The Islamic Concept of Life and Morality
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.
Man is His creature, subject and servant and is born to serve and obey Him. These correct course of life for man is to live in complete obedience to Him. And it is for Allah, not man, to determine the mode of that worship and obedience.
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. ManÂ’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 Â¾ from the tiniest speck of dust to the highest mountains Â¾ but also of his innermost thoughts and feelings and intentions.
The Goal of Moral Effort
This concept of the universe and of manÂ’s place in it indicates the real and ultimate good which should be the object of all mankindÂ’s endeavours Â¾ Â‘seeking the pleasure of Allah. This is the standard by which Islam judges all conduct. It means that man is not left like a ship without moorings at the mercy of winds and tides; instead, we have a set of unchangeable norms for all moral actions. Moreover, by making the Â‘pleasure of AllahÂ’ the object of manÂ’s life, unlimited possibilities are opened for manÂ’s moral evolution, untainted by narrow selfishness or racism or chauvinism.
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 behaviour. 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.
Motives and Incentives
The fact that a man voluntarily and willingly accepts Allah as his Creator and obedience to Allah as the aim of his life and strives to seek His pleasure in his every action provides sufficient incentive to obey the commandments which he believes to be from Allah. Belief that whoever obeys the Divine commands is sure to be rewarded in the Hereafter, whatever difficulties he may have to face in his life on earth, is another strong incentive for leading a virtuous life. and the belief that breaking the commandments of Allah will mean eternal punishment is an effective deterrent against violation of the moral law, however tempted a man may be by the superficial attractiveness of a certain course of action. If this hope and fear are firmly ingrained in oneÂ’s heart, they will inspire virtuous deeds even on occasions when the immediate consequences may appear to be very damaging, and they will keep one away from evil even when it looks extremely attractive and profitable.
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 recognised 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 manÂ’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 minimise the importance of the well-known moral standards, or give exaggerated importance to some and neglect others without cause. It takes all the recognised 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 manÂ’s private and social life Â¾ 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 practise virtue, but also to eradicate vice. Those who respond to this call are gathered together into a community (Ummah) and given the name Â‘MuslimsÂ’. The main purpose underlying the formation of this community is that it should make an organised effort to establish and enforce goodness and suppress and eradicate evil. It would be a day of morning for this community and a bad day for the entire world if its efforts were at any time directed towards establishing evil and suppressing good.