives. It is our character, morals, and manners that take up a major portion of our records. The Prophet (PBUH) is recorded as saying,
“Nothing will be heavier on the Day of Resurrection in the Scale of the believer than good manners.”.
[Riyad as-Salihin, 626]
Controlling our egos in heightened situations is not a simple thing. It is something that starts to grow on you and the person starts to evolve. We are just required to take the initial step in the right direction.
“The Prophet (PBUH) said, “My Lord says, ‘If My slave comes nearer to Me for a span, I go nearer to him for a cubit; and if he comes nearer to Me for a cubit, I go nearer to him for the span of outstretched arms; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.”
[Sahih al-Bukhari, 7536].
Under normal circumstances, most people would conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. It is the moments of pressure that show our true moral and emotional state. That is the real situation when a person’s manners come into vivid sight.
One of the most common traps we tend to fall into is backbiting and slander. Seemingly it can be an ordinary act, but if we only focus on how things seem, while ignoring the larger picture, we are playing a fool of ourselves. For example, imagine someone you strongly dislike, would you be willing to hand out your most prized possession like precious jewellery or your car to that person? Sounds absurd right? But when we backbite, we give away our good deeds to the person who we slander.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, he should beg him to forgive him before the Day of Resurrection when there will be no money (to compensate for wrong deeds), but if he has good deeds, those good deeds will be taken from him according to his oppression which he has done, and if he has no good deeds, the sins of the oppressed person will be loaded on him.”
[Sahih Bukhari, 2449]
Islam’s teachings centre on manufacturing a deep sense of community and goodwill in society. Being harsh or unjust to others runs contrary to what Allah has commanded for Muslims.
“A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfil his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.”
[Sahih Bukhari, 2442]
One of the things Allah has talked about very deeply in the Holy Quran is the water cycle. One of the lessons we learn is that water always flows from a height to lower grounds. The more one lowers oneself from others, the more important he has for others in society. Taking control of our innate self (our Nafs) might not come in easy. It’s like taking control of a wild horse. Initially, it will show resistance, but if one perseveres enough, it starts to yield and becomes more and more subservient to our commands.
Achieving perfect manners and controlling our temptations is not an overnight task. We can only perfect ourselves through a consistent and continuous drive towards self-growth and improvement. Set yourself realistic goals. Make them short-term, even daily goals that allow you to step forward in a positive direction each day. If for example, you are prone to anger on a daily basis which leads you to be harsh with others, set yourself a manageable goal of recognizing what triggers your temper, and what can you do to stop yourself in the heat of the moment. If you cannot resist from backbiting, maybe a goal for you can be to distract yourself from gossip by avoiding friends that are prone to such talk. Similarly, if you want to increase good manners, make conscious efforts each day to be polite and kind to everyone, whether it be your maid or the shopkeeper or even a stranger.
It’s not just the end goal, the reward also lies in your drive to get there!