The Gift of Selflessness: 9 Tools to Develop this Character in Your Students

Today, we are living in a time where the core ethical values of our society are being replaced by values that glorifies and embellish the nafs (ego). We are living in “generation ME,” the “selfi, “and the YOLO (you only live once) age, where identifying with the hurt of others, the pains of others, and preference for others are becoming foreign. We have to get back to the, “loving for humanity what you love for yourself.” We have to become people who are selfless, and train our children, and our students in being blessed with this trait.

In a past webinar, we discussed the important of selflessness as a core component of Islamic schooling and and presented practical steps and tools to use in your classrooms in order to create a school environment that mirrors the Prophetic character and fosters love of one another.

Here are the 9 tools to use in your classroom, towards training children in the character of selflessness:

1. Training Oneself First

Take yourself to task in improving yourself. Work on something that you see that you need to improve in yourself either because of a trait that you read or heard about from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, or that you saw in someone that you found impressive. Perhaps share to the classroom that this is something that you are working on.

2. Working On A Flaw

Have one day a month (a given time period) where the teacher will sit with each student and they will tell them what they need to work on (character flaws). Thus, making the child conscious that they do have something to work on; to get better in. Connect it to one of the strategies that we talked about in our character education presentation. ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, used to say,

“May Allah grant His mercy to a man who shows me my faults.”

Imam Ghazali comments,

“It was ever the desire of religious people to discover their faults through being told of them by others; however, things have come to such a pass with us that the most hateful of all people are those who counsel us and draw our attention to our defects. This is almost expressive of a weakness in our faith, for bad traits of character are vipers and stinging scorpions, and were someone to tell us that under our clothes there lurked a scorpion we would account this a great favour and be delighted, and would occupy ourselves with removing and killing the scorpion in question… Nevertheless, we are not delighted when someone calls these things to our notice, nor do we busy ourselves with removing them; instead we repay the one who thus counsels us in kind, and say, ‘What about you? You also do this, that and the other,’ so that resentment towards him distracts us from gaining any profit by his advice. This is a kind of hardness in the heart produced by many sins, which in turn are the consequences of weak faith.” (Ihya)

3. Building Bonds While Humbling Oneself

Character education must also be communal. Perfecting one’s own character without learning to positively interact, support and build bonds with colleagues is incomplete. Once a week, let the students approach another student and tell them of something that they learnt from them or that they saw them doing that was good and inspiring or something that they did that reminded them to do the same. This is about purifying one’s heart and protecting oneself from narcissism.

These actions build community in the classroom. All students should feel that they have something positive to contribute and at the same time areas to improve. Students should not feel they are worthless or perfect. To reinforce both humility and confidence teachers must be cognizant of student social-emotional states and determine whose ego needs to be uplifted and whose needs to be humbled in a positive way.

4. Smiling: Your Worries Will Disappear

Smile and make it a point to tell students to smile during the day. It stars with the teacher and administration. Turn it into a weekly challenge to see who smiles the most in the class or in the school. There can even be friendly competitions between the teachers. In the hadith, the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, taught us:

“Smiling is charity.”

One of the great ‘ulama and pious person’s, Abdullah ibn Mubarak, may Allah be pleased with him, described good character saying, “It is a smiling face, doing your best in what is good, and refraining from harm” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2005).

Scientist and spiritual teachers alike agree that the simple act can transform you and the world around you. Current research (and common sense) shows us that a smile is contagious. It can make us appear more attractive to others. It lifts our mood as well as the moods of those around us (Merci, Colette). It can even lengthen our lives (Abel and Krugar, 2010).

5. Khidma: Giving Service to Others

Ibn ‘Ata Illah said in his Hikam:

Bury your existence in the earth of obscurity.

If something sprouts before it is buried,

its fruits will never ripen.

a) Let the student every week choose someone in the school that they would like to help.

b) Pick specific people every week to help clean up the room. Have every class once a week be resposible for cleaning something in the school. This can also be outside.

c) Have a day every month where a class or a small group provides water to their classmates or the school during lunch period. The Prophet sallaAllahu ‘alaihi wasallam said: “The best form of charity is giving someone water (to drink).” (Ahmad, An-nasaa’i and Ibn maajah)

Ibn al-qayyim said,

“the best charity is that which fulfils someone’s need and is continuous. The prophet sallaAllahu ‘alaihi wasallam said, “The best charity is to give people a drink of water.” The knowledgeable people of madinah did not consider any form of charity as having greater merit than providing water.”

d) Food drives – but have student spend their own money not have parents buy the food or bring food from their parent’s pantry

e) Toy drives – have student buy something that they wanted to have, and give it to those who are in need. Also have the students go to where the needy will receive the items, so they see the impoverish people and be aware.

f) Have the class volunteer at a food bank, hot food kitchen, or have a once-a-month food preparation where the students will make lunch packages for the needy. This can take place in the student’s own lunch period.

6. Making dua’ for each other

Have the children make dua’ for each other, especially those students who may not be that popular in the school or who the teacher recognizes are introverts.

7. Dress down day/ Uniform Day

Everyone wears the same thing to school a particular day, perhaps in their cultural dress so that they can appreciate each other’s culture.

8. Do not reward students all the time

Students should not be rewarded for doing good because this is what is expected from them. The good that they do when they are small should be praised, however, when older, they should know that this is what is expected and what it assumed. Tie into the student that doing good is part of servitude to Allah. Tell them that true pleasure is associated with the pleasure of Allah. Try to instill in them this concept by having them thank Allah for allowing them to do good.

9. Asking for Forgiveness throughout the day

Make it a habit during the day for the students to say ‘Astighfirullah’, even if one has to say it with them before their recess or after it. The Prophet may Allah bless him and grant him peace said:

“Certainly I say ‘Astighfirullah and I repent to Allah more than 70 times a day.”

Also say the ‘Ta’awudth” often.

May Allah grant us tawfiq.

Other Character Education resources:


Shaykh Zahir Bacchus

About Shaykh Zahir Bacchus

Shaykh Zahir Bacchus is the founder and Principal of Lote Tree Learning & Resource Centre in Toronto, Canada. He is a qualified Islamic scholar whose focus is on developing character education programs for K-12 Islamic schools. Shaykh Zahir is also a co-founder of Razi Education and the Islamic Teacher Education Program.
Click here to read more posts by Shaykh Zahir.

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