You open up a traditional translation of the Quran, and you will find that it would usually translate characteristics of believers such as “Saliheen” (For ex. 2:62) and “Muttaqeen” (For ex. 2:2) as “Righteous people”. My problem with “righteous” is that it is too bland – too generic. Righteousness is a broad term. What aspect of righteousness, I would ask?
Just as God has several attributes, each attribute revealing a specific characteristic; similarly there are also numerous attributes of a Muslim. These diverse attributes are provided in the Quran to act as a checklist for those who seek to live by the Quran as a moral code on life. For ex: Muttaqeen, Mohsineen, Musalleen, Mufliheen, Musliheen etc.
For this post, I’d like to focus on the attribute of being a “Salih”.
A concordance of the word Salih reveals that it means to reform/amend. This attribute is of such vital importance, that it is used 100+ times in the Quran! “Those who believed (aamanu) and do acts of reformation (amallan Salihan)” is a very repetitive phrase in the Quran. As I said, brushing it off as “righteous” robs itself off the defining characteristic that God wants us to develop and fails to do justice to these words, linguistically.
As an exercise, try substituting righteousness in place of Sa-la-ha in the following verses. It just doesn’t fit:
So We responded to him, and We gave to him Yahya, and amended (Aslahna) for him his wife. Indeed, they used to hasten to good deeds and supplicate Us in hope and fear, and they were to Us humbly submissive. Quran 21:90
If one sees gross injustice or bias on the part of a testator, and takes corrective action (Aslaha) to restore justice to the will, he commits no sin. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. Quran 2:182
Therefore, Saliheen are the reformers who set things right. Reformation is a vital part of faith as faith should never be static. This is because anything that doesn’t grow is dead. If I have the same outlook on the world 10 years from now, I have failed to utilize the time to help me grow as a person. Muslims are encouraged to continually make reforms in their beliefs, whenever better information presents itself. That alone should make us more humble and compassionate towards each other, as the “I know it all” mindset gets suppressed.
In a broader sense, Saliheen also strive for reform in their community. Musa and Ibrahim (Salutes and respect to them) are prime examples of this. We have come to the point where we believe Islam to be a set of rituals only. All the while, the core message of the Quran which is all about activism and reformation gets ignored and sidetracked.
God likes reformers, not zealots.
I leave you with one of my favorite verses:
Surely, those who believe and do acts of reformation, the Almighty will shower them with love and affection. Quran 19:96
*Concordance of Salih as used in the Quran: http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=SlH#(2:62:14)