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Mu’atta’ Imam Malik
Hadith & Sunnah
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Narratives on Morality and Good Manners


1. Mu‘adh ibn Jabal narrated that the last thing which the Prophet (sws) advised him on was when he put his foot in the saddle. He said: “O’ Mu‘adh ibn Jabal, behave well with people.” 

Explanation: There is a shortening of the narration. It is clear that Imam Malik was more concerned with its central meaning. He did not pay much attention to identifying the authentic trail of the narration. The advice also seems to be in the words of the Prophet (sws) himself.

Obviously this must have happened at the time when Mu‘adh ibn Jabal (rta) was sent to Yemen. Since he was sent there as the governor, it was the most important advice which could have been given to him at that time: that he should treat people with politeness. The Prophet (sws) asked him how he would take a decision when an occasion arose. He replied that he would do so in the light of guidance from the Qur’an; if he did not find it there, he would refer to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws). If, even then, he did not find any guidance, he would engage in ijtihad and would make all efforts in this regard. The Prophet (sws) praised him at this and gave him the advice which has been related in this narration.

This instruction is extremely important, because although everyone should behave well with others, those who are in a position of power and authority should be particularly polite and well behaved in their dealings with people so that the latter can come to them without any fear or intimidation and present their concerns in order to obtain justice. However, usually, rulers ascend their high thrones and are inaccessible to the common man. The Prophet (sws)’s advice is completely relevant for such rulers.


2. ‘A’ishah (rta) has narrated that whenever a situation arose in which the Prophet (sws) had two options to choose from, he would choose the simpler one, provided it was not a sin. If it was a sin, there was no one who kept away from sins more than him. He never took revenge for any wrong that was done personally to him, but in case of desecration of religion, he would take revenge for the sake of Allah.  

Explanation: If a situation arises in which one has the freedom to choose from two options, one should select that which is easier. It is best in every aspect of religion that one chooses the easiest way. If one wishes to become arrogant and declares that one will take the more difficult path, one will be defeated. According to one Hadith, if anyone wants to have fisticuffs with religion, religion will lay him flat out and he will fail totally in his effort. The way of the Prophet (sws) was that in case of two options in any situation, he would choose the one that was easier, provided it was not a sin. If it had even a semblance of sin, he would not adopt it.

The second point was that he would never take revenge for any wrong that was done to him personally. He was abused and ridiculed, but he tolerated it all because it was his personal matter. But when the sanctity of his religion was endangered, he went to war with the people who were responsible. Similarly when people desecrated his religion, he punished them too. If anyone deprived anyone else of his rights, he ensured that justice was done. But in matters concerning wrongs to his own person, he was a most forbearing, large hearted and kind soul.    


3. ‘Ali ibn Husayn (rta) narrated that the Prophet (sws) said that one of the merits of a Muslim’s Islam was that he should not be involved in something which is not of relevance to him. 

Explanation: This means that just as one says that such and such a matter is not of one’s concern; this is what Islam’s virtue is. There are several stages in Islam. If any one wishes to adopt Islam in a better way, he should not get involved in matters that are not related to his objectives in life. This does not pertain to that which is forbidden: avoiding it is an essential part of religion. What is mentioned here are those things that are allowed, but are not important for achieving life’s purpose. The Prophet (sws)’s advice entails much wisdom. It has been said about this Hadith that it is one of the three basic Ahadith. It is a fact that the great wisdom of this Hadith cannot be explained in full.

It is not possible to do everything that is allowed in one’s life. If one adopts a given line of work in one’s life, only those things that are directly related to this line or can be beneficial in achieving one’s objective and add to one’s blessings should be adopted. Involving oneself in other fields unnecessarily, trying to play a one up game or attempting to be a master of all trades is a non- beneficial effort. This principle is valid for every field, be it religion, politics or research. All well-known and capable persons in the world did not get into each and every field of work. They chose a specific line for themselves and focused their attention on it, disregarding all distractions.

