The Islamic Ethics
Author: Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabataba\'i
All these innumerable means of living, that are now available to man and that we endeavor to acquire and use them day and night, were not available to man from the beginning of his life on the earth. They have, gradually, been brought into existence by man\'s efforts and have been utilized.
But in any case, from the primitive man to the civilized man of today, human beings have never ceased working and striving and through their Allah-given nature, they have tried to provide better means of living. This is because if a man loses his energy and the internal and external organs of h is body such as his eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and also if his brain, heart, lungs, and liver fail to function properly, he will be nothing but a dead person.
For this reason, man works not only out of necessity, but also because he is a human being, he displays various activities. Since by his commonsense he realizes that he should arrange for the happiness and prosperity of his life in any way possible, he engages in work and effort and moves in the direction of his demands.
Therefore, living in any environment and in any manner, religious or non-religious, legal or despotic, urban or nomadic, man feels the necessity of a series of duties and obligations for himself (those things which are indispensable for living). If these duties and obligations are carried out, the reasonable desires of man will be fulfilled and he will lead a happy, comfortable, and prosperous life.
Certainly, the value of these duties and obligations, which are the only means of prosperity, is the humanity itself. We cannot perceive anything more precious and valuable than the humanity and which cannot be exchanged with any other commodity.
Therefore, \'dutifulness\' and its implementation are the most important practical matters that man confronts in his life, for its value is exactly the same as that of man himself. Whoever refrains from performing his indisputable duties, or sometimes neglects them, he proportionately lapses in morality from the eminent position of humanity and naturally accepts his humility and worthlessness. With every violation of his human duty, such an individual inflicts blows after blows on the body of his society and indeed on his own body as well.
The Almighty Allah states in the Holy Qur\'an: \"Most surely man is in loss, except those who believe and do good and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience (103:2-3).\"
The Almighty Allah also states: \"Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought... (30:41).\"
Difference of Opinion in the Identification and Specification of Duties
The importance attached to the identification of duties and their implementations are indisputable obligations in the world of humanity. Never can a human being possessing human nature be found who would deny this reality.
Since human duties have an absolute relationship with man’s prosperity and life and because the religion differs with non-religious isms and practices as far as views regarding man\'s life are concerned, naturally religious duties will differ from the du ties of other non-religious isms and practices.
Religion believes that man has an infinite and endless life which does not terminate with death. The capital of pure and true beliefs, praiseworthy ethics, and good deeds that man has acquired in this world prior to his death, serves as the great investment for his infinite life in the Hereafter.
Therefore, in obligations and duties that religion has formulated for the individuals and the society, the life in the everlasting Hereafter is also taken into consideration.
Religion establishes its provisions in the sphere of theism and the worship and servitude of Allah, the obvious consequence of which will become manifest on the Day of Resurrection.
Non-religious isms and practices (whatever these may be) only take the short and transient life of this world into consideration and formulate duties through which man can benefit more from his materialistic life and material profits which are common between him and other animals.
Indeed with a reasoning which originates from feelings and sentiments of grazing animals and beasts, they draw up an animal life for man. They pay no attention to man\'s realism and his everlasting life full with intellectualities.
Therefore, the sublime human ethics (as definite experience indicates) gradually disappear from non-religious communities and the moral decadence of their members becomes clearer and more manifest day by day.
Some people argue that the base of religion is following and also the unquestionable acceptance of a series of duties and regulations; whereas, social policies can be justified by the current logic.
Those who have said so neglect the fact that the rules and regulations which are implemented in the society must be carried out indisputably. No one has ever heard or seen the people of a country following the prevalent laws after argument and scientific discourse or be exempted and free from following the laws whose philosophy they do not understand. Thus, in this respect, the religious and non-religious practices do not differ.
Indeed, through a study of the natural and social conditions of a country and on inquisitiveness in its general policies, one can find out the philosophy behind the generalities of the laws of that country and some of their details (not all).
This also holds true in the case of religious laws. By means of realism and inquisitiveness about creation and man\'s natural requirements, one can discover the generalities of the laws of religion which is an innate policy and some of their details.
The Holy Qur\'an and many ahadith call the people to reasoning, reflection, and pondering and in some precepts refer to the brief expedience behind the commandments. There are many ahadith available to us from the Holy Prophet (S) and the Ahl al-Bayt (as) which state the reasons behind the precepts.
As mentioned in the beginning of this book, the holy religion of Islam is a general and permanent program that has been descended to the last Prophet, Muhammad (S), from the Almighty Allah for human life in this world and the Hereafter to be carried out in the human society so as to pull the ship of humanity out of the whirlpool of ignorance and tribulation and carry it to the coast of salvation.
Since religion is a program of life, it has inevitably specified duties for man on things which are linked to his life and asks him to carry them out.
In general, our life is connected to:
(1) The Almighty Allah Who has created us. Our moral obligation towards His blessings is greater than any other duty and our dutifulness towards His Holy Presence is more obligatory than any other obligation.
