Morality in Islam [Archives:1999/02/Culture]

January 11 1999

The message of God’s prophets is to urge people to hold to refined morals. The Quran emphasizes the necessity for personal elevation based on high ideals.
1. The Purpose of Morals:
Ethics deal with the principles of good and evil, and show people how they should treat one another; it sheds light on the aim they should seek, and illuminates their way to what should be done.
Hence, morality becomes the foundation that keeps the structure of a society firm and harmonious. That is why philosophers and nation-builders stress its importance to the welfare of the individual as well as the community. An individual harms him/herself when he/she follows no clear ideals in his/her life. A society without high morals would decay and degenerate quickly.
Scholars, philosophers and legislators promote and advocate refined moralities because they are the foundation of any healthy nation. That is why the message of God’s prophets was to urge people to adopt refined morals. The aim of religion throughout history has been to strengthen the moral resolve of mankind.
Islam is a good example. Verse after verse in the holy Quran, many of Prophet Muhammad’s teachings (pbuh), and the behavior of his early followers all aim to push for moral strength in the individual. Character strength is a key ingredient in a Muslim. “I have sent you to fulfill decent character” God says unto His prophet.
The virtues exalted by the Quran are the same humanitarian values that previous prophets, reformers, philosophers and other thinkers have always pushed for.
2. The Pillars of Morals:
A. Guide to Righteousness:
Human life is submerged in good and evil, and he/she is often driven to either of them by inner motives of outside factors.
Among the basic goals of religion is to protect man against the temptations of evil, by reeling its harm, warning against it, and calling its victims back to righteousness based on God’s promise of good rewards to the righteous in the present world and the hereafter.
To achieve that objective, religion uses high morals as one of the important vehicles.
B. Spiritual Promotion:
Spiritual promotion goes hand in hand with upright behavior. Evil deeds lead individuals and whole communities to personal and collective disaster. That is why God promises bounty and happiness to those who guide their spirits with his forgiveness and containment. God requests mankind to amend themselves, to be able to ensure their gifts in the hereafter.
High morals are an important component in spiritual well-being because they enable the spirit to reign over the desires and excesses of the flesh.
C. Purification:
The purification referred to in the Quran also goes hand-in-hand with elevated values and ideals. Self purification combines the cleanliness of one’s heart with rising above disgrace so that one can attain a share of God’s dignity and contentment. After all, human beings were created in God’s image, and our high morals allow us to rise to the level of our original creation.
In light of God’s abundant mercy, human beings are given another chance, and yet another to rise up even after they have fallen. The process is called towbah (repentance) leading to purification. This is done in many ways, but basically through:
1- Acknowledging the sin or mistake we committed, and being fully remorseful;
2- Correcting grievances if our mistake has to do with the rights of others;
3- Working to help less advantaged members of our community and sharing with them our time and resources.
The Quran urges people to purify themselves, rewarding those who do so with God’s bounties and blessings.
Uprightness, Spiritual promotion and purification of the spiritual give hope to those who are already indulged in vice, so that they might change for the better. This helps keep despair away from their hearts and make their redemption possible; when one falls a prey to despair, he turns into a helpless victim of evil.
3. The Meaning of Morals:
A. Beneficence:
Beneficence denotes charity and kindness to other human beings, other creatures, and to mother earth. It implies a positive contribution to life on this planet. It covers a wider range of meaning based on doing right and avoiding evil.
Beneficence also includes full adherence to the message of Prophet Mohammed regarding forgiveness and patience. The virtue of a Muslim is most exemplified in his/her ability to show patience, even when wronged, and forgiveness, even when able to avenge.
Good deeds include all kinds of virtuous and humanitarian action that strengthen one’s character and bring him/her closer to the Creator. In this sense, the tenets of the Quran require beneficence and urge people to practise it in their day lives.
B. Positive Engagement:
The Quran explains that the meaning of high morals is not limited to oneself. It goes beyond responsibility to your deeds and actions to those of others. In other words, a good Muslim is a good human being. One should positively engage his/her setting leading to that famous law of “Al-amre bil-ma’aroof wal nahyi anil-munkar” meaning an individual must promote good deeds and block bad deeds.
One’s morals include a duty to interact positively within society as responsibility extends beyond one’s actions.
The purpose behind this teaching is the need to allow a sense of peace and harmony to prevail among human beings, and between them and their surroundings.
C. Philanthropy:
Among the qualities of good morals glorified in Islam is philanthropy. This was translated in the vast awqaf (endowments, known today as foundations) which have so clearly marked the glorious days of Islamic civilization.
In Islam there are are certain financial duties that have been clearly stipulated such as zakat, sadaqah, etc. These are compulsory in their nature and they have to be fulfilled. But, beyond them, Islam urges Muslims to show kindness and compassion to their fellow human beings, and towards the “full and proper construction of the earth”.
Muslim are urged to give part of their wealth to help the poor and the deprived in society, to promote learning and research, to make the earth greener and better, to harness water, etc.
4. Those of High Morals Are Companions of the Prophets:
The Quran specifies that people of high morals enjoy a high position than others. They are resurrected in the Hereafter in the company of the prophets and other blessed groups.
But high morals in Islam are an obscure set of values. They are a daily practice in one’s life. That is why the relations of an individual to everybody around him/her is well spelled out.
First come relations with one’s parents. The Quran specifies the duties of an individual to one’s parents. A person’s morals find most translation in a way a person treats his/her old-age parents.
Second, our high morals are visible from our relations with various groups in our society – relatives, neighbors, colleagues, partners, etc. with whom Islam expects us to be courteous, helpful, dutiful, prompt, patient, and above all, honest.
The Quran even asks people of high values and morals to be kind to people we do not know (strangers). We owe a minimum of courtesy and duty to others, whoever they are.
Finally, people of high morals are duti-bound to other creatures on this land – animals, trees, and others of God’s creatures which make up our earth. This is a duty that has to be executed.
The teachings of Islam and its prophets were designed to make people better through religion. That is, after all, the mission of all religions.
Islam uses good morals as one of the key vehicles to achieve that. That is also why, according to Islamic teachings, high moral values and making a meaningful contribution to society take precedence over the rituals.
By: Ismail Al-Ghabiry,
Yemen Times