Something very interesting in the Qur’an is the way in which God talks about the people with whom He is pleased. In the Qur’an we have examples in which God mentions people whom He praises. Of course, He also mentions people with whom He is not pleased such as Abū Lahab or Pharaoh. The people praised in the Qur’an can be our role models. For example, there are many verses in the Qur’an in which God talks about the prophets (a) in general or about some of them in particular. There is research published about the characteristics of the prophets (a) mentioned in the Qur’an which investigates how God describes Abraham (a), Ishmael (a), Moses (a), Jesus (a), Prophet Muhammad (s) and other prophets (a) when He praises them, and the important things which God mentions about them. In this way, each prophet (a) and every quality mentioned about him in the Qur’an has been recorded.3 Interestingly, it was discovered that most of the things for which God praises these prophets (a) relate to akhlāq. For example, God refers to them as patient, truthful, or merciful. Sometimes it was found that these qualities were common to a few prophets (a) and sometimes a quality is mentioned only for one particular prophet (a), not necessarily because the others did not have it but perhaps because it was more obvious or more strongly manifested in the life of that prophet (a). When all of these Qur’anic descriptions are combined, we realise that morality is the most emphasised aspect of the lives of the prophets (a). Furthermore, among the prophets (a) there are five who
have received even more attention: Prophets Noah (a), Abraham (a), Moses (a), Jesus (a), and Muhammad (s). They are the prophets (a) whom we call ulu al-‘ażm (i.e. those of great determination).

In the Qur’an, God says:

َاصْبرْ كَمَا صَبَرَ أُوْلُوا الْعَزْمِ مِنَ الرُّسُل


So be patient just as the resolute among the apostles
were patient…

(46:35)

This shows the great significance of patience which is a very important moral quality and will be discussed later. Patience is considered to be the head of faith. If we imagine faith as a body that has different parts and organs, it will have patience as its head.4

Therefore, out of billions of human beings, 124,000 were chosen, and out of these, five in particular were chosen. Then God says that these are the people who were patient and we should be patient like them. This is a moral description. These people are called ulu al-‘ażm, so perhaps the reason they were able to remain patient is because they were people of determination. ‘Ażm (determination) is a very fundamental quality. It includes having will power, being able to discover what is good, and then being determined to do it; not giving up, not compromising one’s principles and ideals, and not resting until one has made sure one’s goals have been achieved. When someone finds something to be true and right then if they have determination they will do their best to implement and achieve it. These five prophets (a) are not described as people of knowledge, even though they are knowledgeable. They are not described as people of
bravery or anything similar to this. Instead, God places the most emphasis on their determination; this is why they are being singled out.

Interestingly, when it comes to Prophet Adam (a) God says:


and We did not find in him any determination. (20:115)5

Undoubtedly, he was a very good person and never disobeyed God in the sense that we normally use the term disobedience. When God says:

Adam disobeyed his Lord (20:121)6


it was not a legal or jurisprudential disobedience. He was in a kind of heaven similar to the eternal heaven of the Hereafter but not the same one, and in this heaven there was no obligation. Therefore, our scholars say that according to some hadiths his action was tark-e awlā, meaning Prophet Adam (a) did something that was better to avoid doing and not that he committed an actual sin by doing a prohibited action which would mean he deserved to be punished by being sent to hell. Thus, the problem with Prophet Adam (a) was that he did not have determination. However, in contrast to Prophet Adam (a), those five prophets (a) who are prime examples of prophethood, are described by God as “people of determination.”

Therefore, morality is something which makes a person very special in the eyes of God and makes a person able to get closer to Him and achieve the potential designed by God for human beings. We have infinite potential to become increasingly better and we can even precede angels. A human being who, despite having lower desires, appetites, and lusts, follows the instructions of God and reason, is better than the angels who do not have such desires. We can advance forever, without stopping, in striving to achieve perfection because the difference between us and God is infinite and therefore the chance for perfection is infinite. However, God forbid that we go backwards and downwards because we can also move infinitely and forever lower and lower, thus becoming even lower than animals:

“They are like cattle; rather they are more astray (7: 179).”7

3 Message of Thaqalayn, Moral Characteristics of the Prophets: A Qur’anic Perspective, vol 11, no. 1, Spring 2010

4 Misbah al-Shari‘ah, p. 184. The original text is as follows:


قَالَ عَلِيٌّ )ع(: الصَّبْرُ مِنَ اإلِيمَانِ كَالرَّأْسِ مِنَ الْجَسَدِ
“Patience to faith is like the head to the body.”

5 The Arabic text is as follows: وَلَمْ نَجِدْ لَهُ عَزْمًا

6The Arabic text is as follows: وَعَصىَ ءَادَمُ رَبَّه

7The Arabic text is as follows: وْلَئكَ كاَألَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَل