So far we have tried to explain the meaning of the term akhlāq and in doing so we started with its root which is khalq (creation). After this we mentioned that a human being has two aspects. One aspect is our khalq, which is the common physical or even spiritual creation of man in its state of potentiality which is more or less the same in all human beings. The second aspect is our khulq. Khulq consists of the good or bad qualities which we acquire over time. Now we will explore further the difference between these two aspects of a human being.
Some people are selfish and others are very much in control of their ego. Some people are brave whilst others are fearful. Some are greedy and some are not. People exhibit many differences in character which are of utmost importance because the physical characteristics which we all have in common as human beings are generally something given to us and so we cannot claim any credit for them. The reason for this is clear. For example, being tall or handsome, or reaching a certain age, are not consequences or results of our own efforts. We are given these things simply due to the state of being human and thus we are not responsible for them in the sense of being questioned about why they happened as they did. Of course, we are responsible for looking after our health, but our health or our body in themselves or our reaching a certain age, are given to us as
blessings. We are not responsible for simply having them but rather about how we use them. For example, on the Day of
Judgment we will not be asked why we are male or female, tall or short. Therefore, most physical qualities are merely things which we have been given and are more or less common to all human beings. Therefore, being or not being a good person is not based on or even related to those physical qualities.
However, there is another aspect of our existence, which is the moral one. This is where we find many differences between individual people. Sometimes we discover two human beings who look very much alike but who are totally different in terms of their behaviour. This difference can be even more marked than the difference between a human being and an animal. It could actually be said that sometimes the difference between two human beings is greater than the difference between an angel and an animal. How do we know this? The answer is simple. Given that a human being can rise to a position higher than that of the angels or descend to one which is lower than animals, it can easily be understood that therefore the difference between two
individual human beings can be more than that found between an angel and an animal. Thus, we can conclude that this aspect of a human being is very crucial.
There is a beautiful expression in the Qur’an in which God refers to the Day of Judgment as the day in which the hidden qualities of man will become manifest:
َوْمَ تُبْلىَ السَّرَائر
On the day when hidden things shall be made manifest.
In this world we have some qualities which are obvious and apparent to all, such as the physical qualities of the colour of
our skin, our size, our age, our ethnicity and so on. These are things which we recognize by simply looking at people. And
then there are also things which are inner qualities. These are called sarā’ir.4 We cannot see these qualities. We can see
someone’s colour immediately but we cannot realise straightaway whether someone is a brave person or not. Indeed, even if we witness brave actions performed by a particular person, this does not necessarily mean that in reality they are brave since those actions might have been accidental.
In this world we only see the outward appearance5 of people and sometimes their deeper qualities may remain unknown
to us for years. Sometimes we live alongside someone such as a colleague, neighbour, or even a spouse and yet we are not aware of some of the inner qualities of that person. Sometimes we believe a person to be good whilst their reality is the opposite of what we think, and vice versa.
Therefore, we have to be very careful when making judgments about people. Firstly, we ought to try to avoid being in any way judgmental. Secondly, if it is really necessary to make a judgment we should avoid being hasty and jumping to conclusions. Thirdly, after having to make a judgment we should not pass it on to others. Thus, even if it becomes absolutely necessary to make a judgment, we must then keep it to ourselves. Furthermore, even for ourselves, we should not think that our judgment is necessarily definitely correct. Human beings are very complicated, making it extremely difficult to form a sound judgment about them unless we know them very well and have the insight needed to see beyond outward actions in order to form a clear judgment about the reality and hidden qualities of that person. Moreover, human beings can change, and so the judgment we may have made – based on particular things we thought we knew about that person – may now be incorrect because those things have changed. For example, the person may have realised a mistake in their thinking or actions, and decided to repent, to God and reform themselves. Or they may have acquired a new virtue, or even a new vice, making our previous judgment void.
However, on the Day of Judgment we will be in a very different condition. On that day, in the same way that today we can look at people and recognize their physical appearances, we will be able to look at people and realise whether they are believers or not, whether they are pious or not. We will even be able to look at people and realise which bad qualities they have. This is why it is referred to as the day when all the hidden qualities become manifest. Regarding this God says:
ُعْرَفُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ بِسِيمَاهُمْ
The guilty shall be recognized by their marks [on their face].
Elsewhere in the Qur’an, in Chapter al-Tahrīm (the Forbidding) and Chapter al-Hadīd (Iron), God says that on the Day of Judgment we will see that believers have light and this light goes ahead fast in front of them and on their right hand side. The same idea is found in both chapters with only slightly different phrasing.6 However, on the same day we will see that those people who are hypocrites have no light and ask the believers:
“Please let up on us, that we may glean something from your light!” (57:13)7
Thus, we will be able to realise who is a good person and who is a bad one simply by looking at them, without even needing to see the record of their deeds.
Khulq is the hidden side of us in this world. On the Day of Judgment everything becomes very obvious and indeed, most of the focus, if not all, will be on our khulq and not on our khalq. If we are judged, praised or blamed, rewarded or punished, allowed to join the group of good people or ordered to join the group of bad people on the Day of Judgment, it is not because of our khalq but rather it is due to our khulq; it is not due to our skin colour, gender, age, physical strength, or weight. It is due to the qualities of the soul which we have either achieved or failed to achieve.
Therefore, this is the most important challenge for us. Each and every one of us must take care of our spiritual health in the same way that we take care of our physical health.
Indeed, we should care about our spiritual health much more; we only need our physical health for a maximum of about a hundred years but we need our spiritual health for eternity. If we suffer physically it won’t last forever but if we suffer in our soul then it will bring about bad results forever and lead to eternal suffering.
4 Sarā’ir (رِرائَس ) is the plural form of sarīrah (رِرائَس ) which is the hidden quality and it comes from the Arabic word sirr (رِس ) which means secret.
5 Sūrah (
6 Chapter al-Hadīd (57), verse 12:
يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم