The Moral System of Islam
A moral sense is inborn in man and, through the
ages, it has served as the common mans standard of moral behavior, approving
certain qualities and condemning others. While this instinctive faculty may vary from
person to person, human conscience has consistently declared certain moral qualities to be
good and others to be bad.
Justice, courage and truthfulness have always found
praise, and history does not record any period worth the name in which falsehood,
injustice, dishonesty and breach of trust have been praised; sympathy, compassion, loyalty
and generosity have always been valued, while selfishness, cruelty, meanness and bigotry
have never been approved of by society; men have always appreciated perseverance,
determination and courage, but never impatience, fickleness, cowardice and stupidity.
Dignity, restraint, politeness and friendliness have throughout the ages been counted
virtues, whereas snobbery and rudeness have always been looked down upon. People with a
sense of responsibility and devotion to duty have always won the highest regard, those who
are incompetent, lazy and lacking in a sense of duty have never been looked upon with
Similarly, in assessing the standards of good and
bad in the collective behavior of society as a whole, only those societies have been
considered worthy of honor which have possessed the virtues of organisation, discipline,
mutual attention and compassion and which have established a social order based on
justice, freedom and equality. Disorganisation, indiscipline, anarchy, disunity, injustice
and social privilege have always been considered manifestations of decay and
disintegration in a society. Robbery, murder, larceny, adultery and corruption have always
been condemned. Slander and blackmail have never been considered healthy social
activities, while service and care of the aged, helping ones relatives, regard for
neighbours, loyalty to friends, aiding the weak, the destitute and the orphans, and
nursing the sick are qualities which have been highly valued since the dawn of
Individuals who are honest, sincere and dependable,
whose deeds match their words, who are content with their own rightful possessions, who
are prompt in the discharge of their obligations to others, who live in peace and let
others live in peace, and from whom nothing but good can be expected, have always formed
the basis of any healthy human society.
These examples show that human moral standards are
universal and have been well-known to mankind throughout the ages. Good and evil are not
myths, but realities well understood by all. A sense of good and evil is inherent in the
very nature of man. Hence in the terminology of the Quran good is called Marif
(a well-known thing) and evil munkar (an unknown thing); that is to say, good is
known to be desirable and evil is known not to commend itself in any way. As the
Quran says: Allah has revealed to human nature the consciousness and cognition of
good and evil. (al-Shams 91: 8)
This is a new and revised translation of
a talk given by the author on Radio Pakistan, Lahore, on 6th January, 1948.
The question that now arises is: if what constitutes
good and evil is so clear and universally agreed, why do varying patterns of moral
behaviour exist in the world? Why are there so many conflicting moral philosophies? Why do
certain moral standards contradict each other? What lies at the root of other differences?
What is the unique position of Islam in the context of other ethical systems? On what
grounds can we claim that Islam has a perfect moral system? And what exactly is the
distinctive contribution of Islam in the realm of ethics?
Although these are important questions and must be
squarely faced, justice cannot be done to them in the brief span of this talk. So I shall
restrict myself to a summary of some of the points crucial to any critical examination of
contemporary ethical systems and conflicting patterns of moral behaviour:
(a) Through their failure to prescribe specific
limits and roles for the various moral virtues and values, present-day moral structures
cannot provide a balanced and coherent plan of social conduct.
(b) The real cause of the differences in the moral
systems seems to lie in their offering different standards for judging what constitutes
good and bad actions and in their laying down different ways to distinguish good from
evil. Differences also exist in respect of the sanction behind the moral law and in regard
to the motives which impel a person to follow it.
(c) On deeper reflect we find that the grounds for
these differences emerge from different peoples conflicting views and concepts of
the universe, the place of man in it, and of mans purpose on earth. The various
systems of ethics, philosophy and religion are in fact a record of the vast divergence of
views on such vital questions as: Is there an Allah of the universe and, if there
is, is He the only one or are there many Allahs? What are the Divine attributes?
What is the nature of the relationship between Allah and human beings? Has He made
any arrangements for guiding humanity through the vicissitudes of life or not? Is man
answerable to Him or not? And if so, in what spheres of his life? Is there an ultimate aim
of mans creation which he should keep in view throughout his life? The ethical
philosophy and the pattern of moral behaviour of the individual and society.
It is difficult for me, in this brief talk, to take
stock of the various ethical systems in the world and indicate what solutions each one of
them has proposed to these questions and what has been the impact of these answers on the
moral evolution of the society believing in these concepts. Here I have to confine myself
to the Islamic concept only.
Concept of Life and Morality
The viewpoint of Islam is that the universe is the
creation of Allah who is One. He alone is its Master, Sovereign and Sustainer, and
it is functioning under His command. He is All-powerful and Omniscient, he is subbã h and
Quddã s (that is, free from all defects, mistakes, weaknesses and faults and is holy in
every respect). His godhood is free from partiality and injustice.
Man is His creature, subject and servant and is born
to serve and obey Him. These correct course of life for man is to live in complete
obedience to Him. And it is for Allah, not man, to determine the mode of that
worship and obedience.
At certain times Allah has raised Prophets
for the guidance of humanity and has revealed His books through them. It is the duty of
man to live his life according to the dictates of Allah and to follow the Divine
Man is answerable to Allah for all his
actions and will be called on to render an account of them in the Hereafter. Mans
short life on earth is really an opportunity to prepare for that great test. He will be
impartially assessed on his conduct in life by a Being who keeps a complete record not
merely of his movements and actions and their influence on all that is in the world ¾
from the tiniest speck of dust to the highest mountains ¾ but also of his innermost
thoughts and feelings and intentions.
