The Essence of Character in Islam

Feb 27




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Character is the bedrock of ethical living, a complex mosaic of values, actions, and inner convictions. In a world where societal norms fluctuate, the true measure of character often transcends the immediate values emphasized by any given society. This article delves into the multifaceted nature of character as defined by various Western ethicists, juxtaposed with the immutable standards set forth in the Islamic faith, as outlined in the Holy Quran.

Understanding Character Through Various Lenses

Character is a term that has been dissected and redefined by numerous Western thinkers throughout history. It is a concept deeply rooted in ethics,The Essence of Character in Islam Articles often eluding straightforward interpretation. Here are some perspectives offered by Western scholars:

  • Soren Kierkegaard described character as "inwardness" and suggested that both morality and immorality, as forms of energy, constitute character (The Present Age, p. 15).
  • Alfred North Whitehead equated character with the alignment of appearance to reality, seeing it as the manifestation of truth (Adventures of Ideas, p. 309).
  • Martin Buber considered character as the choice between good, which he likened to a homeward movement, and evil, an aimless whirl of potentialities (Between Man and Man, p. 78).
  • Nikolai Berdyaev saw character as self-mastery, a victory over self-slavery (Slavery and Freedom, p. 47).
  • Alexander Loveday emphasized the importance of self-control in thoughts, emotions, and actions for personal and social harmony (The Only Way).
  • Georg Kerschensteiner defined character as one's attitude towards their human environment, expressed through actions (quoted by Martin Buber in Between Man and Man, p. 108).

These definitions underscore the complexity of character, suggesting it is not merely the absence of negative traits like bribery or corruption, but rather a profound inner quality.

The Proverbial Wisdom on Wealth, Life, and Honor

A proverb encapsulates the nuanced understanding of character: "Sacrifice wealth to save life and sacrifice life to save honor." This saying highlights the hierarchy of values, where life trumps wealth, and honor stands above life itself. The anecdote of a miser prioritizing funeral costs over medical treatment illustrates the absurdity of valuing wealth over life, which is a natural instinct. However, the true test of character emerges when honor is at stake, as sacrificing life for honor is universally lauded.

The Islamic Perspective on Universal Human Values

In contrast to the varying societal values, Islam offers a universal standard of character through the Holy Quran. The Quranic concept of character, or Taqwa, is based on the preservation of human values over animal instincts. The Quran asserts that human intellect alone cannot determine these values; they are revealed by God and are permanent, transcending time and place.

Hastings Rashdall, in "The Theory of Good and Evil," supports the idea of an absolute standard of values applicable to all rational beings, which he argues cannot be derived from human intellect but must be revealed (Vol. II, p. 286, 211).

The Quranic Call for Justice and Character

The Quran emphasizes the importance of justice, which relies on truthful evidence, even if it goes against one's self-interest or familial ties (Quran Chapter 4, Verse 135). It challenges individuals to prioritize justice over material gains, which is a testament to one's character.

The Fundamental Traits of Character in Islam

Character in Islam is intertwined with human dignity and is predicated on several core beliefs:

  • The human personality is more than just the body; its integration is the ultimate goal of life.
  • Permanent values guide the development of the personality and are revealed by God.
  • Every action leaves an indelible mark on the doer's personality.

Rashdall further outlines prerequisites for a belief in permanent values, including the purposeful creation of the universe, the permanence of the human self, the continuity of life, and belief in God as the source of absolute moral law.


Character, as defined by Islam, is not merely a reflection of societal values but a steadfast adherence to universal principles that elevate human life above animalistic instincts. The Quranic teachings provide a timeless framework for character, advocating for justice, truth, and the preservation of human dignity.

For further exploration of the Islamic perspective on character and ethics, readers may refer to the Quran and scholarly interpretations, or delve into the works of Hastings Rashdall for a philosophical perspective on moral values.