Islamic Character Spiritual Purification

The Best Role Models: Selected Traits of the Prophets and Messengers

quranOne of the greatest aspects of Islam is that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) has not only sent us guidance in the form of a text, but also guidance in the form of people. It is from the sunnah (way) of Allah that He sends men that He has chosen to mankind to guide them and teach them, and to become role models and examples for them.

The Prophet ﷺ is our best role model, but he taught us to also love the previous Messengers and to learn from their lives (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all). Contained in the Qur’an are riveting stories and beautiful characteristics of the Prophets and Messengers that we rarely learn about. Unlike other religious texts, the Qur’an praises, honors and gives us a real glimpse into the lives of these great men from Nuh (Noah), to Zakariyah (Zakariah), and Ibrahim (Abraham) to Dawud (David).

Shukr: Gratitude

Allah swt describes many of the Prophets and Messengers as being grateful and thankful to Him. Shukr (gratitude) is not only to recognize Allah’s Favors, but it also means to use His Favors for good and to thank them, through worship or other means, for blessing you with them. Shukr necessitates action, and it is not just lip service. We learn this from the famous narration of A’isha radi Allahu anha (may Allah be pleased with her) when she asked the Prophet ﷺ why he was still praying the night prayer when Allah has forgiven his past and future sins. He replied, “Shall I not be a thankful servant?”

Allah azza wa jal says about Nuh (peace be upon him):

إِنَّهُ كَانَ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا

“Indeed, he was a grateful servant.” (17:3)

Nuh `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send his peace and blessings on him) was the first Messenger sent to the earth, and Allah swt specifically mentions his gratitude in this verse, referring to him as “shakoora,” very grateful. The structure of this word points to how the gratefulness of Nuh (as) was constant and consistent. Nuh (as) called to the way of Allah for 950 years, so why wasn’t he described as an `abdan saboora, a very patient servant?  Why has Allah highlighted his shukr? When Allah calls Nuh (as) a grateful servant, it illustrates the type of patience he really had. With all of his problems, he found a way to thank Allah ta’ala! And this is why he is ‘abdan shakoora, a very grateful servant.

Mujahid says in the commentary of this verse that “Nuh would not eat anything without thanking Allah for it and he would not drink anything without thanking Allah for it, so Allah described him as a grateful servant.”

In another narration, Muhammad ibn Ka’b said regarding this verse, “When Nuh would eat, he would say: Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), and when he would drink, he would say Alhamdulillah, and when he put on his clothes, he would say Alhamdulillah, and when he would ride his animal, he would say Alhamdulillah, so Allah called him a grateful servant.”

Nuh (as) would praise and thank Allah every time he was given a blessing, even blessings such as clothing and food, which often slip our minds because they are so abundant in our societies. We learn from this that thanking Allah for His favors doesn’t only mean that we thank Allah whenever we are given something great like a child or a job, but we even thank Allah for the simple things like food, clothing, and shelter. Nuh (as) did not forget to thank Allah for these things, and because he thanked Allah for his food, clothing, and transportation, Allah described him as a thankful servant.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ would say specific supplications for eating, drinking, putting on clothes and riding. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah will be pleased with His slave who praises Him (i.e., says alhamdulillah) when he eats and praises Him when he drinks.” [Muslim]

We should memorize these supplications and put them into practice in our daily lives, and make it a habit to say Alhamdulillah in all situations, like Nuh (as).

Allah azza wa jal also describes Ibrahim (as), the close friend of Allah (khalilullah), as Shaakiran Li An’umihi, grateful for His favors:

شَاكِرًا لِّأَنْعُمِهِ

“[He was] grateful for His favors.” (16:121)

Imam ibnul Qayyim rahimahullah (Allah have mercy) says regarding this verse,

“Allah swt describes Ibrahim as an Ummah, meaning he was a leader. Then He describes him as a Qaanit Lillah, meaning one who is very obedient and constant in obeying Allah, and a Haneef, meaning he turned away from all that was worshipped besides Allah. Then He swt ends by saying Ibrahim was grateful for His favors, showing that his gratefulness was the best of his honorable traits.” [Uddat al-Saabireen, 113-114]

Allah swt also commanded Dawud (a) and his family to be grateful; He says:

اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا ۚ وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ

“Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” (34:13)

Thabit al-Binani says regarding this verse, “Dawud would divide the hours of the night and day between his family so that there wouldn’t be an hour of the night or day except that a person from the family of Dawud would be praying, so Allah addressed them all by saying, ‘Work, O family of David, in gratitude.’” [Uddat al-Saabireen]

