Status of Morals in Islam
Mohamed Helal 187

Status of Morals in Islam

Status of Morals in Islam[1]

     The religion of Islam has three main elements, namely a good value system, creed, and Shari‘a laws. Good values are considered a basic common element among all divine religions. With regard to divine laws, it is well known that they differ among all religions, as some laws abrogate others so that each religion encompasses a set of laws that fit the time and the environment in which the prophet or the messenger of that religion is sent. Abrogation of some certain Shari‘a laws makes them consistent with people's different conditions and ways of life. God Almighty says,

“To every one of you We have made legislation and a system.” (Qur’an, 5:48)

     However, the fundamentals of creed and values neither change nor get replaced in divine religions. Thus, the rudimentary virtues, which Islam preaches, and the vices, which it forbids, are the same in divine messages brought to humankind by Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses, and Prophet Jesus along with other prophets, peace be upon them all.

     Good values are of utmost importance in Islam since they constitute the spirit of all its laws and rulings, including that of the acts of worship, customs, dealings, and etiquettes. Good values are considered a core element of all the Islamic rulings, commands, and prohibitions concerning affairs related to individuals, family, society, regime, or international affairs. The following two points further elaborate on this fact.

1. The essential goal of the message brought by Islam is to establish good manners which are included in the legislation of God the Exalted. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says, “I was sent to complement good manners.”[2]

2. In another statement, the Prophet (PBUH) shows that good manners represent the essence of the Islamic religion. A man asked the Prophet (PBUH) “What is religion?” He said, “Religion is good manners.”[3]

3. Good manners equal piety in one's record of good deeds on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet (PBUH) says, “Nothing will be heavier on the Day of Resurrection in the Scales of a believer than good manners.”[4]

4. The closest in position to the Messenger of God on the Day of Judgment and the dearest ones to his noble heart will be those who have the best manners. The Prophet (PBUH) says, “The dearest and the closest of you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be those who adopt the best of manners.”[5]

5. Having good manners is a condition for admission into Paradise and exemption from Hellfire. The Prophet (PBUH) was asked, “Messenger of God! A certain woman always prays late at night, fasts the days, acts righteously and gives charity, but she hurts her neighbors with her sharp tongue.” The Messenger of God (PBUH), said, “There is no goodness in her. She is one of the people of Hellfire.”[6]

6. One of the things that prove the high position of good manners in Islam is that the Noble Qur’an praises Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for his good manners, saying,

“Surely, you are indeed with great manners.” (Qur’an, 68: 4)

     Truly, choosing good manners as a reason for praising the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) proves the high status of good manners in God's estimate.


Source of Moral Obligation in Islam

     Each integrated school of ethics has a certain foundation on which it is established. Such foundation is the moral obligation which constitutes an internal authority that commands us to do goodness and prohibits us from doing evil. According to such moral obligation, we judge our actions as being good or evil. The concept of moral obligation is crucial to the goals which good manners aim to achieve. As a consequence of the absence of moral obligation from our life, we lose the goals that good manners aim to achieve, including mental wisdom, and sense of responsibility. The absence of responsibility shatters any hope of establishing the truth and maintaining justice in our life. As a result of that, chaos and disorder would spread throughout the whole society.[7]

     Sociologists believe that social authority is the source of social obligation. This means that customs, traditions, and the prevailing beliefs within the society form a collective conscience that has its impact on individual conscience. Some philosophers add to social authority another one, which is a power of aspiration towards the highest ideals. Others say that moral obligation is an outcome of the highest natural endowment of human beings, namely ‘duty.’ [8]

     Now, what does the term moral obligation mean in Islam? In brief terms, reason is most likely to be the source of moral obligation for showing good manners in Islam. In this view, the Qur’anic verses teach us that awareness of goodness and evil is inherent in the human self since its creation. God Almighty says,

“By the self and that (i.e., the Command) which has molded it, so He has inspired it to its impiety or piety!” (Qur’an, 91:7-8)

     The Qur’an further shows us that moral awareness is something deeply rooted in humans. God says,

“No indeed, (but) man is a demonstration against herself/himself, even though s/he would cast forth her/his (ready) excuses.” (Qur’an, 75: 14-15)

     Indeed, God the Most High has shown man to tell the difference between ways of piety and impiety saying,

“Have We not made for him two eyes, a tongue, and two lips, and guided him on the two ways (of goodness and evil)?”(Qur’an, 90: 8-10).

     The Noble Qur’an states that the human ego constantly commands one to do evil,

“Surely the ego indeed constantly commands to odious (deeds), except of those on which my Lord have mercy,” (Qur’an, 12:53).