The Goal of Moral
This concept of the universe and of mans place
in it indicates the real and ultimate good which should be the object of all
mankinds endeavours ¾ seeking the pleasure of Allah.
This is the standard by which Islam judges all conduct. It means that man is not left like
a ship without moorings at the mercy of winds and tides; instead, we have a set of
unchangeable norms for all moral actions. Moreover, by making the pleasure of Allah
the object of mans life, unlimited possibilities are opened for mans moral
evolution, untainted by narrow selfishness or racism or chauvinism.
Islam also furnishes us with the means to determine
good and evil conduct. It does not base our knowledge of evil and virtue on mere
intellect, desire, intuition or experience derived through the senses, which constantly
undergo changes and modifications and thus fail to provide definite and unchanging
standards of morality. Instead, it provides us with an objective source, the Divine
revelation, as embodied in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah (way of life) of the
Prophet, blessings and peace be on him. This source prescribes a standard of moral conduct
that is permanent and universal and holds good in every age and under all circumstances.
The moral code of Islam ranges from smallest details
of domestic life to the field of national and international behaviour. It guides us at
every stage in life and makes us free from exclusive dependence on other sources of
knowledge, although we may, of course, use these as an aid to this primary source.
This concept of the universe and of mans place
in it also provides the sanction that must lie at the back of every moral law, that is,
the love and fear of Allah, the sense of accountability on the Day of Judgment and
the promise of eternal bliss and reward in the Hereafter. Although Islam aims to cultivate
a mass ethos which may induce individuals and groups to observe the principles of morality
it lays down as well as helps the evolution of a political system which will enforce the
moral law through its legislative and executive powers, Islams moral law does not
really depend on these external factors. It relies on the inherent desire for good in
every man which is derived from belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment. Before
laying down any moral injunctions, Islam seeks to implant firmly in mans heart the
conviction that his dealings are with Allah, who sees him at all times and in all
places; that he may hide himself from the whole world but not from Allah; that he
may deceive everyone but Allah; that he can flee from the power of any person but
not from Allah; that while the world can see only mans outward life, Allah
knows his innermost intentions and desires; that while man may, in his short sojourn on
earth, do whatever he likes, he has to die one day and preset himself before the Divine
court of justice where no special pleading or deception will be of any avail and where his
future will be decided with complete impartiality. It is this belief in accountability to Allah
which is the real force behind the moral law of Islam. If public opinion and the powers of
the state give it support, so much the better; otherwise, this faith alone can keep a
Muslim individual and a Muslim community on the straight path of virtue.
The fact that a man voluntarily and willingly
accepts Allah as his Creator and obedience to Allah as the aim of his life
and strives to seek His pleasure in his every action provides sufficient incentive to obey
the commandments which he believes to be from Allah. Belief that whoever obeys the
Divine commands is sure to be rewarded in the Hereafter, whatever difficulties he may have
to face in his life on earth, is another strong incentive for leading a virtuous life. and
the belief that breaking the commandments of Allah will mean eternal punishment is
an effective deterrent against violation of the moral law, however tempted a man may be by
the superficial attractiveness of a certain course of action. If this hope and fear are
firmly ingrained in ones heart, they will inspire virtuous deeds even on occasions
when the immediate consequences may appear to be very damaging, and they will keep one
away from evil even when it looks extremely attractive and profitable.
This clearly indicates that Islam possesses a
distinctive criterion of good and evil, its own source of moral law, and its own sanctions
and motivating force; through them it shapes the generally recognised moral virtues in all
spheres of life into a balanced and comprehensive scheme and ensures that they are
followed. It can therefore be justifiably claimed that Islam possesses a perfect moral
system of its own. This system has many distinguishing features and I shall refer to three
of the most significant ones which, in my opinion, form its special contribution to
1. By setting Divine pleasure as the objective of
mans life, Islam has set the highest possible standard of morality providing
boundless possibilities for the moral evolution of humanity. By making Divine revelation
the primary source of knowledge, it gives permanence and stability to moral standards,
while at the same time allowing scope for reasonable flexibility and adjustment, though
not for perversions or moral laxity. The love and fear of Allah become the real
motives, which impel man to obey the moral law without external pressures. And through
belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment, we are motivated to behave morally with
earnestness and sincerity.
2. The Islamic moral order does not, through a
mistaken love of originality and innovation, seek to lay down any new moral standards; nor
does it seek to minimise the importance of the well-known moral standards, or give
exaggerated importance to some and neglect others without cause. It takes all the
recognised morals and assigns a suitable role to each within the total scheme of life. It
widens the scope of their application to cover every aspect of mans private and
social life ¾ his domestic associations, his civic conduct, and his activities in the
political, economic, legal and educational fields. It covers his life at home and in
society, literally from the cradle to the grave. No sphere of life is exempt from the
universal and comprehensive application of the moral principles of Islam. These ensure
that the affairs of life, instead of being dominated by selfish desires and petty
interests, are regulated by the dictates of morality.
3. The Islamic moral order guarantees for man a system of life which
is free from all evil. It calls on the people not only to practise virtue, but also to
eradicate vice. Those who respond to this call are gathered together into a community
(Ummah) and given the name Muslims. The main purpose underlying the formation
of this community is that it should make an organised effort to establish and enforce
goodness and suppress and eradicate evil. It would be a day of morning for this community
and a bad day for the entire world if its efforts were at any time directed towards
establishing evil and suppressing good.
Taken from http://www.jamaat.org