Will you give information about Islamic ethics?

Details of the Question
Will you give information about Islamic ethics?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

All of the true religions of the world are based on the principle of high ethics. All of the prophets sent to the world by Allah and pedagogues made efforts in order to stop bad deeds, to spread good deeds and to strengthen ethical values.

God Almighty sent Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) as a messenger giving people glad tidings and warning them regarding issues like belief, worshipping, law and punishment along with ethics in order to improve them and to lead to perfection.

Man's duties and responsibilities toward Allah have been determined by the principles of belief and worshipping. However, the duty of fulfilling the principles of belief and worshipping has more religious characteristics rather than ethical ones. Although the principles of belief and worshipping are essentially religious, they have very important ethical functions, too. The main aim in the duties and responsibilities toward Allah is to make man sensitive toward their responsibilities to others and to elevate and develop him spiritually.

For instance, financial worship like hajj, umrah, fitr, ashar, sadaqah in Islam are fulfilled because they are ordered by Allah but they also have ethical virtues like helping others, sharing one's bounties and thanking since they are given to other people.

A person who fulfills the principles of belief and worshipping acquires a nice character structure with which he can fulfill his ethical duties and responsibilities easily. Therefore, the principles of belief and worshipping, which are regarded to be part of the "Duties toward Allah", play a very important role in the ethical education of man.

The principles of belief in the religion of Islam are in a position of a pushing force that encourages man to do good deeds, to avoid bad deeds and to fulfill his responsibilities. Worshipping is like a means that maturates man in terms of serving his Creator and in terms of ethics and that keeps him away from bad deeds. 

Education through theoretical knowledge is not enough to make a man attain high ethics. What is necessary is deep-rooted education containing both theory and practice, longtime working and continuous practice.

They are all present in Islamic ethics. Belief and worshipping principles of Islam form the sound infrastructure the ethical education having the qualities we have mentioned above. What is essential in ethics is practice. Man needs to maintain both his spiritual and bodily health in order to have an ethical lifestyle. To this end, man needs to keep away from intoxicating and narcotic things that harm both his bodily and spiritual abilities.  

The religion of Islam is a movement of great change and advancement against the understanding of Ignorance (Jahiliyya) in ethics as well as other issues. From this point of view, the greatest change of understanding that Islam realized is probably to lead people to the principles of universal values and high ethics by breaking the ties of racism, tribalism and regionalism.

Indeed, Islam suggested and showed that all human beings originally came from the same man and woman - Hz. Adam and Eve (Hawwa) - that they were "made into nations and tribes so that they may know each other "(1), not to compete one another personally or based on their races, that biological differences related to creation could not be regarded as a reason for superiority in ethical and spiritual sense, that superiority could be attained only through personal efforts of man and that sincere religiousness is based on the virtues defined by the word "taqwa", which is the main concept of the religious and ethical virtues.     

Islam rejects all of the claims of the superiority of families, clans, tribes and races, which are the foundations of racism. After Muslims ordered to hold fast by the religion (rope) of Allah in verse 103 of the chapter of Aal-i Imran, it is stated that the fact that Allah transformed the enmity originating from the racism of Jahiliyya into brotherhood and saved them from the brink of "the pit of fire" was Allah's "favor" on them.

In another verse, an ethical order of the Quran that can be described as systematic and universal is expressed as follows:

"Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor."(2)

In the following hadith, Hz. Prophet (pbuh) both eliminates the spirit of racism and emphasizes the attitude of Islam that rejects Jahiliyya ethics by meaning racism and tribalism:  "One who is killed under the banner of a man who is blind to his just cause and who raises the slogan of family or supports his own tribe dies the death of one belonging to the days of Jahiliyya." (3)

The religion of Islam dealt with the concepts 'justice' and 'oppression' in a way different from the understanding of the middle age and made justice gain a 'universal' dimension. As it is understood from verse 15 of the chapter of ash-Shura, the Quran presents justice as a stable honesty that is not affected by the arbitrary requests and suggestions of others and a spiritual balance and ethical perfection that is realized by obeying the law of ethics.   

Then, with the formation of this balance and maturity expressed as 'moderation' and 'justice' and sometimes as 'middle' by Islamic scholars of ethics, the deeds of man will be away from extremism. The word "wasat" in the phrase "ummatan wasatan" in the Quran as a quality of the Islamic society is understood as justice in all tafsirs.

