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Faith

What Does It Mean To Be A Believer?

Let’s take a look at what our beloved Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said on being a good believer.

What does it mean to be a believer? To be a genuine believer in Allah (God)…that is, in thought, action, and speech.

As a person of faith, I often wonder the specifics of what it means to be someone God would be proud of. How do the outer and the inner work together to achieve this state of being a ‘true’ believer and of being ‘good’?

I think of the layers that come with being a good person. Do I do enough to reach my potential? Is the ability to be ‘good’ nature or nurture? What does one need to do to achieve this state of ‘goodness’ and how is it sustained? I came across a quote not too long ago from the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) which provided an answer to my question.

The Prophet (pbuh) said, describing the believer:

‘[He is] subtle in his movements, sweet to look at…he seeks out the loftiest of matters, and has the most outstanding moral ethics…he is not prejudiced against he whom he does not like, nor biased in favour of one he loves…he is hardly a burden, and instead is very helpful…he perfects his actions as if he is being watched, lowers his gaze, is liberal in his giving, and never turns away a beggar…he considers his words carefully and guards his tongue…he neither accepts falsehood from a friend, nor rejects the truth from an enemy…he only learns in order that he might know, and he only seeks to know in order that he may act…When he travels with worldly people, he is the smartest of them, and when he travels with the people of the Hereafter, he is the most pious from among them.’

[Bihar al-Anwar, v. 67, p. 310, no. 45]

When I first read this, I was in awe and only prayed that I could be able to be this person, sincerely. I simultaneously thought, ‘If I do fulfil this, could I ever do so consistently throughout my life?’

Because it’s one thing to start something and/or to embody traits for a brief period of time, and another to embed core values in your system and keep them there until you leave this world – in action, in words, and especially through the ups and downs of life. To understand the depth of this narration, I attempted to interpret each line and pick out some themes from these words. 

‘[He is] subtle in his movements, sweet to look at…’

I think this highlights the importance of one’s manners; how one carries themselves and the sincerity and humility behind our actions.

This means that one’s actions (‘movements’) are not done with the intention to grab attention but rather ‘subtly’. The reference to a person being ‘sweet to look at’ may be linked to the feeling one gets when they’re in the presence of someone who is sincere…do you know that feeling?

‘He seeks out the loftiest of matters, and has the most outstanding moral ethics…’

I understood this to focus on morals and ethics, as is clearly stated. Specifically, being genuinely concerned with matters that are relevant and require attention and then seeking to be a part of alleviating them as far as one can.

This could be, for example, concern for world poverty, people in war zones, fighting against corruption, racism, sincerely working on yourself to be a better person etc. This is as opposed to being concerned with matters which are irrelevant and unnecessary. For example, those relating to gossip and idle talk.

‘He is not prejudiced against he whom he does not like, nor biased in favour of one he loves…’

I love this statement because of the strong sense of truthfulness and fairness behind it. Sometimes we may treat people a certain way because we don’t like them.

For example, sometimes we are more willing to accept negative assumptions or rumours about people we don’t like, with no evidence of it being true. Even if it is true, the question then comes about its relevance (this links back to seeking ‘lofty matters’). Some go to extremes with spreading lies, slandering etc, just because they don’t like a person.

On the other hand, we sometimes treat people well because we like them. For example, a friend may be wrong in a situation but our love for them allows us to defend them instead of speaking the truth. This observation not only shows up on an individual/personal level but, when rampant, also shows up on a broader level too. For example, cronyism – which means that people are granted positions of power because of friendly affiliation as opposed to merit.

This aspect of the quote shows that, to be a believer, or indeed a genuinely good person, one must treat a friend and a foe as equal in order to uphold what is fair and honest. That is, bias in favour of those you like is just as bad as prejudice against those you don’t. I find this to be a very profound and beautiful concept that’s rare to see in practice. 

‘He neither accepts falsehood from a friend, nor rejects the truth from an enemy…’

I also appreciate this statement very much because of how just it is. The focus is on the ‘truth’ and not on the bearer of news.

