Chapter XVI - Muslim Ethics And Moralities
Moslem ethics and moralities as stated in the Koran embrace the consideration of all those moral excellences known to any advanced civilization, such as sincerity, honestly, humility, justice, patience, straightforwardness, keeping a promise, chastity, meekness, politeness, forgiveness, goodness, courage, veracity, sympathy, and other ethical instructions and rules of conduct, which are recommended, praised and enjoined upon Muslims in the Holy Koran and in the teachings of the Prophet.
But the Koran does not simply enumerate such moral qualities and distinctions as God is pleased to enjoin upon his servants; nay it further gives us ethical teachings as to how man can get to acquire these moral excellences and shows the straight way leading to their achievements. It teaches that there are three springs, out of which the physical, moral and spiritual conditions flow. Now, what is the effect of the teachings of the Holy Koran upon the physical state of man, how does it guide us with respect to it and what practical limits does it set to the natural inclination? It may be remarked at the outset that according to the Muslim Scripture, the physical conditions of man are closely connected with his moral and spiritual states, so much so that even his modes of eating and drinking play a part in the moulding of his moral and spiritual qualities. If, therefore, his natural desires are subjected to the directions of the law, they take the form of moral qualities and deeply affect the spiritual state of the soul. It is for this reason that in all forms of devotion and prayer and in all the injunctions relating to internal purity and moral rectitude, the greatest stress has been laid upon external purity and cleanliness and the proper attitude of the body. The relation between the physical and spiritual nature of man would become evident on careful consideration of the actions of the outward organs and the effect they produce upon the internal nature of man. Weeping even when artificial at once saddens the heart, while an artificial laugh makes it cheerful. Likewise, a prostration of the body, as is done in prayer, causes the soul to humble itself and adore the Creator; whereas strutting produces vanity and vain glory. Experience also shows the strong effect of food upon the heart and brain powers. For instance, the vegetarians ultimately may lose courage. There is not the least doubt that food plays an important part in the formation of the character. Furthermore, as there is a defect in excluding meat from the diet altogether, excess of meat is also injurious to character and badly affects the admirable qualities of humility and meekness. But those who adopt the middle path are heirs to both the noble qualities of courage and meekness. It is with this great law in view that the Holy Koran gives the instructions:
“Eat (meat as well as other food) and drink but do not give way to excess (in any particular form of diet so that your character and health may not suffer from it)” (VII – 29).
In fact, there is a mysterious relation between the body and the soul of man, and the solution of the mystery is rather beyond human comprehension.
Directions Relating to
Reformation of Man’s External Life
The directions relating to the reformation of the external life of man and his gradual advancement from savageness to civilization until he reaches the highest pinnacles of spiritual life are based on the following method: The Almighty God has been pleased to lead man out of darkness and raise him up from a savage state by teaching him the rules relating to his ordinary daily actions and modes of social life. Thus they begin at the lowest point of man’s development, first of all, drawing a line of distinction between man and the lower animals, teaching him as well the first rules of morality which may pass under the name of sociality. Next they undertake to improve upon the low degree of morality already acquired by bringing his habits to moderation, thus turning them to sublime morals.
Therefore, in the first stage we are concerned with more ignorant savages, whom it is our duty to raise to the status of civilized men by teaching them the social laws embracing their daily mutual relations.
The first step towards civilization, therefore, consists in teaching the savage not to walk about naked, or devour carcasses, or indulge in barbarous habits. This is the lowest grade in the reformation of man. In humanizing people upon whom no rays of the light of civilization have yet fallen, it is necessary, first of all to take them through this stage and make them accustomed to morals of the lowest type. When the savage has learned the crude manners of society, he is prepared for the second stage of reformation. He is then taught the high and excellent moral qualities pertaining to humanity as well as the proper use of his own faculties and of whatever lies hidden beneath them. Those who have acquired excellent morals are now prepared for the third stage. After attaining the outward perfection, they are made to taste of the real knowledge and love of God. These are the three stages which the Holy Koran has described as necessary for anyone who has embraced Islam.
Our Prophet was raised at a time when the whole world had sunk to the lowest depth of ignorance. Utter darkness and barbarism at that time prevailed over the whole of Arabia. No social laws were observed, and the most despicable deeds were openly committed. An unlimited number of wives was taken, and all prohibited things were made lawful. Rapine and incest reigned supreme and mothers were not infrequently taken for wives. It was to prohibit this horrible custom that the world of the Koran were revealed:
ÍÑãÊ Úáíßã ÃãåÇÊßã
i.e. “Your mothers are prohibited to be taken as your wives.”
