This paper seeks to advance an Islamic notion of the concept of human personality. It includes a brief description of the impact of the Prophet of Islam’s personality on the world, and the importance of this issue in regard to contemporary world events. Contents of the paper include some discussion on proposed definitions of Islamic personality based on existing literature and conventional notions of personality via the field of psychology; the concept of moral character as the foundation of Islamic personality; the importance of Islamic knowledge and traditional notions of Islamic psychology; and some examples from the life of the Prophet himself as the primary model of Islamic personality. The paper is concluded by providing a summary of the proposed introductory concept of Islamic personality and its prominent features, along with recommendations for further development.
The greatness of a man does not consist in the working of miracles or the doing of wonders; neither does it lie in the preaching of sermons or the formulating of theories. It lies in the possession of a mighty personality. Personality is one of the indescribable wonders of the world. It conciliates opposition and inspires respect and imitation, which results eventually in implicit obedience. It changes ideas and revolutionizes the thoughts, beliefs and actions of generations of the races of mankind.
According to those familiar with his life both within and outside of the religion of Islam, the ideal human personality belonged to its Prophet, Muhammad bin Abdullah (peace and blessings of God be upon him), who was arguably able to achieve more in his 23 years of prophet hood than any man in history. In fact, Michael Hart (1978) in 'The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons In History said this about his life:
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the secular and religious level. ...It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. ...It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.
In addition to his tangible triumphs, the impact he had on his followers and close companions was extraordinary. To his credit, he molded the character of his fellowmen, reformed them, and changed their thoughts, put new ideas before them, elevated them to a higher plane, and, in spite of themselves, drove them onwards and upwards on the path of progress to the fullness of a better and holier life. For the first twelve years of his prophet hood, the early Muslims suffered frightful persecution at the hands of idolaters, and yet their number steadily increased. Though its numbers were subjected to the cruelest of tortures, there were few apostates, and many converts to the faith of Islam. According to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, it was the personality and character of the Prophet that made Islam grow in the nascent period of its birth life. God, in the Qur’an, refers to the Prophet’s standard of human excellence as: “Certainly you have in the Messenger of God an excellent example for any who hopes in God and the Last Day and Remembers God much. According to Washington Irving in 'Life of Muhammad:
“His military triumphs awakened neither pride nor vainglory as they would have done had they been affected by selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power he maintained the same simplicity of manner and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonial of respect was shown to him.
Furthermore, George Bernard Shaw says about him: "He must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness.”
Mahatma Gandhi , speaking on the character of Muhammad, says: "I wanted to know the best of one who holds today's undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind....I became more than convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission.
Finally, Dr. Gustav Weil in 'History of the Islamic Peoples': “Muhammad was a shining example to his people. His character was pure and stainless. His house, his dress, his food - they were characterized by a rare simplicity. So unpretentious was he that he would receive from his companions no special mark of reverence, nor would he accepts any service from his slave that he could do for himself. He was accessible to all and at all times. He visited the sick and was full of sympathy for all. Unlimited was his benevolence and generosity as also was his anxious care for the welfare of the community.
Indeed the perfection of morals, manners and character was, according to the Prophet himself, his foremost mission as the last Messenger of God. According to Abu Huraira, the Prophet said, "I have been sent only for the purpose of perfecting good morals (Al-Muwatta).” From the life of the Prophet and those of his closest companions to their followers and students, the sayings, stories and examples of the Prophet’s personality were safeguarded and passed down to help subsequent Muslims maintain his example for perfecting personality, conduct and morality for all time. Not only is the important event of his life, but the record of his daily conduct, from birth to passing, written with great detail on the pages of history. Many of his sayings, doings, actions and details of his conduct and character have been preserved. In short, his whole prophethood – at home, in the mosque and outside – was fully known to his companions, and was recorded as an open book so that the following generations could learn lessons and get inspiration from the primary example of Islamic personality.
The topic of Islamic personality, as exemplified by the Prophet, is a timely one. Currently, within the Islamic world, “the morality of Muslims is in a dubious condition. Their character has developed a number of defects, in consequence of which they have to face disruption, dislocation and the inevitable downfall. With the world engulfed in media reports of terrorism, sectarian violence, social ills, and other problems having to do with individual conduct and interpersonal relations, the need to re-acclimate to the teachings of the Prophet of Islam about human personality has never been greater. The planet is now comprised of over 1.2 billion Muslim men, women and children, representing almost one quarter of humanity. This community, based on sheer size alone, has the potential to do a great measure of good, or harm, depending on its overall condition and direction, of which basic human personality is an important ingredient.
