It is the subject of our age. What is a man and how should he behave? The question itself seems preposterous: why is this even a question? For men have existed as long as humankind has. Indeed, the first of us – the Prophet Adam, peace be upon him – was himself a man.
For all the many thousand years that mankind has lived and walked on this Earth, the term has never needed defining, nor did man’s mode of proper comportment ever come into question. Men were expected to be upright, self-sufficient, interpersonal, and organised. In previous epochs and ages, it was the men who were the scholars, breadwinners, leaders, and warriors in their respective societies. They were confident in themselves and in their role in civilisation, and did not need to be told who and what they were, nor what was expected of them.
For the Western world this all changed in the Twentieth Century, as this was the period of ‘liberation’. It brought about ‘liberation’ from all so-called ‘social constructs’, the breaking of which became the core value of Western society. In light of these changes epistemic misperceptions emerged, as the lines between men and women began to blur. In the twenty-first century, this has now become a global pandemic.
Masculinity in Crisis
Is manliness still a word of value and meaning? In the modern age, it seems to have lost its lustre. Men themselves are disappearing from the words of our language. We are no longer mankind, but rather humankind; no longer firemen, policemen, or clergymen, but simply ‘persons’.
Make no mistake, masculinity in the West is in a state of crisis. For the modern Western man, there is no exclusive domain or space left to call his own. There is no bastion or refuge left in the place of work, on the field of sport, or even in the theatre of war. No longer the sole bread-winner, no longer the leader of his household, no longer even sure of what manhood means.
His mere presence is now considered ‘toxic’. The very idea of ‘him’ is relegated to the aforementioned status of a mere ‘social construct’. And consequently, he searches for meaning. He searches for a way to establish a sense of self, for a way to signify or help define who he is, and for a model or standard by which to know the truth of what it means to be a Man.
Of course, the Muslim man has long since had such a model and standard available to him: the noble life and sublime character of the Perfect Man ﷺ. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
لَّقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِى رَسُولِ ٱللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ
There is indeed a good model for you in the Messenger of Allah…1
And yet, as the Prophet ﷺ told us, ‘A man is upon the religion of his close companion, so let each of you carefully consider whom you take as a friend.’2 Thus, living in an age of confusion amongst the confused, the modern Western Muslim has lost his way and found himself in a state of equal bewilderment, forgetting his heritage and falling prey to all the same traps and patterns as others around him. He finds himself also asking what it means to be a man.
A Man Defined
To surmount the confusion and find some ground to make a decisive stand, it is best that we first define our terms to better understand what it means to be a man.
Evidently, being a man is about more than just having the correct anatomy. In the renowned classical lexicon, Lisān al-ʿArab, the word ‘rajul’ (man) is defined in three ways: firstly, in opposition to femaleness, followed by opposition to adolescence, and then simply as someone born with a male physiognomy. A complete man must then be the triangulation of all three components: outward appearance, inner qualities, and physical nature. Thus, we can say that a man is an adult male who avoids effeminate behaviours and manifestations and sheds all childlike modes of self-centredness and dependency. Now, the question to ask ourselves is when we look at ourselves in the mirror, is there such a man staring back at us?
The man that modern media outlets and the dominant cultural discourse has created is unfortunately the opposite of the abovementioned qualities. He is highly feminised, infantilised, and ultimately neutered, thereby being nothing more than a timid adolescent in an adult body. He is Peter Pan: a man-child obsessed with puerile pursuits and hobbies, being concerned with games, gadgets, and sports.
He is preoccupied with self-gratification through play and entertainment, all the while ever-seeking the affirmation and endorsement of wider society. Tragically, the few men whose minds and souls see this for what it is and reject the role that society wants them to play still find themselves ensnared in yet another trap: the ploy of superficial masculinity.
Such men become obsessed with the mere aesthetics of manhood. They project a faux machismo and perpetuate another form of self-centred childishness. Rather than actually embodying the principles and qualities of true manhood, they place more importance on merely being perceived as manly. Confused Western Muslims are often drawn into this latter category, adopting the subculture, mannerisms, and jargon of the so-called ‘Manosphere’. They talk of ‘taking the Red Pill’, blissfully oblivious to the fact that this is just another flavour of ‘the Kool-Aid’, and merely another form of selfish play and self-adoration.
