The Importance of Manners as Building Blocks of Nations
Modern scholars emphasize the role played by religion as a source of humanitarian values. Islamic culture is a culture built upon lofty manners and morals which unite disparate elements within the society and guarantee that the best interest of the group will be served. Morality and manners are not an outside an alien concept in this religion, nor are they limited to certain spheres of human behavior.
Rather, they are the living translation of correct beliefs and faith because faith is not merely feelings accruing within one’s conscience. It consists of outwardly observable behaviors as well, such that it is fair to ask ourselves when we do not see behaviors bearing witness to faith or, indeed, see behaviors indicative of its opposite, “What is faith, and of what value is it if it has no affect upon behavior?”
Similarly, morals and manners are considered to be the building blocks of character discipline by all sorts of nations, regardless of their cultural and religious differences, and essential to the preservation of their identities. Morals and manners form the identity of nations and moral decline and societal collapse are phenomena which lead to the ruin of cultures.
Gustav Lebon remarked, “When we investigate the causes which lead to the collapse of nations, we find that the principle factors in their downfall are changes in their general dispositions which lead to a decline in their morals and manners. I see not a single nation which ceased to exist as a result of a decline it its intelligence. Thus, it is his opinion that the preservation of basic moral building blocks is what ensures the survival of a culture due to the fact that cultural collapse results from a disregard for the importance of instilling character discipline among a people.
Modern societies are in dire need of according due import to assuring the vitality of moral values, for continued human existence upon the face of the Earth is a serious matter neither to be taken for granted nor to be toyed with. Modern men have come to master instruments and mechanisms which, should they be put to evil purposes or fall into the hands of men given to sadism and enmity, could be used to destroy themselves and their countries, as, indeed, they could be used in such a manner as to lead to the destruction of the entire world.
Indeed, the development of character discipline in peoples and individuals along with the incorporation of character discipline into matters of international politics and among leaders and rulers of various stripes, in accordance with principles founded in high morals, will quite naturally lead to peace, coexistence, and respectfulness towards others. It will, likewise, lead to the criminalization of transgression against the rights of others and blood-spilling, which is in the collective best-interests of mankind. There is no doubt that Muslims ought to be in the vanguard of those calling to such values and seeking fervently to establish them, for the religion of Islam long ago laid the groundwork for these moral values and encouraged them, pushing for their implementation and development among mankind.
Globalization and those who seek to propagate its ideas and principles strives to spread a methodology of moral discipline and cultural identity among mankind as a whole which is an amalgamation of such moral concepts as its proponents find pleasing. This they seek to do without regard for the various roots, cultures, and religions which distinguish peoples from one another. The concept of a unified model of character discipline and the call to abide thereby is certainly praiseworthy insofar as it promotes the spirit of coexistence and understanding among peoples of differing cultural backgrounds.
Such a system can be good, as long as all are equally bound by its parameters and it is not merely a sham whereby the strong impose their will upon the weak, expecting them to behave in conformity with moral imperatives applicable to interactions with others while exempting themselves from them. If their goal in establishing such a paradigm is to ensure that the best interests of the strong are achieved by means of subjugating all other peoples to their philosophy and thinking, then their call to spreading the spirit of cooperation, tolerance, and peace among mankind is insincere, as is their sanctification of peace itself, for, if that be the case, then the applicability of their principles is contingent upon the achievement of their own best interests and aims.
It must be stressed that widespread adherence to moral principles among peoples of varying nationalities, ethnicities, and discrete cultural groups allows each one of them to preserve a measure of authenticity and a level of cultural individuality, national character, and religious identity, none of which interferes in any way with the establishment of peaceful coexistence among various cultures.
Concepts and Terminology as Used in this Treatise:
Basic Definition of Moral Discipline:
Development of an integrated and balanced personality involves the individual’s physical, social, aesthetic, spiritual, moral, mental, and existential dimensions.
The Concept of Morals and Manners:
The definition which we shall use is that proposed by Ibn Miskawayh in his book The Refinement of Morals and Manners and the Purification of Lineages, wherein he defined morality and etiquette as being, essentially, a psychological state which causes the human being to adopt a certain manner of behavior as his default state, without need to think or reflect upon what he is doing. That is, an individual’s behavior becomes his morals and manners when he automatically performs them, with no hesitation or difficulty. Rather, he loves so to behave, the behavior having become an integral part of who he is, and he approaches it fully convinced of and believing in its correctness and humanitarian value.
