Ethical & moral doctrine of Islam
A moral sense is inborn in man and, through the ages, it has served as the common man’s standard of moral behaviour, 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 approval.
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.
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 guidance.
Man is answerable to Allah for all his actions and will be called on to render an account of them in the Hereafter. Man’s 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.
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 behavior.
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 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 recognized 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 ethics.
1. By setting Divine pleasure as the objective of man’s 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 minimize the importance of the well-known moral standards, or give exaggerated importance to some and neglect others without cause. It takes all the recognized 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 man’s 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 practice 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 organized effort to establish and enforce goodness and suppress and eradicate evil.