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ISLAMIC MEDICAL EDUCATION RESOURCES 04

0006-PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT IN ISLAM

Paper presented at the Leadership Training Programme, Islamic College of South Africa 19-22 June 2000 by Prof Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. E-M: omarkasule@yahoo.com

OUTLINES

DESCRIPTION OF PERSONALITY

Definition

Variations

Spectrum

 

THE NAFS AS THE ESSENCE OF PERSONALITY

Nafs and Physical body

Fitrat

 

STATES OF THE NAFS

 

DETERMINANTS OF PERSONALITY.

 

CHANGE OF PERSONALITY

 

SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

 

INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT

 

POLLUTION OF THE PERSONALITY

 

CHARACTER, HABITS, AND BEHAVIOR

 

PRINCIPLED AND PURPOSIVE LIFE

 

SELF-IMPROVEMENT AND TAKING CHARGE

 

CONSTITUENTS OF A GOOD CHARACTER


Amanat, integrity

Shaja'at, courage

Hikmat, wisdom

Sabr, patience

Tawadhu'u, humility

'Iffat, self-restraint

Haya, modesty

I'itidaal & wastiyyat, equilibrium and moderation

Simplicity

Al hasanaat, good acts and words

Keep good company


 

ASSERTIVENESS AND SELF-CONFIDENCE

Assertiveness and self-control

Assertiveness

Self-confidence

Self-esteem

Self-reliance

Self-discipline

Projecting a positive image

Entrepreneurial attitude

 

PERSONALITY (al nafs)

DESCRIPTION OF PERSONALITY

Definition: Personality is the totality of behavior of an individual with a given tendency system. Tendency means there is consistency.

 

Variations: People’s personalities differ (Bukhari 4:461 hadith # 699). Classification of people into neat and clear personality types is not easy. This is because each individual exhibits characteristics of more than one personality type depending on the situation. For example Abubakr was known as a soft person whereas Omar was known as the tough person. When the prophet passed away, Abubakr was firm while Omar temporarily overwhelmed. It was the soft-spoken Abubakr who was determined to wage war against the apostates while Omar was advising restraint. Thus when we describe an individual as having a certain personality we are referring to the dominant characteristics without necessarily denying existence of any others.

 

Spectrum: The personality spectrum is quite wide. At one end are personalities in which negative attributes predominate and the other extreme are personalities in which the positive attributes predominate. Some acts of nobility may be found in hardened criminals. Some good people may in moments of weakness succumb to evil temptations. Most people are average having both the good and the bad. The exceptionally good and strong personalities are rare. The Prophet said that out of 100 persons you can hardly find one that fits the description of being exceptional (Sahih al Bukhari 8:3341 hadith #505). There is a modal personality for a community that is considered the ideal for that community. This is usually much below the universal ideal that is described by the Qur’an and the sunnat of the Prophet (PBUH) (Hayat al Sahabat 3:459-460)

 

THE NAFS AS THE ESSENCE OF PERSONALITY

Nafs and Physical body: The essence of a person is the nafs and not the physical body. Thus personality or behavior are referred to the nafs. The Quran expounds in very clear terms a distinct concept of individual creation, growth, and development. A human being is both body and soul, matter and spirit. It is the unique balance between the two contrasts that makes humans what they are, the highest creation.

 

Fitrat: The original condition of the human being is that of fitra which is uprightness. A human being is born in a natural state of purity (fitrat al Islam). The potential to do good or bad exists at the beginning. It is the early environment that determines how those potentials are enhanced. If the environment is good, the good potentials are promoted. If the environment is bad the bad potentials are encouraged.

 

STATES OF THE NAFS

The Qur’an has described several states of nafs, maraatib al nafs. The lowest rung is the tendency to evil, nafs ammarah (12:53). The next higher level is conscience and concern with moral rectitude, nafs lawamah (75:2). The third and highest level manifests in 6 ways: inspiration to piety and taqwah, nafs mulhamah (91:8); satisfaction, nafs qanu’ah; calmness, nafs mutma’inna (89:27); being appreciative, nafs radhiyah (89:27-28); being appreciated by Allah, nafs mardhiyat (89:27-28), and perfection, nafs kamilah. The nafs that has achieved perfection is one that has rid itself of all negative attributes and has acquired all the positive ones.

