Morality, like worship, forms an important branch of religion. In a way, it is more important than the other branches because it is here that man has within his grasp the opportunity of functioning as God's deputy and vicegerent.
Good morals are Devine attributes and it is demanded of us to produce them in ourselves as far as our humanity allows. A Tradition of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) says, "Let the virtues of God be your virtues."
To appreciate fully the distinctive merit of good morals it is of advantage first to know as a basic principle that human deeds that are capable of caning God's pleasure and on which there is a reward from him are divided into four groups.
The first group includes acts a man performs to express and affirm while paying his tribute to the Glory and Worship fullness of God, his own utter helplessness before and complete submission to him.
The acts of worship fall within this category.
The second includes acts a man is compelled to perform by the very nature of his being and the material wants of his earthly existence, but if they are performed according to the wishes and dictates of the Lord, they become worthy of his approbation and reward. For instance, a man engages himself in an occupation for the purpose of earning his daily sustenance or he gets married because there is a natural urge to be fulfilled, but God has laid down certain rules in respect of these activities; now, if he pays due regard to the Divine ordinances while pursuing his profession or in the conduct of his married life, everything that he does in these spheres becomes an act of religion and entitles him to a reward from God.
This aspect is characteristic of acts we sun up under the two headings of Muamalat (monetary affairs) and Muasharat (social conduct).
The third includes functions like the propagation of faith, religious preaching and instruction, the rendering of assistance to the sacred cause, the acceptance of trial and suffering in its path, the making of sacrifices for its victory and the forbidding of evil and the ordering of good deeds, which are in reality the province of the prophets, and when men other than them make these duties their own they get elevated to the status of the deputies and agent of the Divine Apostles.
They then operate as successors to the Holy mission of those chosen servants of God. These deeds are very pleasing to the Almighty and there can be no doubt about the great reward that is on them. What is more, they engender in the doer of them a resemblance with the Prophets (Peace be upon him) which cannot be acquired in any other way.
The fourth includes deeds which are associated with the vice regency of God. This is the grand distinguishing feature of the moral virtues.
For example, mercy is a virtue which is essentially a Divine attribute. It is because of this attribute that he is glorified as the most benevolent, the most compassionate, and his wish is that his servants should also cultivate the noble quality and behave with mercy and compassion towards his disserving creatures.
Similarly, forgiveness and the hiding of the faults and sins of others are Divine virtues and we men are required to produce them in ourselves as well.
The same is the case with the other excellent moral qualities like modesty, temperateness, beneficence, charity, generosity, justice and fair-mindedness, and the capacity to admire what is good and to despise what is wicked. All these are Divine qualities which we are called upon to furnish ourselves with.
In brief, in the field of morality alone, among all the fields of human endeavor, does man operate as the vicegerent of God in its domain he does what God himself does This destination is shared by no other department of man's existence. Hence, the intrinsic superiority of morals over the rest of the aspects of human conduct.
We will now see what great importance has the Prophet (Peace be upon him) attached to moral virtues. He says:
"The Lord has sent me down as his Apostle that I may evolve moral virtues to highest perfection." (Reported by Mishkat)
"Muslims who possess better morals are the most perfect in faith." (Reported by Mishkat)
"On the day of judgement the moral virtues of a Muslim will (prove to be) the heaviest item in the scales of Deeds." (Reported by Ibid)
Yet, inspite of these clear pronouncements, a majority of even those among us who may be said to be men of religion present a most disappointing picture: they do show some awareness of the importance of worship, but where the Divine commands governing social and moral behaviour and the conduct of monetary affairs are concerned, they pay little head to them. Many of them, indeed, seem to labour under the impression that these commands are meant for those who expire for exceptional spiritual advancement while for salvation only the Salat and Sawm are enough, although moral rectitude is as much necessary for deliverance in the Hereafter as worship.
In the Quran and the Traditions the same stress is laid on good morals as on worship, and moral transgressors have been given the warning of a chastisement as equally severs as that promised to the defaulters in the matter of prayer, fasting etc., For instance, stinginess is a moral fault. Now, see how strongly has it been condemned by the Quran:
"And let not those who covetously withhold of the gifts which God hath given of his grace think that it is good for them: soon the things which they covetously withheld be tied to their necks like a twisted collar, on the Day of Judgement." (Quran: Surat Aal-i-Imran, 18)
In like manner, in Sura-i-Humaza, the Quran gives the tidings of hell for moral diseases like excessive love of wealth, contemptuous upbraiding, double-dealing, scandle-mongering and malicious back-biting.
"Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and backbiter who pileth up wealth and layeth it by thinking that his wealth could make him last forever! By no means! He will be sure to be thrown into that which breaks to pieces."
(Quran: Surat Humaza, 1)
So, also, does the Prophet (Peace be upon him) of a number of moral vices he has emphatically stated that they are sure to plunge one into the all consuming fire of the hell. Take vanity. About it he says:
"He who harbors vanity in his heart even by an atom shall not enter Heaven." (Reported by Muslim)
Or, read these Traditions of his:
"Anyone who engages in malicious fault-finding or pries into the secrets of others and gives publicity to them shall not be admitted into the Paradise." (Reported by Bukhari)
"On the last day the biggest loser will be the hypocrite, who, when he goes to one party, talks in one voice and, when to the other party, talks in another voice." (Reported by Muslim)
"God will show no compassion to him who shows no compassion to his fellow-beings." (Reported by Bukhari)
"A woman will find her way into the Hell simply for the reason of her cruelty to a cat which she had lead in captivity and gave it not a morsel of food till it died of starvation." (Reported by Muslim)
In contrast to the above two Traditions, those who are kind and merciful have been given by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) the assurance of a rich reward:
"God will have mercy upon them that are merciful. Show compassion to those who dwell on the earth: He who dwells in the Heavens will show compassion to you." (Reported by Abu Dawood)
In another Tradition we are informed that "A woman was granted remission of her sins because her heart melted at the sight of a dog, who was dying of thirst, and, she saved its life by drawing water from the well, at great pains to herself, and giving it to drink."
Apart from the Traditions giving the warning of dreadful chastisement in the Hereafter to those who cherish wrong moral ideals and behave accordingly, there are in which it is plainly stead about certain moral vices that their presence in a man is enough to disqualify him from a being a Muslim. Thus, it is related that once the Prophet (Peace be upon him) declared with great feeling that "I swear by God in whose power lies my life that no one can be a believer unless he attains the state of desiring for his brother what he desires for himself."
On another occasion, it is reported that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) spoke out the following words: "By God, he is not a Muslim, by God, he is not a believer, by God, he is devoid of the wealth of faith."
"Who?" the Companions inquired. "The III-fated man", the Prophet (Peace be upon him) replied, "from whose mischief his neighbors are not secure."
There also occurs a Tradition to the effect that, "That callous, unfeeling person is not a Muslim who eats to his satisfaction while his neighbor, by his side, goes without a meal."
Now, in these Traditions the vices for which the chastisement of Hell has been promised or which have been described as destructive of faith or inimical to salvation all belong to the realm of morality. This will show in what great value does Islam hold good ethical conduct........To quote from Ibn-i-Taimiyah in Kitab-i-Imam: "The position of things about which it is said in the Traditions that whoever is guilty of them will not be admitted into the Heaven or that he is devoid of faith is, at the minimum, that they are prohibited in the Shariat (Holy Law) and it is the duty (of a Muslim) to abstain from them."
Be that as it may, normal virtues are not the ultimate objectives one may, strive after only if the aim should be to become a saint or a spiritual luminary.
They are essential condition of faith, it being as much indispensable for the saving of the soul to develop good moral qualities and avoid moral evils as are the offering up of prayer and the observance of fasts. Particularly unnecessary is the acquirement of virtues on which special stress has been laid in the Quran and the Traditions, like fortitude, the reposing of trust in the will of God, truthfulness, honesty and integrity, the keeping of promises, sincerity, genuine and whole-hearted love of God and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) wishing well and thinking nobly of others, and maintenance of secrecy over their faults and misdeeds, compassion, forgiveness, suppression of anger, generosity, justice and fair-mindedness, humility and meekness and love and hatred not for self-satisfaction but for the sake of God.
In the same way, it is of utmost importance to purge oneself clean of the reverse qualities, known, in common parlance, as vices.
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