This article deals with how people express themselves. Basically there are two ways to express your self: 1) in words (by saying), and 2) in actions (by doing.) Words and actions represent your intentions. Good moral people make sure that their intentions, words and actions mirror each other. When people say/do what they don’t mean, they deceive others in addition to deceiving themselves. The Qur’an (2:8) calls them “hypocrites” or (mu-na-fi-koon.) In this area of expressions and communications, the Glorious Qur’an guides Muslims: your words should be consistent with your actions (61:2-3, 26:226); act before you talk, actions before words (41:33.) The article focuses on the implications of the proverb to Muslims.
The meaning of this proverb may be understood best by giving a practical example. Assume that you have three neighbors. The three neighbors have one problem in common. They don’t care very much about their lawns. This attitude bothers you particularly when they let the grass over-grow in a yard strip adjacent to the fence. The bushy-looking grass stubbornly weaves itself through the fence’s posts and boards. You are different than them; you have a better attitude; you care a lot about the environment and the appearance of your lawn. You called the three neighbors and you expressed your feelings. You did well; you were honest with them because honesty is the best policy.
Let us analyze their responses. The first neighbor said, “Why are you making a lot of fuss out of nothing. I have no control of how the grass grow; I am no God; before I moved to this lousy neighborhood I used to live in a friendly place where neighbors had barbecues together and never talked about these little things. My friend, I respect your feelings and I will ask my son to mow the lawn better next time. I just want to tell you that I am a good neighbor.”
The second neighbor came to your home and gave this response, “My family and me decided to buy a grass trimmer to give the lawn a civilized look. You just have to be patient. I am low on cash this month. So in few weeks, you will hear the roar of the new trimmer but promise me not to complain about the noise.”
The third neighbor decided to respond not by “talking” but by “doing.” He did not say a word but he changed the bushy-looking section to a flower bed. Do you think that your neighbors will walk the talk? Do they mean what they say? The first response carries no assurance; it is a “talking response.” The second is overwhelmingly assuring; it contains some preparation to act; it is the “action plan response” The Qur’an (Repentance 9:46) says “if they had intended to come out, they would certainly have made some preparation thereof…” The two responses spoke and the third “wordless” response spoke louder. Compared to the first response, the second spoke louder because it carried evidence of preparation; the third spoke loudest because the intention of the third neighbor was transformed into actions. It is honest because the behavior matches the intention.
The importance of “actions” in Islam has been underscored in the Qur’an many times. For Muslims, Iman by itself is not enough unless it is accompanied by actions. “Iman” and “actions” are like two wings needed to complete the flight to Paradise. Iman alone is not enough for a student to pass the test; having the good intention to do well in school is not enough to get high grades; the student needs to sit down and do the work needed to pass examinations; the actions are an evidence of intensions. Righteous actions without Iman is not enough either because people do them for worldly objectives. They are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, so to speak.
“Iman and actions” appear together in the Qur’an in at least 100 aayah (verse); some aayaat (verses) are in the singular form as in (The Cave18:88), “But whoever believes and works righteousness, – he shall have a goodly reward, and his task will be easy as we order it to our command.” Some aayaat are in the plural form as in (Yunus 10:9), “Those who believe, and work righteousness, – their Lord will guide them because of their Faith: beneath them will flow rivers of Garden of Bliss.”
The Qur’an brings our attention to another group of people who “say” that they are believers. If a person “says” that he/she is a believer; it does not mean that he/she is a believer; he/she is just saying it. The glorious Qur’an (The Heifer 2:8) points at this group of people, “Of the people there are some who say: “we believe in Allah and the Last Day”; but they do not (really) believe.” Allah shows the difference between “Iman-from-the-mouth” versus “Iman-from-the-heart”, “O Messenger let not those grieve you, who race each other into Unbelief (whether it be) among those who say “We believe” with their lips but whose hearts have no faith…( Qur’an The Table Spread 5:41.)
Now is the time to give some examples from the real world. When a man or a woman says, “I am Muslim” but his/her actions are contrary to the teachings of Islam, he/she will need to work hard to be included in the “Victorious Group” who have the two wings: Iman and righteous actions. If you treat your wife/husband unfairly, you need to work hard to belong. If you don’t play the role of a Shepard in your family, you will be in violation with Islam. If your behavior with your spouse does not lead to tranquility through love and mercy, you may have difficulty in belonging. You don’t belong to the Victorious Group if righteous deeds are missing from the equation. The reader should be reminded that people enter Paradise not by their actions but by His mercy.
In Surah Al’asr or “Time Through the Ages” (103:1-3), Allah said, “By time, Indeed, mankind is in loss, Except those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” There are four conditions for belonging to the Victorious Group:1) Iman, 2) Righteous Deeds, 3) Mutual Advice to Truth, and 4) Mutual Advice to Patience.
With this presentation so far, it becomes clear that Muslims should act out their Iman because they need more than reading a list of du’a (daily supplications.) The following is a true observation about behavior during Ramadan and post Ramadan. During Ramadan, the masjid is filled five times daily; charity is given wholeheartedly; the Qur’an is recited often; the Last Ten Days are greeted and celebrated; and new clothes are prepared for Eid. Post Ramadan behavior becomes less enthusiastic and less committed as if people worship two Gods, one for Ramadan and one for the rest of the year.
When Muslims (men and women) are dressed Islamic ally; their actions will be read by
non-Muslims, as “the Islamic behavior”. Muslim drivers who don’t respect other drivers who share the same road, give the wrong message. Muslims who show unkindness to other travelers on the sky train, give the wrong message. Muslims, who don’t keep appointments with others, give the wrong message.
“Actions speak louder than words” is the title of this article and it is built in many cultures. The French say,”les actes sont plus elequents que les paroles.” The Germans, “tat spricht lauter als wort” In Urdu, “bolo kuch aur, karo kuch aur.” Arabs agree with the idea contained in this proverb. As a matter of fact, they have their own proverb which sounds like “al-af-alu-ab-la-ghu-menal-aq-wal.” I am sure that this proverb (letter and or spirit) rings aloud across the earth’s cultural landscape.
The reader may ask the writer,” What do you want me to do?” The writer replies, “Indeed, this Qur’an guides to that which is most suitable and gives glad tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward” (al-Isra 17:9.)
All Dr. Saleh’s articles are published first in Al-Ammen, and then posted on www.muslimeducators.com .