Morality or ethics is generally a code or set of principles following which is considered indispensable to leading a good and pleasant life. The theoretical study of morality and ethics is concerned with questions like “what is good life and how men should behave” and others. The term ethics has been derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’ which means customs and usages. Today, it is used to describe the character or disposition of a person or a society. Being a perfect and dynamic religion, Islam prescribes everlasting ethics and moral values that are pivotal to building a strong and clean body, a sound mind, a satisfied heart and a content soul. All religions promote human-friendly, noble ethics and moral values. For example, the Christianity gives Golden Principle which implies that if someone slaps you on your one cheek, turn the other. Buddhism is based on the doctrine of Ahimsa which means no injury to living creatures. However, the distinction of Islam is that it gives superlative importance to moral values and includes in it all aspects of life like dealings, eating and drinking, dressing, business, cleanliness, behaviour, and so on.
Different Aspects of Ethics or Morality in Islam
1. Sanctity of human life, honour and property: In moral values, the most important aspect is dignity of human life. Islam ordains that a Muslim must be kind towards and helpful to other human beings, and no one is allowed to cause harm to life of another person. Homicide is considered the grisliest of crimes and a severe sin. It may be judged from the fact that in verse 32 of Surah Al-Maidah (The Table Spread), Allah Almighty declares killing of one person as killing whole humanity and saving the life of one person as saving the whole humanity. Moreover, murder is the only sin for which Allah Almighty has prescribed four kinds of punishments; as mentioned in verse 93 of Surah An-Nisa (The Women): “But whoever kills a believer intentionally – his recompense is Hell, wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.” Islam also declares that a Muslim is not allowed to cause harm to the prestige and honour of any person. In the same way, a Muslim is not allowed to cause financial loss to others. On the occasion of his last sermon, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Your lives, properties and honour are as sacred as this day, this month and this place”.
2. Rights of close relatives like parents, children and spouses: After providing safeguards for human life, honour and property, Islam focuses on man’s character in entirety, by regulating human relations. Islam lays emphasis on maintaining good relations with our near and dear ones as well as the ordinary people. Bringing up children in a graceful manner, imparting to them good education and building their character are among the prime responsibilities of parents. The grown-ups are required to look after their aged parents and to treat them with deference. In this regard, Allah Almighty ordains in verse 14 of Surah Luqman, “Be grateful to Me and to your parents”. For better familial relations, Islam also accentuates cordial relations between spouses by declaring them garments of each other in verse 187 of Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow). Both are required to be faithful, sincere, dutiful and caring towards each other. Muslims are also directed not to sever relations with other relatives.
3. Speaking truth, honouring promises and caring for trust properties: All individual and collective actions that are detrimental to society are strictly forbidden in Islam. Telling lies has been despised so much that Allah Almighty curses the liars frequently in the Holy Quran. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “A Muslim may commit other sins but a Muslim cannot be a liar”. Honouring promises and commitments is obligatory as Allah Almighty says in verse 34 of Surah Bani Israel (Children of Israel), “And fulfil [every] commitment. Indeed, the commitment is ever [that about which one will be] questioned.” Islam also directs Muslims to take special care of trust properties.
4. Prohibition of illegitimate and unnatural sexual relations: Islam ordains only decent and legitimate relationship between members of opposite sexes. For that purpose, Islam accentuates the institution of marriage for fulfilling our physical needs, and strictly prohibits unpleasant and immoral tendencies like adultery/fornication, sodomy, child abuse, sexual harassment, homosexuality, etc. Islam strongly condemns adultery and declares it a major sin as it pollutes the matter of establishing paternity, promotes indecent tendencies in a society and spoils the honour of families. In this regard, Allah Almighty says in verse 32 of Surah Bani Israel (Children of Israel), “And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.” In verses 30 and 31 of Surah an-Noor (The Light), Muslim men and women both are directed to cast down their gazes and to protect their modesty. Islam declares sodomy and homosexuality more serious sins than adultery. In the Holy Quran, Allah Almighty has mentioned the incident of the people of Hazrat Lut who were destroyed for indulging in sodomy. Sodomy and homosexuality was proscribed in other religions also. In the Bible, the incident of two towns has been mentioned which were destroyed for involving in unnatural and illegitimate sexual acts.
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5. Outlawing acts of ridicule, slander, backbiting, arrogance and jealousy: No one is allowed to ridicule or insult others. In the opening verse of Surah Al-Humazah (The Traducer), Allah Almighty says, “Woe to every slanderer and fault-finder.” Backbiting is strictly prohibited as the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Who indulges in backbiting is like one who eats flesh of his dead brother.” Arrogance and keeping a haughty demeanour is also despised in Islam. Allah Almighty says in verse 18 of Surah Luqman, “And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily Allah likes not any arrogant boaster.” Jealousy too has no room in Islam. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Jealousy eats virtues the way fire eats wood.”