One can understand this through accepting that one should fulfill the responsibilities that God has assigned to one in one’s life. For example, it is said: “and each one of you has been made a shepherd. So he will be questioned about his herd.” Thus, one should worry about one’s herd. If one leaves one’s herd and starts looking after someone else’s, this is sheer folly. Imagine a person whose first responsibility is to take care of his family and children. It would be wrong if he made up the excuse that he was busy educating others, so he could not help it if his own children became wayward. This answer will not save him. However, it can be his responsibility to look after his neighbours too. One cannot be held responsible for the entire world, but one is responsible to correct any wrong that is being done in front of him. If one is powerful, one should prevent the wrong by action, or by word. If even this is not possible, one should consider it to be evil in one’s heart. This is the weakest level of faith. This work of reform has to be one of the main missions in life. If one has time, one should be actively engaged in this. However, if one wastes time in unnecessary matters, one should realise that it is difficult enough to fulfill one’s real objectives in life even if one tries hard. When this is impossible, why should one interfere in irrelevant things and burden oneself?

If one is keen on taking care of the society and is always running around to reform others while remaining ignorant of what is happening within one’s own home, the result will be that society will be destroyed. Good, capable, responsible persons who serve their nation are individuals who determine their aim in life, and concentrate on things that contribute to the achievement of this purpose, avoiding those that do not. Many people, for example, often waste so much time playing and watching cricket. One should not interfere with what does not concern one. One should always keep one’s aim in life in view. This Hadith is a great principle to live by.


4. ‘A’ishah (rta) narrates that a man came and requested permission to enter. She was then with the Prophet (sws) in their home. The Prophet (sws) said that he was a man of bad repute from their tribe and then he gave him permission to come inside. Soon afterwards, she heard the Prophet (sws) laughing with the man. When he had gone, she queried as to how it was that the Prophet (sws) had made that statement about him and then she had heard them laughing together. The Prophet (sws) said that the worst man was he who would be shunned by people on account of his evil. 

Explanation: When, during the meeting with the man, the Prophet (sws) laughed with him, this was, in fact, a part of the etiquette of conversation and meetings. Whether the person being met is friend or foe, one must be diplomatic in one’s dealings. It is not appropriate that one should always be ready to fight and say that the addressee is an unbeliever, apostate, and ignoramus and that one is not willing to talk to him. One should speak with everyone who comes, politely, with arguments and in an acceptable manner. This is according to the rules of conversation.

People question what the Prophet (sws) said about the man being bad. They wonder why he spoke about him behind his back and made it acceptable. In my view, this was neither back biting, nor has it been thus made acceptable by the Prophet (sws). Backbiting is something which is aimed at destroying the reputation of someone and this is done using an opportunity behind his back. Giving an opinion by the way is not included in this category. It is also a fact that the people who claim to possess public status, face us as leaders and rulers and wish to take promises of loyalty and obedience from people have made their lives public and open to scrutiny. They can be criticized anywhere, their views debated and written about in newspapers. They can be brought to account on each and everything because they present themselves as models to be emulated. Saying anything about them is not backbiting. I am not aware of what people who have taken this statement to be an example of backbiting, consider backbiting to be. If anyone says something similar behind the back of people who are not public figures, do not make claims and do whatever they can to help others, and his purpose is to ensure that these people do not get to know of this, that is backbiting, even if it was correct. The reason for this is that one has the right to criticize someone in front of him so that it can be of some benefit, but what is the use of saying it behind his back? He has not presented himself in front of the public. In my view, taking the statement of the Prophet (sws) to be backbiting is wrong.


5. Suhayl ibn Malik narrates from his father that Ka‘b Ahbar said that if one wishes to know the status of anyone in the eyes of God, one should see what people say about him behind his back.

