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Cultivating Integrity Through Prayer

Excerpts from the Friday sermon delivered in English by Dr. Akmal Khuzairy, Director of IIUM Mosques, at the International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 26th October 2018. 

Brothers and sisters, we are very familiar with the word integrity. The word integrity in English is originally taken from the Latin word ‘integer’, which means soundness, blamelessness and purity.

In our Islamic tradition, the meaning of integrity is reflected in the words amanah (trust) and istiqaamah (consistency). But knowing the concept and definition of integrity will not suffice because the more important question is to ask ourselves: how can we transform ourselves to be consistent with these attributes. To be a person with amanah, to continue to carry out our roles and responsibilities with istiqaamah, how can we train ourselves to be truthful to ourselves, to our employers and even to the knowledge that we learn.

For the staff of the university, the question is: how can we continuously serve our stakeholders—the students and the society— without succumbing to the attractions of fast money and bribery. How can we continue to maintain the quality of our services regardless of the temptations and distractions that we might face.

For students, the question is: how can you maintain integrity by distancing yourselves from unbecoming acts such as cheating in exams, lying to your parents, and failing in your studies

Allah says in the holy Quran:

اتْلُ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ ۖ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ ۗ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ –

“Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do”. 29:45

0Brothers and sisters, the way for us to nurture ourselves, to discharge our duties and responsibilities with integrity is by internalizing the characteristics of Salah in all of our actions.

Without internalizing these characteristics, Prayer or Salah will have no effect on our behaviour and conduct. So, what are the characteristics of Salah that we need to internalize and emulate in our job and responsibility that will bring about integrity.

The first, is the niyyah or intention; if Prayer or Salah has niyyah, the intention, it should be reflected also in our actions and behaviour

Certainly, good intentions will bear good outcomes. Thus with the proper intention, performing our role and responsibility is for the purpose of bringing good and benefit to all

But, the one who has no integrity, his intention is faulty from the very beginning. His cause is to serve his own interests. He renders his services according to his personal gain; thus, he reaps from the ‘haram’, bringing problems upon the institution he works for.

The problem with any bad behaviour is the chain reaction that it causes; for example: an officer who has no integrity will look away from a possible crime because he accepts bribery. When the crime happens, loss of property and lives is possible. When there is loss of life, there will be families who are now without parents to bring up children.

When the children are brought up without parents there is a possibility that they will lack love and care. Subsequently, they grow up not to be of strong moral character. And persons with weak moral character are inclined to indulge in crime.

The second lesson we can learn from Salah is focus or khushu. In addition to having the intention or niyyah, Salah trains us to be focused and attentive in performing our job and duty. For example, to fall asleep in Salah is not permissible. Loss of focus will result in the wrath of Allah as He mentions:

فَوَيْلٌ لِّلْمُصَلِّينَ- الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَن صَلَاتِهِمْ سَاهُونَ

“So woe to the worshipers who are neglectful of their prayers” (107: 5-6)

position-prayer-image-pictureA person with integrity in his work is a person who is focused on executing his job in the best manner possible.

A student with integrity is a student who is focused on his study, develops and transforms himself to become a better person.

A person without integrity is not consistent in performing his duty. Very soon he becomes a liability to his firm or organisation.

An establishment that has no integrity, disregards quality services which includes the consistently serving customers with the same quality. It will make the organisation a failed organisation.

The third characteristic of Salah that we must internalise is the humbling of oneself; the ruku (bowing) and sujood (prostration) are signs of humility and humbleness.

Respect and humbleness will bring obedience and adherence to rules and regulations. In our job and responsibility, respecting rules and regulations will ensure quality and discipline.

A person with integrity will put the collective interest of his work, of his team, and his workplace before his own personal agenda. He will respect the leadership and be a good follower

The fourth, brothers and sisters, from the characteristics of the Prayer/Salah that we can learn from, is contentment.

In Salah we recite ‘Al Fatiha’ and among it’s verses are:

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ – اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ –

“It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the Right Path” (1:5-6)

Prayer or Salah aims in nurturing our spirits to become content since we are all His creation and servants. Therefore difficulties and challenges in life are His trails that are meant to test us.

But with courage and hope from our Creator, we hope that he will show us the way for everything. For, everything that He creates is actually from Him.

One verse of the Quran mentions: كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ “All [things] are from Allah” (4:78)

In another verse, Allah says:

لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا ۚ

“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity”.

One who is content with his job cannot be easily deterred and will not give up in challenging situations.

On the contrary, one who has no contentment will be easily deterred and tempted to solve matters the easy way. For this certain person, his consideration and interest is money; he sees it as a solution to his problems. This type of person is wrong in his thinking that happiness in life can be bought easily with money.

It is wrong to think that happiness is satisfying one’s own desires. A person who is content knows that his life is not about fulfilling desires. But, rather, to have blessings from His Lord and Creator. It is the securing of spiritual contentment which is more fulfilling than physical satisfaction

Allah mentions in the Qur’an:

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ –

“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’”. (14:7)

The fifth characteristic of ‘Salah’ (prayers), which is applicable in our work, is empathy. ‘Salah’ nurtures our spirit to be selfless and mindful about others. It sows the seeds of solidarity when we pray in together in congregation.

A selfless person will always try to put himself in the shoes of others; exactly as the character of a true believer as stated in one of the traditions of the Prophet:

“لَا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لِأَخِيهِ مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ”

“None of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself!”

The person with integrity will render his best service to others. In fact, he would be willing to make things easy for others

A selfish person with no integrity will behave the other way around: not only will he be selfish, he will not be willing to put extra efforts to solve the problems of others. As long as things will remain easy for him to handle, he will not care to help others who are in trouble.

Brothers and sisters, what Salah teaches us is to develop inner strengths to face the trials and challenges in life.

It is He, Allah, who created us to face the trials and challenges in life to test who is the best and who is the weakest among us.

تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي بِيَدِهِ الْمُلْكُ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ- الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ

“Blessed is He in whose hand is dominion, and He is over all things competent. [He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” (67:1-2)

The inner strength will ensure ‘istiqaamah’ (constancy or consistency) in observing integrity in our job and responsibility.

Even without an outward deterrent, the inner strength will keep our behaviour in check.

But in the absence of a spiritual deterrent, outward measures can only provide artificial control over the behaviour of people.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, Salah, if observed inwardly and outwardly, will make us aware, will make us focused, will make us humble, will make us content, and will make us selfless—characteristics that will make us discharge our job and responsibility with integrity and steadfastness.

And truly as mentioned in the verse:

إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ ۗ

“Indeed, Salah prevents from immorality and wrongdoing.” (29:45)

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