An individual’s character is one of the most important aspects of Islam. Perfecting one’s character is something every Muslim must strive for. In doing so, one must be conscious of internalizing values such as integrity, honesty, compassion, justice and tolerance. However, it must all begin with faith: the essential character of a Muslim.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), once said, “Truly I was sent as a Prophet for the purpose of perfecting human character.” In the Quran, the holy book of Islam, God mentions that He sent Muhammad (pbuh) as a “Mercy to the worlds” (21:107) and that he possesses an “exalted” character (68:4).
Therefore, Muslims focus on bettering themselves by following the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and the teachings of the final prophet, Muhammad (pbuh).
Islam is a way of life; as a result, while worship and core rituals are extremely important, so are the purity of one’s character, the quality of one’s interaction with others, and one’s contribution to their surroundings. After all, one’s good character will impact others and therefore improve society as a whole. This dynamic change all begins at the individual level.
“It (Islam) replaced monkishness by manliness. It gives hope to the slave,
brotherhood to mankind, and recognition of the fundamental facts of human nature.”
[Canon Taylor, Paper read before the Church Congress at Walverhamton, Oct. 7, 1887,
Quoted by Arnond in The Preaching of Islam, pp. 71-72.]
Islam, the world’s fastest growing religion, encompasses all aspects of a human’s life. While it focuses on one’s direct relationship with God, it also emphasizes more mundane things such as interpersonal relations, ethics of business conduct, and maintaining a social equilibrium as presented in the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Hence, a person’s relationship with the surrounding society plays an exceptionally important role within Islam – from giving due rights within a family to impeccable treatment of neighbors, from ensuring that one’s income is through lawful means to giving charity to the poor, and from advocating the rights of the oppressed to dealing justly with people irrespective of caste, race, or religion.
Not surprisingly, then, you will find that the individual, family, and society are oft-repeated themes, interwoven in the larger fabric called Islam. The individual is encouraged to first develop his/her own self, then devote him/herself to the growth of the family, leading to a more meaningful and useful interaction with the greater society, aspiring to create righteous communities. This interdependency reinforces the human’s responsibility towards fostering positive, healthy, and just societies. The Quran beautifully encapsulates the essence of this concept in the following verse:
“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: they are the ones to attain success.” [3:104]
We live in an age where the importance of family values is declining in society. Divorce rates are at an all time high, couples are marrying on average at older ages and the number of single parent families has increased. Overall, the proportion of people in happy marriages has declined rapidly.
In addition, more and more people are choosing to have fewer children. Juxtaposed against this reality, the elderly population is on the rise, resulting in an impending crisis. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. elderly population will nearly double by 2025 whereas the number of children will increase by just 3 percent.
Islam places great emphasis on protecting the family unit, which encompasses parents, siblings, spouses, children as well as extended kith and kin. This section highlights the different aspects of family and their importance not only in the lives of individuals but within the larger society as a whole.