Article by Ustaz Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail adapted from his lecture as an introduction to 'Ilm-alAkhlaq, was published in "Muslim Reader" MCAS (Muslim Converts association of Singapore) quarterly magazine.
The night in the farm, the serenity was disturbed by the barking of the dogs. Many other animals were aroused from their sleep. Irritated by the noise, they began to complain amongst themselves and criticise the dogs.
- Cow: "O, what a racket. These dogs simply are very inconsiderate. Don't they know that we have to be up at dawn to give our milk? A good rest is crucial to our production. We always try to give more. Moo..ore...! Moo..ore...!"
- Sheep: ''They are not only inconsiderate, they also display a certain arrogance. They will always display a fierce and threatening nature to everyone. If the milkman comes, they will bark. In fact, whosoever comes; whether our master's neighbour, the postman, the handyman, the salesman, they will bark. When they are told to hushup, they will still continue to bark and roll their tongues, baring their fangs threateningly. You noticed how they always intimidate us sheep. They scare the wits out of us with the tone of their language. We always try to remind them to tone down their language when we say plee..ee..ase..! plee..ee..ase..!''
- Cockerel: ''Not only are they arrogant, they are also ostentious and like to show off. When they bark at the master, you see how they wag their tails, as though telling the master, '' Look at me! Look at me!'' What?! They think they are the only ones working for our master. They imagine themselves as favourites of the master. Even in answering the nature's call, they must do it at specific places. They would sniff the place and meticulously choose the spot. The lamp post, lah! The tyre, lah! The fire hydrant, lah! And just look at how they do it. Must do it with style, with one leg up! Acrobatic or what?! Show off!"
All these was heard by a young puppy who ran to the leader of the pack. Panting, the puppy informed the leader of what was said. The leader of the dog summoned all under him and delivered a short lecture.
- Leader of the dogs: '' Do not be alarmed, do not get angry, and do not react unnecessarily! What has been said by a non-dog concerning us dogs, is only from their misunderstanding of our nature. You see, non-dogs can never understand dogs. But you dogs must understand your own nature and try to live according to your nature. Let me respond to their accusation and explain for you all to understand! We have been created for a job, an important job on this farm.i.e. to guard and protect the property of our mastter. To be a guard, you need to display ferocity so that it can be deterrent. How can a guard be known to be a sissy? So, it is not being arrogant, but is part of our discipline as members of the security force. As for barking at night, well... we, as experts in our field, know jolly well that buglars usually come out at night. Disadvantaged by poor lighting , we need to make sure that our presence is felt. Thus the barking! Not that we are inconsiderate to others, but rather, it is part of our job. As to the accusation that we are ostentious, even choosing specific places to nature's call! Well, it is a strategy. Our number is small, but the area to guard is so wide. We have to make our presence felt, even in our absence. Unfortunately they misuderstand this as being ostentious!
- So you see! We ought to understand our nature and try to live according to our nature. If you can do that... Al-hamdulillah! Be thankful and grateful to Allah for having created you dogs. Don't you know that there are worse creature than us?''
There was a stunned silence. An old owl that was perched upon the barn was attentively listening to their conversation. She was always an avid listener to gossip, especially to pass her time at night. She could not stem her ''kay-poh-istic'' (busybody) tendencies and blurted out ''wHoo..! wHoo..!''
whereupon, one of the dogs asked ''Whoo...f? Whoo...f?''
- Leader of the dogs: '' Look at our neighbours, the swine! At least we dogs have a dignified job. But they, I don't know why they were created. All they seem to be doing is eating, sleeping, wallowing in the mud and flith! As regards eating, they don't seem to have any discrimination! They are such dirty creatures, they enjoy covering themselves with mud and filth! Eeee!... Even in the Qur'an it is stated that man is forbidden from eating the flesh of swine. And when you look at the numbers of piglets born each time, it is as though mating seems to be their favourite preoccupation! Perhaps we can say, they do nothing except eat, play in the filth, sleep and sex!''