As it stands, a reset is required. Men need to be reminded that there is another and far enhanced course of action. Muslim masculinity is in urgent need of revival, and providentially the elixir that shall revive it has long been within reach. We must simply return to the roots of our religion, to remind ourselves once more of all the knowledge and wisdom possessed therein, and learn again to be men of the Qur’an and Sunnah. The benefits of this shall extend far beyond the pursuit of returning to true masculinity. The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘Whoever revives my Sunnah then he has loved me, and whoever loves me shall be with me in Paradise.’3
The Prophet ﷺ: A Standard of Perfect Virtue
To be men of the Qur’an and Sunnah, we must render the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as our paradigm and standard in all that we do. We must look to his character and virtues, his mannerisms and advice, and then exert sincere efforts to internalise them. The path to true masculinity has always been in plain view and documented in meticulous detail within the sīrah (biography) of the Prophet ﷺ; and yet we have looked to others to define it for us, seeking to take inspiration from the lowest of people, namely the movie stars, singers, and so-called influencers. Weak men with weak minds and weak hearts can teach nothing save weakness. This is not the way that a Muslim should follow, for our way is clear. Allah addresses His Prophet ﷺ in the Qur’an, declaring:
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
And assuredly you are upon an excellent standard of character.4
In his explanation of this verse, Imam Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī5 states that man can only be virtuous in two capacities: in his ideals and in his actions. Islam is the perfection of moral ideals and principles, while the exactness of actions is found in good moral character and conduct. The Prophet ﷺ was the perfect epitome of both, and thus the ultimate role model for human existence. As Sufyān ibn ʿUyaynah would say, ‘The Messenger of Allah is the greatest measure. His character, life, and guidance are that by which all things are gauged. Whatever matches them is the Truth, and whatever goes against them is Falsehood.’6
As for the Prophet ﷺ himself, he declared that:
إِنَّمَا بُعِثْتُ لِأُتَمِّمَ صَالِحَ الْأَخْلَاقِ
I was sent to perfect virtuous character.7
It should be noted that the Prophet’s ﷺ statement that he was sent to ‘perfect virtuous character’ implies that the internal and external virtues were always known by the wise individuals amongst the ancients, and such values simply needed perfecting. A brief glance at mankind’s past history emphatically affirms this.
Manliness Across the Ages
In cultures across the globe and throughout the history of our species, from Ancient Greece to feudal Japan, from pre-Islamic Arabia to pre-Colonial America, men have always fulfilled the same role, following codes of conduct and championing the same values of duty and honour. ‘Manliness’ then is not a nebulous notion, or even one that is hard to pin down and define. Rather, the qualities and characteristics of manliness have been known and understood by individuals across all times, borders, and cultures. It is a universal concept rather than a fungible concept that is shaped by one’s temporal and spatial context. It is a set of ideals and virtues that have been a code and way for men in all geographical settings and intervals. Though some cultures have emphasised certain virtues above others, the broad range of them are found everywhere, as we shall soon come to realise.
For the ancient Greeks, the ideal man was one who lived a life of eudaimonia, namely an existence in which one flourished by doing and living well. This was achieved through the practice of aretê, which translates to ‘excellence in virtue’. These cardinal virtues were four: manly courage (andreia), prudence or wisdom (phronesis), temperance (sophrosyne), and justice (dikaiosyne). Among these, andreia was the most important, for it was needed to counter faint-heartedness, laziness, and over-attachment to pleasure. It allowed a man to realise the full potential of his body, mind, and soul, that is, to fulfil his life’s purpose and create a legacy. For the Romans, the word for manliness was virtus, which is the root of the English word virtue; the latter can be traced back to the Latin word vir, which literally means ‘man’. Virtus at first primarily pertained to valour and martial courage, but later grew to encompass the other cardinal virtues.
In the ancient East, the Samurai lived by a similar code, which was later defined as bushido, the embodiment of refined manhood. At its heart were eight virtues: courage (yū), temperance (jisei), justice (gi), integrity (makoto), honour (meiyo), compassion (jin), loyalty (chu), and respect (rei). For the Samurai, the ultimate aim of all virtues was to live a life of constant preparation for death, such that one would be able to die with honour.
