Oct 2, 2012

Adab أدب

Adab أدب, in the context of behavior, refers to prescribed Islamic etiquette: "refinement, good manners, morals, decorum, decency, humaneness". While interpretation of the scope and particulars of Adab may vary among different cultures, common among these interpretations is regard for personal standing through the observation of certain codes of behavior. To exhibit Adab would be to show "proper discrimination of correct order, behavior, and taste."


Islam has rules of etiquette and an ethical code involving every aspect of life. Muslims refer to Adab as good manners, courtesy, respect, and appropriateness, covering acts such as entering or exiting a washroom, posture when sitting, and cleansing oneself. According to Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad refrained from bad language; neither a 'Fahish nor a Mutafahish. He used to say "The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character."

Adab of Islam
© Nuh Keller 2001

(13) The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “When two vituperate each other, [the sin of] what they say is borne by the one who first began, as long as the one wronged does not transgress [the bounds of merely defending himself, by answering back with worse]” (Muslim, 4.2000: 2587. S). And when a group of Jews covertly cursed the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) by using a play on the words “as-Salamu ‘alaykum,” ‘A'isha noticed it and gave them a rounding, and he said, “Enough, ‘A'isha; for Allah does not like vulgarity or making a display of it” (ibid., 1707: 2165(4). S). And in another version, “O ‘A'isha, always have gentleness, and always shun harsh words and vulgarity” (Bukhari, 8.15: 6030. S). This is the adab of Islam with hardened enemies, so how should it not apply to our fellow Muslims, let alone family and loved ones?

(14) It is of the adab of the high path of Islam to be honest when one speaks. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Honesty certainly leads to goodness, and goodness leads to paradise. Truly, a man keeps speaking the truth until he is inscribed as being true through and through. And lying leads to going wrong, and going wrong leads to hell. Truly, a man lies and lies until he is inscribed as being a liar through and through” (Muslim, 4.2012–13: 2607. S).

(15) It is of the adab of the high path of Islam to completely abandon and shun guile, deceit, scornfulness, or sarcasm because these are unlawful. Allah Most High says, “O you who believe, let no men scorn other men, for they might well be better than they are. And let no women scorn other women, for they might well be better than they. And do not find fault with one another, or give each other insulting nicknames” (Qur’an 49:11). And Allah Most High says, “Woe to whoever demeans others behind their back or to their face” (Qur’an 104:1). And the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Let there be no harming another, or harming him back. Whoever harms another Allah shall harm, and whoever gives trouble to another Allah shall give trouble to” (Hakim, 2.58. Hg).

(16) It is of the adab of the high path of Islam to abandon lying, for it is unlawful. Allah Most High curses liars by saying, “May liars be slain” (Qur’an 51:10), in which slain means “cursed” according to the Arabic idiom likening the accursed, who loses every good and happiness, to the slain, who loses life and every blessing. The Qur’anic exegete al-Khazin notes that “May liars be cursed” originally referred to those who sat on the various roads outside Mecca warning people against the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to keep them from becoming Muslim. The verse, however, like other Qur’anic verses, is not limited to the original circumstances in which it was revealed, but applies universally, to the end of time. Those who lie, except in circumstances in which Sacred Law permits it, are cursed by Allah.

(17) It is unlawful to lie, except when making up between two people, or lying to an enemy in war, or to one’s wife. It is also unlawful to praise or blame another with an untruth. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Lying is wrong, except in three things: the lie of a man to his wife to make her content with him; a lie in war, for war is deception; or a lie to settle trouble between people” (Ahmad, 6.459. H). Ibn Jawzi has said, “The criterion for it is that every praiseworthy objective in Sacred Law that cannot be brought about without lying is permissible to lie for if the objective is permissible, and obligatory to lie for if the objective is obligatory.” When lying is the only way to attain one’s right, one may lie about oneself or another, provided it does not harm the other. And it is obligatory to lie to if necessary to protect a Muslim from being murdered. But whenever one can accomplish the objective by words that merely give a misleading impression with actually being false, it is unlawful to tell an outright lie, because it is unnecessary.


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