 

DETERMINANTS OF PERSONALITY.

The factors that determine the development of personality are: biological inheritance, physical environment, the culture, socialization, group and unique individual experiences. With the exception of biological inheritance, all these factors can be manipulated for good or for bad. A person has the capacity to overcome many disabilities in the basic personality. Thus behavior does not always reflect the underlying personality. It is this capacity for self-improvement, taking charge, and striving for the best that makes humans morally responsible.

 

CHANGE OF PERSONALITY

It is a matter of disagreement whether personality once set is permanent or is changeable. The moderate view is that personality is fairly constant and only minor modifications can be made to it in later life. Personality is set quite early in life. It can change during life but these changes are minor. This emphasizes the importance of education and training early in life when the personality is still malleable and can be modified in the desired way.

 

SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

Spirituality is a major component of personality.  Spirituality in Islam unlike other religions has practical manifestations at the individual and societal levels because Islam is a practical religion. Spiritual development starts with close observations of all acts of worship. The second step is avoiding all immoral attitudes, tendencies, values, and sins (major and minor). The third step is promoting the moral and good at the individual or societal levels.

 

INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT

Intellectual development helps improve personality. You must develop your mind continuously and actively. A mind left unused soon deteriorates. Get general as well as specialized knowledge. Observe phenomena of life carefully and try to learn from each as much as you can. Read as much as you can and as widely as possible. Visit other places to widen your knowledge. Always look for and deliberate on the signs of Allah in His creation. You can learn a lot by mixing and exchanging views with people from other cultures. Listen to thinkers and knowledgeable people. Try to stay around them as much as possible. Discuss with others. Exchange ideas so that you make check your ideas or pick up new ideas. Try to concentrate your thinking about particular problems and try to work out solutions.

 

POLLUTION OF THE PERSONALITY

The individual must struggle against natural tendencies to evil. This tendency can, if unchecked, lead to diseases of the heart, amradh al qalb. The Qur’an guides this struggle and leads it to a successful conclusion if it is followed well. The proper development of the nafs can be contaminated by the following common diseases: covetousness, shuhh (4:128, 59:9, 64:16); passion, shahwat (21:102, 41:31, 43:71);  pride'ujub (4:49); evil, fujuur (9:7-8); base desires, hiwa al nafs (2:87, 5:7, 53:23); and waswasat (5:30, 50:16). These pollutants may have inner promptings within the human. However they are mostly from the external environment which either introduces the contamination or encourages the inner negative promptings. A clean social environment will produce people with clean personalities. A corrupt environment will produce corrupt persons.

 

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

CHARACTER, HABITS, AND BEHAVIOR

Character is what determines what type of individual you are (M 4:1362 hadith # 6221). Good character is a great virtue (KS 67, KS 69). The best gift that a parent can give a child is good character (KS 67). Habits and behaviors are quite consistent. Behavior is likely to be repeated. When you observe bad behavior even once make a note of it because it is likely to be repeated. Character is internal and is related to basic personality. Behavior is its outward manifestation. A habit is a persistent, repeated behavior which after a time becomes unconscious.

 

You can not judge people’s character unless you have interacted with them and seen their behavior. Bad manners and behavior reflect a bad character. Good behavior reflects good character. There are exceptional situations when a behavior may not be reflection of underlying character. These are the exceptions and are only temporary. Consistent observation of behavior over a long time reveals true character.

 

The following are some of the components of a positive character: Piety, generosity, charity, chastity, trust, humility, balance, moderation, patience, endurance, cooperation, forgiving, ignoring stupid company, reconciliation, honor and dignity, shyness, modesty, integrity, courage, and wisdom. These traits are best manifested in an atmosphere of positive attitudes, optimism, and behavior. Positive behavior includes: controlling the appetite by eating little, fasting, sexual self-control, fulfilling needs of others, mercy, good words and acts; and good deeds which wipe out bad ones.