Unfortunately, one piglet was not asleep but heard what was said. It ran to the leader of the swine, to complain about the GHIBBAH (back bitting) of the dogs. It created a stir amongst the pigs who began to shout ''Ooii..nk! Ooii...nk!'' as though trying to remind them that it is bad to back bite others. The chief swine pacified them and delivered a lecture to them.
- Leader of the swine: '' Be calm! Don't overreact! Non-pigs can never understand pigs. But you pigs must realise that there is nothing wrong in trying to live according to your nature. We ought to be thankful to Allah for having created us pigs. Let me respond and put into perspective our behaviour. It is not true when they assume that we have no job. We do have a job on this farm. A rather difficult job which only we pigs can perform. We are the walking environment supervisors and our job is to clean up the place of all rotting things. we are perhaps the last in the food chain. To do this job, we must not have any discrimination in eating. So, when we are doing our job efficiently, they accuse us of being gluttons. They say we are dirty and quote the Qur'an. It is true that in he Qur'an, Allah tells Man that our flesh is forbidden for them. But we have never told Man to eat us! We are supposed to be the last in the food chain and were created to function as such. Germs and bacteria or whatever which usually cause illness in Man, cannot harm us, but sustain us. So if Man wants to consider us as their food, the are taking a big risk. They are the one who place themselves as the lowest in the food chain. Therefore whatever harm may befall him for consuming us is his fault. As to covering ourselves with mud and filth, well, it is because we are not as fortunate as the dogs. Dogs were created with nice fur. Some amongst them are so vain as to enter into beauty contests because of this. But we, we are just trying to be modest. Though we are created relatively naked, at least we have the decency to cover ourselves, even with mud because that is the only material available for us. We are not vain but rather we are being modest. If they think that mud is dirty, well, in the Qur'an it is stated that Allah does not lay a burden greater than what we can bear! And between using mud and being naked, we'd rather not be naked. In fact we are grateful to Allah that we have mud.
- When they criticise us regarding our reproductive efficiency, calling us ''sexists!''....."sexual!"... they never consider the nature of our job. No other animals can do what we are doing. We can't import people from Hong Kong to do our job! But we must ensure that there is no labour shortage. The best solution is to produce our own labourers.
- So you swine, understand this! We were created with a specific nature and are expected by our Creator to function according to our nature. If we are doing it, Alhamdulillah! Be grateful that Allah has created you pigs, because there are worse creatures than us.''
The old owl was there again, as curious as ever. Gossip being her mainstay, she would not be satisfied without knowing who the leader of the pigs was referring to. Seeing that the pigs are a bunch of dullards, she began to draw their attention by flapping her wings and suggested to them the question, ''wHoo..! wHoo..! wHoo..!''
Thus encouraged, one of the pigs asked,'' Oi..nk! Ooii..nk! Chief! Tell us who is it?''
- The leader of the swine then said, '' Humans!''
On being asked why she came to that conclusion, she remarked:
- '' You see, amongst us animals, there is none that behave like humans. But amongst human beings, there are many that behave like beasts!''
