Ethics in Islam: Concept and Importance

  • | Tuesday, 4 February, 2020
Ethics in Islam: Concept and Importance

Akhlāq (sing. khuluq) refers to innate character, nature, and disposition.[1] The word akhlāq has a very close relationship with the word khāliq (the Creator) and makhlūq (the creature). Therefore, akhlāq assumes a good relationship between human beings and their Creator, between human beings one another, and between human beings and other creatures.[2] The term khuluq in the Qur’ān to refer to Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) exemplary ethical character:

(وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍۢ)[3]

And indeed, you are of a great moral character.

Khuluq has been further referred to as the state of the soul that determines human actions and which can be acquired through training and practice. Actions, on the other hand, are the outward manifestations of these ethics. In other words, ethics represent the inward cause while actions represent outward consequences. A good character hence fruits good action whereas a bad character yields bad actions.[4]

The Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) constitute the two primary sources for Islamic ethics. Qur’an is full of lessons referring to and exemplifying good moral traits. Besides, the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) represents the role model to be imitated. Islam confirms that ethics constitute the basic pillar for a healthy and firm society and that the society which is devoid of ethical values will always suffer from problems. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been reported as saying: “I was sent to perfect the noble qualities of character”.[5]

 The Qurʼān and the Sunnah also recognize the ethical dimension of all the basic acts of worship, such as Prayer, Fasting, Hajj, Zakāh, etc. and confirm that they were enacted for purposes of perfecting morals and restraining the unacceptable behaviors. Allah, the Almighty, says concerning Prayer:

)وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ  إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ(

And establish Prayer: indeed, Prayer restrains outrageous and unacceptable behavior.[6]

Besides, Abū Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said about Fasting: “Whoever does not give up false statements (i.e. telling lies), and evil deeds, and speaking bad words to others, Allah has no need that he should abandon his food and drink (Fasting)”.[7] This ḥadīth suggests that Fasting is not just about abstaining from food and drink, but it is rather to learn how to abstain from bad words and bad deeds. Thus it is intended to improve moral consciousness and ethical awareness.

Concerning Hajj (Pilgrimage), Allah, the Almighty, says:

(الْحَجُّ أَشْهُرٌ مَّعْلُومَاتٌ فَمَن فَرَضَ فِيهِنَّ الْحَجَّ فَلَا رَفَثَ وَلَا فُسُوقَ وَلَا جِدَالَ فِي الْحَجِّ)

The pilgrimage takes place during the prescribed months. There should be no indecent speech, misbehavior, or quarrelling for anyone undertaking the pilgrimage…[8]

It is clear from the verse that a pilgrim should avoid harsh language, quarrel with the people and disobedience of Allah, the Almighty, and all other immoral acts; otherwise Hajj would not be accepted.

Finally, concerning Zakah and Ṣadaqah (charity), Allah  says:

(خُذْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ صَدَقَةً تُطَهِّرُهُمْ وَتُزَكِّيهِم بِهَا)

Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase

Once again, the verse indicates that charity and almsgiving purify the Muslim of avarice, greed, cruelty to the poor and other psychological diseases and defects. Accordingly, it can be understood that acts of worship raise the moral and ethical awareness in a practical way. They have an educational part and ethical dimension that go beyond their physical performance. In this context, it can be noted that ethics constitute the basis upon which the rulings of Sharīʻah, be they theological or juristic, are built and without recognizing the moral aspects in these rulings, they would turn meaningless.

With the above mentioned into consideration, one would discern how far the terrorist groups are from the rulings of Sharīʻah and how deviated they are from its principles. Although they extensively and timely perform acts of worship, their performance has no direct bearing on their characters and conducts. Their excessive performance of acts of worship do not increase them but arrogance and vainglory which in turn leads them to look down at people and discredit them as people of innovations and disbelief. The Prophet (PBUH) described them: “There will appear some people among you whose prayer will make you look down upon yours, and whose fasting will make you look down upon yours, but they will recite the Qur'an, the teachings of which will not go beyond their throats and will go out of their religion as an arrow darts through the game and they will.”[9] Had true belief penetrated into their hearts, they would have been increased in mercy and compassion towards all creatures!



[1] Walzer, R. and Gibb, H.A.R., “Ak̲h̲lāḳ”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 12 December 2019

[2] See Adībah bint ʻAbd al-Raḥīm, “Understanding Islamic Ethics and Its Significance on the Character Building”, in International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, Vol. 3, No. 6, November 2013, p. 510.

[3] The Qurʼān (Al-Qalam, 68:4).

[4] See Mohd Nasir Omar, Christian and Muslim Ethics (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2003), p. 4.

[5] Related by Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal in al-Musnad.

[6] The Qurʼān (Al-ʻAnkabūt, 26:45)

[7] Related by Imām Al-Bukhārī.

[8] The Qurʼān (Al-Baqarah, 2:197).

[9] Related by Imām Al-Bukhārī.

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