 

PRINCIPLED AND PURPOSIVE LIFE

You must have a principled life. To succeed you must be guided in life by high moral principles and not expediency. You must make responsible choices and stick with their consequences. You must understand that there are limits to freedom. You may be constrained by previous commitments in making a new choice. After making the first choice you have only a limited range of later choices that you can make. A complete and well- balanced personality requires consistency, constancy and moving ahead following well defined goals and milestones.

 

Life must have a purpose and goals. The highest purpose is achieving the pleasure of Allah. In addition to seeking the pleasure of Allah, you must set personal goals both long and short term. The goals have to be reasonable expectations, and imaginative. Personal goals must be specific, actionable, attainable, and challenging. You must be committed to the goals and must be attuned to any feedback that helps refine or modify goals. If you are without a clear sense of direction, you will make many mistakes and eventually fail. Personal goals should stay permanent for a reasonable period of time. Frequent shifting of goal posts is a cause of failure.

 

SELF-IMPROVEMENT AND TAKING CHARGE

You can not improve yourself without effort. You must make the intention to be a better person and take action to achieve your goals. Life is not chance. Everything that occurs is pre-destined. You however do not know your predestination. You have to work hard, search for it, use your will power and choice that Allah gave you. Accept personal responsibility for mistakes. Do not blame others for your problems. Learn from your past experiences, positive and negative. Good manners or experiences should be reinforced while bad ones should be avoided. 

 

Keep in mind always the three ultimate objectives: (a) the pleasure of Allah, ridha al laah & marudhaat al llaah (2:207, 2:265, 3:162, 3:173, 4:114, 5:2, 5;3, 5:16, 9:21, 9:62, 9:72, 9:96, 9:100, 9;109, 19:55, 20:84, 20:109, 21:28, 24:55, 27:19, 39:7, 46:15, 47:28, 48:18, 48:29, 53:26, 57:20, 58:22, 59:8, 60:1, KS 510), (b) wisdom, hikmah, and (c) success, falaah. The real and ultimate success is that of the hereafter (3;185, 4:13, 5:119, 6:16, 7:8, 9:20, 9:72, 9:89, 9:100, 9:111, 10:64, 23:111, 24:52, 33:71, 37:60-61, 39:61, 40:9, 44:51-57, 45:30, 48:5, 59:20, 61:12, 64:9, 78:31-35, 85:11).

 

You cannot succeed on your own; this is a world of interdependence. You must learn to net-work and collaborate with others in synergistic relations. Good manners and behavior are necessary for positive and meaningful interaction with people. You need to learn to respect and protect the rights of others so that your rights may also be respected. Every action, behavior, or habit has consequences. Always consider and think about the long-term consequences before you speak or act.

 

Learn to distinguish between what you want and what you need. Wants are emotional; needs are rational. Always choose needs over wants. Be realistic. Do not live in a dream world. Dreaming is good in motivating you and developing your creative thinking. Dreaming has limits if it obscures correct perception of reality. Never entertain illusions about your strengths and weaknesses. Never deceive yourself. Never allow others to deceive you by praising you and giving you attributes you lack. Such persons are your true enemies. Confront your weaknesses and do not deny them. Do something about correcting them

 

Develop a positive attitude. Be optimistic and develop positive behavior. The world is essentially good and the hereafter much better. There is more good than evil. You can always succeed in the long-run if you do not become pessimistic and give up. Look at problems of life in perspective. What may look big may not be so in the long run. You may hate today what turns out to be good tomorrow. See and emphasize the positive in  any problem.

 

Happiness is not an objective in life. Pursuing happiness can be running after an illusion since happiness is not definable. The realistic objective is contentment and satisfaction with yourself and what you have. However contentment should not be understood in a negative sense of refusing to take active steps to improve some of the negative things in your character and behavior.

 

You should consider yourself as living in the future. Life on earth is just a transition. Always prepare for the future (both what remains of your life on earth and life in the hereafter). A futuristic outlook will enable you to deal with setbacks of life. You should always know that the future could always be better.