For the ancient Arabs, the epitome of proper manly behaviour lay in the compound virtue of al-murū’ah. The word itself literally means ‘manliness’ and ‘manly perfection’, but in the figurative sense it represented all qualities and virtues which the Arabs adored and sought within their menfolk. In the world of pre-Islamic Arabia, where war was a socioeconomic necessity and knighthood was not given but earned, it was al-murū’ah that was valued above everything else. This was displayed in the form of martial skill on the battlefield, poetic skill in the joust of wits between tribal versifiers, displays of unbound munificence when hosting, and staunch loyalty to familial and ancestral networks. Whoever excelled in these virtues of al-murū’ah would earn his place in the knightly ranks.
It was this latter concept of al-murū’ah which was prevalent during the time of the Prophet ﷺ and his Companions . It would later form the chivalric code of futuwwah, which was perfected by his person and can be summarised by the ethical injunctions of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Indeed, the greatest of his Companions were those who excelled above others in this quality:
‘قِيلَ: ’يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، مَنْ أَكْرَمُ النَّاسِ؟‘ قَالَ: ’أَتْقَاهُمْ لله.‘ قَالُوا: ’لَيْسَ عَنْ هَذَا نَسْأَلُكَ.‘ قَالَ: ’فَيُوسُفُ نَبِيُّ اللَّهِ، ابْنُ نَبِيِّ اللَّهِ، ابْنِ نَبِيِّ اللَّهِ، ابْنِ خَلِيلِ اللَّهِ.‘ قالوا: ’لَيْسَ عَنْ هَذَا نَسْأَلُكَ.‘ قَالَ: ’فَعَنْ مَعَادِنِ الْعَرَبِ تَسْأَلُونِي؟ خِيَارُهُمْ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ خِيَارُهُمْ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ إِذَا فَقُهُوا.
It was asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger, who is most worthy of respect amongst the people?’ He ﷺ replied, ‘The most God-conscious amongst you.’ The Companions said, ‘It is not this that we ask about.’ Whereupon the Prophet ﷺ then said, ‘Then it is Yūsuf, the Apostle of Allah and the son of Allah’s Apostle, who was also the son of Allah’s Apostle, who was the son of Allah’s friend.’ They again said, ‘This is not what we are asking you about.’ He said, ‘Are you then asking me about the tribes of Arabia? Those who were the best of them in pre-Islamic days are the best of them in Islam, that is, when they gain an understanding of it.’8
Imam al-Nawawī explains this to mean that the best of men are those who exemplified al-murū’ah and virtuous character in the Days of Ignorance and then embraced Islam and gained an understanding of it.9
إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ ءَامَنُوا۟ بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَـٰهُمْ هُدًۭى.
They were young men who believed in their Lord and We gave them more guidance.10
Futuwwah is taken from the route fatā, which literally means ‘young man’. The Persian Javānmardī code has the same meaning and was likely mutually influential in its codification of masculine virtue, with the title meaning ‘young manliness’. The fatā is the youth who is chivalrous, brave, inwardly and outwardly handsome, and the one who gives without care for himself – to the point that he would give his life if required. Its association with youthfulness hints toward the promise of the young man’s potential. Men are composed of mind, body, and soul, and futuwwah espouses the improvement of each of these elements, with a particular focus on inner character. The code emphasises complete reliance on Allah exclusively and the appreciation that all events happen through His Divine Will, holding oneself personally accountable, and fulfilling the rights of others.
فَجَعَلَهُمْ جُذَٰذًا إِلَّا كَبِيرًۭا لَّهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ إِلَيْهِ يَرْجِعُونَ. قَالُوا۟ مَن فَعَلَ هَـٰذَا بِـَٔالِهَتِنَآ إِنَّهُۥ لَمِنَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ. قَالُوا۟ سَمِعْنَا فَتًۭى يَذْكُرُهُمْ يُقَالُ لَهُۥٓ إِبْرَٰهِيمُ.