The Concept of Character Discipline:
The act of instilling character discipline can be defined as striving to achieve the moral principles and praise worthy behaviors and attitudes which the individual must be taught, learn, and become accustomed to behaving in accordance with from the time he is able to differentiate (tamayyuz) and understand up until he becomes responsible (mukallaf) for his actions as a young adult.
Character discipline is an integrated philosophy which is built, achieved, embodied, and transformed into a living, working reality with the aid of the cumulative knowledge and experiences gleaned by the individual from his early childhood onwards. In similar fashion, all of the cultural and practical resources to which he has access as well as the information passed on by previous generations which he, in turn, will pass on to future generations, contribute to its vitality.
The Concept of Values:
Values are an expression of the criteria and parameters by which we make judgments regarding ideas, individuals, items, and actions -as well as subjects and situations- whereby we assign their virtue and value and make a determination as to whether or not they are desirable. Similarly, we use them in determining the evil, lack of worthiness, and repugnance of a thing, just as we use them in assigning positions between these two extremes. The future of any society depends upon the values it espouses more than it depends upon its technological advancement.
The Concept of Living Values:
They are those values which every human being needs in order to establish a sound moral foundation for himself. Likewise, every society needs to be bound by them in order that it may, at both the level of individuals and groups, be fit to co-exist and interact with other human societies at the cultural and humanitarian levels.
The Concept of a Program of Character Discipline:
Such a methodology, as understood in the West, indicates the setting down of a structured paradigm to instill the values which are vital to humankind as a whole, and the setting up of multiple training activities directed at teachers and those whose responsibility it is to instill moral discipline in an effort to assess preparedness to convey knowledge regarding values with an eye towards building upon the individual and collective talents for cooperation among people, all of which aims at increasing effectiveness and mutual empathy in human communications.
Even a very cursory appraisal of the behavior of the Prophet and the stances he took with his companions regarding character discipline clearly shows that he was not rigidly applying a formula set down in stone as he educated his companions regarding morality and manners. Rather, he sought to discipline their souls and purify them, elevating their values and instilling genuine love in them by means of a sophisticated paradigm and comprehensive ideology thoroughly addressing life’s many aspects. In so doing the Prophet employed the most refined and beneficial strategies for the development of moral discipline, making use of whatever means proved to achieve the best results.
It is very clear that this paradigm exists. This purpose of this treatise is to document and summarize the most important underlying sources of the paradigm, its various levels of applicability, and its hallmarks, all of which requires us to take an analytical view of the relevant body of texts and evidence dealing with interactions between the Prophet and his companions in order that we may get a clear and accurate view of how Heimplemented this methodology.
The Importance Accorded by Islam to the Family as the Primary Environment for the Inculcation of Moral Discipline:
The importance of the family in Islam as a social structure of primary importance in which morals and manners are developed and brought into being in young adults can hardly be overstated inasmuch as the noble Shariah sets out a distinct role for every aspect of society, leaving nothing at the mercy of whims or chance. This has the effect of rendering that social structure which we refer to as the family subject to divine laws and Shariah checks and balances, all of which serve to make the family a sound and fair structure by means of which security, stability and happiness are safeguarded at the individual, familial, and societal levels.
In contradistinction, the social perspective espoused by globalism aims to impose a universal structure upon the family which dictates the parameters of the system and the relationships among its various members as well as the relationship of the family to the larger society, which has a tremendous effect upon the structure of ethical and moral values which hold sway in families. The global conferences which are held from time to time advocate this new formulation and seek to impose it upon the entire non-Western world as though its proponents possess an understanding of what constitutes ethical behavior and morality which definitively constitutes the unadulterated truth and is not open for discussion.
As for Islam, it brought with it an integrated social system firmly grounded in high morals. The family is a small scale society and the rulings of Islam seek to establish a favorable climate in the shade of which noble morals and manners flourish, which brings about receptiveness in the Muslim towards knowledge and character discipline. The act of instilling character discipline cannot be separated from social life. Rather, the two are integrated in such a way that it is impossible to address one to the exclusion of the other.