 

CONSTITUENTS OF A GOOD CHARACTER

Amanat, integrity is when actions are in conformity with your values. Values are universal. Knowledge of what is bad is innate. The Prophet (PBUH) taught that evil is what scratches your chest making you unconfortable, al sharr ma haaka fi al sadr. Religious teachings of what is right and what is wrong only reinforce what good nature already knows. Integrity in essence means successfully carrying and discharging the trust. The trust may be moral or material. Moral trusts include being truthful, trustworthy, and keeping promises and undertakings. Material trusts are property and financial rights of others that must not be violated. Integrity is needed in work (p.149 28:26), leadership (12:54), and moral guidance of others (7:68). A distinguishing human attribute of humans is acceptance to carry trust, haml al amanat (33:72). A person with integrity fulfils the trust, adau al amanat (2:283, 3:75, 4:58). Believers are conscious of the trust, ri'ayat al amanat (23:8, 70:32). Any breach of integrity is abreach of the trust, khiyanat al amanat (8:27, 12:11, 12:64). Never utter an untruth. It is better to keep quiet even in situations in which silence makes you look a fool. There are no white lies. All lies are an untruth and should never be uttered. Your promises and commitments are sacred. Never make any if you are not sure of keeping them. Keeping promises indicates both integrity and efficiency. An organized person who knows what he can or can not do and who manages his time well is less likely to make promises he can not keep.

 

Shaja'at, courage,: The essence of courage is to stand up to evil with the full realisation that such a stand may invite unpleasant consequences for you. This is under the general rubric of forbidding evil, nahy al munkar (3:104, 3:110, 3:114, 4:31, 5:63, 5:78-79, 6:28, 7:157, 7:165-166, 9:71, 9:112, 11:88, 11:116, 16:90, 18:74, 22:41, 24:21, 29:29, 29:4, 31:17, 58:2, 59:7). The supreme level of courage is to face one self and stand up to the inner desires and passions, hiwa al nafs (79:40). The high level is to The highest level of courage is to attempt to change evil physically. The middle level is to speak out against it evil. The lowest level is to hate evil in the heart. Courage is needed morally, physically, and emotionally. Moral courage is needed to know your-self, self-criticize, and decide to improve. Social courage is needed to stick to morally right choices in your life even though the society around you may behave differently. Physical courage is needed to stand up for your rights and face the consenquences.

 

Hikmat, wisdom, is a sign of maturity. Being given hikmat is being given a lot of good, (2:269). Learn the difference between ‘ilm and hikmat. ‘Ilm is knowledge. Hikmat is a higher level of understanding and using knowledge taking into consideration previous experiences and high moral guiding principles. You are better off with less knowledge and more hikmat. A lot of ilm with no hikmat is positively dangerous.

 

Sabr, patience is needed to deal with problems of life. Problems must be met with inner strength and a sense of hope. Lack of patience is associated with wrong choices and moves. Endurance and perseverence are part of patience. Patience and perseverence is the ability to stick it out and weather all adversities with a strong heart. You must arm yourself to avoid the human tendency to be impatient in expectation of an event or when afflicted by a calamity.

 

Tawadhu'u, humility, is the beginning of wisdom and is part of iman (KS 462). Know that you have limitations. Do not deceive yourself that you are superior whatever you may be endowed with. Always remember that there are others who may be your equals or actually better than you. Whatever you may have, you are insignificant infront of Allah the Almighty.

 

'Iffat, self-restraint: Iffat has a lot of rewards, ajr al iffat (KS 386). The Qur'an has discussed it in many verses (p 815-816 2:273, 4:6, 21:91, 23:5-7, 24:30-31, 24:33, 24:60, 33:35). This is because a human has passions and inner evil promptings that if not controlled will lead to evil action. There are also many temptations in the external social environment that can lead to evil unless countered by a strong self-restraint and self-control. Sex is the most powerful drive in humans that can lead to evil. Chastity and sexual discipline is necessary for individual and societal well being. Keep away from zina and what could lead to it. Zina is taken in its comprehensive sense and not the physical act of fornication. Zina of the eye, the mouth, the toungue are destructive to marriage and society in general.

