Issue 107 / September - October 2015
The Attributes of Virtuous People
How can one make virtue his or her nature?
To be able to lead a virtuous life, especially one that is extremely careful about moral values and worship, it is important to develop a character of seriousness, dignity, prudence, and contentment; and we must ensure that we graft these traits onto our nature as a dimension of our personality. Though this sounds simple, it is not a very easy venture.
As an example of how to make these traits a dimension of our nature, we can quote the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who prescribes that one should self-train their character to this level: "This Qur'an has been revealed with sadness. Cry when you read it. If you are not able to cry, force yourself to" (Ibn Maja, Iqama, 176; Zuhd 19).
In other words, read the Qur'an with peace in your heart and tranquility in your soul. In view of this, you may need to take forced steps before gaining the traits mentioned above; and because of this you may face criticism from people who are not cognizant of the profundity of this matter. However, you should not get hung up on such things; for on this road you have set out to reach Him.
Let us consider some other examples on the attributes of virtue. I believe that avoiding vain talk comes at the fore of the principles of virtuous living. Speaking a lot may lead one to commit a lot of mistakes, which may lead to further undesired consequences. The Prophet would never speak without being asked a question, or unless he deemed it necessary to expound on a matter. Following in his footsteps, his Companions acted in the same way.
For example, it is told that Abu Bakr, the hero of faithfulness, would put a small stone in his mouth in order not to talk foolishly. When it was necessary for him to speak, he would take the stone out, speak, and then put it back again. Although I have never found this story in sound sources, I did not and would not find this to be strange. A man of such caliber like him might have done such a thing in order to discipline himself. Sound sources show that while at the Prophet's side following the Emigration to Medina, Abu Bakr did not utter more than a few hundred words . This can be shown as proof of the earlier story.
If a person's speech explains something related to the world of the heart, spirit, or mind, and if it enlightens others in regard to these, then it is beneficial. All other speech can be considered wasteful. How can a religion that forbids wasting water while making ablutions even on the banks of a stream consider it permissible to waste jewels like words, which are more important to a person than water?
Ascetics have adopted "scarcity of words," "scarcity of food," and "scarcity of sleep," as vital life principles. In this case, we can easily see meaningless and trivial talk as objectionable. Similar to eating, drinking, and dressing, talking should also be economical; the number of words it takes to explain a theme or main idea should be approximated and spoken accordingly. Speech should be made so that absolutely no words are wasted â€“ and consequently no time is wasted. Speaking by weighing and filtering every word is a moral task. Gaining this virtue and making it natural takes a lot of time and effort.
Asceticismâ€”meaning abandoning worldly pleasures and resisting physical inclinationsâ€”is also morally very important. Asceticism has a very serious place for seekers of spiritual awareness, and it was pointed out by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as an important dynamic of the spiritual path long before it came to be considered part of the Sufi discipline. Adding to this Bediuzzaman's approach to asceticismâ€”"abandoning the world not physically, but in the heart," as well as not glorifying the world and the things in it more than they deserve, having no worldly expectations, and being dignified enough to have no desire to leave behind a huge legacyâ€”these become indispensable traits for every believer, especially those spirits who are committed to a higher cause.
At first, taking such an attitude against wealth, social status, fame, etc., in every aspect of your personality, can be very difficult. But by beginning with small things and working towards bigger things, this will become a part of our nature. It may start with thoughts like, "it is enough that I have one dress today; no need for a second one. Otherwise, I will want a third and then a fourth." This is the prophetic practice of an ascetic life.
We can certainly make a longer list of virtues other than these two, like being earnest in matters of character, keeping one's eyes pure from sinful looks, avoiding pride, etc. But these are a good place to start on the journey to virtue.
Practicing one's faith, i.e. worship, is also a matter requiring constant exercise. It starts first by praying in due time without delay; and praying with love and enthusiasm on a level at which God opens doors of acceptance. We should not pray as if ridding ourselves of a heavy weight.
Of course, the full experience of prayer is not a summit that can be attained immediately. However, a person can make it feel natural by doing it over and over again. More accurately, he must do this. As a result, in spite of all the independent desires of the ego, a person should live so as to give his will its due. To do this, the traits that make a person human should become natural to them.