Returning to Allah

Allah (the Most High) describes many of the Prophets in Surah Sad as Awwaab, returning and repenting to Him. He (ta’ala) says about Dawud, Sulayman, and Ayyub (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them):

إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ

“Indeed, he was one repeatedly turning back [to Allah].” (38:19, 30, 44)

Awwaab comes from the root which means to turn back. When it is used as a description for someone, it means they constantly repent to Allah and return to His obedience. Imam as-Sa’di explains this characteristic to mean one who is“constantly returning to Allah with hope, fear and love, and turning to Allah with regards to matters of this worldly life and the hereafter. [It is to] call upon Allah for all of your needs, to remember Him and to repent to Him whenever you fall into error.”

Allah (azza wa jal) describes Dawud, Sulayman, and Ayyub – three of the Prophets who were tested greatly – with these traits showing their status with Allah and their complete reliance and love for Him. We learn from this that tests and trials should bring us closer to Allah and should make us awwaab. Allah may send trials our way so that we can repent to Him, raise our hands in supplication to Him and turn back to His Obedience.

We also learn that even though they were among the best of mankind, they were still humble in front of Allah. Unfortunately, one of the greatest diseases we suffer from nowadays is being amazed with oneself and self-contentment. Many Muslims feel that they are above worshiping Allah, while others feel that because they seek knowledge or volunteer at the masjid, they are doing enough good. This is a dangerous path to be on. We must look to the example of the Prophets and Messengers who were awwaab and turned to Allah in every situation, called upon Him in hope and fear, love Him, and repented to Him.

Racing to Good Deeds

Allah (The Most High) describes Zakariya, his wife and their son, Yahya (peace be upon them),

21:90“So We responded to him, and We gave to him John, and amended for him his wife. Indeed, they used to hasten to good deeds and supplicate to Us in hope and fear, and they were to Us humbly submissive.” (21:90)

After Allah mentions that He provided Zakariya and his wife with a righteous child, He mentions their good qualities, the first one being that they raced to good deeds. Imam As-Sadi explains, “They would race to do good deeds at every opportunity and perform them during the best times. They would do these good deeds willingly and happily, and they would not leave any good deed that was within their ability.”

The scholars say that Allah (the Most High) mentions their good qualities immediately after mentioning that He answered their supplication for a righteous child because their good deeds led to their supplications being answered. We learn from this that doing good deeds is a cause of our supplications being answered.

We also learn from this that they did good deeds as a family unit – we saw with the family of Dawud (as). Many times we see very practicing people in our communities who are well-mannered and doing good deeds in the masjid but when they go to their homes, they become ill-mannered, careless and do not teach their families. The Prophets and Messengers were not like this; in fact they called their families to good first and taught them just as they taught their people.

Repentant and Kind

Allah describes Ibrahim (a):

إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ لَأَوَّاهٌ حَلِيمٌ

“Indeed Abraham was compassionate and patient.” [9:114]

Imam Sa’di  describes these two characteristics in his tafsir:

“[He was] awwaah meaning: He was continually returning and turning back to Allah in all of his affairs and he was one who supplicated to Allah, remembered Him, repented to Him and sought forgiveness a lot. [He was] haleem meaning: very merciful and kind to the creation and in overlooking the wrongs they committed against him. Their ignorance did not faze him, nor did their crimes affect him. Rather when his father said to him, “I will surely stone you!” [19:46], he replied to him, “Peace be upon you, I will seek my Lord’s forgiveness for you.” [19:47]

Ibrahim (as) worshipped Allah in every way he could, and he was also a man of great character. Many times we find Muslims who do many acts of worship, but at the same time, they are harsh and rude to the people. This is not the way of the Prophets! We should give more importance to improving our character as the Prophet ﷺ said, “The best of you is the best among you in conduct.” [Bukhari and Muslim] He also said, “Bad character ruins good deeds just as vinegar ruins honey.” [At-Tabarani]

We learn from these traits that worshiping Allah and having good character are equally important to a Muslim, and we should strive in attaining both good character and being an obedient slave of Allah.

