What is Good Character?

Muhammad bin Idrees Ash Shafiee, widely known as Imam Al-Shafi’i, was one of the four great Sunni Imams. His contributions to the fundamentals of jurisprudence (fiqh) left a legacy that led to the formation of Shafi’i school of fiqh.

He was a prominent student of Imam Malik ibn Anas, the founder of another one of the four schools of Sunni law, the Maliki. Even as a child, Imam Shafi’i displayed great promise.

Al Fadl bin Al Bazaz said “I performed Hajj with Ahmad bin Hambal and we stayed together in one place. When it was morning, he went out early and I followed him. After the subh prayer I rounded the masjid, checked the gathering of Sufyan bin Uyainah searching for him till I met him with an Arab boy wearing a painted cloth and having much hair. I sat with him and said: ‘O Abu Abdillah! You left Ibn Uyainah and with him Az Zuhri, Amr bin Dinar and others – for what Allah knows best?!’ He replied: ‘Keep quiet! If you miss what is with this boy, I fear you may not get it till the Day of Judgment.’ I said, ‘Who is he?’ He said: ‘Muhammad bin Idris Ash Shafiee”.

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Advice On Attaining Good Character

Imam Shafi’i was also known for his poetry, and some stories say he was the most eloquent of his time. It is evident how his poems were guided by his deep knowledge of hadiths. In one of his poems, Imam Shafi’i gives advice on how to attain good character.

احْفَظْ لِسَانَكَ أَيُهَا الإِنْسَانُ
لَا يَلْدَغَنَّكَ إِنَّهُ ثُعْبَانُ
كَمْ فِي المَقَابِرِ مِنْ قَتِيلِ لِسَانِهِ
كَانَتْ تَهَابُ لِقَاءَهُ الأَقْرَانُ


Safeguard your tongue, O man
That it does not bite you, it is a viper
Many are in their grave from the death of their tongue
They were feared to be met by their fellow

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New Words

لَدَغَ
Bite, Offend, Sting

إِنْسَانٌ
Man

لِسَانٌ
Tongue

حَفِظَ
Safeguard, Keep, Preserve

قَتِيلٌ
Killed, Murdered, Assassinated

مَقْبَرَةٌ
Cemetery, Graveyard

كَمْ
How many

ثُعْبَانٌ
Viper, Serpent

قَرِينٌ
Fellow, Associate, Companion

لِقَاءٌ
Meeting, Encounter

هَابَ
Fear, Scare

كَانَ
Been


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Safeguard the Tongue

Imam Al-Shafi’i is calling our attention to the good character of safeguarding the tongue by refraining from saying anything that is not beneficial. He likened the tongue that falls to ill speech as a type of snake, the viper. Then he mentioned that this type of tongue has caused some people to enter their graves quickly.

A person with good character withholds their tongue from saying falsehoods that can harm others. Safeguarding the tongue also means you don’t emphasise or exaggerate what is beneficial and good too much. This is to avoid losing the impact of good words.

In another poem, Imam Al-Shafi’i mentioned:

وَجَدْتُ سُكُوتِي مَتْجَرًا فَلَزِمْتُهُ
إِذَا لَمْ أَجِدْ رِبْحًا فَلَسْتُ بِخَاسِرٍ

I saw my silence as a business, I stick to it
If I did not make profit, I am not a loser

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Speak No Evil

The values from these poems of Imam Shafi’i reflect values of good character taught and embodied by the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ advised the believers who truly believe in Allah to say what is right with their mouths or remain silent.

عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال‏:‏ ‏”‏ومن كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليقل خيراً أو ليصمت” ‏(‏‏(‏متفق عليه‏)‏‏)‏ ‏.‏

[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good or remain silent.”

He also warned about the bad effect of a statement to the one saying it on the Day of Resurrection.

عَنْ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ: قَالَ أَخَذَ بِلِسَانِهِ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ تَكُفُّ عَلَيْكَ هَذَا ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ وَإِنَّا لَمُؤَاخَذُونَ بِمَا نَتَكَلَّمُ بِهِ قَالَ ‏”‏ ثَكِلَتْكَ أُمُّكَ يَا مُعَاذُ وَهَلْ يَكُبُّ النَّاسَ عَلَى وُجُوهِهِمْ فِي النَّارِ إِلاَّ حَصَائِدُ أَلْسِنَتِهِمْ ‏”‏ ‏.

[Hasan Darussalam]

It was narrated that Mu’adh bin Jabal may Allah be pleased with him, said: He (The prophet) took hold of his tongue then said: ‘Restrain this.’ I said: ‘O Prophet of Allah, will we be brought to account for what we say?’ He said: ‘May your mother not found you, O Mu’adh! Are people thrown onto their faces in Hell for anything other than the harvest of their tongues?’”

May Allah SWT guide us and make it easy for us to safeguard our tongues.

4 Comments

  1. Furaira Adam Abdullahi

    Mashaa Allah. Jazakumullah khairan

    Reply
  2. Maryam

    Wait, in the last hadith did the Prophet (SAW) hold his own tongue or Mu’adh ibn Jabal’s ? I thought it was the latter the first time I read it and it made me burst out into giggles.

    Reply
  3. Nazifa

    SubhaanaLlaah. I have heard this narration before, but reading it today in the context presented sent chills down my spine. May Allah (SWT) make it easy for us to safeguard our tongues and forgive us all our shortcomings. Aameen Yaa Hayyu Yaa Qayyum.

    Reply

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