Prof. Dr. Mehmet Görmez
President of the Presidency of Religious Affairs
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
There are fundamental terms which construct civilisations and enable them to describe themselves. If we wish to understand, explain and live Islam as a religion and a civilisation one principal term we come across is goodness. To understand how deep a viewpoint the last religion possesses with regards to goodness and those who practice goodness, it is sufficient to look at the rich meaning it carries in terminology. Sometimes we come across goodness as described as the term ‘charity’ and other times ‘good conduct.’ We sometimes express the word goodness with the term ‘benevolence’ and other times with, ‘moral standards’, ‘favour,’ ’virtue,’ ’kindness,’ ‘magnanimity,’ ‘praiseworthy act’ and ’generosity.’ When we dwell into the details of our individual and communal lives, we will definitely come across one of these terms which are sprinkled from the string of pearls that is goodness. The word ‘goodness’ is mostly used with the meaning of ‘charity’ in our daily lives and religious texts. We understand charity (hayır) to include every sort of good, nice, helpful and virtuous behaviour. Giving charity means to do good. We call voluntary establishments which have the aim of doing good and helping people charity organisations. When we wish people well we use the words “hayırlı olsun” which is a form of congratulations. We farewell people who are going to travel with wishes that they are going to be met with good “hayra karşı” We interpret dreams for the good, “hayra yormak” as we hope that goodness awaits the owner of the dream. We ask for good (hayır) for the lives of people who we have treated us with kindness and remember them by the goodness they had done when they pass away. Because we know that all good comes from Him, we say “all good is from Allah”. Good children “Hayırlı evlat”, is a phrase we use to describe children who protect their family and moral values. A person who is benevolent, “Hayırhâh” is one who wants good to come to all. Prophet Muhammad upon whom be peace is named ‘hayru’l-beşer,” best of all people.
From the Qur’an we understand that actually, this life is a test made up of good and evil. “Whoever takes part in an atom’s weight of good will be rewarded for it and whoever takes part in an atom’s weight of evil will be punished for it” Evidently consistent good deeds are regarded by Allah as better in terms of reward and results. We are all servants of an Almighty Creator who is the owner of all good. Even if we do not like something, we believe that there can be many good things that can come unexpectedly from the existence of it. We are believers of a religion that tells us to run and race towards practicing good. We live with the knowledge that Allah knows whatever good we partake in.
We are the individuals of a good community designated to work for the goodness of humanity responsible for ensuring good dominates and intercepting harm. We learn about the features of a good community from the view of the Prophet Muhammad as he speaks of “the best of humans…” and “the best of you” in his hadith. Those with long lives and good achievements, those who we expect good from and are sure will not commit harm, owners of good moral standing, strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah, those who pay their debts well, those who when are seen, remind others of Allah, those who anger late and calm quickly, who learn and teach the Qur’an and those from whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe are individuals who the Prophet Muhammad describes as good people.
Furthermore there are other sayings of the Prophet which offer guidance toward good in reference to people and life. For example a good leader is someone who you love and he/she loves you, you pray for them and they pray for you. A good friend is one who does good by their friend and a good neighbour is one who treats their neighbours well. A good witness is someone who gives testimony without being requested. A good woman is one who gives happiness and tranquillity when looked at by her husband. The best of words is Allah’s book. Good income is one that is acquired through manual labour and sincerity. Good almsgiving is that which is given from possessions which one has more than is necessary of. A good trader is one which pays his debt well and asks for what he is owed nicely. A good marriage pact is one which is done with ease. Remembering Allah and prayer are amongst good deeds.
The word “birr” is another key word which is found in source texts establishing the basics of the religion of Islam which expresses goodness. This term which arises from the word ‘berr’ meaning soil/land explains that goodness is wide and boundless just like the earth. That is why the meaning of the word ‘birr’ includes all types of goodness. Possessors of ‘birr’ are referred to as ‘berr’ and the plural form, ‘ebrar’ is the version that is found in the Qur’an. “Indeed, the righteous (ebrar) will be in pleasure”
Due to being the source and the epitome of goodness, Almighty God carries this name: “Indeed, it is He who is the Beneficent (Berr), the Merciful.” In our religion “birru’l-vâlideyn” is the name given to the act of being good towards parents. Those who treat their parents well, and do not neglect to give attention, generosity, respect and love deserve the name berr. Good, positive and meaningful acts are called “mebrûr amel.”Embellishing yourself in goodness and making the holy pilgrimage to gain the approval and acceptance of your Lord is called “hacc-ı mebrûr.” All virtues of morality, principally honesty, are acts which take a person to goodness. As a result goodness is what takes a person to paradise.
Our gracious book includes a warning in its explanation of goodness. Before explaining what goodness is, first it explains what it does not consist of. It rejects goodness as consisting of religious practices reduced to figural rituals which are outward looking or extroverted as well as rejecting the devout being transformed into a display: “Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfil their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.”
While the modern human being is struggling with what good is due to a stream of views and definitions on the topic, Prophet Muhammad upon whom be peace, leaves the description of good to the persons own will and conscience: “Birr is that which pacifies the soul and comforts the heart. And ithm is that which weaves (evil thoughts) in the heart and echoes in the breast, even if the people keep advising you (differently)” The conscience that Allah has embroidered onto our being guides us towards good, strengthens our positive emotions and is a compass which increases our good actions in every decision we make. So long as we do not dull it.
The holy Qur’an emphasises the development of a communal awareness of doing good as well as pointing to the individual aspect of doing good: “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.”
A believer does not reach goodness in its true sense until he has an elevated understanding, a deep sensitivity and an effective way of dealing with his fellow brothers moral and material needs: “Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah ] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” While this verse reminds the communal aspect of goodness, it also draws our attention to the material facet involved in the act of giving. This is being charitable and philanthropic. While there are countless ways to do good and be good, in terms of Islamic culture and civilisation we witness a network of good knitted with terms like “sadaka” (alms), “zekât”(charity), “hediye”(gift), “hibe”(donation) and “îsar”(altruism). Terms related to philanthropy are at the root related to the act of giving. These terms have always only ever been possessors of a call for heartfeltness and moral action. For example an understanding almsgiving (sadaka) as only a monetary help is deficient. Loyalty and sincerity is at the heart of almsgiving. In fact if we analyse the original roots of the word, we will come across the terms such as justice and equity. Sadaka is a good act that shows a wealthy individual’s genuineness to himself, the community and to Allah at an individual level and is a stance of goodness which aims to construct justice and equity in the community at a social level. Zekat (charity) which denotes purification and cleanliness is also like this.
A person who shares a part of his wealth to those in need cleanses his soul of negative feelings like greed and gluttony. He moves one step closer to the approval of Allah. By adding another ring to the chain of goodness in the community, he clinches the ties of brotherhood.
Islamic Civilisation has turned the goodness movement into an institution by means of foundations. Foundations have played a key role throughout history in bringing to together people who want to do good, spreading good to the community and ensuring it gains continuity. By fulfilling its moral, religious and conscience based responsibility towards humanity the effort to contribute to goodness forms the basis of the foundation establishment. Foundations which have an immense effect on social life’s dynamics, economic life’s parameters and cultural codes, are a life philosophy that goes beyond emotions of gathering aid. Masjids, mosques, hotels, baths, hospices, libraries, madrasahs, lodges, zawiyas, drinking fountains, bridges and inns in four corners of the Islamic world have become embodied abodes of foundations with the services it has offered to the community free of charge.
The Turkish Religious Foundation which has been celebrated for being founded 40 years ago is presently executing its duties as one of the strongest links of the ancient goodness chain. Our foundation is proud to be a pioneer for good and a fellow traveller for those who partake in good in seven continents.
In conclusion, we may say that whatever term is used to describe goodness, it has possessed a central position in the value system that has shaped our civilisation and culture. The view Islam has towards nature, humans and morals has also made up the basis of the understanding of goodness.
Islam’s concept of goodness has been built with consistently transcendental and metaphysic values, human honour, benefit and circumstance, awareness of responsibility and life’s final meaning and objective. In the way that our religious texts express it, a Muslim is a person who devotes their life to good and gives meaning to it with righteous acts. The Prophet Muhammad upon whom be peace said in one of his supplications that living for goodness is a reason for existence:
اللهُمَّ اجْعَلِ الْحَيَاةَ زِيَادَةً لِي فِي كُلِّ خَيْرٍ، وَاجْعَلِ الْمَوْتَ رَاحَةً لِي مِنْ كُلِّ شَر
“Oh Allah! Make my life prone to perform all types of good, and make death a comfort for me from every evil!”
We are living in a time in which the ideal of goodness is tarnished and wars, occupations, genocides, coups, colonialism and violence is at its peak. We are carrying the responsibility of transferring and carrying goodness to thousands of different people who are searching for, deprived of , striving for, needy of and unaware of the existence of goodness.
While a significant part of the world is suffering through hunger, poverty, and struggling to take care of their basic needs in fear, if another part is running after their artificial needs and desires in an irresponsible and extravagant manner, we are calling for an open and immediate reconceptualization of the notion of goodness.
Indeed, as Muslims we have reasons that oblige us to pay attention to this call. Today the smell of blood and gunpowder permeates the soil that was once the place where the good built cities and where goodness was born. A spiral of evil has taken the Islamic World hostage and despite all efforts we cannot seem to obstruct the paths that nurture this spiral. The defensive approach we take against criticism slows our struggle on the road of becoming better. Today the Islamic World must re-evaluate its relationship with its own values and terms then renew its offer of goodness to humanity.
Everyone who is witness to time and says “I am Muslim” must be mobilised for goodness to dominate this geography once more. They must make it a principle to be a key to goodness and a lock to evil in every one of their actions beginning from their closest environment.