Is this last statement true? Does man know the nature and live according to his nature as human beings should? Isn't it common for people to describe other people derogatorily as, "you despicable animal!" or "you beast!" etc. although he is referring to another human. So, human can become something else other than what he is suppose to be. He needs nurturing and cannot merely rely on nature. Since obviously man cannot hope to know his own nature unless he is taught to him. Thus who can best teach man his nature and the best way of behaviour except his creator? thus Islam as adeen must also be viewed from this perspective i.e. its laws are all it conformity with man's nature, to develop him to become a truly Muslim personality. Therefore, consider waht Allah says in the Qur'an:
''Verily, We create man in the best conformation: thereafter we reduce him to the lowest of the low: except those who attain to faith and do righteous deeds; theirs will be a reward unending. (Qur'an: At-Tin: 95: 4-6)
In the education of a Muslim, the three aspects of development viz: Imaan (Conviction/ Faith), 'Amal (Practise) and Ihsan (righteous conduct) - ultimately are to transform that person into a being with certain traits. This is because Islam views Man as potentially good, but not yet perfect in his goodness. He is susceptible to change (although given his good, pure, and innocent beginning). With Imaan, he becomes equipped with certainty and conviction thereby motivating him in life. The detail subject to pursue being ''Al- Aqaa'iid.'' With 'Amal, he becomes concerned with manifesting what he believes by doing what is correct. The detail subject to pursue being ''Fiqh''. And with Ihsan, he learns that in his inner being lies a potential which must be kept pure and made to grow according to the pattern accorded by his Creator, to unlock and channel the various innate powers in him thereby to become as perfect a human as he can be. The detail subject for this is ''Ilmu-Akhlaq'' which i have chosen the translation ''the science of human disposition''. It is also sometimes called, ''Ilmul-Tasawwuf'' and ''Irfan''.
NOT MERELY ETIQUETTE
Although in ''Ilmu-Akhlaq'', there are elements of behavior being taught, it would be wrong to assume that it is like lessons on etiquette, manners etc. as generally understood. You may be able to teach a person how to behave and yet his behavior can at best be temporaryand therefore ''artificial", motivated by a factor which is impermanent. For example, students may appear well behaved in the presence of a teacher, but once the teacher is not there, they go back to misbehaving. Whereas, ''Ilmu- Akhlaq'' seeks to instill and mould a behaviour which is at the same time his nature, sustained and developed throughout his entire life. Perhaps the expression to make it ''second nature to him'' may give you the idea.
HOW IS ''KHULUQ'' OR NATURAL (DISPOSITION) DEVELOPED?
''Khuluq'' i.e. disposition is that faculty (''Malakah'') of the ''Self'' (''Nafs'') which is the source of all activities that Man performs spontaneously without thinking about them. ''Malakah'' or certain faculty comes into existence through exercise and repititive practice and is not easily destroyed. A particular disposition (''malakah'') may appear in human beings because of one of the following reasons:
 NATURAL AND PHYSICAL MAKE UP
It is observed that some people arte patient while others are touchy and nervous. Some are easily disturbed and saddened while others show greater resillience and resistance.
Habit is formed because of continual repitition of certain acts and leads to the formation of a disposition.
 PRACTICE AND CONSCIOUS EFFORT
Practice and conscious effort if continued long enough will eventually lead to the formation of a disposition.
WHAT IS THE BEST MODEL?
Muslims, who bear witness that Muhammad s.a.w is the Messenger of Allah. We regard him as our teacher, guide and leader. Muhammad s.a.w. was sent as a mercyfor mankind and Allah refferred to him as the best examplar:
''Verily, in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example for everyone who looks forward (with hopes and awes) to Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah unceasingly''. (Qur'an: Al Ahzab 33:21)
Allah SWT, our Creator, has provided for us the way. Islam being the code for living, the guidance. As to how we should follow this, it is not merely the superficial adherence to its laws alone. Rather, being Muslims, requires us to emulate Muhammad s.a.w. for he epitomises the perfect man, who submitted and obeyed Allah. Thereby Allah educated and moulded his life and adorned it with exalted character. This is what Man should become, when he devotes himself as a servant of Allah. Although physically Man shares certain similarities with animals, he is destined to become the noblest of all of Allah's creatures. It is not something farfetched nor an idealist dream, but a reality which has been demonstrated in the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, a man perfected by God.
Thus the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w himself said:And thou (Muhammad) standest on an exalted standard of character.(Qur'an : Al Qalam 68:4)
''Verily I have not been raised (as a Prophet) except to perfect the noble nature ( ahklaq) of mankind''. (Hadith)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------