The practical principles of character building in Islam, shortly known as akhlāqiyāt, is not new. To the contrary, they are widely known and accepted but it is surprising (and painful) to see how much of it is misunderstood and made trivial in our popular discourse.
The popular and average understanding of akhlāqiyāt limits it to largely good demeanor and politeness. This understanding can sometimes promote pretentiousness which goes against the very spirit of akhlāqiyāt. To the contrary, Islamic virtues or akhlāqiyāt encompasses all behavioral and virtuous traits that are important for the salvation of humanity. Among an almost infinite variety of virtues, they include courage, honesty, time management, hard work, organization skills, good temperament, humility, discipline, perseverance, patience, love of the Ahl al-Bayt (as), praying on time and so on. These are just some examples of akhlāqiyāt.
Every era and generation has its own crises of akhlāqiyāt. Identifying and addressing the relevant crises of akhlāqiyāt has been made mandatory in the constitution of the Jaʿfarī school. This process is known as al-amr bi al-maʿrūf and al-nahī ʿan al-munkar.
The crisis of akhlāqiyāt is not restricted to the individual, but it permeates the family, community and Muslim institutions in general. We have identified the following list as the primary issues and crises of akhlāq that are currently responsible for the deterioration of our community. These issues are what we have researched to be the primary ailments of the Shia community, but the list below does not in any way exhaust them.
The issues plaguing the character of the community do not exist in isolation, but the dysfunction works in conglomeration with the influences of the mass-media, schools and the cultural context Shias live in.
Our community, especially the youth, is bombarded by a variety of different ideologies. These include secular liberalism, sexual perversions, hyper-individuaism and atheism just to name a few. These are happening on multiple fronts, the foremost being the web (social media, blogs, YouTube) and college campuses.
The effects of the breakdown of akhlāq are multifold. Some of the noticeable effects of the degradation of character and virtue can, for instance, manifest themselves in the following major trends in our community:
- Children rebelling against their parents and disrespecting them
- Marriage problems and break-up of families
- Apostasy from Islam and the breakdown of respect for the faith
- Acceptance of non-ethical practices and worldviews
The above are some of the major trends but do not exhaust all the communal erosions which are leading to the breakdown of our community.