In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
With a variety of modern ideologies, philosophies, and religions competing to define what it means to be a ‘man,’ it is ever more critically important for Muslim men to understand masculinity as it was understood by the righteous predecessors. Unlike theories of masculinity that promote the ‘alpha male’ as dominating other men and women, masculinity in Islam is for a man to fulfill the good character traits and dignified manners taught by the religion as a whole.
A true Muslim man is just, kind, compassionate, forgiving, responsible, hard-working, humble, patient, forbearing, truthful, trustworthy, courageous, soft-hearted, honoring women, controlling his lower desires and impulses, fulfilling the needs of others before himself, continually refining his intellect, improving his character, seeking knowledge as a life-long learner, avoiding undignified behavior and sinful deeds, and emulating the character Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and his righteous followers to the best of his ability.
The Islamic concept of masculinity, manhood, or ‘manliness’ (al-muru’ah) can be summarized by the broad ethical injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah.
Ibn Marzuban reported: Ali ibn Abi Talib, RadhiAllahu Anhu, passed by some people who were talking. Ali, RadhiAllahu Anhu, said, “What are you doing?” They said, “We are discussing manhood.” Ali, RadhiAllahu Anhu, said:
اَوْ مَا كفاكم الله عز وَجل ذَاك فِي كِتَابَة اذا يَقُول إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ فالعدل الانصاف والاحسان التفضل فَمَا بَقِي بعد هَذَا
Has not Allah Almighty sufficed you in His book wherein He said, ‘Verily, Allah commands justice and excellence,’ (16:90)? Justice is to have a sense of fairness and excellence is to prefer others to yourself. What remains of manhood after this?
Source: al-Murū’ah 1/97
Men ought to view themselves as composed of a mind, body, and soul, and to consistently work to improve each dimension of their being, especially their inner-character.
Al-Mawardi reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab, RadhiAllahu Anhu, said:
أَصْلُ الرَّجُلِ عَقْلُهُ وَحَسَبُهُ دِينُهُ وَمُرُوءَتُهُ خُلُقُهُ
The foundation of a man is his intellect, his honor is in his religion, and his manhood is in his character.
Source: Adab al-Dunyā wal-Dīn 17
The righteous predecessors understood manhood to be comprehensive of all religious virtues in Islam.
‘Amru ibn Ubayd reported: It was said to Hasan al-Basri, may Allah have mercy on him, “What is manhood?” Hasan, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
It is the religion.
Source: al-Murū’ah 64
And Hasan, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
إِنَّهُ لَا دِينَ لِمَنْ لَا مُرُوءَةَ لَهُ
Verily, there is no religion for one without manhood.
Source: al-Murū’ah 19
Ibn Marzbun devoted an entire book to manhood, in which he compiled and documented the sayings of the righteous predecessors on the meaning of being a man. The many shades of meaning they attributed to the word ‘manhood’ in classical Arabic are summarized in Lane’s Lexicon as follows:
Manly perfection, consisting in abstinence from things unlawful, or in chastity of manners, and having some art or trade, or in abstaining from doing secretly what one would be ashamed to do openly, or in the habit of doing what is approved, and shunning what is held base, or in preserving the soul from filthy actions, and what disgraces it in the estimation of men, or in good manners, and guarding the tongue, and shunning impudence, or in a quality of the mind by preserving which a man is made to preserve in good manners and habits, or manly virtue or moral goodness.
Source: Lane’s Lexicon 2/2702
One of the most important characteristics of a true Muslim man is the ability to forgive others even when the opportunity for revenge is available. This quality of compassion stands diametrically opposed to false belief of the ‘alpha male’ as domineering and vengeful.
Ibn Marzuban reported: It was said to Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, may Allah have mercy on him, “All things are derived from the Quran, so where is manhood in it?” Sufyan, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
فِي قولة تعالي خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ فَفِيهِ الْمُرُوءَة
In the saying of Allah Almighty, ‘Show forgiveness, enjoin good, and turn away from the ignorant,’ (7:199). In this is manhood.
Source: al-Murū’ah 1/133
Al-Mada’ini reported: It was said to Ahnaf ibn Qais, may Allah have mercy on him, “What is manhood?” Ahnaf, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
الْحِلْمُ عِنْدَ الْغَضَبِ وَالْعَفْوُ عِنْدَ الْقُدْرَةِ
Forbearance at a time of anger and forgiveness at a time of power.
Source: al-Murū’ah 64
Abdullah ibn Shumait reported: Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
لَا يَنْبُلُ الْمَرْءُ وَلَا تَتِمُّ مُرُوءَتُهُ حَتَّى تَكُونَ فِيهِ خَصْلَتَانِ الْعَفْوُ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَالتَّجَاوُزُ عَنْهُمْ
A man will not hit the mark, nor fulfill his manhood, until he has two characteristics: Forgiving people and overlooking their faults.
Source: al-Murū’ah 106
A true Muslim man should be kind towards people and love for them the same as he loves for himself. He should give off a friendly and non-threatening aura, while also putting the needs of others over himself.
Ahmad ibn Jamil reported: Muhammad ibn al-Nadr, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
أَوَّلُ الْمُرُوءَةِ طَلَاقَةُ الْوَجْهِ وَالثَّانِي التَّوَدُّدُ إِلَى النَّاسِ وَالثَّالِثُ قَضَاءُ الْحَوَائِجِ
The first part of manhood is a cheerful face. The second part is loving kindness to people. The third part is fulfilling the needs of others.
Source: al-Mujālasah wa Jawāhir al-‘Ilm 828
In contrast, it is not the characteristic of a true man to put on a show of bravado to others, as if the sign of a man were his ability to incite fear and project strength. Rather, a real man is known by the measure of his trustworthiness and his refrain from hurting others; in a word, his virtue.
Ibn al-Mubarak reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab, RadhiAllahu Anhu, said:
لا يُعْجِبَنَّكُمْ مِنَ الرَّجُلِ طَنْطَنَتُهُ وَلَكِنَّهُ مَنْ أَدَّى الأمَانَةَ وَكَفَّ عَنْ أَعْرَاضِ النَّاسِ فَهُوَ الرَّجُلُ
Do not let yourselves be impressed by the roar of a man. Rather, if he fulfills the trust and restrains himself from harming the honor of people, then he will truly be a man.
Source: al-Zuhd wal-Raqā’iq 681
Al-Bayhaqi reported: Ahnaf ibn Qais, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
لا مُرُوءَةَ لِكَذُوبٍ
There is no manhood for the liar.
Source: Shu’ab al-Imān 6123