6. Care in expenditure and eschewing irregularities in financial transactions: Islam provides guidelines for spending money by directing Muslims to adopt moderation as it likes neither lavish expenditure nor miserly ways. Those who spend unnecessarily or indulge in extravagance have been declared brothers of Satan. About such people, Allah Almighty says in verse 27 of Surah Bani Israel (Children of Israel), “Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.” Tightfisted and misers are also disliked by Islam. The Muslims are encouraged to spend as much as possible in charity. Although all religions promote charity, the distinction of Islam is that it obligates on rich people to spend their wealth in the service of humanity, besides a specific portion of their wealth annually in the shape of Zakat.
Islam strictly prohibits other financial irregularities such as weighing less, bribery, adulteration, profiteering and hoarding, etc. Allah Almighty has promised strict punishment for those who indulge in such unlawful acts. About those who weigh less, Allah Almighty says in verse 1 of Surah Mutaffifin (The Defrauding), “Woe to Al-Mutaffifin i.e. those who give less in measure and weight.” About bribery, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “The one who gives bribe and the one receiving it, both will go to hell.” About committing adulteration, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “The one who adulterates is not from us.” About profiteering and hoarding, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Who hoarded grain for forty days for the purpose of profiteering i.e. for increasing prices, it would imply that he is weary of Allah and Allah is weary of him.”
7. Tolerance and avoiding anger: Tolerance also holds an important place in Islamic ethics and moral values. The Muslims are directed, time and again, in the Holy Quran and Sunnah to face problems and troubles with tolerance and patience and to seek Allah’s help through Salat and patience. For example, in verse 17 of Surah Luqman, Hazrat Luqman advised his son to bear the problems of life with patience. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (RA) faced enormous problems at the hands of infidels of Makkah but they never adopted non-tolerant or impatient attitude. When the Holy Prophet (PBUH) went to Taif for preaching the message of Islam, he (PBUH) was pelted with stones and was critically injured. At that moment, the angel Gabriel sought permission from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for the annihilation of the Taif people. Even at that time, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “I have been sent as a prophet of mercy, and not as prophet of wrath.” On the occasion of the conquest of Makkah, when the Muslims were in a position to avenge all atrocities inflicted by the infidels, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) pardoned them by announcing a general amnesty – a unique and unparalleled example of tolerance and mercy.
The Muslims are required to be calm, tolerant and steadfast in the face of hardships and sufferings. In no case, they are allowed to lose temper and come to blows. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Bad temper spoils work as vinegar spoils honey.” Once an Arab bedouin came to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and requested for only one perfect advice. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “Avoid anger”. He again made the same request and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) gave the same advice. It is reported that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) repeated this sentence again and again.
8. Concentration on the rights of minorities: It is the responsibility of a Muslim state to safeguard the rights of minorities living in its territories and to protect their lives, honour and property, as well as their religious places. In an Islamic state, the life of a non-Muslim stands on equal footing with that of a Muslim. The state can levy Jizya (a fixed tax that was paid by the People of the Book every year to the government) but it must not be oppressive. When the Holy Prophet (PBUH) migrated to Madina, he (PBUH) signed the Charter of Madina with the Jews and infidels that ensured all the fundamental rights of minorities and is still a sublime role model for the whole world. When the delegation of Christians of Najran came to Madina for a meeting with the Holy Prophet (PBUH), they were provided accommodation in the Prophet’s Mosque. Whenever the Holy Prophet (PBUH) saw funeral procession of a Jew in Madina, he would stand as a gesture of regard. About the rights of minorities the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “I am adversary of that Muslim who troubles a non-Muslim living in the Islamic state – in this world as well as in the hereafter.” (Sahih Bukhari)
9. Special care for neighbours’ rights: Islam also gives special priority to the rights of neighbours. The companions (RA) of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) have reported that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) accentuated so much on the rights of neighbours that they thought that they (neighbours) would get a share in inheritance. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “That person is not a Muslim who takes meal to his full while his neighbour sleeps without having food due to poverty.”
10. Emphasis on the rights of marginalized segments of society: The moral values of Islam emphasize on the rights of marginalized segments of society. For example, about the rights of women, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) emphasised the provision of their due rights. In addition, about the rights of slaves, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said in his Last Sermon, “And your slaves! See that you feed them with such food as you yourselves eat and clothe them with the stuff you wear. If they commit a fault which you are not inclined to forgive, then part from them, for they are the servants of the Lord and are not to be harshly treated.” Islam also protects rights of persons with disabilities, orphans, destitute, patients and prisoners of war.
11. Cleanliness and purity: Islam emphasizes on cleanliness of body and soul also. It is the responsibility of every Muslim to keep his body, clothes, abode, food and surrounding areas neat and clean. Islam declares cleanliness the half faith. For offering the five obligatory prayers, it is mandatory that the body, clothes and place where one is offering it is clean. Islam accords utmost importance to all aspects of cleanliness and purity such as taking bath, clipping nails, shaving/trimming/arranging hair, using perfume, etc.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) summarized the importance of morality in these words, “Better among the human beings is the one who is useful to other human beings.” And the second caliph of Muslims, Hazrat Umar (RA), emphasized the importance of ethics in these words, “A person is not known by his worships but by his dealings with people.”
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