Shaykh Yahya Rhodus unfolds the essential etiquette we should have with our Lord, with ourselves, and with other people as is found in the concept of taqwa.
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم: اتّق الله حيثما كنتَ و أتبع السيئة الحسنة تمحها و خالق الناس حسن
The Messenger of God said, “Keep God in mind wherever you are; follow a wrong with a right that offsets it; and treat people courteously.” (Tirmidhi)
In this hadith our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is telling us about the three dimensions of etiquette (adab) that we need to have. First and foremost with our lord, secondly with ourselves, and thirdly with people.
This hadith is from the comprehensive words of our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and you will find that it is a very short hadith. But because it is from his comprehensive words, it is packed with meaning.
Centrality of Taqwa
If we look at the benefits, the first is in the primary etiquette that we should have with our Lord. This is reflected in the words of our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, “Have taqwa of Allah wherever you are,” and taqwa is a difficult word to translate.
Some translate it as mindfulness. Others translate as God consciousness. Yet others will translate it as fear of Allah. However, taqwa is a very important word and I think it is best that we use the word taqwa, and define what it means, until it actually becomes a word in the English language.
Taqwa is of the utmost importance. The reality of taqwa pertains to our relationship with our Lord, praise be to Him, and the decisions that we make. It begins at the basic level with protecting ourselves from anything that would take us outside of the fold of Islam. And it ends in the highest degree where we try to be constantly present with our Lord, praise be to Him.
Inclination and Aversion
What our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us in this hadith is a very subtle etiquette, and we should have taqwa wherever we might be. Think about our own selves and all the different places and times we might be in – by ourselves or with other people. We could be at work or at home, with friends, acquaintances or elders. We can be in times of ease or in times of difficulty. In all of this our nafs inclines or has an aversion towards something.
In all these different states, times and places, what has to be consistent is that we have to be people of taqwa. Taqwa is a very sophisticated reality and it pertains to the way that we ultimately exercise our freedom of choice and choosing what is right or, as we move up in the degrees of closeness to Allah, what is best.
We need to avoid having compartmentalized lifestyles which is so common in the world which we live. We think it is fine for us to focus on one aspect of our lives only. We can be different at home as opposed to the way that we are in the mosque, or as opposed to the way that we are at work.
A Comprehensive Religion
Islam is a comprehensive religion that deals with every aspect of the human being. We want to avoid having compartmentalized lifestyles. Rather, we want to have taqwa at work, at home, at the masjid, in our financial dealings and interactions with people. Even when we are going through difficult times and times of ease, whether we like or dislike something.
Taqwa remains in all of these different states and our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us that this is what we need to be aware of at all times, because we know that as human beings we are weak and we fall short in this. Educating us and teaching us, The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is exemplifying how we should be before our Lord in a way that is pleasing to Him and brings about His pleasure.
Never Lose Hope in Your Lord
The benefits of taqwa are so vast we can go on about them. Allah mentions taqwa more than ninety times in His Book and if we trace the verses that pertain to taqwa, you will end up with a long list of great things that Allah gives to the people of taqwa.
The first benefit of this hadith is teaching us how to be with our Lord. The Primary aspect of that is taqwa. Secondly, it teaches us how we should be with our own selves. These are the words of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace: “follow a wrong with a right that offsets it.”
The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is teaching us how to deal with our selves, particularly when we slip up. We know, as children of Adam, we are prone to slip ups. We are prone to mistakes and we know that we have faults that we are working on. But we fall short at times.
Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, teaches us that: Every time you fall short, immediately dust yourself off and keep moving forward. This is extremely important. This is essential and this will protect us from so many things that other people fall into, whereby they become depressed, lose hope in life and they start to spiral downwards from that.
How many people do we not come across who, because of their past and the things they have done, lose hope for the future? But in reality we’ve only lost if when cease to dust ourselves off, get up and keep moving on. Every time you fall short, dust yourself off, and keep on.
The Blessing of Good Deeds
Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, teaches us that we should immediately follow a bad deed up with a good deed, so the latter will erase the former. It will erase it from our scrolls and it will also erase the traces of that mistake or that sin from our hearts.
In other words it will be erased from our psychological profiles so even if it was us, we didn’t do it because it no longer will cease to be us. It will no longer will be us because it was erased from our hearts and our scrolls.
Allah says in Sura Hud 11:114:
إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ
Indeed, good deeds do away with bad deeds.
Kaffara – Atonement
On the occasion of revelation of this verse, a man that had embraced a woman came to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and informed him and this verse was revealed. The man asked, “Is this in reference to me?” And the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “This is not just for you. It is for all of my Umma.” And this man was sincere.
He realized he did something with a woman he shouldn’t do and so he came to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. And Allah revealed this verse for him in on this occasion, but also for all people. To inform them that every time you make a mistake and fall short you should strive to immediately do something good.
The Prophet told us in a hadith that the five daily prayers, jumu‘a to jumu‘a, Ramadan to Ramadan, are an atonement for sins accumulated in between them, if the major wrong actions are avoided. So from the blessing of performing what it is that we are supposed to be performing is that it will be an atonement in and of itself.
This atonement will again be a means of forgiveness for the sin and erasing of the blemish of sin that is in our hearts. In other words our hearts will be polished and we will be able to move forward on our path to Allah.
Engage with Courteousness
The third etiquette relates to other people this is the primary principal that we should interact with all people with and that is good character. Our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said “Interact with people with good character, treat people courteously.”
Notice that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said “khaliqin naas.” Treat people courteously, not just Muslims courteously. We should treat all people courteously. We should have manners and respect for all the people we interact with.
This principle of good character should guide us in everything we do. Again, when we are with people – if they are Muslim or non-Muslim, old or young, close or distant, and all of the other social distinctions that we have – does not matter. We maintain good character with everyone.
This is a constant. This is a standard. And the ethical standards of the Qur’an are very. very high. Read the book of Allah. It is filled with great passages and great verses that pertain to good character.
Every time we read those verses we should apply them to ourselves instead of trying to bring the Qur’an down to our own lowly selves, which you can never do and is a grave mistake. We should raise ourselves up to the ethical standards of the Qur’an.
Alhamdulillah, we have been gifted our Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, who gave us the great words of advice. Words that are from his comprehensive words, Allah bless him and give him peace, teaching us that the essential etiquette with our lord is to have taqwa. The essential etiquette with ourselves is to follow up a bad deed with a good deed. And the essential etiquette in our dealings with other people is to have good character.
The Content of Character podcast is brought to you by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus of Al-Maqasid Institute, and powered by SeekersHub Global Islamic Seminary. Listen to this episode in full on the SeekersHub website, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Android, or RSS.