Accordingly, Islamic ethics teaches a balanced and harmonious lifestyle that is away from extremism in the society. In the Quran, a person who lacks justice is likened to a dumb and good for nothing slave and it is stated that such a person cannot be considered equal to a person who has the virtue of justice and has found the right path; thus, it is indicated that justice is an attribute of perfection (maturity and loftiness). In the religion of Islam, the ethical deeds that man is asked to gain are generally called 'virtues' and 'good deeds'; the deeds that man is asked to avoid are called 'bad deeds' and 'evil'.  

Every Muslim needs to learn these good deeds and do them; he also needs to avoid the deeds that are regarded as evil. Therefore, he needs to know the good and the bad in a balanced way. We see that this criterion is meticulously observed. For, the beauty or ugliness of something is understood better through its opposite.  

Thus, the meaning and purpose that is wanted to be expressed is stated more clearly and easily. Man is asked to ponder over these kinds of examples and similar ones and take lessons from them:

"Seest thou not how Allah sets forth a parable?― a goodly Word like a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches (reach) to the heavens― It brings forth its fruit at all times, by the leave of its Lord. So Allah sets forth parables for men, in order that they may receive admonition. And the parable of an evil Word is that of an evil tree. It is torn up by the root from the surface of the earth: it has no stability." (4)

In this beautiful example, which people from all walks of life can understand, it is stated that good and useful words are permanent and the they are always useful; it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that a large tree, under which everybody wants to sit, whose shade and fruits everybody wants to make use of, is chosen as an example.   

When a tree is cut down, it is nothing but wood that prevents people from passing no matter how tall and grand it once was. The goodness of spending one's money and property for the sake of Allah and its benefits for man is explained through the metaphor of a mature grain of corn, which makes man happy with its appearance and inspires him nice feelings as follows: 

"The parable of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is that of a grain of corn: it groweth seven ears, and each ear hath a hundred grains. Allah giveth manifold increase to whom He pleaseth; and Allah careth for all and He knoweth all things."(5)

It is a good deed to give one's property to the poor and the needy for the sake of Allah but if a donation is given by embarrassing a person, breaking his heart and by reminding him the donation, it is worthless. 

This act is criticized by a simile like the following as an unlikable thing: 

"O ye who believe! Cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury― like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in Parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil; on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guideth not those who reject faith"(6)

To speak behind other people's backs, to backbite them through the words that cannot be uttered in their presence is an ugly deed according to Islamic ethics. The example that the Quran gives in order to make people avoid this immoral act and to show how disgusting it is is very significant:

"O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: and spy not on each other, nor speak ill of each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...but fear Allah: for Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful." (7)

The most important resources regarding the understanding of ethics of Arabs living before Islam are Jahiliyya poetry, proverbs and samples of rhetoric, the Quran, hadith and other Islamic documents related to the first period, and the resources of other nations like Rome, Byzantium and Iran. According to the information obtained from especially the poetry, proverbs and samples of rhetoric of Jahiliyya, the word ethics (akhlaq and its singular form khuluq) is not used very often in Jahiliyya literature.

The struggle to survive was probably the main pursuit of the people of the Arab tribal community; it was based on the spiritual power and prestige of the tribe along with human and financial power; therefore, honor, bravery and generosity were superior to the other virtues in Jahiliyya ethics.  

They were alienated from the thought of religious responsibility and working for salvation in the hereafter because there was no widespread belief in the hereafter. As a matter of fact, Tarafa, a famous Jahiliyya poet,  stated in his work, Muallaqa, that the best thing to do for man was to enjoy all of the pleasures of life since eternality is not in question, expressing the hedonistic ethics of that period.   

Doubtlessly, there was some understanding of halal and haram in that period but it was determined by customs only. Customs changed from tribe to tribe and they were far from being inclusive. Justice changed depending on power. As a result of this understanding, children, women, mentally ill people and those who had no power to fight could not receive any shares from inheritance.


(1) al-Hujurat, 49/13.

(2) al-Maida, 5/2.

(3) Muslim, Imara, 57.

(4) Ibrahim, 14/ 24-26.

(5) al-Baqara, 2/ 261.

(6) al-Baqara, 2/264.

(7) al-Hujurat, 49/12.

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