According to the dictionary, values are “things that have an intrinsic worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor,” or “principles, standards, or qualities considered worthwhile or desirable.” In a materialistic age where only wealth and material goods are valued, this is a golden opportunity to rediscover the hidden electromotive force that drives our behaviour and relationships.
When the Makkans accused the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) of being mad and possessed, the Quran’s response was simply, “you have a strong character” so how can you be insane? His wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) comforted him, “you are honest, you look after the needy and you feed the poor”. In other words, someone with this strong character and values cannot be wrong. When proclaiming his life mission, he (peace be upon him) said, “The only reason I have been sent is to perfect moral values” (Ahmad).
What are moral values?
Imam Ghazzali defined it as; “the state of heart and mind that urges one to do good”. Dr Neil Hawkes a world authority on values defines it as; “values are principles that guide our thinking and behaviour”. In other words, it is a rule, a standard or a belief that determines the way we think and the way we act. Islam like other religions teaches us values like; patience, kindness, thankfulness, forgiveness and honesty. By practising them we develop good habits and they help us to interact with others in a pleasant manner.
The development of these values is the progress an individual makes in overcoming self-interest and selfishness, instead preferring to fulfil the needs of others rather than gratifying oneself. Moral development is the internalisation of these moral values and conditioning oneself to live by them. It is the direct opposite of hedonism. This is countering self-centeredness and narcissism, opposite of the self-focused individual who is ever busy gratifying his own needs. No wonder the Prophet (peace be upon him) put so much stress on nurturing these gems and acquiring these pearls, read these words of the great master of morality.
A man once asked the Prophet (peace be upon him), “What is religion?”, He (peace be upon him) replied, “Good character” (Bukhari). In another hadith, the Messenger (peace be upon him) was asked “what is bad luck?”, He (peace be upon him) replied, “Bad character” (Abu Dawud). The Prophet (peace be upon him) was once told about a certain woman who fasted all day and prayed all night but had bad character, so much so that she abused her neighbours with her words. The prophet (peace be upon him) responded about her by saying “there is no good in her, she is from the people of Hell” (ibn Hanbal). Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) looked into a mirror he (peace be upon him) would pray; “O Lord! You have made me good-looking, now make my character good” (ibn Hanbal).
Professor Sommers believes that today’s young people are suffering from moral confusion. They not only have trouble distinguishing right from wrong, they question whether such standards even exist. The threat this moral relativism poses to society is greater than any external danger. She then goes on to ask, “are we living in a moral stone age?”
Husband and wife at the Supermarket
Jalal and his wife Sabra go to Asda for their weekly shopping along with their five-year-old son Jamaal. They live only 5 minutes walk from Asda. Jalal wants to walk but Sabra insists taking the car since she can’t carry the shopping. Jalal jumps grumpily into the car and drives, he parks in the disabled bay near the entrance of the superstore, Sabra tells him off, he ignores her and they go inside. Sabra carefully looks at the prices and wanders from aisle to aisle looking for bargains. Jalal tells her to hurry up as Maghreb prayer is fast approaching, little Jamaal is running around, at one point he nearly knocks down a shelf of beans. Jalal shouts at him and grabs hold of him, Sabra is busy filling the trolley, after an hour Jalal is frustrated and says “I’m going”, Sabra begs him to stay just for a few more minutes.
Finally, they get to the counter, trolley brimming with food products and there’s a long queue. Jalal looks at his watch, tuts and angrily blurts, “I’m going to miss Maghreb prayer”, she consoles and apologises as the cashier begins pricing their shopping. A man is standing behind them with only three items, Sabra tells him to go in front of them. Jalal sighs, by now Jamaal has fallen asleep in the trolley. The bill comes to £57, Jalal growls as he hands over his debit card. As they are loading their shopping into the car, Sabra notices an old man struggling to park his car. He has an orange disabled badge on the windscreen, Jalal hurriedly goes up to him and tells him he will clear the disabled bay for him.
Exercise to test your understanding of moral values
In the situation above identify the moral values or the vices that are being practised by the characters in the story. In this story, both Jalal and Sabra show good and bad moral behaviour. The four moral vices that very comprehensively describe human failings and wrong way of interacting with others include; anger, arrogance, jealousy and greed. Identify when Jalal and Sabra were acting out these moral vices.
May Allah give us the ability to improve our character and develop our morals.