Explanation: This is not a saying of the Prophet (sws) but a statement from Ka‘b Ahbar. I think he said this based on the knowledge which he may have gained from the Jews. This is stated differently in our books. For example, it is said that a man’s funeral was in procession when people said that the deceased was very pious and did good deeds; perhaps he has attained Paradise. Similarly when another person was being taken to his grave, people called him a bad man. At this, the Prophet (sws) said that God will deal with both based on what people have said about them because they are His witnesses on earth. It is a fact that until the Muslim ummah occupied the status of God’s witness on earth, the status of its evidence was such that when it called someone good, the latter was considered good in front of God too. However, since the ummah has fallen, its evidence is worthless. The situation today is such that if one tries to find a link between the lives of those who are considered to be the top leaders of the Islamic world, and Islam, no similarity will be found. This is the reason why they have not remained the witnesses of God on earth.

Ka‘b Ahbar’s statement is true about those who are at their rightful place. It is true about those who were truthful warners and about the early periods of our history. But it is wrong about current times, that whoever has the most people in his funeral will be the one most likely to go to Paradise. Today, the more praise an individual has, the farthest he is from religion although he has the most followers.


6. Yahya ibn Sa‘id says that the narration has reached him that a person who demonstrates good manners gains the status of one who spends the night standing in prayer, or who fasts in the blazing sun.

Explanation: Good manners do not mean meeting everyone with a display of one’s teeth, but behaving well with people; helping them; sympathizing with them; guiding them to the right path and forgiving them for their mistakes. Whoever does this can achieve the blessings for night prayer and daylight fasting, but this does not mean that one leaves praying and fasting and still achieve the high status: not at all. One should keep praying, continue fasting and behave well with others; then, if one has not prayed too many times, not fasted too many days, one’s good attitude towards others may compensate for this. The purpose is to make one’s character morally upright. 

According to one Hadith, a woman did not say too many prayers, but people remained safe from her and she also gave in charity. The Prophet (sws) said that she would go to Paradise. It is essential to worship as much as required. If one foregoes prayer and fasts but is busy helping people, one will not achieve anything. But if one continues to worship as instructed and is also engaged in serving others, any gaps in prayer will be compensated for by one’s good behavior towards others.


7. It is narrated from Yahya ibn Sa‘id that he heard from Yahya ibn Munib that he asked people: “Should I tell you what could be better than more prayer and more sadaqah?” They said: “yes.” He said: “helping two people to agree on a matter of dispute amongst them and avoiding keeping grudges and rancour against others as this is something that will shave one completely.”

Explanation: Shaving here means that no semblance of faith will remain within a man after this. Just as a barber shaves off all hair from the head, so does mutual mistrust and malice destroy faith. This is correct for pious Muslims, but if a person has become an enemy of Islam, then holding feelings of hatred against him is a sign of faith.

The meaning of this narration is the same as that of the above mentioned one. That is, more than additional prayer and giving, the correction of one’s character is more important. For example, if one becomes aware of a disagreement between two good men, it is a great work of piety to help in resolution of the dispute and bring about a settlement. The reason for this is that Muslims as a collective body are like a wall, one side of which reinforces the other. Even if one brick moves from its place, the entire wall becomes weak. It is necessary to remove differences in order to maintain this unity. It is important to note here that if there are differences in terms of religious beliefs, then one should never try to get these settled. If one is not aware of all the details, one should not interfere in this matter.


8. The narrative reached Imam Malik that the Prophet (sws) said that he had been sent to complete good manners and morality.

 Explanation: Some narratives use virtues and noble deeds of morality instead of good manners. I prefer this usage as far as the meaning of the narrative is concerned.

When the Prophet (sws) was assigned prophethood to complete the religion, it was also his responsibility to complete all deeds of benevolence and virtues: the best of moral behavior that one calls character that includes both individual and public character. The Prophet (sws) demonstrated all of this to the highest degree to his people so that no gap could remain.



(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)


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