Islam and Personality
Islam teaches its adherents that their role on earth is to be God’s khalifahs – deputies – and to carry out His commands for the welfare and benefit of all of mankind. Such a role relies heavily on the interpersonal conduct, behavior, character and morality of each and every individual Muslim, in essence, the “quality” of each personality. This is one of the foremost responsibilities of Muslims, following the example of the Prophet, to model good human relations. Thus, the need to focus on the drive toward self-perfection, reflected in the development of and striving for the prophetic personality, is a key aspect of the religion that has been all but forgotten in contemporary movements aimed at reviving the Sunnah of the Prophet.
Islamic personality is directly linked to the practice of Islam. Islam is a religion of action and a way of life that focuses on continuously working toward the ideal. It is not a mere identity or way in which one is identified. A Christian, for example, is one who ‘accepts Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior.’ No work or effort is inherent in the term “Christianity,” nor does it imply action of any kind other than belief in the tenets that makes one a Christian. One who enters the fold of Islam, however, has entered a life based on “surrender” that requires constant effort in surrendering to God’s will and ongoing diligence in observing His commands. It is a lifestyle that is applied literally moment to moment, which is manifested through, impacts, and is affected by every aspect of one’s personality.
To understand the development of a personality grounded in the Islamic religion, we must look toward the Holy Qur’an, the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah), as well as the works of Islamic scholars who, drawing from the Qur’an and Sunnah, have expounded on the notions of personality and human psychology according to the Islamic
Notions of Science and Psychology in the West Each human personality is unique. In fact, personality is the sum total of all behavioral and mental characteristics by which an individual is recognized as being unique. In Islam, the Qur’an expounds in very clear terms a distinct concept of individual growth and development. A human being is body and soul, matter and spirit. It is the unique balance between these that makes humans uniquely what we are, which, according to Islamic belief, is the highest of all created beings.
It is this fundamental belief and assumption that draws a major distinction between the Islamic view on human personality and the Western-Secularist worldview, which tends to study man in a highly compartmentalized and reductionist fashion. The essential paradigms and methodologies of Western psychology, along with its overall view of man, are invariably materialist and secular. Modern psychology has played a significant role in shaping Western man and Western society. As part of the overall product of modernity, the Western worldview is, in effect, predominantly secular -- characterized by atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. In line with this worldview, the dominant trend in Western intellectualism is similarly materialistic and secular.
In contemporary psychology, contemporary man is treated and studied under the Western materialist purview. Thus, he is seen and studied fundamentally as a material being. The spiritual entity in him is either less recognized or simply dismissed completely. This dismissal of the spiritual component in man became necessary, however, because its presence cannot be established with the standards of rigid empiricism, which have come to hold sway over contemporary behavioral and social sciences. As a result, in today’s psychology, the idea of a soul or spiritual nature is rarely acknowledged. Instead, within Western psychology, a fragmented view of man is presented. In trying to gain a deeper understanding of human nature, Western psychological theories, using a positivist scientific approach, have tended to focus on one aspect of the self (e.g., psychoanalysis focuses on the conscious/unconscious mind, cognitive psychology focuses on thoughts, and behavioral psychology focuses on human behavior). Although important achievements have been made, no model is truly comprehensive in itself in providing insight into the interplay between body, mind and soul, and the results of this interplay on human personality development. Given these major limitations in understanding the whole person, the questions of how much knowledge we really have of the self, and how deep an understanding of human personality we really have must be raised. Even very new, more integrated therapies that incorporate multiple schools of thought have proven limited, as they continue to ignore a dimension of the self that many regard as central to being human – the spiritual dimension.
The materialistic age and the nature of modern psychological ailments has caused a re-awakening among social scientists who believe that the spiritual component of man is too vital to overlook in regard to human psychological and personality therapies. As a result, many scientists are recognizing the need to understand personality and human psychology from a more holistic perspective. Currently, this can be seen in such contemporary movements such as transpersonal psychology, which aims to directly incorporate a spiritual component to psychological counseling. With this trend, the Islamic worldview, embracing the Prophetic example, has never been more meaningful to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as globalization and its atheistic-materialist values continue to add to the growing moral decay and declining social order among nations. To respond to this crisis of values, it is critical for humanity to broaden its investigation of human social behavior and undertake the study of human life in a way that is inclusive of all the dimensions that comprise our being. For it is the synthesis of these dimensions – body, mind and soul – that make us so complex, enigmatic and fascinating, and what ultimately shapes our individual personalities.