 

Haya, modesty: Haya is a very important component of character and is considered part of iman. To be modest is to set limits beyond which there is immorality and sin. A modest person stays shy of those limits and will refrain from things that are clearly permissible but if done in excess can lead to transgression of the limits. Such transgression could also occur by mistake with no malicious intent. Haya is part of iman (KS 206). The whole character of Islam is based on it, khulq al Islam al haya (KS 206). The Prophet said that if one has no haya at all then he can do anything. Haya is therefore the protecting barrier against evil. Haya is always good and can never be negative, al haya khayr kullihi (KS 206). Haya is a decoration of the persom who has it, al haya zinat (KS 207). Haya is the way of all messengers, al haya min sunan al mursalin (KS 206).

 

I'itidaal & wastiyyat, equilibrium and moderation: Moderation is the best approach. Be balanced in your attitudes and actions. Avoid extreme positions because you can never have all the facts and full understanding of a particular situation. Taking a middle path gives you a chance to change positions and follow what is right and what is best. You however should never be moderate where evil and immorality are concerned. You must take a clear and extreme position for what is moral and right. Stick your head up high to be counted among supporters of the good and the moral and among opponents of evil. Your actions regarding an evil situation should, however, be moderate to avoid creating new problems that may be worse than the original problem. Be moderate in expenditure; not wasteful and not miserly. Be calm and controlled in moments of emotional arousal, good and bad. Wrong and inappropriate decisions are likely at moments of anger or emotional excitement when the normal balance is lost

 

Simplicity is beauty and power. Make your daily life simple; you will get strength. Do not live in much luxury or crowd your mind with so much of worldly, dunia, concerns. Consider your physical environment as an aid to fulfilling your mission and not an end in itself. Wealth and its accumulation can be a temptation, fitnat (KS 420). Do not seek to have more than the minimum needs in dress and beddings (KS 424).

 

Al hasanaat, good acts and words wipe away or neutralize the bad. You should hasten to do good. While always engaged in doing good, there is little room for the bad. Never injure anyone with your toungue. Say good or keep quiet. Learn to work with others in doing good and forbidding bad. Sharing and helping others helps you become even a better human being. It gives you a sense of mission beyond your physical needs. Give charity continously; it cleanses both your wealth and your soul. Putting interests of your brothers in front of yours helps you discover your humanity and conquers your egoistic tendencies. Iithaar involves doing good for others at the expense of some inconvenience to yourself for the sake of brotherhood with no expectation of any reward. Respecting the rights of the older people (KS 68). Removing any annoyance from the road (KS 69).

 

Keep good company. Look for and stay in the company of wise people. You will learn the good from them. Their company will reinforce the good in you. Time spent in such good company is time taken away from possible bad company or bad influences. Do not trust or deal with bad people except in trying to correct and lead them to the right. Ignore stupid and immoral company. They will have a negative impact on you however careful you are. The least they can do is to decrease your sensitivity to evil and increase your toleration for it.

 

ASSERTIVENESS AND SELF-CONFIDENCE

Assertiveness and self-control: Being assertive is learning to take control. A person who has self-control can stand up to the temptations of shaitan. The following are needed for you to take control of your self: self- confidence, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-control, self-discipline, and self-development.

 

Assertiveness: Assertiveness is a feeling of self-worth in dealing with others. It involves a lot of self-control. Non-assertive people may end up being influenced by a bad environment or they may make wrong choices that they regret later. Non-assertive persons can not interact well with others because they can not state their opinions or advance their interests or the interests of the group they belong to. A non-assertive attitude becomes in the long run a feeling of inferiority that could be exploited. Non-assertive persons may feel so bad about themselves that they eventually react in socially destructive ways. Non-assertive persons are easily influenced by bad company and end up committing evil. Assertiveness is not aggression but is closely related. Do not cross the line between the two. You can show anger without being bad. Learn to state your opinion without being hostile. Learn to defend your position without being defensive.

