Hawza in a Nutshell – Lessons on Akhlaq

by Ezre Hashme

“A classmate in school was very big, strong and good-looking. He lacked confidence because he was raised in a troubled home, which affected him socially and in his schoolwork. Everyone bullied him, even the children in the lower years. Our Ummah can be compared to this boy. We’ve lost our confidence because we live in a divided and troubled home. If we look at the situation around the world, the poorest countries are Muslim; the whole of the Middle East cannot compete with the Spanish economy. When we look at the most corrupt countries the Muslim ones top the list, the most dangerous countries are also Muslim and the list goes on. Think about it, spiritually we’re inept, morally we are bankrupt and financially we’re on the two extremes. But I hear a lot of people say Islam is the fastest growing religion. What good is the quantity when we lack quality? A few centuries ago it was a different story, we did have our differences but it wasn’t as bad and we’ve never been so weak. So what happened? Of course we can put a plaster on out amputated limb and go with the easy answer, by pointing fingers, blaming so and so. Although it is true to a certain extent but the old saying still holds – when you point with one finger three fingers are pointing back. If they are to blame, we should be blamed three times as much. It’s not a good idea to play the blaming game, what we should do is get to the bottom of it and pick ourselves up.

So, how can we as a small community in the west uplift a billion plus brothers and sisters? The answer is to build a strong community in the west, be a beacon of hope. How can we build a strong community when we have disagreements on the smallest issues? We start with our family. What if the family doesn’t share our ideas? Then we concentrate on ourselves and lead by example. Once I realised that I don’t have the power to control anything in the outside world, I looked within myself and tried to change what I could control. That is why I came to the Hawza to reinvent myself and follow the blue print Ahlul Bayt(a) set out for us.

Today we live in a rapidly changing world. A world in what was new yesterday is old today and what is new today will be obsolete tomorrow. As soon as you buy the latest iPhone, the next day Samsung comes out with a better phone. What was seen undesirable yesterday is encouraged today and what was positive yesterday is negative today. We live in a confused society where contradictions are a way of life. We consistently trust the liars and question what is true”.

Above was the response from one of my fellow Hawza students when I asked, why did he join the Hawza? This hadith depicts his words beautifully:

The Muslim Umma is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain.”

I understand and share the brothers’ opinion that we should all reinvent ourselves and follow Ahlul Bayt(a), not to be divisive but to work together and to build a platform for Imam Mahdi(a). In a nutshell if we cannot fix the problems in the world, then let’s not be part of the problem.

We agreed of our inability to change the world, our community or our sphere of influence without changing ourselves first. It’s great that we are in the Hawza but where do we start? What is the foundation? We came to the conclusion that akhlaq (character refinement) is the best place to start because it’s the uniform and arsenal of a mo’min (beliver). We also agreed that no matter what the message is, the person delivering the message has questionable character hardly anyone would pay attention. So let’s introduce some terminologies learnt in our akhlaq classes at the Hawza.

Khalq meaning creation or external features such as eye colour, height, weight etc. Kholq on the other hand is inner trait that cannot be seen with basar (vision) but with baseera (insight). When a child looks at the hot coal, naturally he is drawn to it, that is basar (vision) but if he was burnt before or was prior warned he would not go near it, that is baseera (insight).

Hal is a quality which changes and malaka is a fixed/permanent quality. Example; person X is brave and witnesses a female being attacked, person X would not hesitate in stepping in. Person Y is not brave and will come up with a few excuses of why they keep out. The first is called malaka because it’s a fixed quality, if the second person is trained and encouraged to be brave they would be but only once or a few times, this is called hal because he changes back to his old habits. There are two types of malaka, innate and acquired. If we are naturally brave, truthful, humble etc… then we are in no need of lessons in  akhlaq because we already have these attributes.

For the majority of us we are in great need and if we work hard to acquire these characteristics, then it will become part of our fabric, from hal to malaka.

Ghandi said: “…be the change you want to see in the world”.

The questions arise, how many traits of characters are there? How long would each take? Do I have the time to focus on each one? Sheikh Shomali believes there might be 50 or more traits and if we focus on all of these individually we would need the life span of Noah(a). He said there are the 50 odd traits that are on the surface but they all have a solid core and foundation. If we get these fundamental traits of characters right, the rest will fall into place. To make it easier all these fundamental traits overlap and complement each other. There are 10 fundamentals and insha-Allah we can learn about them in the next issue. Sheikh compared the core fundamental traits of character to the roots and the external one as the fruits. We have to take care of the roots to benefit from the fruits.

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