The Core of Islamic Personality – Moral Character.
Among the many factors that influence personality, some are innate and some are learned (acquired). Acquired traits in a personality exert a powerful influence on human destiny – collective and individual. While a constructive behavioral attitude can propel human society to glory, a destructive personality can destroy the foundations of an entire civilization.
Personality is the manifestation of our character in everything we do in life. According to Merriam-Webster (2001), personality is defined as “the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially: the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics.” Personality is how our basic character is displayed to the world. Imâm Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, as it relates to the notion of personality, has elaborated the Islamic view on the importance of good character:
“Everything in the world has been created with a purpose. Man, being the most exalted of all creation, has a supreme purpose, which is to realize the moral through the proper exercise of the qualities inherent in him. He has to develop those qualities that facilitate moral progress and subjugate those which hinder it. In order to achieve the moral end one has to build a good character that comprises all the virtues, the most important of which is love of God. The actual worth of a virtue is essentially determined by the part it plays in helping man to achieve perfection whereby he attains nearness to God. Good character is the beauty of the soul, and like the beauty of the body it depends on the harmonious and proportionate development of all its elements.
From this description, moral character is not simply a goal within the life of a Muslim, but the end goal of the Islamic faith itself. On this matter, Prophet Muhammad was asked, “Which Muslim has the perfect faith?” He answered: “He who has the best moral character (Tibrani).” In another tradition, they asked the Prophet “What is the best thing given
to man?” He replied, “Moral character (Tirmidhi).
In spite of the rapid expansion of his religion and the immense increase in their various tasks, Prophet Muhammad informed his followers of the fact that on the Day of Judgment there will be nothing weightier in their balance than their good moral character. According to Muhammad Al-Ghazali, “if religion is the name of good conduct between man and man, then on the other hand, in its spiritual sense, it is also the name of the best relationship between man and his God, and in both these aspects there is the same reality.” Al-Ghazali continues,“There are many religions that give the glad tiding that you may embrace any belief and your sins will be washed away, and offering fixed prayers will cancel your mistakes. But Islam does not believe in this. According to it, these benefits will be available only when the axis and center of belief is a conscious step towards virtue and payment of the compulsory dues, and when the proposed worship can become the real source of washing away the sins and generating the real perfection. In other words, evil can be removed by those virtues that man makes his own and by which he is able to reach high and lofty standards. The Prophet of Islam very forcefully emphasized these valuable principles so that his followers may understand very clearly that the value of morality may not go down in its eyes and the importance of mere forms and shapes may not increase.
Islamic personality, grounded in high moral character, encompasses beliefs, external traits, attributes, behaviors, manners and social graces, and adab . It covers every aspect of interpersonal life including relations between man and man, man and God, man and family, man and society, as well as man and the natural world. All of these are clearly reflected in the life stories of the Prophet, and are thoroughly documented in his seerah, or biography. Furthermore, there are volumes of accounts on the high moral conduct and personalities of his companions, and their followers from which we can draw many examples.
The ideal Islamic personality, as the saying attributed to the Prophet’s wife, A’isha, makes clear, is the personification of the Qur’an. That which is pleasing to God, should be pleasing to the Muslim and this should be borne out in every thought, word, and action. The Prophet, according to Muslims, reached this stage of human perfection because he was able to personify the Qur’an in this manner. As A’isha said, “He was pleased by what it (the Qur’an) finds pleasing and angry according to what it finds hateful. Thus, in effect, the Prophet achieved actualization of the Divine Names and the highest and most refined character as a result of it.
From God’s messenger to the classical scholars, who throughout Islamic history have attempted to summarize the Islamic ideal in terms of personality, the notion of Islamic personality can be summed up by Imam Al-Ghazali’s description of “the godly man”:
“The godly man is wise, courageous and temperate in the noblest sense of the words, and in the highest degree. He engages in worship, prayers, fasting, alms-giving, and similar acts, but his duties to God do not exclude his duties to family, relatives, friends, neighbors, slaves, subjects and society as a whole. He must earn his livelihood by strictly honest means. He must cultivate the best manners for all occasions, namely, he should know how to carry himself best at the table, in society, while traveling, and at the gathering of godly people and avoid causing the slightest pain to his fellowmen on any account. The Prophet should be his ideal and his inspiration all through his life. Lastly, his duty is not only to reform and perfect all the aspects of his life but to reform his fellowmen as well. And the motive force behind a perfect life is nothing other than the love and fear of God.
