Never before has character been such a repeated theme throughout a presidential election campaign as it has in 2008. Democrats and Republicans agree that we are facing a moral crisis. In speaking with many people on the campaign trail, they tell us that the people are yearning for an honest leader they can trust. Character had become a campaign issue. Change is another common theme. Each candidate seems to be competing over values, honesty, as well trustworthiness. It is interesting how they are on the same page in as far as identifying this current crisis. Yet, they have not come up with the solution. They say they will bring about change; yet they do not propose what this change would entail.
What is truly amazing is that Allah has blessed us with the prescription for this crisis through the guiding light of Prophet Muhammad�s (SAW) character. He sent us the formula necessary to purify our hearts. Long before Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was chosen to be the last prophet (at the age of 40), he had become known for being the most honest (named Al Sidiq) and the most trustworthy (Al Amin) businessman in all of Arabia. Allah always knew he would choose him, of course, but He wanted to teach us that his choice was based on the most important character traits or virtues. The many tribes of Arabia took some years to accept his message but they unanimously agreed that he was indeed, in deed, the most noble, honest and trustworthy businessman they had ever encountered. More than 1400 years later the world still acknowledges this fact. History bears witness to his excellent character. The Story of Civilization by Will Durant is one such account. In a well known Hadith, the Prophet (SAW) said,� I have been sent to you to perfect character�. Allah sent Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to demonstrate the formula for today�s moral crisis: Truth + Trust= good character [purification of the heart]. Since the corruption these leaders speak about stems from the diseases of the heart, such cheating, lying, suspicion; it only makes sense to develop the virtues which would purify the heart from such diseases.
The good news is that Allah gave us the power to change by purifying our hearts. Allah tells us in the Qur�an, �Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts.� (Al Raad #11) Yes, we do have the power to control our passions and desires. Nevertheless, it is not easy to develop good virtues. It is a great struggle. The trap that many fall into is that they manage to live in denial by asserting that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) developed excellent character since he is a prophet and that they claim they cannot achieve good character because they are not prophets. They need to be reminded, however that he was a man, not an angel. He worked hard, struggled, married, had children, ate and lived under the same conditions as the other people of his time. Surely, we cannot rise to his level of excellence, yet we can change for the better one step at a time. As many have discovered, we cannot buy the stairway to Heaven, we must earn it. Each step we climb yields great reward. Self purification is where change begins.
It is difficult to separate the two virtues, namely honesty and trustworthiness since they are so interrelated. The Prophet (SAW) said, �There is no faith for he who lacks trustworthiness and there is not religion for he who cannot keep his vow�. So, this is the essence of faith. Let�s focus on honesty first. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to speak the truth even when it sometimes caused trouble for him. He would even speak the truth even if it went against his own interests; to the point of incriminating himself at times. Truthfulness was a defining character trait for him. He taught us that truthfulness is the foundation of faith. He explained that truth leads a man to the path of virtue which leads to Heaven. Falsehood pulls man toward sin and sin leads to Hell. Allah tells us in Surah Al Asr (103):
By the token of time
Man is verily at loss
Except those who believe and do good deeds
And encourage one another to be truthful
And encourage one another to be patient
This Surah points out that the essence of man is the same. Truthfulness is as in demand today as it was in the 7th century. This is the key to virtue. �and thou shalt not find any change in the law of Allah� (Fatir: 43). So, it is imperative for a Muslim to be careful of what he says, when and to whom he speaks. He must weigh his words to make sure they are true. Lying has tragic consequences, including wars and bloodshed. The companions of the Prophet (SAW) said that no manner was more hateful to him than lying. All vices start with a lie; then one lie leads to another.
It opens the door to major sins. The tongue may be only a small part of our body but it must be controlled. Controlling the tongue is a great virtue. The blessed Prophet (SAW) said that every morning each limb of the body requests the tongue to behave well, since its good behavior keeps the body safe. To keep the tongue in check is a great act of piety. So, we should beware of slips of the tongue.
Another manifestation of honesty is keeping one�s word. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, �One who does not keep one�s word is not a man of faith.� The greatest promise a Muslim makes is to be true to Islam, to carry out Allah�s orders and follow the example of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). To take false oath is a major sin, equal to associating others with Allah. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught us that it is not permitted to lie
even in fun. A dishonest person is compared to a hypocrite.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) defined truthfulness for us very clearly. He said that the one who does these six things is guaranteed Paradise:
1. Keeps a promise when he makes it
2. Speaks the truth when he talks
3. Fulfills the trust with which he is entrusted
4. Safeguards his private parts
5. Lowers his gaze in modesty
6. Restrains his hands from doing injustice
This is our moral code, if applied, we can purify our hearts. This is the way to righteousness. Falsehood brings uncertainty. Truth brings peace of mind. When a society becomes filled with mercy and truthfulness, people will feel secure toward one another, promoting social trust and justice. It all starts with the self purification.
There are three types of truthfulness: truthfulness of intention, truthfulness of speech and truthfulness of action. Sincerity of intention yields the same reward as sincerity of action. Only Allah knows what we intend to do. Once all three are fulfilled, one is considered truthful and purified.
Let�s keep in mind that truth is truth and trust is trust for Muslims as well as non Muslims. When Muslims spread truth, they will spread Islam. Consider the spread of Islam in Asia. Islam spread there through trade by the fair and honest dealings of Muslim businessmen. Following the Prophet�s (SAW) example, they traded honestly by revealing all of the defects in their goods, even when the buyer never noticed them. So they earned their good name. When they became known for their honesty, they were asked about their religion. This is how Islam spreads. Muslims are entrusted to be ambassadors of honesty and trust. Acts of goodness and kindness spread Islam. It is up to our youth to carry this torch of honesty and trust in their domain of work and family. Islam is an active religion spread by the pious actions and character of its followers. It is important to remember that our degree of influence is directly related to the degree by which we apply our moral code and our level of purity. Are we ready to take on this task? Are we ready to answer the call for righteousness? We are running out of excuses and running out of time. What will we say when we stand before Allah? He has sent us the message in the Qur�an and sent us the best teacher. The Creator gave us the remedy and the power to change. Why haven�t we led the way out of darkness with His guiding light? What are we busy doing? Are we fulfilling our purpose? Is there anyone else to blame? It is about time we woke up from this long slumber! The reality is that all that glitters is not gold. We are just visiting in this world. We might as well make our short stay worthwhile. The world awaits change. Can we deliver?