(3) Our fellow creatures with whom we are obliged to live and perform our duties and tasks with their cooperation and assistance. Thus, according to the order, we have three general duties: duty towards Allah, duty towards ourselves, and duty towards others.
(1) The Duty of Man towards Allah (Cognizance of Allah)
Our duty towards the Almighty Allah is the most important duty of all and we must perform it with a pure heart and a sincere intention. It is the first and foremost duty of man to know his Creator. Since the Almighty Allah is the source of existence of every creature and the originator of every existing phenomenon, the cognizance and knowledge of His pure Entity also illuminates every realistic person. Being inattentive to this moral reality is total ignorance, lack of insight, and irresponsibility. Whoever pays no attention to cognizance of Allah, he consequently puts out the light of his own conscience and thus will have no way of attaining the real human happiness.
As we see, those who refrain from cognizance of Allah and pay no heed to this reality in their lives are completely away from the human spiritualities and have no logic other than the logic of grazing animals and beasts.
The Almighty Allah states in the Holy Qur\'an: \"Therefore turn aside from him who turns his back upon Our reminder and does not desire anything but this world\'s life. That is their goal of knowledge... (53:29-30).\"
Certainly, it should be pinpointed that the cognizance of Allah is necessary and natural for man who is a realistic being endowed with the instinct of reasoning, for man, with his Allah-given commonsense, notices the signs of the Presence of Allah and His Knowledge and Might wherever he looks in the world of creation. Thus, the cognizance of Allah does not mean that man should bring it into existence for himself, rather it means that the man should not disregard this obvious reality which cannot be covered by any curtain, giving a positive response to his conscience which invites him to Allah and eliminating any doubt from his mind by following this philosophy.
The Worship of Allah
After cognizance of Allah, our second duty is the worship of Allah. This is because, while recognizing the truth, this reality becomes clear that happiness and prosperity, which are our only objectives, will be attained by implementing and executing the program which the Almighty Allah has specified for our lives and has communicated to us through His messengers. Therefore, obeying Allah\'s orders and serving him are the only duties of man compared to which other duties seem insignificant and trivial.
The Almighty Allah states: \"And your Lord has commanded that you shall not serve (any) but Him...(17:23).\"
The Almighty Allah also states: \"Did I not charge you, O children of Adam! that you should not serve the Shaytan? Surely he is your open enemy. And that you should serve Me; this is the right way (36:60-61).\"
Thus it is our duty to recognize the status of our servitude and needs and to keep in mind the infinite Grandeur and Greatness of Allah. We must consider that Allah knows and sees our deeds in every respect and we must obey His commands. It is our obligation not to serve any but Allah and not to obey anyone else except the Holy Prophet (S) and the A\'immat al-Huda (infallible Imams of Guidance) whom we are commanded to obey by the order of Allah.
The Almighty Allah states: \"O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you...(4:59).\"
Surely, due to the obedience of Allah and the authorities of religion, we should actually maintain a great respect for anything attributed to Allah. We must respect the holy name of Allah and the names of the leaders of religion. We must endeavor for the honor of the Divine Book (the Holy Qur\'an), the honored Ka\'bah, and the holy mosques and the holy shrines of the leaders of religion, as the Almighty Allah states: \"...and whoever respects the signs of Allah, this surely is (the outcome) of the piety of hearts (22:32).\"
(2) The Duty of Man towards Himself
No matter what policy or course of action man pursues in his life, indeed he looks after nothing but his happiness and prosperity. The recognition of the happiness of something is of minor importance with regard to-the recognition of the thing itself; that is, unless we know ourselves, we will not know our actual needs whose fulfillment provides us with happiness. Therefore, the most essential duty of man is to know himself so as to perceive his happiness and prosperity and endeavor to fulfill his needs by the means that are at his disposal. He must not waste away his valuable life which is his only treasure.
The Holy Prophet (S) states: \"whoever knows himself knows his Allah\".
And Amir al-Mu\'minin, \'Ali (as), states: \"whoever knows himself, attains the highest position of knowledge.\"
After knowing himself, man realizes that his greatest duty is to value highly the essence of his humanity and not to trample upon such a valuable treasure. He also finds that he must strive for his physical and mental health so as to attain a prosperous and delightful eternal life.
Amir al-Mu\'minin, \'Ali (as) states: \"Carnal desires will be low and insignificant to whoever respects himself.\"
The entity of man is comprised of two things: self or personality and body. It is man\'s responsibility to try to keep both these essential parts, i.e., the self or soul and body healthy and stable. He is duty bound to endeavor for the health of his soul and body in accordance with the adequate and precise orders given on both of them by the holy religion of Islam.
Abstaining from Harmful Things: Through a series of rules and regulations, the holy religion of Islam has adequately safeguarded the physical health such as enjoining people not to eat corpse, blood, flesh of some animals, and poisonous food; prohibiting them from drinking alcoholic beverages and polluted water; over eating; causing harm to the body; and other directives which are beyond the scope of this chapter.
Keeping Clean: Cleanliness is one of the most important principles of health. For this reason, great importance has been attached to this principle in the holy Shari\'ah of Islam. The importance given by Islam to cleanliness cannot be found in any other religion.
