The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.
- Prophet Muhammad
(Sahih al-Bukhari 3559-Book 61, Hadith 68)
All great civilizations have been built on the edifice of certain fundamental human values, namely honesty, piety, and justice. These values are the candles that have kept the flame of human civilization glowing. Any attempt to extinguish these burning candles will only hasten the extinction of our civilization.
Islam’s human values revolve around four principles:
- Faith should be true and sincere,
- Individuals be prepared to show it in deeds of charity to our fellow-men,
- Individuals must be good citizens, supporting social organizations, and
- The individual soul must be firm and unshaken in all circumstances.
There are three key Islamic values: (a) akhlāq, which refers to the duties and responsibilities set out in the shari‘ah and in Islamic teaching generally; (b) adab, which refers to the manners associated with good breeding; and (c) the qualities of character possessed by a good Muslim, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
This is the compass which provides the nucleus around which the whole moral conduct should revolve. Before laying down any moral injunctions, Islam seeks to firmly implant in man's heart the conviction that his dealings are with God, who sees him at all times and in all places; that he may hide himself form the whole world, but not from Him; that he may deceive everyone but cannot deceive God; that he can flee from the clutches of anyone else, but not from God's.
Unlike the commonly held belief that man is evil by nature, Islam holds that man is born with a morally good nature that responds to faith and ethical values. Over time, it may get corrupted due to temptations and man’s inability to exercise control over his desires. According to Islam, there is universal equality among mankind, with the single exception of moral goodness and strength of character or taqwa.
The Qur'an mentions God consciousness as the highest quality of a Muslim:
- “The most honorable among you in the sight of God is the one who is most God-conscious. “(49:13)
- “And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer's forgiveness and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which awaits the God-conscious, who spend for charity in time of plenty and in times of hardship, and restrain their anger, and pardon their fellow men, for God loves those who do good. “(Q3:133-134)
Fourteen hundred years the Prophet’s quintessential message was: “A white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action “This profound notion has always been a core tenet of the Islamic principles of equality, Many centuries later the most stirring message of Noble laureate Martin Luther King is a repetition of the same philosophy: King famously stated...
“I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
For Islamic civilization, morality is the edifice. It is this fundamental value that distinguishes it from any other civilization in history. The argument that other civilizations, too, have a moral core is countered by the fact that Islam is a way of life -- ad-Deen -- and not simply a religion.
Islam encourages “downward” comparisons with regard to possessions, but “upward” comparisons with regard to values. In other words, Muslims are taught to compare themselves to those who are less fortunate in terms of material possessions, but to look up to and try to emulate those who live virtuous lives.
Great importance, then, is placed on a person’s principles and faith. This minimizes a sense of inferiority that Muslims might otherwise feel to those who are rich or better off than they are. Feelings of equality with others and a sense of fairness can help to combat feelings of low self-esteem, thereby enhancing the health of the individual and the community more generally.
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).
Indeed, it is the desire in man to improve and correct himself which prods 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 motif that binds the symphony of faith into a symbol of hope is love. Where love is, there God is. Love is that flame which when it rises, burns everything, only God remains. The whole individuality is dissolved in the ocean of eternal bliss .Love is the attribute of God. We all share the same spark of the divine. God is every person's goal. He is the ultimate beloved .To be in love with other than Him is metaphorical love.
True love isn’t about grasping or clinging to everything and everyone. It is about learning to let go. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. True love is free from bondage. By realizing God’s love, we develop humility. When we develop humility, we no longer suffer from pride — of wealth, status, knowledge or power.
Forgiveness is at the heart of so many spiritual and ethical traditions. But, it can be one of the most difficult teachings to live up to. Forgiveness requires an extraordinary struggle against the bruised ego. And, the bigger the hurt, the more difficult it is to forgive.
The way in which the Qur’anic philosophy of forgiveness relates to the human being is two-fold:
First, at the heart of Islamic spirituality is this idea that we have a share, no matter how small in comparison to God, of divine attributes by virtue of the life-giving and divinely originating soul (ruh) that is breathed into us by the angels when we are still fetuses in our mother’s wombs. It is, then, our spiritual task to cultivate and grow these beautiful attributes within our soul and character in order to draw closer to the divine. Forgiveness is an opportunity to adorn our souls with Godliness.
Second, there’s a deep sense that the way we treat others is the way that we will be treated by God. In other words, if we wish for God’s gentle treatment towards us then we must be gentle toward others. This teaching is reflected in what is referred to as the foundational Prophetic teaching – meaning that the first saying attributed from the Prophet (hadith) that a teacher of hadith imparts to his or her student – which states: “Show mercy towards those on earth and the One above the heavens will show mercy toward you.”
Another key Islamic value is compassion. Compassion is about respecting the variety of perspectives in the world, but it has its roots in the interconnectedness of all beings. Being aware of how other people approach their joy and sorrow, the same kind that we personally go through in our own way, allows us to be more empathic and mindful of the things we do and the people with whom we interact.
Our faith in God and human beings is shown in small acts of kindness, brotherhood or sisterhood and familiarity in our day-to-day lives. We don’t have to go out and look for an opportunity. It stands before us all the time, and we need only to do very well the work that we have been given. If we are mothers, we should be great mothers; if we are civil servants, we should serve people with great energy, honesty and courtesy.
Religious belief is often portrayed as the inevitable enemy of tolerance. This caricature is deeply mistaken. Tolerance is a virtue that requires deep religious or moral conviction. Moreover, it is rooted in a conception of the self that is rich enough to ground respect among diverse people.
The virtue of tolerance leads to a type of behaviour that is conducive to cohabitation with people of deeply different beliefs and practices from one’s own. The Muslim conception of creation in the image of God is the precursor for cultivation of a mindset that is conceptually very essential for tolerance.
Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, which deed is best?” The Prophet, said, “Patience and tolerance.” It was said, “Who among the believers has the best faith?” The Prophet said, “Those with the best character.”
Islamic morality is built around a continuous process of self-purification, in thought, mind and emotions (tazkya nafs); in social dealings with other human beings as well as other creations of God; in use of resources that God has given him in a wise manner; and in bringing him closer to the ideal recommended by the Prophet: “the best amongst you are those who are the owners of the best morality.”
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 when we experience pangs of conscience when committing or witnessing sins. If we keep committing wrongs, our conscience begins to harden and finally die.
[Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]