     Yet, it asserts the ability to control one’s behaviors and moral orientations; God Almighty says,

“As for him who has feared the station of his Lord (i.e., punishment from his Lord) and forbade the ego from (its) prejudices, then surely the Garden will really be the abode.” (Qur’an, 79: 40-41)

     In the light of such Qur’anic verses, we can say that there is a hidden force within man that enlightens her/his way and commands her/him explicitly to do what is good and to abandon what is odious. What would be that force that helps us control our abilities in this worldly life if it was not that luminous side of our human self, namely the reason? If we answer this question in the affirmative, will it entail that establishing moral laws and distinguishing between good and evil is a sole human task? Likewise, if we provide a negative answer based on the fact that although reason is an inherent guide, which God has bestowed upon humans, it remains subject to the influence of desires, customs, and traditions. Furthermore, the human reason is subject to individual contradictions that eventually lead to differing reasons. Each reason has its own tendencies and directions of thought.

     All the aforementioned facts cast doubt on the human reason’s ability to make impeccable choices and prove that the human reason may lose its path while struggling to identify moral principles and good manners. If we imagine that the human reason was the sole source of knowing moral values and take it as our guide to knowing our duties towards God or towards ourselves and our fellow humans, then we would face much confusion due to reason’s different and conflicting answers. Similarly, if we sought reason to know what we should do in every tiny detail of our life, it would provide us with a plethora of contradictory rulings to the extent that it may prohibit piety and make impiety permissible.

     Subsequently, the human reason has to be tied to a higher authority in such a harmonious way that it provides it with guidance. In the Islamic view, such a higher authority cannot be society, traditions, or customs, simply because societies cannot legislate such pervasive and complex moral matters, though they can do that on their domestic and limited affairs. Therefore, it is inevitable to find another competent, higher authority rather than reason and society, an authority that undoubtedly knows human interests and the sources of their happiness and misery. According to the Islamic values, such a higher authority cannot be anything but the Creator Who has brought people to the existence and Who knows best what would set their affairs right and what would corrupt them. It is God, Glory be to Him, Who says,

“Does He not know whom He has created? He is the Ever-Kind, the Ever-Cognizant.” (Qur’an, 67:14).

     Thus, to Muslims, the source of moral obligation is basically divine revelation in the form of the Noble Qur’an, the authentic tradition of Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH) and what originates from them including legislative principles such as unanimous consensus of all Muslim scholars and legal conclusions of leading scholars of Islamic jurisprudence and other sub-branches of Islamic studies. We should not understand here that there is a dual source of moral obligation (i.e., divine revelation and innate human power of reason) because divine revelation is, first and foremost, the ultimate legislator. However, the rulings and commands of revelation become understandable and binding only through the use of the innate human reason, which is intuitively cognizant of God and a true believer in Him. Consequently, if reason acknowledges its Creator, the commands of revelation become binding and reason responsible for submitting to them. Thus, “We receive direct command from such individual conscience and it is the reason that orders us to submit to divine revelation.”[9]

[1] Prof. Aḥmad Muḥammad Aṭ-Ṭayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, “Essential Features of Islam”, Al-Azhar Center for Translation (ACT), 2017, p. 170.

[2] Al-Bukhari, Al-Adab ul-Mufrad, Book of Good Manners, p. 135; Al-Baihaqi, As-Sunan ul-Kubra, 1:192.

[3] Mahmoud Shaltout, Al-Islamu 'Aqeedatan wa Shari‘a (Islam: Creed and Shari'a), p. 464.

[4] Sunan Ut-Tirmidhi, 4:363. Cf. Abu Dawud, 5:150. It is also reported by the six authentic books of Hadiths.

[5] Al-Bukhari, 4:318. It is also reported by the six authentic books of Hadiths.

[6] Al-Zabeedi, Ithaaf us-Saadatil-Muttaqeen 7:319, Beirut.

[7] Sayyed Badawi, Al-Akhlaaqu bayn ad-Dini wa al-Falsafati wa 'ilm il-Ijtimaa' (Ethics as Dealt with by Religion, Philosophy and Sociology). Dar ul-Ma'aarif: 1967, p. 67. Cf. Muhammad Abdullah Diraz's arguments in response to French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau's claim that an ethical system can be established without an obligation based on the concept of art appreciation (Muhammad Abdullah Diraz, Dostor ul-Akhlaaq fi l-Qur’an il-Kareem "Ethics System in the Noble Qur’an", p.21 ff., translated by Abd us-Sabour Shahin, 3rd edition, Kuwait: 1980).

[8] Muhammad Abdullah Diraz, Dustour ul-Akhlaaqi fi l-Qur’an il-Kareem (Ethics System in the Noble Qur’an), p. 27.

[9] Ibid, p. 35.




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