From this description, the primary aspect of Islamic personality is one of dedication to God and His religion (Islam). As moral character is the very heart of Islamic personality, naturally, obedience and dedication to Allah and worship of him must play the primary role in such a life for the purpose of building fear and love of God. For according to Al-Ghazali,all good aspects of character flow from these two goals of man’s relationship with his creator.
As personality goes beyond ingredients of good character and into other aspects of daily life, Al-Ghazali does not exclude man’s duties to his worldly life as being “godly,” and includes such mundane acts as earning one’s livelihood and table manners in his description. This inclusion of the “worldly as godly” is an important feature of Islam and one that separates it from other religions. Islam's uniqueness lies in spiritualizing the whole matrix of life. Every activity, whether related to things like prayer and fasting, or to economic transactions, sexual relationships, diplomatic dealings or scientific experimentation's, is religious if it is undertaken with God consciousness and accords with the values and principles revealed by Him; and it is irreligious if it is in violation of them. Activities related to matters of economy, politics and law, or of sex and social manners, are a part of man's religious behavior and do not fall outside its scope. Life is an organic whole and the same principles should guide and govern it in all its ramifications. Thus, the drive for self-perfection must include the whole of the Muslim’s everyday life, for nothing within it falls outside the scope of personality.
Al-Ghazali calls it a duty to avoid causing harm to his fellowmen. This is a critical feature of Islamic personality that stresses treating all creatures with compassion. This important feature of Islamic personality stems from the worldview of the oneness and Lordship of God above all his creation, of which humanity is the highest form. It reflects our duty to act justly toward all creatures, as only prescribed punishment and recompense for crimes against the laws of God are acceptable. As one of God’s names is “al-‘Adl,” or “the Just,” Muslims must always strive to act justly and dispense justice in our daily lives. The concept of justice in Islam also implies the need to balance the different aspects of the self as an important ingredient for healthy development of the personality. Justice is both an outcome of following the middle way in life’s activities and an important characteristic of the middle way of Islam. Adoption of the ‘middle way’ in the Islamic perspective is thus both a means and an aim of personality development and self -fulfillment. By taking the middle path we will achieve the ideal state and the ideal state itself is the middle, or balanced state. Exhortation to seek a balance in satisfying both body and soul is found in the Qur’an: “But seek the abode of the hereafter in that which God has given you and neglect not your portion of the world, and be kind even as God has been kind to you and seek not corruption in the Earth…
Imam Al-Ghazali concludes his description of the godly man with the all-encompassing statement that “his duty is not only to reform and perfect all the aspects of his life but to reform his fellowmen as well.” This is not only alluding to the concepts of self-perfection and struggle, but as well “commanding the proper and forbidding the improper (amr bi al ma'ruf wa nahi 'an al munkar),” which is one of the most important principles in all of Islam, as it is stressed repeatedly in both the Qur’an and sayings (hadith) of the Prophet. The constant concern of the Muslim with promoting what is good and just, and actively dissuading what is wrong and unlawful according to God is a very important characteristic of Islamic personality. Such a preoccupancy implies that the Muslim is always concerned with promoting the positive values represented by Islam within himself and the controllable world around him. If a Muslim is to ignore this principle and in the face of wrong not react in any way, then this means that in a spiritual and moral sense he is dead. This point is made in a well known saying (hadith) of the Prophet in which he is reported to have said: "If one of you sees something wrong, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then with his heart and this is the weakest faith (Muslim)."
In addition to Imam Al-Ghazali’s description of the “godly man,” there are many scholarly treatments on this topic. Even though the Prophet Muhammad is the greatest and most brilliant example of it, there is no one definition of Islamic personality, and different scholars throughout Islamic history have pointed to different examples of the Prophet’s life and the lives of his companions to illustrate this point. For example, Muhammad Al-Ghazali, in his book “Muslim’s Character (1996),” breaks down his notion of Islamic character into several categories including: Pillars of Islam and moral values; truth; trust and honesty; fulfillment of promise; sincerity; etiquette of conversation; keep your bosom (heart) free from rancor and enmity; strength; tolerance and pardon; philanthropy and benevolence; patience; economy and moderation; purity and neatness; modesty; brotherhood; unity and collectivism; selection of friends; imposing and awe-inspiring; kindness; learning and intellect; and full utilization of time.Personality can be described as the manifestation of one’s basic character into actions, thoughts and words. As such, the two are closely linked.
