Among the good actions are the following:
The cleanliness of body and dress, good humor and smile, respect for others, politeness of speech, visiting the sick, avoidance of haughtiness, and suspicion.
But those human traits, such as magnanimity, justice, keeping promises, trustworthiness, and manhood, which are considered as true human traits, are among noble moral traits. The important point is that attaining good moral actions is more or less possible for nearly everybody: every body can do so by doing the right things such as treating people justly and politely and visiting the sick and avoiding haughtiness.
But the attainment of the noble moral traits and superb human traits is extremely difficult. Not everybody can attain them. Only those individuals can attain such a status, who possess high souls and are in control of their selves, and who are in the habit of respecting human principles and obeying God.
The great Messengers of God, by using the sublime Islamic education, have attempted to encourage people to engage in ethical affairs. The Great Messenger of Islam (S) has said
"افضلُ النّاسِ ايماناً احسَنُهم خُلقاً"
"The most excellent of people in faith are those who are the best in moral traits.”14
On the other hand, the Great Messenger of Allah has mentioned that the reason of his prophetic mission was to perfect the ethical training.
Imam ‘Ali has said:
"ذَللوا اخلاقَكُم بالمحاسِن وقُودُوها اِلى المكارِم"
"Subdue your natures with beautiful actions and lead them toward noble moral traits”.15
The narrator says: I asked Imam Sadiq (as) what the limit of good humor was. He answered:
"تُلَيّنْ جانِبَكَ وتُطَيِّب كَلامَكَ و تَلقى اَخاكَ بِبِشْرٍ حَسَن"
"You should be gentle, speak pleasantly and meet your brethren with a cheerful face".16
A man came to Imam Sadiq (as) and said: “O son of God's Messenger, let me know what the noble moral traits are”. Imam as-Sadiq (as) replied to him,
"العَفُو عَمَّن ظَلَمَكَ وصِِلَةُ مَنْ قَطَعَكَ وإعْطَاءُ مَنْ حَرَمَكَ وقَولَ الحقِّ ولَو على نَفْسِك"
"Forgiving one who has wronged you, establishing ties with one who has severed relations with you, giving one who has deprived you, and speaking the truth even if it is against yourself.”17
In his Sahifah al-Sajjadiyah, in the supplication Makarim Al-Akhlaq, "The noble moral traits," Imam ‘Ali Ibn al-Husayn (as) invokes God by saying:
"اللّهُم صَلِّ على محمد وآله وسَدّدني لأن اُعارِضَ مَنْ غَشَّني بِالنُصْحِ واَجْزِي مَنْ هَجَرَني بِالبِر واُثِيبَ مَنْ حَرَمَني بِالبَذْلِ واُكافِئ مَنْ قَطَعَني بِالصِِلَةِ واُخالِفَ مَنِ اِغْتابَني اِلى حُسْن الذِكرِ واَن اَشْكُرَ الحَسَنَةَ واُغْضِي عَنِ السَيّئةِ"
"O God, send your blessings to Muhammad and his offspring, and guide me so that I may counter with good advice whoever acts dishonestly towards me, so that I may make amends with whoever parts company with me, so that I may reward with generosity whoever deprives me, so that I may recompense with union whoever cuts himself off from me, so that I may oppose with excellent mention whoever slanders me, so that I may give thanks for good, and so that I may shut my eyes to evil."18
The Great Messenger (S), who had been badly hurt by the Quraysh, forgave them when he conquered Mecca.
He allowed Abu Sufyan’s house to be a shelter for people.
In the Siffin war, when Mu’awiya had so inhumanly denied Imam ‘Ali’s army the water of the Euphrates, someone asked Imam ‘Ali to do the same to Mu'awiya’s army. But he answered, "We will not retaliate for a wrong; we will not deny them the use of water."
When an impolite shopkeeper poured trash over the head of malik al-Ashtar, an important officer in Imam ‘Ali’s army, Malik went to the mosque and prayed for him and forgave him.
When Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (as) was insulted by a relative, he went to his house telling him:
"فِان كُنْتَ قَدْ قُلْتَ ما فيَّ فانا استغفرُ اللهَ مِنْهُ وان كُنْتَ قُلْتَ ما لَيسَ فيَّ فغَفَرَ اللهُ لَكَ"
"If what you say is true, I ask God to forgive me. But if what you say is not true, then I ask God to forgive you."
The above-mentioned cases and similar events which are recorded from the Prophet and the Imams of Islam in their diaries are among the noble moral traits.