Strength and Understanding

Allah says about Ibrahim, Ishaq, and Ya’qub (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them),

38:45“And remember Our servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – those of strength and [religious] vision.” [38:45]

Allah describes them as Ulil Aydi wal Absar, those of strength and understanding. The meanings of this description are many:

  • Ibn Jareer at-Tabari says regarding this description, “Aydi meaning strength. They were strong in their worship of Allah and upon His obedience. Al-Absar meaning they were people of insight, possessed hearts of understanding, and true intellect.”
  • Ibn Abbas radi Allahu `anhuma (may Allah be pleased with him) says, “They were honored with strength and worship, and understanding of the religion. “
  • Qatadah says, “They were given strength in their worship and insight in the religion. Ulil Aydi can also mean that they worked righteous deeds.”
  • Finally, ibn Katheer says, “They worked good deeds, possessed beneficial knowledge, strength in their worship and clear insight.”

Allah specifically describes Dawud (as) with the characteristic of strength,

وَاذْكُرْ عَبْدَنَا دَاوُودَ ذَا الْأَيْدِ

And remember Our servant, David, the possessor of strength. (38:17)

Dawud (as) was known for his avid worship. Here we see Allah describing him as Dhal Aydi , meaning that he was strong both in physical worship and spiritually with his heart. Az-Zujjaj says that the strength of Dawud (as) with regards to his worship was the best, as the Prophet ﷺ told us that the best of fasting is the fasting of Dawud (as). Allah (The Most High) continues to describe,



“Indeed, We subjected the mountains [to praise] with him, exalting [Allah] in the [late] afternoon and [after] sunrise. And the birds were assembled, all with him repeating [praises].” (38:18-19)

The worship of Dawud (as) was so great that even the birds and mountains praised and glorified Allah along with him!

We learn from this description Ulil Aydi wal Absar that these Prophets were great worshipers of Allah, had understanding of their religion and intellect. To have strength in worship means that you are consistent in good deeds and that you perform many acts of worship even if they are small. Unfortunately, many of the community activists and students of knowledge focus on benefiting their community and wane in their worship of Allah. We see here that the Prophets’ worship was described with strength, showing how much they worshiped Allah and how great their quality of worship was. Allah (swt) points to their strength before their knowledge and understanding, showing the importance of being strong in worship. As callers and students in our communities, we should never fall short in our worship.

Remembering the Hereafter

Allah swt continues to describe Ibrahim, Ya’qub and Ishaq (peace be upon them),

38:46“Indeed, We chose them for an exclusive quality: remembrance of the home [of the Hereafter].” (38:46)

Allah (the Most High) selected these Prophets because they would remember the hereafter and they would remind their people of the hereafter. Mujahid says, “Allah chose them for their remembrance of the hereafter, because it was most important to them and as a result, made them do the deeds of the hereafter.” Malik ibn Dinar says, “Allah removed the love of this world from their hearts and replaced it with exclusive love from the hereafter and its remembrance.”

Allah (the Most High) focuses only on this one trait in this verse, highlighting the importance of remembering the hereafter, working towards it and also reminding others of it. Allah (the Most High) raised their rank and chose them from all of mankind because of the importance they gave to the hereafter, He says:

38:47“And indeed they are, to Us, among the chosen and outstanding.” (38:47)

We learn from this description of the Prophets that Allah (the Most High) raises people through their remembrance and working for the hereafter. It is not enough to only remember death, the grave and the Day of Judgment when a friend or family member passes away.  The hereafter should be a constant reminder and should be one of the greatest motivators for us to do good deeds.

The Prophet ﷺ narrated a supplication, “O Allah, do not make this world our biggest goal nor the height of our knowledge.” We should learn this supplication and ask Allah to remove the love of this world from our hearts, and to make our focus for the hereafter.

We now have a glimpse into the lives of these great men with this short and brief analysis on their characteristics and qualities. These men, with the help of Allah, called their people to Allah for years, they ruled nations, they were leaders – but they were also strong worshipers of Allah, possessed firm hearts, remembered the hereafter, were kind and gentle and were grateful to their Lord. Let us try our best to emulate these men who are the best to have ever walked this earth.

About the author

Yusra Owais (Amatullah)

Yusra is a student of the Qur’an and its language. She completed the 2007 Ta’leem program at Al-Huda Institute in Canada and studied Qur’an, Tajweed (science of recitation) and Arabic in Cairo. Through her writings, she hopes to share the practical guidance taught to us by Allah and His Messenger and how to make spirituality an active part of our lives. She has completed her undergraduate degree in Social Work and will be completing a Masters program in 2014. Her experiences include working with immigrant seniors, refugee settlement, and accessibility for people with disabilities.

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