As many world religions stress the importance of their unique beliefs, perhaps in Islam more than any other is the focus on the actualization of belief, or the application of religious knowledge in every aspect of life. Such application translates into individual conduct, which is exhibited through individual personality. Thus, the development of Islamic personality is a critical end to the religion, and greatly influenced by one’s education and indoctrination into it, as well as many other factors.
Islamic Knowledge and Psychology
Human personality in the Islamic tradition, unlike the Western psychological tradition, is understood through the total makeup of the human being – body, mind and soul. According to Islamic tradition, to understand the overall psychological nature of man and his personality development, one must understand the inner workings, the essence,of the whole person as well as the importance and role of knowledge.
From the Islamic perspective, knowledge is of two types: “revealed” Divine knowledge and ‘worldly’ knowledge. Divine knowledge is intuitive, subjectively experienced and has the potential to transform individuals. ‘Worldly’ knowledge is what is generally considered to be “objective” and is experienced more as a process of acquiring information about the external world. They differ greatly in their actualization. For example, in today’s universities, students may acquire massive amounts of information but many still graduate with differences only in age and perceived professional status, not necessarily as more perfected human beings. Divine knowledge, however, has the ability to completely transform human beings, as it did with the Prophet of Islam, his companions, followers, and generations of Muslims since. Thus, an increase in material knowledge resulting in a greater amount of “information” does not necessarily lead to the “transformation” of the self. Divine knowledge and material knowledge are not necessarily contradictory, however, they simply reflect the co-existence of two different (but not opposing) dimensions: the spiritual dimension and the physical dimension.
In Islamic thought, the human being is considered to be the meeting point of these two different dimensions. The Arabic word for such a meeting is barzakh, or “interspace.” In light of this Islamic perspective, efforts to gain an understanding of the self require a study of its entirety. Knowledge of the self, and what it means to be human in modern times, however, has become less of the domain of religion as the domain of the field of psychology, despite that the word “psychology” is actually based on the Greek word “psyche”, meaning “soul,” or “spirit.” Psychology then, in actuality, means the study of the soul, not simply the study of mind and behavior, and thus implies a natural fit with the religious sciences.
According to the Qur’an, all psychological phenomena originate in the Self. The Self is the essence of man, and is often referred to by one of four terms in Arabic -- qalb (heart), ruh (soul), nafs (desire-nature), and ‘aql (intellect/reason). Each of these signifies a spiritual entity. Thus, according to Islam, the essence of a person is the Self, which is a spiritual entity, not a physical one. In the Qur’an, personality and behavior are referred to as the nafs, which the Qur’an has used to describe several states of the Self: nafs ammarah (tendency to evil, 12:53); nafs lawwamah (conscience and concern with moral rectitude, 75:2); nafs mulhamah (inspired to piety and God-consciousness); nafs qanu’ah (satisfied with what it has); nafs mutma’inna (calm and tranquil, 89:27); nafs radhiyah (appreciative, 89:27-28); nafs mardhiyyat (appreciated, 89:27-28); and nafs kamilah (perfect). Islamic scholars typically highlight the three most commonly referred to states of the Self in the Qur’an as: nafs ammarah; nafs lawwamah; and nafs mutma’inna:
Nafs Ammara (the commanding or lower Self) - Qur’an 12:53. This self is prone to the lower aspects of the Self, representing the negative drives in man. It can be viewed as analogous to the Freudian concept of ‘id’ e.g. ‘I want to do it now… I don’t care if it’s right or wrong.
Nafs Lawwama (The self-reproaching Self) - Qur’an 75:2. This state corresponds to the Self when it becomes aware of wrong- doing and feels remorse. A parallel between the Freudian concept of ‘superego’ and nafs lawwama may be drawn. The feeling of “I shouldn’t have done that” or “why did I do that – I wish I hadn’t…” Nafs Mutma’innah (The peaceful Self) - Qur’an 89:27-28. This is the state of inner peace and happiness, when you feel satisfied and content in yourself. This is the state that we are aiming to achieve. In order to achieve the state of tranquility and peace one has to activate the remorseful self (e.g. through sincere repentance) and control the lower commanding self (through self discipline).
The state of the Self is dependent on many different faculties and powers at play within the individual. Thus, the Qur’anic personality is impacted by a variety of factors including: biological inheritance, physical environment, culture, socialization, group experience, and unique individual experiences. Far from the simple dichotomy of “nature or nurture” as is so prominent in traditional Western psychological thought, the Islamic notion of personality development is a more complex one, that is directly linked to the state and health of the individual Self.
