In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
One of the most misguided notions in popular culture today is the idea that morality can be boiled down solely to one’s political positions without regard to personal character. The reality is that character is the foundation of morality, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “Righteousness is good character.” Political positions, on the other hand, are often pragmatic compromises with reality; two good people might hold mutually exclusive political positions even though both are sincere and well-meaning. Let’s understand this point from a relevant example:
There is a debate underway about raising the minimum wage to 15$ an hour. The ideal of providing every worker with a living wage is admirable, for sure, but the pragmatic reality is that it is unclear if artificially inflating the cost of labor is an effective means of achieving the ideal. Some non-partisan economists estimate that the policy might actually harm more workers than it helps by narrowing the job market, and it will further harm the middle class by incentivizing large corporations to automate while small businesses are unable to hire enough labor to compete. Reasonable people of good character and good manners can debate the 15$ minimum wage, convince others of their position’s strength, or potentially reach a policy compromise. This is how normal politics is supposed to work. But now, people who oppose the 15$ minimum wage are framed as morally evil, anti-worker, and anti-poor; indeed, it is considered a moral imperative not to debate with such “evil” people but instead drive them from the public square. This same dynamic is at play on numerous pressing issues facing our country. As a result, our politics is stunted and polarized to the point that the government is dysfunctional.
The morality of politics is a delusion. People think their political positions alone make them virtuous and compassionate while they neglect their personal character. That is why you see them defending their positions not with rational good faith arguments, but rather with profanity, abuse, snark, name-calling, social media slam dunks, and even dishonesty (as they believe the ends justify the means). They sit back and consider themselves to be “good” people because they have the “right” politics, yet their character is polluted. They imagine it is enough to have the right politics so they don’t have to do real charity work like volunteer at the local food bank. The fact of the matter is that Allah rewards the ijtihad (personal judgement) of someone even if they are wrong, because they put in the sincere effort to find the best answer. On the contrary, Allah never rewards anyone for their bad character regardless of their politics.
As such, a person who holds a mistaken political position but defends it with good character is superior to one who holds the “correct” position but defends it with bad character. By improving our character, especially in how we debate and discuss political issues with those who disagree, we will facilitate the natural correction of our politics, but arrogantly thinking of ourselves as morally superior only because of our political platform is nothing but self-deception.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.