The human being is only capable of exhibiting morals and manners in a social environment and the degree of refinement in manners and morals which he achieves is largely determined by the refinement of the environment in which he lives.
The importance placed upon the family by Islam begins even before the primary family unit is established, with the command that one should pick his spouse carefully in order to ensure an environment fit for the development of strong and disciplined character. Aisha said, “The Messenger of God said, ‘Choose carefully for your sperm and marry from among those who are your equals, as, indeed, you should give in marriage to your equals.’” The Prophet s, then, enjoined both males and females to use precision in choosing the partner with whom they will travel through life and who will constitute each one’s other half in the establishment of a family.
The Prophet commanded the father (or such as finds himself the guardian of a potential bride) to be very aware of details when choosing a potential husband for his daughter (or charge), in order to ensure that he is righteous and of good morals and manners and that he is committed to his religion.
Abu Huraira tells us, “The Messenger of God said, ‘When a person whose morals, manners, and religious commitment please you comes to you seeking marriage, give him your daughter (or charge) in marriage. If you do not do this, there will be temptation in the land as well as great mischief.’”
This is so because the head of the household plays a tremendous role in the inculcation of character discipline, morals, and manners.
Thus it is that the Prophet points out to men what sort of foundation they ought to be looking for and which considerations are of importance as they go about the process of choosing a potential wife. Abu Huraira tells us, “The Prophet remarked, ‘Women are married for four principle reasons; for their wealth, for their reputation and status, for their beauty, and for their religion. Take hold, therefore, of the woman whose religion permeates her being and you will find success.’”
Wealth, status, and beauty are matters of some importance and do have an effect upon the process of raising children, but none of them is of sufficient value to overwhelm the need for thoughtfulness, correct belief, good manners, and morals in a spouse, nor has any of them the potential to establish a strong familial foundation wherein the spouse and the children are obedient to God u and possessed of good character discipline in the same way that religious commitment does.
Once the family unit is formed, the Shari'ah enjoins such rules as produce peace, love, and happiness within the family. Abu Usama tells us that the Prophet used to say, “After piety itself, there is nothing which is of greater value to the believer than a righteous wife; if he orders her to do something, she does it; if he looks in her direction she brings him happiness; if he makes an oath regarding her she fulfills it; and if he is not with her she is loyal to him as regards both herself and his money.”
The Prophet is bringing to the attention of the man the characteristics and personality traits which, should he find them in his wife, he ought to be very thankful for and count it as a divine blessing. At the same time an indirect message is being sent to women bringing to her awareness the characteristics with which she ought to adorn herself in order to become a righteous woman and well suited to the position of wife, a position which entails mutual cooperation, aid, patience, tolerance, and love.
As for the command which enjoins a wife to be obedient to her husband and allow him to serve as a steward in the relationship, it is a command predicated upon his fitness to undertake stewardship, and this fitness can be achieved only by means of wisdom, strong determination, sound religion and thinking, and respectability of station and reputation among mankind.
In the second place, it is a command which is contingent upon his undertaking to fulfill various duties which place difficulties upon him and from which women are exempted. Thirdly, it is a command which gives cohesiveness to the family structure, allowing it to remain functional and safe. The battles which happen between spouses are not but the result of the desire of each one of them to impose his will upon and control the other, a matter which leads to failure and the inability to move forward.
When such an attitude is pervasive, affecting all matters whether large or small, it is not a good sign because it leads to the destruction of the atmosphere necessary for the development of character discipline within the family, transforming it into a conflict zone with constant fighting. When a woman accepts and is convinced of the necessity of a single opinion and trajectory upon which two spouses who have chosen to share their lives must proceed, she finds herself relaxing and meeting with success. The choice of the male as the stewart of the family in Islam is neither a reflection upon his relative merits nor upon those of his gender as a whole. Rather, the Divine Law-Giver intended the family to be a peaceful and cohesive primary environment for the development of character discipline, therefore it was necessary that He specify which of the spouses’ opinions was to prevail in the event that disagreement should occur.
The assignments meted out by Islam to men and women in a family’s home place the responsibility for the protection of this social structure and the filling of it with love, cooperation, unity, truthfulness, and peace upon both of them. These things collectively help to produce children who have an affinity for peace, beauty, love, and respect.