According to Islam, man is born in a natural state of purity (fitrat al Islam) . (Incidentally, this is in direct contrast to Judeo -Christian tradition that purports that man is born in a state of “original sin.”) All of creation comes into existence in this state of fitrah: “He Who has made everything which He has created most good: He began the creation of man with (nothing more than) clay.” Unlike other forms of creation, however, human beings have within them the ability to leave this state of nature into something unnatural. This potential to do what is unnatural and harmful to the Self is based on mankind’s free will. Thus, in order to actualize fitrah, or to return to the natural state of purity, man must gain control over the potential for wrong within him. Taking advantage of free will, through the use of the intellect man can apply revelation in choosing what is right and thus reawaken the recognition of fitrah in him. Although man is not born evil, he is vulnerable to evil stimuli or external sources of misguidance. This property of the human constitution, to be vulnerable to wrong, is intrinsic to man. The emotional and biological impulses of man are not inherently evil, but are readily susceptible to such evil stimuli. Thus, they need to be controlled and directed in accordance with divinely prescribed laws so that the Self (nafs) can be transformed into the highest level of spiritual achievement.
Human personality, therefore, is dependent upon the psychological or psychical implications of fitrah that occur within the Self. Since emotions and desires form an integral part of man, the psychological implications are directly related to his emotional dimensions. Both the emotional and the psychological dimensions have positive as well as negative tendencies. If man’s emotions are controlled and directed to higher spiritual ends, then his psychical nature is disciplined. Although the biological constitution of man is completely different from the psychological constitution, the former nevertheless serves as an instrument for the drives of the psyche. The lower Self – comprised of our animalistic desires, passions, etc. – must be transformed into a positive, spiritually higher state so that the individual may be liberated from bondage to the lower Self, for it tends towards gratification of the biological and emotional needs of the individual and away from the service of God.
In terms of human development, according to Islamic thought it is the early environment that determines how these potentials are enhanced. If the environment is good, the good potentials are promoted. If it is bad, the bad ones are. Thus, personal characteristics are set quite early in life according to Islamic thought. In fact, if some verses of the Qur’an and prophetic traditions are studied closely, it will be discovered that Islam has great concern regarding the formative periods of phases in the life cycle. They lay the foundation upon which later development builds. In this respect the entire prenatal, infancy, childhood, and adolescent periods can all be considered sensitive in regard to the impact on the personality of the individual throughout his or her lifespan. Although aspects of the personality can change during life and a person has the capacity to overcome many disabilities in the basic personality, the basic personality itself cannot change. This is because the personality itself refers to the permanent within man – his rationalsoul. Behavior, however, does not always reflect the permanent character and can change. It is this capacity for self-improvement, taking charge, and striving for the best that makes humans morally responsible.
Islamic personality does not solely refer to man’s attributes, but the balance of powers, passions, and principles within the Self that facilitate the cultivation and development of such attributes. A goal in Islamic personality development, therefore, is to arrive at the right balance within the Self that can bring it to a harmonious state. This can only occur through adherence to God’s guidance – obedience to His commands and incorporating the ways (Sunnah) of the Prophet into our daily lives.
The Prophet Muhammad – The Example of Islamic Personality
History is filled with biographies of people who are considered ‘great’ in terms of their accomplishments. Many earned this status based on achievements in their respective fields, for their military conquests, for their visionary policies, for their discoveries, or for their charisma and leadership. Very few, however, have earned such regard based on their pure character and the impact they had on improving morality and conduct of so many in such a short period of time like the Prophet of Islam. In addition, no other human being in history was capable of achieving what the Prophet achieved in both the earthly and spiritual realms.
From the Prophetic example, we can begin to understand and define the beliefs, behaviors, and attributes comprising the Islamic personality. Unlike other models and concepts of personality, which rarely provide a human example from which to draw, the Islamic notion of ideal personality is based on the life and actions of the Prophet of Islam himself, and from him further examples can be drawn from his closest companions and exceptional Muslims throughout history. In the Qur’an, God makes clear the standard of character of the Messenger in the words: "And you (Muhammad) stand on an exalted standard of character”. As the Qur’an is, to Muslims, the literal word of God as told to the Prophet through Archangel Gabriel, Muhammad is seen by Muslims as the full personification of the Qur’an, and consequently, the will of God. As mentioned earlier, the Prophet’s own wife, A’isha, labeled him “the walking Qur’an”, in that he completely personified its laws and principles.
