WHEN God made humankind, He infused basic morality within man’s nafs (soul), so that he could distinguish between right and wrong (khair and shar) in this world. It is this innate morality which is kindled within us if we get pangs of conscience when committing or witnessing crimes. If we suppress our inner voices and keep committing wrongs, our conscience begins to harden and becomes weak.
The Prophet (PBUH) has said: “I have been assigned prophethood to bring the ultimate of morals to you, and the best among you are those whose morals are better than others” (Bukhari). Indeed, it is the desire in man to improve and correct himself which tells him that good shall yield good and evil shall result in evil. Hence, he must try and do his utmost to move towards what the principles of morality, goodness and spiritual purification call for, despite temptations that lead him astray.
The Quran speaks of three key principles of moral consciousness which humans should follow, and three which they should avoid. “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded” (16:90).
Here, justice (adl) encompasses the widest form of giving what is another’s rightful due, without any discrimination whatsoever, even if it means provision of justice to one’s enemy against benefit to one’s own family. In God’s eyes, justice must be ensured at all costs. This is the concept of an ever-evolving system of social justice that is enshrined within rights and obligations of humans upon each other. Muslims must speak the truth, wherever they are, and howsoever they may be affected.
In God’s eyes, justice must be ensured at all costs.
Good conduct (ahsan) is the performing of good deeds by going out of one’s way in terms of kindness, sympathy and compassion. It is the formation of ties of love, generosity and empathy that enables us to understand another’s plight without explanation, and to help and support without being asked. It is the feeling that requires no gratitude and that humbles us before God and inspires us to thank Him profusely.
Spending (infaq) in support of relatives as well as neighbours, friends, travellers and wayfarers, and even strangers, is the third principle. Our wealth in this world is owned by God, and we are but mere custodians. While we have the permission to use this wealth for ourselves and our families to a reasonable extent without being spendthrifts, we are required to spend a sizeable portion on others who may require it for their needs and not possess as much. This spending must not be in the form of doling out with a sense of superiority, but with a spirit such that “the left hand would not know what the right is giving” (Bukhari; Muslim).
Human beings are warned not to indulge in three sins, which are opposite to the principles cited above and will undo all good deeds. The first are immoral (fhas’ha) acts of adultery, rape and others in the same group. Such actions are immoral because they are in response to base desires of man, violating another human being and taking himself away from the purification of soul and body, and spreading vice in society. They prevent man from devoting time and attention to God and His blessings, and entice him to waste his potential of doing good.
The second sin is an overarching group of ‘evil’ (munkar) opposite to ‘good’ (ma’ruf). Evil activities are so well-known that these do not need to be defined. They are immediately understood to be so by man’s nature. These are actions taken to rob another of his rights, property, honour or life, and to wound him. Wounding feelings of others by word or action and not meeting promises or commitments would fall in this group. Weighing less and charging more, adulteration and all types of fraud and embezzlement are included.
The third sin is rebellion (bagh’i) against established rules and laws. This would cover abuse of authority and resources, nepotism and corruption to the detriment of society. Of particular seriousness is the snatching of the rights of orphans and the weak. Rebellion against the state falls under the same crime.
Adhering to and promotion of moral values in society is intrinsic to Islam and the home is the basic unit of society. This is the place where Muslims should be able to demonstrate their adherence to Islamic values: through love; kindness; forgiveness and forbearance and mutual support to parents, siblings, spouses and children. Unfortunately, this is also where the failures are most visible, with obviously damaging consequences.
It would be worth measuring our individual selves against these criteria to identify the reasons for our collective failures. Are we fulfilling our moral agency?
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2015