Constancy in the path to virtue: Moral behaviour ought to be persistently adopted so that it forms a kind of second nature

Updated: Tuesday June 3, 2014 MYT 7:02:36 AM

Constancy in the path to virtue

Moral behaviour ought to be persistently adopted so that it forms a kind of second nature.

ONCE, Aishah, who was a wife of the Prophet Muhammad, was asked about his way in good deeds: did he perform some actions exclusively on some particular days?

She replied that the Prophet did things like a raining cloud, which when it begins to pour knows no stopping; likewise, once the Prophet started doing something, he would do it continuously. (Narrated by Bukhari.)

Aishah reported also that the Prophet said: “The good deeds which are most pleasing to Allah are those which are performed with greatest constancy, even if they amount to little.” (Narrated by Abu Dawud.)

Once, Masruq asked Aishah, “What deed was the most beloved to the Prophet?”. She answered, “The regular constant one”.

Aishah reported that the most beloved good deed to the Prophet Muhammad was that whose doer did it continuously and regularly. (Both narrated by Bukhari.)

While analysing such traditions of the Prophet, Allamah Shibli Nu’mani and Saiyid Sulaiman al-Nadwi note that moral behaviour – in order to be really moral – should possess constancy.

Moral behaviour ought to be persistently adopted so that it forms a habit, a kind of second nature with a man. “A second nature”, because once these acquired habits are well established, they operate as smoothly as man’s original nature.

With the exception of human beings, all the physical objects in the universe have a particular function to which they are by nature committed. For example, the sun can only give light; it can neither make things dark nor can it spread darkness.

The night shall always bring in darkness; it cannot give out light.

Trees blossom and bear fruit each in its own particular season, and the flowers bloom only in the spring.

In the animal world, not a single species can transgress beyond their natural limits. But man is born with a free will and has been given full liberty. A human being has been given power to act as he likes.

Light and darkness, as it were, are under his control. He can be bright as day, or dark as night.

Man’s genius bears fruit in all seasons; the tree of his excellence blossoms in every season. His morality flowers unrestricted by autumn or spring – the flowers of his moral characters may always bloom.

Unlike the animals and beasts, he is not confined to a set form of behaviour or conduct, nor is he restricted to a particular mode of life.

Man has been given the freedom of choice. Indeed, this liberty has been granted to man, and such a freedom explains why he is held responsible or answerable for his conduct.

But a fine principle that should govern all moral living is the strictest adherence to whatever moral conduct a man adopts for himself.

When a person begins a good act he should do it continuously. He has to observe the law of his choice invariably and perpetually with such persistence and regularity that, in spite of having a free will, he should look like he is acting involuntarily under the force of a natural impulse, enabling any observer to predict that he shall commit good, or omit evil, or both.

His actions should emanate from him as light from the sun, as fruit from the tree, as fragrance from the flower. In short, as the necessary attributes of his personality – inseparable and inalienable. This is what may be called constancy and uniformity of behaviour.

Hence the significance of habit-formation for the process of education, of giving man “a second nature” and promoting conducive conditions under which good habits are acquired and strengthened.

As al-Ghazzali observes, an ethical deed creates some effect on the soul; this effect causes the body to repeat the similar deed; this deed again produces some effect on the soul; this effect is added to the previous effect which is now strengthened – and the circular process goes on indefinitely unless if the habit is removed even if with difficulty (Muhammad Abul Quasem 1978).

This principle underlies the issue of a child’s religious education, of which al-Ghazzali notes, “If the father accustoms the child to goodness and teaches moral integrity to him, he will grow up in it and be happy in this life and in the hereafter … The father’s safeguarding of the child consists in disciplining him, refining him, teaching him good character traits, keeping him from evil companions, [and] not accustoming him to indulgence.”

Otherwise, if what is learned in ethics is not retained in terms of moral constancy, learning and education would be futile.

> Dr Mohd Sani Badron is Principal Fellow/Director of Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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