Thus, there are differences between good actions and noble moral traits.
Good actions are usually a means for material welfare, but noble moral traits are a way to the attainment of spiritual advancement. The former provides our lives with discipline; whereas the latter satisfies human sublime tendencies.
The former are in harmony with personal desires and legitimate self interest, but the latter deal with interest in others.
All Messengers and Imams of Islam completely enjoyed noble moral traits. But among their students there are few who are in possession of these assets. Anybody who possesses these assets should be thankful to God. Those who lack them should try to acquire them. In this regard Imam Sadiq (as) has said."
"اِنَّ اللهَ عَزَّوجَلَّ خَصَّ رُسُلَهُ بِمَكارِمِ الاخْلاق فامْتَحِنُوا اَنْفُسَكُم فان كانت فيكُم فاحمَدوا الله واعلموا اَنَّ ذلك مِن خَير واِن لا تَكُنْ فاسْئَلُوا اللهَ وارغبوا الَيهِ فِيها"
“God distinguished His Messengers with noble moral traits. Thus, examine yourselves, if you possess them, be thankful to God for these precious assets and know that it is from good; if you lack them, then ask God and supplicate Him for them."19
A person who possesses noble moral traits has an exalted soul and therefore performs good deeds not out of his material interest but rather for God.
Imam ‘Ali (as) says: "I am amazed when a Muslim goes to another Muslim for some help, but he is turned down.
"فَلَو كان لا يَرجُو ثَواباً و لا يَخشى عِقابا لقد كان يَنبَغي لَهُ ان يُسارِعَ الى مَكارِمِ الاخلاقِ فانها ممّا تَدُلُ على سَبيلِ النجاة"
"Even if he did not expect reward and did not fear the punishment, it would have been proper for him to hasten towards noble moral traits for they are of those things that lead toward the path of salvation."20
A man from desert came up to the Messenger of God asking him, "O Messenger of God, sometimes a man fights for booty, sometimes for fame and sometimes for the recognition of his bravery; which one of these ways is right?"
The Prophet (S) answered:
"مَنْ قاتَلَ لِتَكُونَ كَلِمَةُ اللهِ هِيَ العُليا فَهُو في سَبيل الله"
“The one who fights so that ‘..the word of God is the highest..’, (9:40) – he is on the path of God.”21
This type of prayers is called "the prayers of free men" by Imam ‘Ali (as).
"اِنَّ قَوماً عَبَدُوا الله رَغبَةً فتِلكَ عِبادةُ التُجّار واِنَّ قَوماً عَبَدُوا الله رَهْبَةً فتِلكَ عِبادَةُ العَبِيد واِنَّ قَوماً عَبَدُوه شُكراً (حُباً) فَتِلكَ عِبادَةُ الأحرار"
“Some people worship God out of desire (for reward); that is the worship of traders. Some worship God out of fear (of punishment); that is the worship of slaves. But others worship God in gratitude (out of love for Him); that is the worship of free men”.22
In some Islamic traditions the cases of noble moral traits are enumerated. For instance, in Ibn Bekir's tradition from Imam as-Sadiq (as) it is said:
"قُلْتُ جُعِلتُ فِداكَ وما هِيَ؟
قال: هُنَّ الورَع والقَناعَة والصَبر والشُكر والحلم والحَياء والسَخاء والشَجاعَة والغَيرة والبِر وصِدق الحَدِيث واَداء الأمانة"
I asked Imam as-Sadiq (as) what the noble moral traits were. He answered, "They are self–control, contentment, patience, thanking God, forbearance, modesty, generosity, bravery, possessing a sense of honor for what is sacred, righteousness, truthfulness, fulfilling the trust."23
14. Bihar. vol.71, p.383.
15. Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, p.224.
16. Ma’ani al-Akhbar, p.253.
17. Bihar, vol. 64, p.368.
18.Sahifah al-Sajjadiyah, supplication no.20, Makarim al-Akhlaq., trans. W. Chittick.
19. Usul al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 56.
20. Al-Mahajjah al-Bayda, vol. 4, p.121.
21. Dastur al-Akhlaq fi al-Qur’an, p.566, taken from the erudite book called “Philosophical discourse- ethics from the viewpoints of co-existence and human values” this issue is important and we have made best of it.
22. Bihar, vol. 78, p 69.
23.Usul al-Kafi, vol 2, p.56.
Adapted from: "Imam 'Ali's First Treatise on The Islamic Ethics and Education" by: "Zainol Aabideen Qorbani Lahiji"