A CURE FOR BAD MANNERS – PART 2
SCHOLARS AND ISSUE OF ETHICS:
Many Muslim scholars, may Allah have mercy upon them, were keen on compiling several books discussing the virtuous as well as the vicious traits, like the book of Ibn Abi Ad-Dunya, Al-Kharaa’iti and many more. They also focused on the means of curing and getting rid of bad manners. In this regard, Ibn Al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, mentioned some pieces of advice to overcome bad manners, as he said,
It should be known that the hardest task ever for human nature is changing the innate disposition or the moral constitution. Even most of those who have strict determination and high ambition have failed to change their instinctive natures. Let us take an example: imagine a river runs through its waterway, and on reaching its estuary, it will flow over buildings and inhabited lands. The residents around this river are fully aware that if it reaches its end, it will ruin their lands and destroy their houses. Consequently, they divide into three groups with three different opinions.
The first group feels that they should block the water by putting a dam in the waterway, believing that this is the definitive solution. However, their effort would be useless, as the water would soon gather and flood over their dam, and its destruction would be massive and devastating. The second group overlooked the first opinion and was of the view that the only way to prevent this disaster was to stop it from its source. So, they hopelessly tried to close the spring, as the nature of the river prevented them from doing that. They only wasted their time in this unprofitable task and neglected their fields and houses. Thus, neither blocking the waterway, nor stopping the source managed to fulfill the aim, which was: to prevent the river’s damage.
The third team saw that all these attempts were in vain, so they thought to deviate the watercourse, which reached their houses to another place where they could benefit from the river’s water. That is why they redirected the stream, to a land suitable for agriculture.”
By looking at this example, one can conclude that Allah The Almighty wills to create human nature that is driven by two powers (forces): the power of anger and the power of desires. These two powers are the main controllers of the behavior and traits of anyone. In order to cure any disliked trait, one should either completely eradicate this trait, and this is impossible [as it was seen in the previous example], or redirect it towards another benevolent aim.
For instance, if someone is envious, he should turn his envy to competing in good deeds, as the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said:
“There should be no envy but only in case of two persons: one having been endowed with wealth and power to spend it in the cause of truth, and [the other] who has been endowed with wisdom and he decides cases with the help of it and teaches it [to others].”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim], he shall be keen on competing with the righteous people. Allah The Almighty Says (what means):
“So for this let the competitors compete.”
Similarly, if someone is vainglorious, it is better for him to divert his vanity towards the enemy in a battle, since this characteristic is acceptable in such situation. If someone is used to telling lies, he can also direct his lies to the cases where exemptions are granted to the people to lie, like in battle (to mislead the enemy), for bringing about reconciliation among persons, and the narration of the husband to his wife and vice versa. For example, when a husband says to his wife (for food that she has cooked), “I’ve never tasted food as delicious as this.” This is not considered a lie despite the fact that he may have tasted better food. In short, it is hard to substitute bad manners for good, yet one can channelize one’s negative qualities to a nobler direction.
In addition to this, one should train and accustom oneself to good manners, as human nature is undoubtedly subject to change and can be reformed. Proof for this is the Hadeeth (narration) of the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in which he says:
“Knowledge is acquired through learning, and tolerance [is reached] through striving to be tolerant, and whoever struggles to be patient, Allah, indeed, will give him patience.”
It is well-known that tolerance and patience are two good characteristics, however, the Prophet, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, did not say that if one is not tolerant by nature, he will never acquire tolerance, or if one is not patient, he will not endure any calamity patiently. Instead, he, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said that tolerance is reached through striving to be tolerant, i.e. if you do your best to be tolerant, you will become accustomed to it, and consequently, it will become part of your nature, and the same goes for patience.