At the root are four virtues. Courage. Temperance. Wisdom, then Justice. These are the root virtues that human beings are meant to develop in their lives. All virtues come out of one of these four virtues.
Courage is the first and most important virtue, because upon it the other ones are based.
Generosity is actually the daughter of the mother virtue, which is Courage, because generosity is courage with one’s wealth.
Patience is also a type of courage because it is a lack of anxiety when a calamity afflicts you, and that is from a type of courage. So, being patient is rooted in courage.
In English, the root word of courage is core which means “heart”. Thus, the essence of courage is the heart, ergo, a person who has courage has a lot of heart. That’s why the West African Arabs say, “he does not have any heart”, which means the person does not have any courage. It is the heart that is the source of courage.
Temperance is about balance. Temper has to do with balance. For example: Temperature, you adjust. To temper is the ability to adjust to different circumstances. Therefor, temperance is about always maintaining the balance, like a homeostatic moral homeostasis. In the same way, your body maintains 98.6, the soul maintains a moderation in all things: that is the essence of temperance.
From temperance comes Chastity. Iffa, which has to do with not aggressing against anyone, either sexually or financially.
From that, temperance gives birth to Contentment. And from contentment, comes Trustworthiness. Thus, somebody who has chastity … and remembering the root word chaste carries a meaning not exclusive to sexual mores … but has to do with everything now is limited only to the idea of chastity and sexual relations. But traditionally, the idea of temperance had to do with moderation in all things … and that moderation led to this chastity, or chaste nature. A pure, virtuous nature.
From Wisdom comes Understanding … the virtues of the mind and intellect … and then, finally, Justice.
At the essence of justice is a desire for Fairness. So, the essence of justice is fairness, which is very difficult to achieve. The essence of justice is Ein Soph and it is very difficult to attain. Very few people are fair in this world. Even people who are oppressors, or who are oppressed, will always look at the other with total lack of fairness. Always. An oppressor will always look at the one he is aggressing upon with a total lack of fairness. By the same token, the one aggressed upon will always look at the oppressor with a total lack of fairness. This explains the reason true Justice is very hard to come about in the world because of human nature. It is so difficult for human beings to be fair and to be truly fair.
Another essential component of Justice is Mercy. In the traditional understanding, mercy actually came out of justice. The reason for that is because mercy is an emotion that emerges when one sees another suffering, or is in a situation that he (the emoter) is not. Mercy arises from that sense that this person does not deserve their circumstances. In other words, the fact that one is not in the other’s condition communicates that one does not want those conditions happening to the other person … and that is Justice … and that’s why mercy emerges out of justice. It is an extraordinary concept because we usually tend to see mercy and justice as mutually exclusive. You are either just, or you are merciful.
True mercy is actually emerging out of a real sense of justice … that you don’t deserve that. This is why when God shows mercy to His creatures, that mercy is coming from His justice. That is also why the Q’uran says, “my mercy outstrips my justice”. In other words, if the two concepts race, mercy always wins.
From this idea of mercy emerges the idea of Forebearance. Despite someone aggressing upon you, forebearance is the ability to not desire retribution.
From that virtue of Forebearance, emerges the virtue of Forgiveness, or Pardoning. This is why forgiveness is the highest virtue. The amazing thing about forgiving another is that it physically heals the forgiver, thereby healing the mental body of depression, anger and despair. It is a type of Acceptance, and that is the beauty of forgiveness — the acceptance that there is nothing that can be done about it. This when you ask yourself, “Do I want to continue the cycle, or do I not want to be the one that breaks the cycle?” That is mujahidah, what the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said is the one who prevents his soul from things that are harmful for it. A real warrior … and that is Ancient Chinese perspective in derivation. The Chinese said, “It is the true warrior that conquers himself.”
This is in keeping with ancient tradition.