What is Spiritual Chivalry (Futuwwa)?

Answered by Shaykh Abdul Sami‘ al-Yaqti


What is chivalry (futuwwa), and how can it be attained?


Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and blessings and peace be upon our Master Muhammad and upon all his family and companions.

Spiritual Chivalry (futuwwa) is compliance and good obedience, abstaining from all that is blameworthy, and adhering to noble morals and their virtues, both outwardly and inwardly, openly and secretly.

Its essence is doing good to people, refraining from harming them, and bearing their harm, as mentioned by scholars.

It can be attained through striving to embody noble character traits in general and those related to dealing with people in particular, such as avoiding disputes, overlooking mistakes, forgetting hurts, forgiving people, doing good to those who have wronged, and other levels and steps mentioned by the scholars. And Allah knows best.

Detailed Answer

The term “futuwwa” dates back to the pre-Islamic era, when poets sang of chivalry, and it referred to a set of virtues embodied by someone called “al-Fata” (the young man), such as generosity, bravery, horsemanship, and heroism, in addition to negative behaviors like frivolity, drinking wine, and others. When Islam arrived, it approved and refined some of these pre-Islamic chivalrous traits. The term “al-Fata” was used alone or in compound forms to emphasize chivalry; hence, terms like “Fata of the young men” or “Fata of the Arabs” were used, among others. [Al-Majlis al-’A‘la (Egypt), Mawsu‘at al-Mafahim]

The Meaning of “Futuwwa”

As for the original meaning of “futuwwa” in the language, it goes back to “al-Fata,’” which means youth. “Al-Fata” and “al-Fatiya” refer to a young man and a young woman, respectively.

Jawhari said: “Al-Fata” is the generous, noble one. It is said: He is a “Fata,” evident in his chivalry. Qutaybi disagreed with this, saying that “al-Fata” does not merely mean a young man or a youth but refers to a perfect, robust man among men. This is indicated by the poet’s saying:

إنَّ الفَتَى حَمّالُ كلِّ مُلِمَّةٍ … ليسَ الفَتَى بمُنَعَّمِ الشُّبَان

“Indeed, the ‘Fata’ bears every hardship… The ‘Fata’ is not the pampered youth.” [Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-‘Arab]

In Mu‘jam al-Wasit, “futuwwa” is defined as youth between the stages of adolescence and adulthood and heroism. It’s a manner or a system that develops the virtues of bravery and heroism in a young man. The word “al-Fata (الفتى)” applies to a young man in his early youth, between adolescence and manhood, and also to the generous, the brave, and the servant. A girl is referred to as “Fatat (فتاة),” and the plural is “Fatayat.” [Mu‘jam al-Wasit]

Ibn al-Qayyim on Futuwwa

The origin of “futuwwa” is from “al-Fata,” which means a young man of recent age. Allah Almighty says about the People of the Cave,

“We relate to you (O Prophet) their story in truth. They were youths (fitya) who truly believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” [Quran, 18:13].

And He said about the people of Abraham, “Some said, ‘We heard a young man, called Abraham, speaking (ill) of them.’” [Quran, 21:60].

Thus, “al-Fata” does not imply praise or blame, just like the “youth” and “adolescent.” [Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin]

As for “futuwwa” in Islamic terminology, it is defined as compliance and good obedience, avoiding everything blameworthy, and adhering to noble morals and virtues, both outwardly and inwardly, as defined by Imam Abu Abdur Rahman al-Sulami in his book “al-Futuwwa.”

This book is one of the earliest works that specifically discussed futuwwa, its levels, usage, and how to attain it.

Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya defines it as, “The essence of this station is doing good to people, refraining from harming them and bearing their harm. It is the application of good character with them. In reality, it is the result of good character and its application.” He then says, “The Shari‘a did not express futuwwa with this name but rather referred to it as noble character, as in the hadith of Jabir, may Allah be pleased with him, from the Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘Indeed, Allah sent me to perfect noble morals and good deeds.’ Hence, the term ‘futuwwa’ did not appear in the Quran, the Sunna, or in the language of the predecessors. It was used by those after them in the context of noble character. The earliest I know who spoke about futuwwa is Ja‘far al-Sadiq bin Muhammad al-Baqir, then Fudayl bin ‘Iyad, Imam Ahmad, Sahl bin ‘Abdullah, and (Imam) al-Junayd, followed by a group of scholars.” [Ibid.]


