The Goal of Moral Effort
This concept of the universe and of man’s place in it indicates the real and ultimate good which should be the object of all mankind’s endeavours ‘seeking the pleasure of God’.
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 ‘pleasure of God’ the object of man’s life, unlimited possibilities are opened for man’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 God 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.
Sanction Behind Morality
This concept of the universe and of man’s place in it also provides the sanction that must lie at the back of every moral law, that is, the love and fear of God, the sense of accountability on the Day of Judgement and the promise of eternal bliss and reward in the Hereafter.
Although Islam aims to cultivate a mass ethos which may induce individuals and groups to observe the principles of morality it lays down as well as helps the evolution of a political system which will enforce the moral law through its legislative and executive powers, Islam’s moral law does not really depend on these external factors.
It relies on the inherent desire for good in every man which is derived from belief in God and the Day of Judgement.
Before laying down any moral injunctions, Islam seeks to implant firmly 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 from the whole world but not from God; that he may deceive everyone but God; that he can flee from the power of any person of any person but not from God; that while the world can see only man’s outward life, God knows his innermost intentions and desires; that while man may, in his short so journo on earth, do whatever he likes, he has to die one day and present himself before the Divine court of justice where no special pleading or deception will be of any avail and where his future will be decided with complete impartially.
It is this belief in accountability to God which is the real force behind the moral law of Islam. If public opinion and the powers of the state give it support, so much the better; otherwise, this faith alone can keep a Muslim individual and a Muslim community on the straight path of virtue.
Motives and Incentives
The fact that a man voluntarily and willingly accepts God as his Creator and obedience to God 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 God.
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 God 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 one’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 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 laws, and its own sanctions and motivating force; through them it shapes the generally recognized more 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 man’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 God become the real motives, which impel man to obey the moral law without external pressures. And through belief in God and the Day of Judgement, we are motivated to behave morally with earnestness and sincerity.
2. The Islamic moral order does not, through a mistaken love of originally and innovation, seek to lay down any new moral standards; nor does it seek to minimize the importance of the well-known moral standards, or give exaggerated importance to some and neglect others without cause.
It takes all the recognized 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 man’s private and social life - 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 interest, 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 practice virtue, but also to eradicate vice. Those who respond to this call are gathered together into a community (Ummah) and given the name ‘Muslims’.
The main purpose underlying the formation of this community is that it should make an organized effort to establish and enforce goodness and suppress and eradicate evil. It would be a day of mourning 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.
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