The Holy Prophet (S) has stated: \"Cleanliness is a part and parcel of Islamic faith\" and this, by itself, is the greatest praise for cleanliness.
Repeated recommendations have reached us from the leaders of Islam in regard to taking bath. Al-\'Imam Musa ibn Ja\'far (as) states: \"Taking a bath every other day makes man healthy and stout.\"
Al-\'Imam \'Ali (as) states: \"Bathroom is a very good place since it removes the dirtiness of man.\"
In addition to giving general orders concerning cleanliness and neatness, Islam enjoins in particular for each and every cleanliness; for instance, it orders the people to pare the nails of their hands and feet, to shave arid remove the excess hair on their bodies and heads, to wash their hands before and after meals, to comb their hair, to gargle with water and inhale water, to sweep their homes, and to keep clean the roads, house doors, ground under the trees, etc.
Beside these orders, Islam has specified certain actions which are linked with permanent taharah and neatness such as for reciting salat and having sawm, removing the najasahs (impurities) from the body and the clothes, performing several times everyday the wudhu’ before reciting the salawat, and performing various ghusls (taking bath according to the specified Islamic manner).
From the fact that water should reach the surface of the body during wudhu’ before salat and ghusl and that the body should not be dirty and greasy, it becomes clear that the cleanliness of the body is implicitly essential.
The Neatness of Clothes: The Surat al-Muddaththir is one of the suwarwhich was revealed to the Holy Prophet (S) in the early stages of his prophetic mission. In the fourth verse of this surah, Allah orders the people for taharah of their clothes: \"And do taharah of your garments (74:4).\"
The taharah of garments is wajib for salat according to specific Islamic jurisprudential order, but, in general, taharah from uncleanliness and dirtiness is always recommended. Many recommendations have reached us from each of the Fourteen Ma\'sumin (as) in this regard. The Holy Prophet (S) states: \"Whoever puts on clothes should clean them as well.\" Amir al-Mu\'minin, \'Ali (as) states: \"Washing garments relieves one from grief and anxiety and neat clothes are a means for acceptance of his salat.\"
It has been narrated from al-\'Imam Ja\'far al-Sadiq (as) and al-\'Imam Musa al-Kazim (as) that possessing ten or twenty shirts and changing them is not extravagance.
In addition to the cleanliness and taharah of garments and body, a Muslim must also be well-dressed and must meet the people with the best possible appearance and looks. Al-\'Imam \'Ali (as) states: \"Put on beautiful clothes and dress yourself up, for Allah is good and likes the good things, but these should be religiously lawful.\" Then, al-\'Imam \'Ali (as) reads the following verse: \"Say: Who has prohibited the embellishment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants and the good provisions...(7:32)?\"
Gargling with Water and Brushing the Teeth: Being a channel for food, the mouth of man gets contaminated due to eating food. Food particles remain in the roots of the teeth, on the tongue, and in all other parts of the mouth thus rendering the mouth contaminated and malodorous.
Sometimes, as a result of fermentations and chemical actions and reactions that take place in food particles, poisonous matters are formed which get mixed with the food and then enter the stomach. Moreover, the breath of such a person in a gathering pollutes the air and annoys other people.
Therefore, the holy religion of Islam has ordered the Muslims to brush their teeth everyday (especially before each wudhu’) gargle their mouth with pure water, and clean their mouth from contamination.
The Holy Prophet (S) states: \"If it were not for the fear of hardship and indigence, I would have made brushing the teeth wajib upon Muslims.\" Elsewhere, the Holy Prophet (S) states: \"Jibril always recommended brushing the teeth to an extent that I even imagined it would become incumbent upon the Muslims later on.\"
Breathing: Breathing is one of the essential needs of man in his life. Quite often, the current of air surrounding man\'s residential area is not without dust and dirt. Surely, breathing such an air is harmful for the respiratory system. To protect against this harm, the Compassionate Allah has provided hair inside man\'s nose. This hair prevents the entrance of dust and dirt into the lungs.
Nevertheless, sometimes the hair of the nose cannot fully perform its function because of the accumulation of dirt and dust in the nose. For this reason, Islam has issued orders for Muslims to inhale water several times a day while having wudhu’ so as to protect the health of their respiratory system by inhaling clean water through their nostrils.
Moral Refinement: With his Allah-given conscience, man perceives the value of praiseworthy ethics and realizes its significance from the individual and social viewpoints. Thus, there is no one in the human society who does not praise good ethics and who does not respect those who are endowed with praiseworthy ethics.
The value that man attaches for praiseworthy ethics needs no further explanation and the elaborate orders of Islam on ethics are thoroughly clear for everybody.
The Almighty Allah states: \"And the soul and Him Who made it pure, then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it; he will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed fail who corrupts it (91:7-10).\"
While interpreting this verse, al-\'Imam Ja\'far al-Sadiq (as) has stated: \"The Almighty Allah has revealed to man the things which are good for him and must be put into effect and the things which are bad for him and must be avoided.\"