The Content of Character

The Content of Character #54: Two Qualities That Are Never Coupled in a Believer

In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Mercy-Giving; and peaceful prayers and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah, his Folk, his Companions and all who are faithful.

Two Qualities That Are Never Coupled in a Believer

Welcome to episode 54 of “The Content of Character” podcast. Today, we will be looking at qualities [that are] never coupled in a believer. It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) said, “Two qualities are never coupled in a believer: miserliness and immorality.” This is the hadith related by Imam al-Bukhari in Adab al-Mufrad, if we look at some of the other narrations (riwayat), we have a riwaya in the collection of [Imam] al-Nasa’i that states “Miserliness and faith are never gathered in the heart of a servant, ever.” And in another narration from [Imam] al-Tirmidhi, “There are two qualities that are never coupled in a hypocrite: carrying oneself in a good way and understanding of the religion.” These different riwayat tell a little bit about the believer, and they tell us also about the hypocrite and the different traits they will have [or] not have.

As for the believer, our Prophet is teaching us (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) in this hadith that this trait of miserliness (bukhul) and a good character, in general, are never gathered in the believer. What is meant here is that the believer has complete faith (kamil al-iman). [This is not to say] these traits are never [found] in a believer and that this person that has these traits, then they’re not a believer. No, what it means is that the stronger that our faith becomes, the more antithetical [these traits] will be to the reality of that faith. The stronger the faith, the less that we will have of these terrible traits.

What is also meant by this is that bad character, in general, sums up all of the different things that we are supposed to eliminate from our being, and that miserliness is undoubtedly one aspect of bad character. The Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him), as the commentators have said of this hadith, mentioned miserliness in particular because it is one of the very worst of character traits; it is one of those traits that if you have it, it will lead to a long list of other bad traits.

Do Bad Thoughts Make Me A Bad Person?

So let’s look at some of these meanings and start first by understanding: what is bad character (su’u al-khuluq)?

Bad character, at its essence, is really about having the ego (nafs) and/or shaytan overcome us at the level of [our] thoughts. We know that thoughts can be of one of four sources, but three in particular [are useful here]. They can be of an angelic, demonic, or egotistical source. And if we set aside the angelic thought for now, because that can only lead to good, and we talk about the thoughts of the shaytan and the nafs; when a thought comes from the nafs and it overcomes us, and we don’t deal with that thought according to the direction of the Sacred Law and proper thinking (i.e. intellect), we end up responding to that thought.

Likewise, the shaytan can put a thought in our hearts to lead us astray, and we may not catch it and respond in a way that is pleasing to Allah the Exalted outwardly. That is the essence of what bad character is. It’s having those thoughts overcome us.

The essence of good character is its opposite. For instance, [if] you are angry and you want to lash out, [but] you restrain and hold yourself back, even though you know that you have that desire and it is something that is impermissible in the Sacred Law, that is the essence of what good character is. And that the more and more you do this, then good character eventually flows freely from you. In general, all bad character stems from being overcome by the thoughts of the nafs and the thoughts of the shaytan.

Miserliness is a Sickness

If we look at miserliness in particular, our Prophet informed us [of] three things that are destructive (muhlikat): avarice that is obeyed, desire that is followed, and a man being impressed with himself. Notice here when our Prophet said shuhhun, which is one of the [synonyms] for that miserliness. We might have that in our heart, but the key is that we don’t obey it [and] that we get ourselves used to going against it.

And our Prophet (peaceful prayers and blessings be upon him) sought refuge from miserliness. And a hadith in [Sahih] al-Bukhari, our Prophet made a supplication, “O Allah, I seek refuge in you from miserliness and I seek refuge in you from cowardice…” And it’s interesting here that our Prophet, at least in this narration, coupled and associated cowardice with miserliness. This is one of the manifestations of cowardice is being stingy and miserly. And then the hadith goes on to say, “…and I seek refuge with You from being returned to the worst of years, and I seek refuge from the affliction of this world, and the punishment of the grave.”

What Does It Mean To Be “Miserly”?

So what then is miserliness (bukhul), if we wanted to offer some type of definition? People might think that there’s a degree of relativity here. Someone might think that they’re being generous and someone else might think that they’re being stingy. How do we define it, and how do we know whether or not someone really is miserly or not?

Scholars have said that [miserliness] is when you do not give out from your wealth at a time where it is an obligation for you to do so. We can obviously see that this definition is limited, because there are certain things that are not obligations for us that, if someone would not do them, surely they were not considered to be miserly. And an example of this is if someone [is] taking care of their family, their legal (shar’i) requirement is to [provide] the very basics or absolute necessities. They have the ability to do [more], but they don’t give their family anything more than the basic necessities. We would surely consider that person to be miserly.

And other scholars have said that the the miserly one (bakhil) is the one who finds it hard to give. Again, [this definition] is not fully sufficient, because everyone, to a certain degree, finds that giving is hard. It just depends on how much we’re giving. People differ in that regard. Some people find small things hard to give. And [for] other people, small things are easy to give, but the larger things or a good percentage of their wealth, they find it more difficult to [give].

When we talk about bukhul, we’re talking about two things: refraining from giving out our wealth in relation to obligations, [and additionally] things that are part of our legal respectability; things where we really know that this is something that we should be giving. If a guest comes over to our house, customarily you’re going to honor that guest by serving them tea, or some type of sweets or food or something like that. To not give that person proper hospitality when you have the ability to do so, even though it might not necessarily be an obligation, would surely be considered miserly, because customarily [withholding] is not something that people do.

A Time to Give, A Time to Withhold

When we talk about the ideal of where we want to be, ultimately it’s in the middle. Generosity (sakkha) is a balance between two extremes. It’s a balance between miserliness on one side, and between extravagance on another. Allah the Exalted says, “And those, when they give out from their wealth they’re not extravagant nor are they miserly, and they are in a state of moderation between the two.” (Qur’an 25:67) This is really where we want to be. The ideal is that, at the heart-level, we want to detach ourselves from our wealth. When we know that it’s better for us to give, we give; and when we know it is better for us to not give, [that] we don’t give. Everything that we do, we put in perfect balance outwardly and inwardly. There could be times where we think that we just want to freely give, but there’s actually a better place for us to put our wealth; or that it’s not the right time for us to give out our wealth, or [perhaps] it’s not the right person or cause for us to give our wealth to.

So what we’re really looking for is balance, between absolute miserliness and the virtues of its opposite, which is munificence (jud); and there are various degrees of giving, and the highest giving of all is that we prefer others over ourselves (ithar). But here, our Prophet is warning us of bukhul, and that is to know that it is an obligation for us to give our wealth. The greatest of obligations is zakat and then zakat al-fitr. The worst type of miserliness is to not to give [to these obligations].

In relation to customary things we should give freely, opening our heart(s) by [opening] our wealth, and then hopefully we’re protected from this horrible trait of miserliness and we move up in degrees of generosity. The stronger that our faith becomes, the easier that it will be for us to give because we [will] become detached from this world that we see. The whole purpose of Allah the Exalted giving us wealth is for us to be able to use it in a way that is pleasing to Him in this world.

May Allah the Exalted give us tawfiq and bless us in all of our affairs and to remove from us this horrible vice of miserliness, and bless us with good character and to protect us from all manifestations of bad character.

Peaceful prayers and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah, his Folk, his Companions; and all praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.


The “Content of Character” podcast is brought to you by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus of al-Maqasid Institute, and powered by SeekersGuidance Global Islamic Seminary. Listen to this episode in full on the SeekersGuidance website, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Android, or RSS.