The Prophet of Islam taught the importance of developing moral character through his everyday actions in all aspects of life, which was manifested through his personality. Through his example, we learn that mere teachings and commands of ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ do not form the foundation of good moral character and personality in a society, because these things alone are not sufficient for developing good qualities in human nature. The teaching of good conduct, which is fruitful, requires long training and constant watchfulness. Such training cannot be on the right lines if the example before the society is not such that commands full confidence, because a person having a bad moral character cannot leave a good impression on his surroundings. The best training can be expected only from such a man whose character, by the force of its morality, would create a sense of admiration in the beholders. They would sing praises of his nobility and feel the irresistible urge to benefit from the example of his life. The world would spontaneously feel the urge to follow his footsteps, as was the case with the Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad, according to Muslims, was the example of good moral character and personality. Before advising his followers to adopt a moral life by giving sermons and counsels, he was sowing the seeds of morality among his followers by actually living such a life. Some examples of his words and deeds to this effect follow:
1. Abdullah Ibn Amar says: “The Messenger of Allah (saw) was neither ill-mannered nor rude. He used to say that the better people among you are those who are best in their moral character (Bukhari).”
2. Anas says: “I served the holy Prophet for ten years. He never said “Uf” (expressing dissatisfaction), nor did he ever ask me why I did this or did not do that (Muslim).”
3. It is also reported by him: “My mother used to hold the Prophet’s hand and used to take him wherever she wanted. If any person used to come before him and shake his hand, the Prophet never used to draw away his
hand from the other person’s hands till the latter drew away his hands, and he never used to turn away his face from that person till the latter himself turned away his face. And in the meetings he was never seen squatting in such a way that his knees were protruding further than his fellow squatters (Tirmidhi).”
4. Hazrat A’isha says: “If there were two alternatives, the holy Prophet used to adopt the easiest alternative, provided there was no sin in it. If that work were sinful, then he used to run away farthest from it. The Prophet did not take any personal revenge from anybody. Yes, if Allah’s command were to be disobeyed, then his wrath was to be stirred. Allah’s Messenger did not beat anybody with his own hands, neither his wife nor a servant. Yes, he used to fight in the wars in the cause of Allah (Muslim).”
5.Anas has narrated: “I was walking with the Prophet. He had wrapped a thick chadar round his body. One Arabpulled the chadar so forcefully that a part of his shoulder could be seen by me, and I was perturbed by this forcing pulling of the chadar. The Arab then said: ‘Oh Muhammad! Give me some of my share from the property which Allah has given you.’ The Prophet turned towards him and laughed, and gave orders for a donation being given to him (Bukhari).”
6. Abdullah bin Harith has reported that he did not see anybody smiling more than the Messenger of Allah (Tirmidhi).
7. Hazrat A’isha was asked what did the Prophet do at home? She replied: “He used to be in the service of his home people; and when the time of prayer came he used to perform ablutions and go out for prayer (Muslim).”
8. Anas has narrated: “Allah’s Messenger had the best manners of all the persons. I had an adopted brother, whose name was Abu Umair. He had a sick sparrow, who was called ‘Nagheer.’ Allah’s Messenger used to be
playful with him and ask him: ‘O Abu Umair! What has happened to your Nagheer (Bukhari)’.”
9. Qazi A’yaz says that the Prophet was the most excellent -mannered, most philanthropic and the bravest of all. One night the people of Medina were terribly frightened. Some people proceeded towards the sound (which was probably the cause). They saw that the Prophet was coming from that direction. He had rushed before all others to find out what was the trouble. He was riding the horse of Abu Talha, without a saddle, and a sword was hanging from his neck, and he was comforting the people not to be afraid saying there was nothing to worry.
9. Once he (the Prophet) received seventy thousand dirhams. They were placed before him on the mat. He distributed them standing. He did not refuse a single beggar till he finished the entire amount.
10. Jarir bin Abdullah says: “Since the time I became a Muslim, the Prophet did not prevent me from entering (the house); whenever he looked at me, he smiled.
As can be seen from his words and deeds, recorded and told by his companions and followers, the Prophet of Islam was an example personality. In every facet of life, he epitomized the principles of Islam and the Divine Names of God as put forth in the Qur’an. According to Islamic belief, all of the prophets of God are manifestations of the Divine Unity and Perfection, but Muhammad is its supreme manifestation. His name is the most exalted of the Divine Names, containing all the Names within it. Thus, Muhammad is the spiritual incarnation and manifestation of all of God's Names, and thus the most perfected human being and personality.