 

Self-confidence: Self-confidence is to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, to be comfortable with what you are, and to be psychologically secure. Children are born with a lot of self-confidence. They lose it as they grow through various negative experiences. Others’ views and comparing one self with others are among the causes of loss of self-confidence. True confidence is expressed and shows quietly. Many in-confident people make noise to hide their inner weakness.

 

Self-esteem: You can raise your self-esteem by being secure psychologically about yourself. You must accept and appreciate what you are. You have to love yourself and know that whatever Allah endowed you with is the best for you. Look around you and identify people you admire. Try to emulate the qualities you admire in them. Stay with good people who radiate self-esteem and confidence. Congratulate and encourage yourself on any progress you make in emulating good behavior. Learn to compliment and congratulate others who have traits and behaviors that you admire. This will keep you from negative attitudes and diseases like envy and will push you along on the road to developing your own self-esteem. Avoid people with bad character and behavior. Others who do not know will consider you to be one of them. It is easier for a big mountain to move than for bad character to change. Do not repeat a mistake. Remember that character is consistent. Bad behavior is rarely an accident. It can be forgiven but can not be erased

 

Self-reliance: Self-help and self-improvement are very important for the individual. They are in essence taking charge of your life, relying on yourself in solving problems, and taking the initiative to improve. It is only emotionally mature individuals who can rely on themselves. Dependency is childhood. Self-help and self-reliance should however not be taken to the extreme. There are occasions when you need help and must have networks for providing this help. Refusing to ask for help when needed is a cause of stress and is not wise. Economic self-reliance is necessary in order not to be a burden on others and also to assert your self-esteem. However the need to keep your self-esteem should never make you refuse to seek help when you actually need it. A vital distinction must be made between being childish and child-like. Childishness is dependency and inability to achieve emotional maturity, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Child-like on the other hand is a very positive attribute. It emphasizes being explorative, taking initiative, being bold to experiment, being optimistic, and not feeling defeated or cornered. These behaviors are found in children and tend to annoy parents. They are very useful for the adult. The mistake is for children to grown up too soon or for adults to regress to childhood in the way they use these attributes.

 

Self-discipline: Self discipline is needed for success. Control your whims and emotions. Stickability is a good trait; do not accept defeat easily. Act according to long-term and not short-term interests. Do not act impulsively. Follow your head and not your emotions. Trust your instincts.

 

Projecting a positive image: Projecting a positive image helps build credibility and leads to success. We are not talking about a phoney image that is discovered sooner or later with disastrous consequences. The image must be backed up by real achievements. It is better to under promise but over deliver. Perceptions are very strong determinants of behavior. You have to keep away from negative perceptions and cultivate positive ones. Two individuals looking at the same reality have different perceptions because of their prior life experiences. Always evaluate yourself. The perceived image may not be the intended image. The difference is crucial. Self- confidence and self-discipline are ingredients of a positive image. You have to start by discovering your strengths and enhancing them. You have to acknowledge your weaknesses and compensate for them. A positive image needs maintenance by regular self-evaluation and taking corrective action where needed. A positive image must be maintained in difficult times; this will require extra effort. Keeping company with people who have a positive self-image will help you develop your own image. Positive thinking is contagious; it spreads to those around. Your communication with others (letter, fax, telephone, and conversation ) is an exercise in image projection. Physical appearance (clothes, hair, cleanliness) also project image. Dress well but not for arrogance. Good manners, correct etiquette, and sensitivity enhance the image. Your voice, handshake, smiles, body language, and eye contact can make or unmake your image.  Your posture and manner of walking can tell a lot about you. Solving your personal problems and keeping out of depression, anxiety or stress help maintain your positive self-image

 

Entrepreneurial attitude: You need to develop an entrepreneurial attitude. This requires developing initiative, optimism, and self-confidence in order to bolster your creativity. Take calculated risks. Look for opportunities and exploit them. Perseverance and determination are necessary for continued success.

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. June 2000