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The Limits of Character

by Ibn ul Qayyim Al Jawziyah


Every noble character has its limits [between exaggeration and negligence], and whenever these limits are exceeded, it becomes injurious and oppressive, and when one falls short of these limits, it becomes a mark of [his] deficiency.


The First: Ghadhab الغضب (Anger): Anger has its limits, the highest end of it is commendable,

which is reflective of courage and self-respect that protects one from behaviors that lead to

indecency and humiliation, which will ultimately tarnish one’s honor and integrity. This is the

pinnacle of this quality, however, when anger exceeds its limit, it causes the perpetrator to

transgress the necessary boundaries. And when it falls short of its limit, on the lower end of

negligence, it is considered cowardice and will lead its perpetrator to indecency and undue

harshness.


The Second: Hirs الحرص (Diligence): Diligence has its limits, the highest end of it is

commendable, which is reflective of contentment with the affairs of this dunya, acquiring only what is sufficient from it. However, when this quality falls short of its limit, on the lower end of

negligence, it leads to humiliation and forfeiture [of what is greater in this life and the next]. And

whenever it exceeds its limit, it is considered greed and covetousness of things that are not

commendable.


The Third: Hasad الحسد (Jealousy): Jealousy has its limits, the highest end of it is commendable,

which is reflective of [healthy] competition to achieve perfection and self-dignity, in order that one prevents his opponent from surpassing him. When this quality exceeds its limit, it becomes aggression, as the individual is seeking by such to remove any blessing bestowed upon the one he is jealous of, while being adamant about harming him.

However, when this character falls short of its limit, on the lower end of negligence, it is considered ignoble, and causes his aspirations to weaken and his self-esteem to lower. The Prophet said, “Jealousy is not permitted except in two situations : A man to whom Allah has given wealth, and he spend s it in the cause of Allah, and a man to whom Allah has given knowledge , and he fulfills his obligations with it and teaches it to others .” [Sahih Al Bukhari]

This type of jealousy is considered [healthy] competition (ghibta’), where the jealous one seeks to be like the one he is jealous of, and not the type of jealousy that is actually dishonorable and reprehensible, where the jealous one desires the blessing bestowed upon the one he is jealous of to be removed for him entirely—i.e., envy.


The Fourth: Shahwah الشهوة (Lowly desires): Lowly desires has its limits, the highest end of it,

which is commendable, is peace of mind and ease from the drudgery associated with performing acts of obedience to Allah and acquiring good deeds by performing the supererogatory acts of worship. Peace of mind, in this context, will assist one in performing acts of worship, but when this quality exceeds its limit, it becomes lust and a burning desire that will enter its companion into a realm of almost becoming animalistic in nature. And when it falls short of its limit, on the lower end of negligence, it fails to be used as a quality that aids in self-perfection and seeking the bounty of Allah, so it becomes a weakness and leads to dishonor and disgrace.


The Fifth: Ra’ha الراحة (Relaxation): Relaxation has its limit, on the high end of it, which is

commendable, is to strengthen the soul as well as the servant’s awareness of Allah and his ability to prepare for the acts of obedience and acquiring good deeds, as well as multiplying them when the opportunity presents itself. This is necessary to ensure the performance of these deeds doesn’t tire him out nor weaken his faith (Iman).


Whenever this quality exceeds its limit, it becomes negligence, laziness, and a waste of time. and the servant of Allah will forfeit most of the things that would have been beneficial for him. And when this quality falls short of its limit, on the lower end of negligence, it becomes detrimental to his vitality by exhausting himself in things that will bring no benefit to him, and perhaps may even cause him to give up doing good deeds altogether.


The Sixth: Jud الجود (Generosity): Generosity has its limits, which is between the two ends or

exaggeration and negligence, and whenever it exceeds its limit, it becomes wastefulness and

extravagance, and whenever it falls short of this limit, it becomes stinginess and miserliness.


The Seventh: Shuja’ah الشجاعة (Courageousness): Courageousness has its limit, and whenever it exceeds that limit, it becomes impetuousness, and when it falls short of this limit, it becomes cowardice and weakness. On the higher end of the spectrum, courageousness means to be bold and daring, when it is appropriate to be bold and daring, and to be forbearing, when it is suitable to be forbearing.


The Eighth: Ghayrah الغيرة (Vigilant Concern): Vigilant concern has its limit, and if it exceeds this limit it becomes [doubtful] suspicion of someone who is innocent and undeserving of such mistrust, and if it falls short of its limit, it becomes carelessness and the foundation for the acceptance of all indecency.


The Nineth: Tawadhua’ التواضع (Humility): Humility has its limit, and if it exceeds this limit, then it becomes humiliation and degradation, and if it falls short of this limit, it plunges one into the depths of conceit and arrogance.

The Tenth: Izz العز (Honor): Honor has its limit, and when it exceeds this limit, it becomes

haughtiness and imprudence, and if it falls short of this limit, it plunges one into the depths of dishonor and disgrace.


The main guideline for these qualities is moderation (wasitiyah), which means to take the middle course in one’s observance of them by maintaining a balance between the two extremes of negligence and extremism. This helps to secure the good of this life as well as the good of the hereafter. The benefit of these qualities cannot be achieved except with the quality of moderation.


However, when these characteristics are removed from the realm justice, it is either the result of exceeding the necessary limits thereof or falling short of the bare minimum mark by which they would be considered commendable and admirable. Either way, they lose their vitality and effectiveness depending on how far removed from justice they are.


Similarly, the natural behaviors of the human being such as sleep, wakefulness, eating, drinking, sexual intimacy, exercise, seclusion, social engaging, and others, if they are performed with moderation between the two extremes of excessiveness and negligence, then they are considered honorable, but if they deviate to one of these two extremes, then they are considered a [personal] deficiency in the individual, that will only produce other deficiencies.


The most noble of sciences is knowledge of the limits [of all things], especially the legislative limitsof the prohibitions (haram) and commandments in Islam. The most knowledgeable people are those who are most knowledgeable of these limits. They do not add to them, what is not from them, nor do they subtract from them, what is actually from them. Allah says in the Qur’an,

الْ ْ َعْر َ ابه أَشَدُّ كهفْر ً ا و َ نِفَاقًا و َ أَجْدَره أَلَّ َ يَعْلَمهوا حهدهودَ مَا أَنْز َ لَ اللّ َ ه عَلَى ٰ ر َ سهولِهِ ۗ و َ اللّ َ ه عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ ﴿ ٩٧﴾

“The bedouins are the worst in disbelief and hypocrisy and more likely to be in ignorance of the limits of what Allah has revealed to His Messenger. And Allah is All Knowledgeable, All Wise.” (Al Qur’an 9:97)

Thus, the most moderate of people are those who adhere to the limits of character, as well as the legislative acts of worship, in both knowledge and action, and Allah is the Giver of success.”

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