Therefore, one should be open to accepting the truth from an enemy as well as to reject a false claim from a friend – something we may find difficult to do. What a way to think…

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‘He is hardly a burden, and instead is very helpful…’

My understanding of this is linked to effort and contribution – being active. Contributing to helping others, be they close or not.

I don’t understand ‘burden’ being used in this line to mean seeking help as we all need help one way or another, maybe that’s why the word ‘hardly’ is used. But rather, to not be unhelpful to the extent that one is consistently and over lengthy periods of time, to put simply, free-riding off other people’s efforts. This is both detrimental to the person themselves and others.

‘He perfects his actions as if he is being watched, lowers his gaze…’

I also really love this part due to the focus on constant improvementmodestly and humbly. The focus of one perfecting their actions, be it improving their patience or speech for example, ‘as if he is being watched’ suggests that there is a sincere desire in one to improve and to do so irrespective of whether one is in public or private.

That’s the peak of faith in some ways…to have the same or similar character in public and in private. To care about the state of your being when not being watched by others. Lowering one’s gaze is taught in Islam as a means towards achieving modesty. That is, not only guarding your physical, mental, and emotional realms of modesty, but also lowering your gaze and being humble in the presence of others’ flaws etc. Giving grace…

‘…is liberal in his giving, and never turns away a beggar…’

I think one of the most beautiful things a person can do is to be giving. To give sincerely from the soul and not the ego. To have a ‘free hand’ when giving to another…be it food, water, money, a listening ear, or support in any other way. Without any ulterior motives. That’s what we’re supposed to do for each other as humans.

Imagine if we took care of each other and looked out for each other when choosing certain actions and words, what kind of norms and systems would we have in this world? Perhaps the absence of mothers having to boil stones to feed their children

‘He only learns in order that he might know, and he only seeks to know in order that he may act…’

Another very profound line which indicates a desire to seek knowledge in a conscious and goal-oriented way. I think this focuses a lot on what we feed ourselves and it encourages us to seek knowledge to understand so that we can implement it in our lives – one way or another depending on what we’re seeking.

I believe it tries to advise us to focus our time and energy on what we can control and change around us and to avoid engaging in learning about unnecessary things. For example, learning about people’s experiences with violence so as to help with prevention and support, as opposed to just gaining insight into another’s life for the sake of it or to gossip.

‘He considers his words carefully and guards his tongue…’

For me, this speaks so much of mindfulness and emotional intelligence. The ability to be conscious, careful, and considerate of one’s words so as to not hurt oneself, another, or to speak lies and be hasty.

‘Guarding’, I understand to especially be relevant in times of anger – to protect others and your own soul from your own words.

‘When he travels with worldly people, he is the smartest of them, and when he travels with the people of the Hereafter, he is the most pious from among them.’

Truth be told, this speaks for itself and I’m not sure I can explain the depths of it. Perhaps this is the resulting character you see in a person when they embody the character traits above.

So…perhaps being a sincere believer means having good manners, strong morals and ethics, being truthful, just and fair, proactive, knowledge-seeking, conscious, modest and humble, giving, mindful, and emotionally intelligent. After trying to understand the depths of the Prophet’s (pbuh) words, I think it’s easy to feel inadequate and like you are not good enough or are not doing enough.

However, I don’t believe that to be the intention of it…it’s simply a guide for us all to walk towards whatever stage we may be at. It should motivate…to change the harmful parts of us and sustain that which is good. It is to show you what you can be if you sincerely try.

It’s like going to the gym, only, the main focus is your mind and heart which can feed into your body. It takes effort, patience, reflection, understanding, accountability, and discipline. I hope we keep walking…sincerely and consistently. I think to walk sincerely we must have an accurate enough understanding of ourselves so that we are able to identify how well our actions, words and patterns of behaviour match the above.

May Allah make it easy for us to implement these character traits in our lives – both in words and especially in action. May we be good people of character so it’s easier to help transform our societies into more than what they are…into what they could be.

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