Here are some sayings of the predecessors and scholars about “futuwwa”:

  • It is mentioned that Ja‘far al-Sadiq was asked about “futuwwa.” He asked the questioner, “What do you say?” The questioner replied, “If I am given, I thank. If I am denied, I am patient.” Ja’far al-Sadiq said, “Our dogs are like that too.” The questioner asked, “O son of the Messenger of Allah, then what is ‘futuwwa’ to you?” He replied, “If we are given, we prefer others. If we are denied, we thank.”
  • Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad said, “Futuwwa is to overlook the faults of brothers.”
  • Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, may Allah be pleased with him, when asked about “futuwwa,” he said, “It is to abandon what you desire for what you fear.”
  • Harith al-Muhasibi said, “Futuwwa is to be fair and not seek fairness for oneself.”
  • Imam al-Junayd also said, “Futuwwa is refraining from harm and offering generosity.”
  • And it is said: The essence of “futuwwa” is that a servant is always concerned with the affairs of others. [Qushayri, Risalat al-Qushayriyya]

How to Attain It

Attaining “futuwwa” is achieved by striving to embody noble character traits in general and those specifically related to dealing with people, as we mentioned from the scholars’ definitions of “futuwwa,” its application, and its levels. Ibn al-Qayyim mentioned three stages in acquiring and achieving “futuwwa,” which I will summarize and paraphrase:

Levels of Futuwwa

  • The first level: Avoiding disputes, overlooking mistakes, and forgetting harm done.
  • The second level: Welcoming those who exclude you, honoring those who harm you, and apologizing to those who wrong you with generosity, not grudgingly, and with affection, not just tolerance. This level is higher and more challenging than the previous one because the first involves avoiding confrontation and overlooking, while this one involves doing good to those who have wronged you and treating them contrary to how they treated you.
  • The third level: Not relying on a guide in your journey, not mixing your response with the expectation of reward, and not adhering strictly to formality in your witnessing. This is among the stations of those journeying to Allah, from the people of Sufism. [Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin]

“Every state of being and every moment demands a type of ‘futuwwa,’ so no state is devoid of ‘futuwwa.’ There’s ‘futuwwa’ you employ with your Lord Almighty, ‘futuwwa’ with your Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘futuwwa’ with the companions, ‘futuwwa’ with the righteous predecessors, ‘futuwwa’ with your teachers, ‘futuwwa’ with your brothers, ‘futuwwa’ with your family, children, and relatives, and ‘futuwwa’ with your honorable recording angels. I am outlining some of these aspects briefly, based on the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the traditions of the predecessors, their manners, and their noble characteristics…” [Sulami, Kitab al-Futuwwa  Li al-Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hussain]


I advise you, and myself, to embody noble character traits in general and to especially adhere to the Prophet’s, peace be upon him, admonition, “Fear Allah wherever you are, follow a bad deed with a good one to erase it, and deal with people with good conduct.” This great advice encompasses all meanings and levels of “futuwwa.”

May Allah guide and protect you, and all praise is to Allah, Lord of the worlds.

[Shaykh] Abdul Sami‘ al-Yaqti

Shaykh Abdul Sami‘ al-Yaqti is a Syrian scholar born in Aleppo in 1977. He obtained his degree in Shari‘a from the Shari‘a Faculty of Damascus University, a Diploma in Educational Qualification from the Faculty of Education at Aleppo University, and a Diploma in Shari‘a and a Master’s in Shari‘a from the Faculty of Sharia, and Law at Omdurman University in Sudan. He is currently writing his doctoral thesis.

He studied under esteemed scholars such as Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri, Shaykh Mustafa al-Turkmani, and Shaykh Dr. Nur al-Din Itr, among others. Shaykh al-Yakti has worked in teaching and cultural guidance in orphanages and high schools in Aleppo. He served as an Imam, Khatib, and reciter at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and as a certified trainer for Khatibs in Abu Dhabi’s Khatib Qualification Program.

He is involved in developing and teaching a youth education program at Seekers Arabic for Islamic Sciences.

Among Shaykh al-Yaqti’s significant works are “Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni: Bayna Ilm al-Kalam Wa Usul al-Fiqh” and the program “The Messenger of Allah Among Us (Allah bless him and give him peace).”