Then, he turned all of them into pieces, except the largest of them, so that they may come back to it. They said, ‘Who has done this to our gods? He is one of the wrongdoers indeed.’ Some of them said, ‘We have heard a youth talking about them. He is called Ibrāhīm.’11
Imam Abū al-Qāsim al-Qushayrī writes in al-Risālah that the fatā – namely the ideal Muslim man – is the one who breaks idols, as the Prophet Ibrāhīm did. He further adds that the idol within each man is his ego, which must be broken. Thus, the man who goes against his desires is the chivalrous youth in truth.12 Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī says that futuwwah also entails the following precept: ‘To be just even when you have been treated unjustly.’13
Futuwwah is an umbrella term for a chivalric code comprising several masculine virtues and traits. In this regard, one can mention the values of chivalry, honour, courage, temperance, generosity, altruism, service, hospitality, wisdom, and justice. Sahl ibn ʿAbdullāh perfectly defined futuwwah when he said, ‘Futuwwah is to follow the Sunnah.’14
Codifying Modern Masculine Virtues
Having firmly established the universal basis for the characteristics of masculinity and defined what it is, it should now be clear that masculinity is from the fiṭrah (primordial nature) of mankind, that is to say it is natural, intuitive, and intrinsic to being human. In light of these preceding facts, a question naturally arises, however: if the claim that the Prophet ﷺ is the Perfect Man is true, and the universal virtues of manliness and masculinity are from the fiṭrah, can this be proven through the Qur’an and Sunnah? The answer is a resounding yes.
This book has been compiled primarily to codify masculine virtues – as established in the blessed life of the noble Prophet ﷺ – for the modern Muslim man. This will be done by following the arbaʿīn structure found in the Hadith sciences, whereby a collection of forty Hadiths are carefully selected for highlighting a specific religious objective. The goal of this collection is to teach the men of today how to embody manly virtues by emulating the character, actions, and qualities of the most virtuous of men .
The book itself is divided into four sections, every one of them encompassing ten core Hadiths. Each section is defined with its own subject matter based on the established fiṭrah mentioned in the preceding pages through the lens of al-murū’ah and futuwwah. In each section, related Quranic verses as well as further narrations will be brought under the heading of the main Hadith to shed further light on the topic discussed.
The first section will focus on internal virtues such as faith, education, good character, and morality. These are our spiritual and mental virtues. Internal betterment is essential, and true success in this life and the next can only be achieved through the perfection of these intangible qualities. What good is a house without strong foundations, or a tree without strong roots? What good is a man without strong values or faith? If a man is to stand at all, his base must first be made firm.
With a strong spiritual and mental foundation established, the second section will unpack the realm of personal virtues. These are qualities which address our physical selves and our place in the world, such as self-sufficiency, independence, and discipline. A man is to be relied upon and should not be reliant on others – for he places his trust on Allah alone. He is to be resilient, adaptable, and resilient, such that he can subsist without luxury, external aid, or approval.
Section three will build upon its predecessors and expand further outward, looking into interpersonal virtues that teach us how to optimally undertake interactions with other men, as well as with women and children, in our communities. Qualities such as leadership, brotherhood, sexuality, and communication are discussed here. Every person amongst us is, or will soon be, a leader in their own household, and thus every man must know how to lead proactively. The nature of the world is such that not all men can be leaders beyond the walls of their homes, and thus every man must equally know how and when to follow orders. By extension, each of us must also know how to communicate in our speech, writing, and behaviour.
The final section will go beyond the interpersonal realm and enumerate the virtues that stress exercising awareness for matters from outside the safety of our communities and relationships. Here, we will look into the qualities most often associated with ‘manliness’, such as fitness, martial prowess, and courage. A man plans, tempers his body, and patiently anticipates challenging situations. A man does not shy away or hide, nor does he act rashly or without control. A man is prepared for anything, and ultimately, must be prepared for death and all that it entails.
- Qur’an 33:21.
- Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4833; Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī 2378.
- Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī 2678.
- Qur’an 68:4.
- Al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, vol. 30: p. 81.
- Al-Jāmiʿ li Akhlāq al-Rāwī wa Ādāb al-Sāmiʿ, vol. 1: p. 120.
- Al-Adab al-Mufrad 273.
- Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2378.
- Al-Minhāj bi Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, vol. 15: p. 194.
- Qur’an 18:13.
- Qur’an 21:58-60.
- Al-Risālah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 391.
- Al-Risālah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 391.
- Al-Risālah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 391.