Instilling Noble Values
Recently, at one of the conventions on good governance I attended in Kuching, there was a clarion call for the development of human capital and character building. Most presenters and participants agreed on the vital role of human factor as the prime and utmost important element in achieving good governance: a government which is efficient, transparent, accountable so on and so forth.
It is not surprising since an organization is composed of at least two elements: system and personnel. Even with excellent system but with lousy personnel, then the organization still does not excel.
But in the first place, how do we develop human beings? We develop human beings by instilling in them good and noble values. But why people bother to be instilled with noble values in them? Why can’t they continue to behave as they have been behaving all this while? What benefits they might ask they would gain for behaving with the new values which we term as ‘noble’? As we know, people always look at what they will gain out of their actions, otherwise they would love to remain status quo.
Adam Smith was right to a certain extent when he said in his magnum opus The Wealth of Nation that whatever people’s endeavour in this world, it was done solely in pursuit of his/her self interest and not out of his/her benevolence. But, Smith forgot that it was only true when the person is an atheist or secular minded or perhaps better words is a ‘capitalist’ like him. For someone who is godly pious person and spiritually enlightened, then the case would be totally different since whatever he does in this world is not necessarily motivated by his own self interest only.
While self interest is undeniably one of the most powerful drives and motivating factors, but it is not necessarily the sole and the only factor that drives human beings to behave as they are. They are many other factors as well which are far more crucial and pertinent than the pursuit of self interest.
One of them is strong conviction or belief which in Islam known as ‘iman’ or faith. Iman surpasses self interest unimaginably and the difference between one’s pursuing something out of iman and the other person’s due to his sheer self interest is like the heaven and the earth.
Faith or iman in Islam is a form of belief or conviction, which is abstract and intangible, of course. It has both the elements of emotional and spiritual intertwined together in a very complex and inseparable manner. This power of iman that urged the first generations of Islam to defend Islam at all cost even to the extent of sacrificing their own lives and became martyrs. What would they gain in this world by giving up their lives for the sake of upholding Islam if not because of their strong conviction and iman that what they were doing would please God the Almighty.
In Islam, the stress on human capital development has begun since the advent of the religion itself in the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet had managed, by the grace of God, to instill in the hearts of the pagan Arab Bedouins on the belief in something which is spiritually profound and noble. The Prophet never began preaching Islam by telling them to aspire to become civilized like the Romans or the Persians, but they were told to belief in realities, invisible to the naked eyes first, i.e. to believe in God, in the rewards and punishments in the Hereafter, in Paradise and Hell, and all of those abstract and intangible concepts and realities.
By the same token, in developing human capital in order to achieve good governance in the country, the government inevitably must then begin by instilling iman in the heart of every single civil service, who after all more than ninety percent are Muslims.
The strengthening of faith (taqwiyatul iman) should be on top most important agenda of our roadmap if we are serious in achieving good governance. Without this spiritual linkage to the Divine Most High then we are only talking of instilling noble values at the intellectual and emotional level that do not transcend the mind. These noble values that would supposedly lead a person to change his character for the better, have no effect whatsoever on the heart and soul of him who lacks of spiritual foundation.
Noble values must be coupled with spiritual commitment only then they work in changing the heart and soul and eventually manifested in the noble character of the person. These values are not intellectual values per se, but more importantly practical values that need to be realized in daily lives.
This is how the Prophet SAW managed to change the nomadic and uncivilized cultures of the Arab Jahilliyyah people to the culture of par excellent community (khayra ummah) that later capable of conquering two thirds of the world and became the longest period of civilization ever achieved by mankind. His companions like Umar al-Khattab and Khalid al-Walid were known for their notoriety prior to becoming a Muslim, but then they were transformed of their character by the light of Islam and emerged as the best among best.
Umar himself used to say in one of his famous quotations: “We are the community that Allah has elevated our status by Islam, and if we left Islam, then Allah would humiliate us”. How true are his words. The reality is that the Arabs became superpower in those days when they embraced Islam and the Muslims of today became backward because they left Islam.
Still, the question is that how come then when we as Muslims today still lagging behind in spite of embracing Islam for as long as we were born? The answer is yes truly we are Muslims. But our Islam is by virtue of being born by Muslim parents. We do not really see the beauty of Islam as the companions saw it in the noble character of the Prophet. The noble values embodied in the great personality of the Prophet is no where to be seen in the materialistic world today, especially not in the Muslim countries. In other words, the Muslims of today do not really practise Islam as they are supposed to do and expected of them. On the contrary, the Japanese and the West that seem to follow most of the values that Islam has been propagating all this while. I recall the saying of a scholar that today ‘Islam’ is found in Europe but not in the Muslim countries.
As a result, the noble and Islamic values and realities bifurcated into two separate worlds. Values are found in the world of philosophical concept and abstract, while the realities or practicalities are in the secular and temporal world void of any connection with those values. Anything goes, as it were.
There is as if a distinct dichotomy between religious values and worldly life. The Islamic values in particular do not ‘sink’ deep in the heart and soul of the Muslims. The process of instilling these values have not been done properly apart from merely ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ these values as noble and virtuous ones. Knowing alone is not enough. Almost everyone who committed corruption or involved in bribery knew very well what they did was unethical and wrong, against the law or religion, but yet they still did it.
They did not have the ‘internal power’ as it were, from within themselves to resist the temptation of committing these crimes. Why? Because the noble values have not yet sunk deep inside their heart and soul to become part of their belief (iman) and conviction which later manifest in their daily actions and shield them from any wrongdoings or crimes.
It reminds us of the Prophet’s saying to the Arab Bedouins when they claimed that they have iman. The Prophet said to them: “you believe not, but you only say, ‘we have surrendered (in Islam)” for Faith has not yet entered your hearts. (al-Hujurat 49:14). Testification of Islam (shahadah) is only the pre-requisite of becoming a true believer (mu’min), but the true believer can only be achieved after all the values and spirit of Islam enters the heart.
The Bedouins have not done the process of instilling these values yet, which can only be done by continuously (istiqamah) doing good actions (amal soleh), and performance of the pillars of Islam sincerely and wholeheartedly. The heart and soul needs to be purified through the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah only then the values will start to sink and stick in the heart.
Generally, looking at the state of the Ummah today, we must sincerely confess that we are only Muslims (those who surrender) at the superficial level, but not yet Mu’min (true believer) for iman or faith and conviction has not yet entered into our hearts. Otherwise, all the noble values of Islam would have been embodied in ourselves and we would have been the best nation that Allah has ever raised and would have surpassed everyone else. But the reality is not.