Hadith Discussions

Virtue as the Source of Benevolence

Righteousness is composed of good behavior. And sin is what you don't want people to know, despite the fact that it eats away at your heart (Muslim, Birr 14-15)

Mim: What is righteousness in your opinion?

Ayn: Philosophers have always discussed this. And religions have answered this question with the kind of human they see as being ideal.

Lam: It is interesting for righteousness to be "composed of good behavior." In the Holy Qur'an, Allah (swt) says, regarding the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh.), "And truly thou are certainly on a magnificent disposition." (Surah Al-Qalam, 4) while Aisha (pbuh) indicates that the Prophet's behavior was the Qur'an. From here, we understand that that we can find the criteria for righteousness in the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

Ayn: In this case, "righteousness" and "good behavior" are terms which both define and explain one another... A person with good behavior will not do anything but engage in righteous acts. The heart of a person, who attains righteousness, will easily differentiate good and bad acts one another. He is sure of everything he has done and is at peace with his decision. If he does not feel this way, then he will question his actions. Or it will at least be expected that he do so.

Nun: So how does a person differentiate between good and bad? According to what criteria? Is every act that we are at peace with, really good?

Ayn: In this hadith, the definition of sin, while determining the relation between goodness and good behavior, is noted as something which "eats away at the heart" and "what is not wanted to be made known to others." In other words, we can understand whether an act is good or not in an inverse fashion: whether or not we feel the need to hide it or whether it disturbs our hearts or not.

Lam: Why would a person feel the need to hide something?

Mim: One may chose to do this because they are not to explain their act to someone else...

Nun: A person may hide things that leave themselves or others in a difficult position.

Mim: So is everything that is a secret, things which we don't want others to know? Or if I were to ask inversely, what sort of things do we not want others to know? It is here where I think the term "even though it eats away at your heart" becomes definitive.

Lam: So this would mean that this is the sort of act which when committed doesn't feel right.

Ayn: There are certain things about one's self that one would not want for others to know, these sorts of things are private and not meant to be exposed. There is no problem here. But how the Prophet Muhammad defines sin is very important here... not everything which you wish for to remain a secret is a sin. The criterion here is something which ‘eats away at your heart'. So what sorts of things eat away at your heart?

Lam: Things which one believes to be wrong eat away at one's heart.

Nun: Well will every heart be eaten away at? If the act being committed by the person has become normal or acceptable for them, then they just may not feel any king of guilt for what they are doing...

Ayn: Yes, when does the conscience cease to become activated?

Nun: In another hadith by Prophet Muhammad, the heart is likened to a white cover and every sin that is committed is said to be like a black spot that forms on that white cloth. When the sins become added on top of one another, one witnesses that with time, the entire surface of the white cloth becomes darkened. This is what must be meant when referring to the ‘blackening' of the heart. The conscience no longer becomes activated. When what you do no longer disturbs you...

Ayn: So the lack of conscience is not an attribute that one has birth. Situations that are experienced and certain conditions cause a person to become that way.

In order for the conscience to be kept alive at all times and for sensitivities not to be lost, a constant "questioning" needs to take place. If we were to come back to the topic of secrecy, should everything be revealed?

Mim: One hand there is the principal of "A Muslim should cover another Muslim's faults." This is a principal that needs to be taken into regard in this context.

Ayn: There is a [Turkish] idiom such as "The revelation is worse than the incident," which is used with regard to certain situations.

Nun: Yes, because the unveiling of bad behaviors in full detail, may encourage similar incidents to occur. The frequency of news on homicide and their rampant media coverage may serve for these events to become ordinary and become examples for others.

Lam: At the same time, everyone's conscience threshold can be different. For some a certain behavior may be very disturbing, or a behavior will be followed by a sense of regret, while the same act may not hold similar questionable or regretful repercussions for another person.

Ayn: So what needs to be done in this case?

Nun: Some things cannot be learned later on and some sentiments will not emerge in someone later on in life. For this reason, a strong religious and moral education is mandatory for children, starting early on in life. However, this does not mean that a person's habits and attitudes cannot be changed. Awareness and effort allow for change to take place. As long as there is desire to this end.



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