Condescending, Perfecting Good Manners, God-Experience

Issue 942 » April 14, 2017 - Rajab 17, 1438

Living The Quran

Luqman (Luqman) Sura 31: Verse 18

"And turn not your cheek at men in scorn, nor walk exultantly upon the earth. Surely God loves not any vainglorious boaster."

Turn not your cheek at men in scorn is understood as a general command not to be arrogant with others, especially when conversing with them, but is also said to refer specifically to shunning a companion for whom one had affection. Others understand it as an injunction to avoid speaking in a boastful manner.

The injunction to walk not exultantly upon the earth means that one's reason for walking about should not be vanity and insolence. In the contemporary period, this phrase is invoked by some environmentalists to argue against human beings' arrogant behavior toward nature, which is seen as an abuse of their role as God's vicegerents on earth.

When seen in relation to the injunctions Luqman gives his son in previous verses, this verse can be understood to mean that once people have achieved the level where they truly enjoin right and forbid wrong, they should not be condescending toward others or put on airs, and they should not turn their backs on those who seek guidance.

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Perfecting Good Manners

Several ahadith, by different reporters, highlight the fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) never used foul language. Anas ibn Malik reports: "God's Messenger was not given to the use of foul language, cursing or abusive names. When he expressed displeasure with someone, he would say, 'What is wrong with him; may he have dust on his forehead.'" (Bukhari) In answer to a question about the Prophet's manners, Aishah said: "He never used foul or obscene language. Nor was he quarrelsome in the market place. He did not repay a bad turn with a similarly bad one, but would rather forgive and forebear." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)

Some people put on an appearance when they are out and meet others. The Prophet, however, did not put any appearance other than his real manners. For example: "Some of his Companions visited Umm Salamah, his wife. They said to her: "Mother of the believers, tell us what is God's Messenger like in the privacy of his home." She said: "He is always the same in public and in private." (Ahmad)

These ahadith together give us a picture of a person who turns away from whatever is unbecoming and to whom good conduct comes naturally; he realizes that whatever comes from God is good. He is the first to implement it, at home and in public. The Prophet was the same in public and with his own family: he never used abusive or insulting language, cursed or engaged in a verbal quarrel. He was aware of his task of "bringing good manners to perfection."

Compiled From:
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct" - Adil Salahi



There has often been a distinction between people who practise a cultic form of religion and those who have cultivated a sense of the God of compassion. The prophets fulminated against their contemporaries who thought that temple worship was sufficient. Jesus and St Paul both made it clear that external observance was useless if it was not accompanied by charity: it was little better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Muhammad came into conflict with those Arabs who wanted to worship the pagan goddesses alongside Allah in the ancient rites, without implementing the compassionate ethos that God demanded as a condition of all true religion. There had been a similar divide in the pagan world of Rome: the old cultic religion celebrated the status quo, while the philosophers preached a message that they believed would change the world. It may be that the compassionate religion of the One God has only been observed by a minority; most have found it difficult to face the extremity of the God-experience with its uncompromising ethical demands. Ever since Moses brought the tablets of the law from Mount Sinai, the majority have preferred the worship of a Golden Calf, a traditional, unthreatening image of a deity they have constructed for themselves, with its consoling, time-honoured rituals. The religious establishment itself is often deaf to the inspiration of prophets and mystics who bring news of a much more demanding God.

God can also be used as an unworthy panacea, an alternative to mundane life and as the object of indulgent fantasy. The idea of God has frequently been used as the opium of the people. This is a particular danger when he is conceived as another Being - just like us, only bigger and better - in his own heaven, which is itself conceived as a paradise of earthly delights. Yet originally, 'God' was used to help people to concentrate on this world and to face up to unpleasant reality. The prophets of Israel forced their people to confront their own social culpability and impending political catastrophe in the name of the God who revealed himself in these historical occurrences. The Christian doctrine of Incarnation stressed the divine immanence in the world of flesh and blood. Concern for the here and now was especially marked in Islam: nobody could have been more of a realist than Muhammad, who was a political as well as a spiritual genius. As we have seen, future generations of Muslims have shared his concern to incarnate the divine will in human history by establishing a just and decent society. From the very beginning, God was experienced as an imperative to action. From the moment when -as either El or Yahweh - God called Abraham away from his family in Haran, the cult entailed concrete action in this world and often a painful abandonment of the old sanctities.

Compiled From:
"A History of God" - Karen Armstrong