There are literally thousands of examples from the Prophet’s life pertaining to his personality that highlight, in intricate detail, his behaviors, manners, thoughts, and beliefs. What is common among all accounts of the Prophet’s life, however varied they may be, is that nothing the Prophet did in his daily life was outside the realm of the observable personality, nor insignificant from a religious perspective. Every human interaction, every meal taken, every sermon given, every battle fought, every charity performed, had a lesson in the importance of Islamic personality. Thus, it was not only what the Prophet did that mattered, but how he did it. This is one of several reasons why Allah distinguished him in the Qur’an as “a mercy to all the worlds.For in even the most mundane of actions is a lesson for those who attempt to follow his way of life.
This all-inclusiveness of the Prophet’s way (Sunnah) as a guide points to the notion of Islam as a complete system of life, and the importance of infusing God-consciousness (taqwa) into daily living -- “Those who believed, and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of God: verily, in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest. In doing so, the Prophet showed why the perfection of personality is not only an aspect of religion, but the very goal of religion itself. For through attainment of such a standard of personality, individual success in both this life and the life to come, in addition to a society based on moral rectitude, mercy, and justice, can be achieved.
With this paper an attempt has been made to extend a concept and initial understanding of Islamic personality. By highlighting the origins and nature of personality theory in western models, an attempt was first made to illustrate the basic differences between them and the Islamic notion of personality, as well as fundamental differences within its parent field, psychology. In an attempt to provide an understanding of the foundation of Islamic personality, the article next explored the idea of moral character and its role in the forming of personality. Citing classical and contemporary scholarly works, the article then attempted to provide a brief look into the existing literature on Islamic notions of psychology, and particularly the Qur’anic understanding of the Self as the fountainhead for all psychological phenomena. Finally, the notion of Islamic personality was explored using the real-life example of the Prophet of Islam as the perfect model of such a personality.
The topic of personality from the Islamic perspective is a critical area in which Muslim social scientists and educators must delve, especially as we attempt to understand our shortcomings as a community, and strive to improve relations and conduct between people throughout the world at large. Personality development, especially as it relates to youth, must become an issue of the highest priority. The challenges facing the younger generations are enormous, regardless as to whether they are from east or west, rich or poor, or Muslim or non-Muslim backgrounds. A combination of factors is hard at work pressing for their developmental failure and the perpetuation of social ills, self-destruction and spiritual decay. For Muslim youth in particular, this reality is even more severe. Thus, not only teaching but modeling Islamic personality is critical in order for youth to internalize what it means to live every aspect of life with God-consciousness and piety (taqwa). In order to engage in this work of personality development, however, we must first understand that personality can and must be Islamic for Islam to be the foundation for success of the Muslims.
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[xviii] Al-Ghazali, M., p. 15.
[xix]Ibid., p. 16.
[xx] l-Hawfi, A.M. 1996. Portrait of human perfection. Dar Al Taqwa: London, p. 33.
[xxi] Umaruddin, M., p. 182.
[xxii] Ibid., p. 172.
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[xxvi] Ali, A.Y., 28:77.
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[xxix] Al-Ghazali, M., p. Table of Contents.
[xxx] Yaaqob, S. Towards Islamic psychology.
[xxxiii]Umaruddin, M., p. 71.
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[xxxv] Yaaqob, S. Towards Islamic psychology.
[xxxvi] Kasule, O.H. Psychology and mental health.
[xxxvii]Ali, A.Y., 32:7.
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[xliii] Shehu, S. Towards an Islamic perspective.
[xliv] Al-Attas, S.M.N. 1978. Islam and secularism. Art Printing Works Sdn. Bhd.: Kuala Lumpur, p.152.
[xlv] Kasule, O.H. Psychology and mental health.
[xlvi] Ali, A.Y., 68:4.
[xlvii] Al-Hawfi, A.M., p. 33.
[xlviii] Al-Ghazali, M., p. 17.
[xlix] Ibid, p. 18.
[li] Ibid, p. 21.
[lii] Ibid, p. 22.
[liii] Ibid, p. 23.
[liv] Al-Muttaqi, A. 1958. Kanz-al-ummal. Hyderabad. Retrieved November 24, 2001 from: http://home4.pacific.net.sg/~makhdoom/seekers.html.
[lv] Ali, A.Y., 21:107.
[lvi] Ibid, 13:28.