Like beasts, most bedouin Arabs did not even hesitate to eat of carcasses and to practise cannibalism. There was no vice which was not freely practised by them. The great majority of them did not believe in a future life, and not a few were atheists. Infanticide prevailed throughout the whole peninsula, and they mercilessly butchered orphans to rob them of their properties. Their thirst for wine was excessive and fornication was committed unscrupulously. Such was the dark picture of the time and the land in which the Prophet of Arabia appeared, and it was to reclaim this wild and ignorant people that the word of God came upon him. It is for this reason that the Holy Koran claims to be a perfect guidance to mankind as to it alone was given the opportunity to work out a reformation complete on all sides, the other Scriptures having never been given such an opportunity. The Koran had a grand aim before it. It had first to reclaim mankind from savagery and to make good men of them, then to teach them excellent morals and make them good, and last of all to take them to the highest pinnacles of advancement and make them godly. The Holy Koran gives excellent and distinct teachings on these three points.
It is to be observed that the first stage of a moral being, i.e. one whose actions can be classed as good or bad morally, is that in which he is capable of distinguishing between good and bad actions or between two good or two bad actions of different degrees. This takes place when the reasoning faculty is sufficiently well developed to form general ideas and perceive the remoter consequences of actions. It is then that man regrets the omission of a good deed and feels repentance or remorse after doing a bad one. This is the second stage of man’s life which the Holy Koran terms “nafsillawwama,” i.e. the self-blaming soul (or conscience). But it should be borne in mind that for the primitive minded man or the savage to attain this stage of the self-blaming soul, mere admonition is hardly sufficient. He must have so much knowledge of God that he may not look upon his own creation of God as an insignificant or meaningless thing. This soul-ennobling sense of God can greatly help to lead to actions truly moral. And it is for this reason that the Holy Koran inculcates a true knowledge of God along with the admonitions and warnings, and assures man that every good or bad action is watched and seen by God and that accordingly it bears fruit which causes spiritual bliss or torture in this life, while a clear and more palpable reward or punishment awaits him in the next. In short, when man reaches this stage of advancement, which we have called the self-blaming soul, his reason, knowledge, and conscience reach the stage of development, in which a feeling of remorse overtakes him in doing unrighteous deeds and he is very anxious to perform good ones. This is the stage in which the actions of man can be said to be moral.
Thus in the earlier stage in man’s civilization, the Koran teaches this particular portion of morals which we term “manners.” Koranic Laws are laid down to guide the actions of daily life; and all that is necessary to make the primitive-minded a social being is inculcated. Examples of the injunctions of the Holy Book on this point are as follows:
“Your mothers are forbidden to you (as wives) and so are your daughters and sisters and your aunts, both on the father’s side and the mother’s side; and your nieces on the brother’s and sister’s side, and your foster-mothers, and your foster-sisters and the mothers of your step-daughters who are your wards, born of your wives to whom you have gone in (but if you have not gone into them it shall be no sin); and the wives of your sons who proceed out of your loins; and it is also forbidden that you should have two sisters together (as two wives at one and the same time) : this that you did before (in the time of ignorance) is now forbidden to you and forgiven by the All Forgiving and All Merciful God.”
“And marry not women whom your fathers have married, but what is passed shall be forgiven (for you did it in ignorance).”
“This day (all) the good things are allowed to you, and the food of those who have been given the Scriptures (Jew and Christians) is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them; and the chaste from among the believing women and the chaste from among those who have been given the Scriptures before you (are lawful for you), when you have given them their dowries, taking them in marriage, not fornicating nor taking them for paramours in secret ….” ()
“Do not commit suicide.”
“Do not kill your children.”
“Enter not into houses other than your own (like savage) without permission, but wait until you have asked leave; and when you enter, salute the inmates; and if the house is empty do not enter till the owner of the house gives you leave; and if the owner asks you to go back, return forthwith; that is more decent for you.”
“Enter houses by their doors (not by clambering their walls).”
“When you are saluted with a salutation, just salute the person with a better salutation or at least return the same.”
“Wines (including all intoxicants) and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are but an abomination of Satan’s mischief, avoid them, therefore, that you may prosper.”
“You are forbidden to eat that which dies of itself , and blood, and flesh of swine.”
“And they (the new converts) ask what is lawful for them to eat, say : (everything good and clean is allowed to you (only the dead and the unclean things which resemble the dead are forbidden).”
“When you are told to make room in your assemblies for others, then make room (that others may sit).”
“Eat and drink, but be moderate in your diet and do not exceed the proper limits.”
“Do not indulge in idle talk but speak rightly when occasion requires it.”
“And let your clothes be clean and let everything that belongs to you (your body, your dwelling, etc.) be not dirty.”
“Bear witness with justice and let not hatred of some people induce you to act inacquitably.”
“Act acquitably and be just, God is aware of all that you do.”
“When speaking do not shout, and when walking walk gently.”
() There was a custom among some ignorant bedouins that if children were not born to a man, his wife would secretly go into another man for getting children. It is for the extirpation of this savage custom that the last clause of the above teaching is expressed.