Islamic etiquette or good manners is a very important subject. It includes, but is certainly not limited to, greeting another Muslim in the proper way or standing up to let an elderly man take your seat in the bus.
All the prophets and righteous people displayed good manners. Their behavior with other people was well mannered and respectful and even more importantly their manner toward God was exemplary.
A Muslim who takes great care with his manners is a person with a strong moral character and an innate understanding of ethics and responsibility.
If Prophet Muhammad was able to see how flippant we are about manners today, it is not too far-fetched to think he would advise us to remember some of the basic teachings of Islam.
In Chapter 33 verse 21 of the Quran, God said that Prophet Muhammad was a good example for Muslims to follow. He did not qualify that statement by saying in this matter, or that matter.
Following the way of Prophet Muhammad in all matters will hold us in good stead in all aspects of our lives; from the very trivial to the very important. Prophet Muhammad was well mannered and respectful in any situation.
In the authentic books of Hadith, Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his companions that God sent him to perfect good manners and to do good deeds. (Al-Bukhari)
Also from among the authentic hadith is a saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad’s beloved wife Aisha in which she describes her husband’s character as the Quran. (Muslim)
These small, seemingly minor, snippets of information combine to give us a great deal of important advice.
Prophet Muhammad’s character was a study in Islamic etiquette. He abided by God’s laws and commands and abstained from God’s prohibitions.
He did so while interacting with the world around him; his responsibility to God was evident in all his interactions.
Prophet Muhammad used Islamic etiquette with his family, his companions and neighbors, the wider Muslim community, and all living things. He was also well mannered when dealing with detractors, unbelievers, and enemies.
Nowadays and across the breadth of Islamic history, there are people who consider themselves to be righteous; they pray, fast and give in charity and yet they have awful manners. They spread gossip and back bite, or they treat their employees with contempt and rudeness.
In many cases they ignore the spiritual and emotional needs of the ones closest to them and fail to understand that the connection between piety and good manners is symbiotic. One cannot exist without the other. To imagine what Prophet Muhammad would say to these people, we only have to read the guidance and advice he gave his companions.
The best among you is the one who is best to his family, and I am the best to my family. (At-Tirmidhi)
The angel Gabriel kept advising me about the rights of neighbors until I thought he would make them entitled to some part of the inheritance. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Nothing is weightier on the scales (on the Day of Judgment) than good behavior. (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)
By his good character a believer will attain the degree of one who prays during the night and fasts during the day. (Abu Dawud)
The best of you are those who possess the best manners. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
It is impossible to practice Islam effectively if we neglect the importance of good manners because Islamic etiquette is something that reinforces our faith. It should be a thread that runs through our day-to-day living complimenting and strengthening our worship.
Islamic good manners consist of spreading peace and mending broken relationships. It involves praying for our brothers and sisters in Islam, advising and calling each other to good and endeavoring to prevent evil or sinful behavior.
Islamic etiquette is also about respect. It directs us to show consideration and care to others; parents, elders, neighbors, members of the community in which we live and those who do not practice our faith.
It is about showing love and compassion to everyone we come in contact with and it includes visiting the sick and staying away from gossip and backbiting.
The scholars of Islam explain that good manners consist of knowing how to treat others. A Muslim must strive to avoid harming, annoying or inconveniencing anyone.
In the Age of Social Media
Prophet Muhammad told his companions that the true Muslim is a person who avoids harming other Muslims with his words or actions. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
It might be useful to imagine how Prophet Muhammad would react if he could read the words we use on social media.
With the greatest of ease, Muslims defame and slander each other in public forums. And they do so without the slightest care and with little or no understanding of Islamic etiquette and the sinful nature of such behavior.
Consider another saying from the traditions of Prophet Muhammad:
A man utters a word pleasing to God without considering it of any significance and God raises his status in Paradise; another one speaks a word displeasing to God without considering it of any importance, and for that word he will sink down into Hell. (Al-Bukhari)
Perhaps we should replace the word utters with the word types. While there is undoubtedly great good in the proper use of social media, it can also be a way to accumulate sins.
There are some people who think that the language and tone they use on the Internet is of no significance. But once the words have been typed and sent, they are out there in cyber space and we are not able to retrieve them or control their consequences.
In the privacy of their own homes, people feel free to express themselves in a way that would not be acceptable if they were in public. Prophet Muhammad would, no doubt, remind us to speak a good word or to keep silent. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
He would also tell us to be careful of the things we say in case we should inadvertently say something harmful or untrue.
When it becomes a habit to speak badly, two things can happen, often both at the same time. We can forget that Islam has very high standards of behavior and morality, and we can fool ourselves into thinking that our spaces and our words are private.
From behind our screen and from inside our own homes we can berate the world, our communities, our neighbors and even our families.
However, God can see everything we do. Sadly many of us forget this on a daily or even hourly basis. Prayer timing is designed to keep us on track and remind us of this fact. Our private whispers can be overheard by the All Seeing, the All Hearing God.
Remembering this is one of the highest levels of faith. It is something very difficult to achieve without mindfulness in all our actions and interactions.
One way remembering, and examining our behavior at the same time is to ask ourselves if Prophet Muhammad would be proud of our etiquette. Would he think the high level of domestic violence in some communities is acceptable?
Would he think social media was the place to address our grievances with Sheikhs and scholars?
Islamic etiquette should permeate everything we do; it should come as naturally to us as knowing the timing of the prayers, and that Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
It doesn’t though; sometimes it flies out the window at the slightest opportunity.