Ethical Theory as Viewed in Islam


A significant matter to be noticed here and to be reasonably and philosophically clarified and justified is how human behaviour and permanent qualities become possessed of value through ‘ibadah to Allah and perfect obedience and humbling oneself before Allah? In this regard, from the outlook of Islam and 5yat of Holy Qur`an and riwayat, we have no doubt, for the Almighty Allah says:

و ما خلقت الجن و الانس الّا ليعبدون

“And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should worship Me (51:56).”

The only aim of creation of man and of jinn who from the viewpoint of the Holy Qur`an are two kinds of responsible (entrusted with duties) beings is just (their) serving the One God (Allah - The One and Only). Of course taking into consideration other ayat (of the Holy Qur`an) we come to realize that this is not the final goal, for this very ‘ibadah to Allah has in another ayah of the Holy Qur`an been propounded as the right way.

و ان اعبدوني هذا صراط مستقيم

“And that you should serve Me; this is the right way (36:61) ”

Worship Allah, this is the right way. The same thing which in the former ayah (56:51) had been mentioned as the aim of creation, has been introduced as the right way in the latter (61:36), meaning that ‘ibadah is a medium goal and above it there is another goal. That very act of ‘ibadah itself has been considered for a higher goal and that is attaining nearness to the Almighty Allah (attaining Allah’s pleasure) in which all human virtues and perfections are summed up.
But for this theory to be presentable and defendable in the face of the other ethical and value theories of the world and particularly so that our educated youth will be able to defend the righteous position of Islam before other schools of thought, it is necessary to clarify this theory on the basis of intellectual reasons and philosophical proofs. The principles which are necessary for the clarification of this matter are three basic principles.

The First Principle:
It is that the criterion for the goodness and value of the action is the effect which a free conduct has on man’s spiritual and intellectual perfection. For the clarification of this basic principle which is of the significant matters of the philosophy of ethics in the scientific and philosophical circles of the world, we express an analysis on the concept of value and anti-value and their equivalent in the Islamic culture, namely, “good” and “evil”.
We regard certain things as good and also accept certain things as evil. For instance, all of us regard health to be good, rate knowledge, power and ability as good and opposite to them, regard sickness, being malformed, being ignorant, disabled and powerless to be evil. Philosophers have conducted a wise analysis on this concept and have come to the conclusion that the common aspect among all these goods consists of the perfection of the being and the common aspect among all the evils consists of the imperfection of the being. For instance, when we compare an ignorant man with a learned man, we observe that the learned man has a perfection which the ignorant man lacks. So, the being of the learned man is more perfect than the being of the ignorant man, and/or since a sick man does not have the power to defend against diseases and cannot confront aggressive microbes and loses his body's balance, his being is imperfect compared to a healthy person.
A brave man, in various phases, can achieve his goals, but a timid and cowardice cannot. Then they (the philosophers) have gone further and with a more careful analysis have come to the conclusion that perfection is a stage of being and imperfection is a stage of non-being and is a matter, of non-being. Hence, we can regard being (existence) as equal to good, since it is being (existence) and regard non-being (non-existence) to be evil, since it is non-being (non-existence). Therefore, the good of every being is its perfection and the evil of every being is its imperfection.
Sometimes the perfection of a being causes the imperfection of another being. The burning effect of the fire is the perfection of the fire, but if it falls into a harvest, it causes the destruction of the harvest. The cutting effect of knives and swords is their perfection. But when they contact the body of an innocent man, they cause his death. A microbe, has a perfection since it is a living being, but this very microbe, when enters our bodies, may afflict us with diseases and cause an imperfection for us. Maulawi, the great gnostic and poet has famous poems in which it is said that poison is good for the snake itself, but bad for the one who is stung by the snake.
Also sometimes the opposite is the case. A matter may be a non-existence, imperfection and in itself evil, but becomes good and the cause of perfection for another thing. You enter a garden and see a gardener cutting off the branches and leaves of a tree. If you are not aware of the gardening works, you will think that the gardener is doing a bad work, cutting off the branches and leaves of the tree which are apparently being and perfection for the tree. But if you are aware of the matters related to gardening, you know that the gardener cuts off some of the extra branches (which hinder the growth of the tree) so that the tree will grow more. Here, the non-existence of these branches is an imperfectional and non-existence matter, but for the tree it is considered to be good and causes the tree to grow better.
Now let us see on what the superiority of perfections depends?
We start this matter from plants. In your opinion, in comparison, which one is more perfect, a walnut tree or a plain tree? You certainly think a walnut tree is more perfect. Why? Because a walnut tree has something more than the plain tree and that is the fruit it (the walnut tree) bears. Therefore, since it has more effects of existence, it is more perfect. Comparison is in the same manner between two walnut trees. That walnut tree is more perfect of which the final result and fruit is more, and the same is true of the walnut tree which is of less size but which gives more fruit, compared to the walnut tree which occupies more size, but has little fruit. Now let us compare an animal with a tree. Can the criterion for superiority be regarded to be the size of the animal? If it were so, a plain tree would be a thousand times more perfect than a nightingale.
But it definitely is not so. Because a nightingale has somthings more than a plant (somethings which a plant lacks), namely, besides its physical growth, it has senses and (the ability of) voluntary movement. It is the nightingale which on seeing a flower starts twittering and in which a feeling and sense emerge, a sense which a plain tree will never have. So the criterion for the superiority of a nightingale to a tree is not either’s being bigger. But if we also compare two animals with each other, that animal which has more sense and stronger understanding is more perfect, not that one which is bigger in size, like an Arabian horse and a rhinoceros, an Arabian horse has more wits, has better leaping, is capable of performing more useful work and is more loyal than a rhinoceros, but a rhinoceros is just big in size.
Now let us consider a man. If we want to compare a man with trees and animals, what should we consider his superiority to be? Which one is more perfect, a man or a plain tree? Is a man more perfect or an elephant? Man’s superiority to plants and animals is not in having more bodily growth, more physical power, more passions (carnal desires), greater power of defence and/or even more animal perceptions, these do not contribute to human perfection. If these were the criterion, then animals would be by far ahead of us (and this is not selfish of ours that since we regard ourselves more perfect, we should look for another criterion! This is a truely philosophical matter).
Rather what makes man superior to and more perfect than the animals and other beings is that human and divine soul of his which constitutes the proof for the following ayat of the Holy Qur`an:

... و نفخت فيه من روحي ...

“... And I breathed into him of My spirit ... (15:29 and 38:72).”

... فتبارك اللّه احسن الخالقين

“... so blessed be Allah, the best of the creators (23:14).”

The question which is raised here is that is the value just in the superiority of man’s spiritual perfections or are plant and animal perfections also of value?
Let us consider an apple tree. In an apple tree, taking root, turning green, bearing branches, leaves and even blossoms are considered perfection insofar as they cause bearing fruit, otherwise they will not be of value. These kinds of perfections are preliminary perfections which are not of value in themselves, rather they are preliminaries for eventual and genuine perfection, and value is acquired through them.
In man it is also true. If a growth emerges in the body by itself and does not cause that main, basic and eventual growth, it is an animal growth and will not be of any value for man from the viewpoint that he is man. A healthy body is valuable for man in case he uses it for his spiritual and intellectual progress, not if he misuses his health - using it for hurting the others. The same is true of other qualities too. For example, bravery is desirable from the Islamic viewpoint when it is used in the way of man’s spiritual and intellectual perfection and in .the way of getting near to the Almighty Allah (winning Allah’s pleasure and favour), otherwise ‘Amr ibn ‘Abd Wadd (the great (notorious) enemy of Islam) and some others like him were also brave and had this animal value. The superiority of a brave man, apart from his spiritual goal and perfection to another man is like the superiority of a rhinoceros to a horse and the superiority of an elephant to a gazelle. This preliminary perfection will be of value when it is used in the way of attaining that eventual human perfection, when it has been achieved for that and used in the way of attaining it (eventual human perfection). Justice, too, which in today’s world culture has absolute value, in the view of the Holy Qur`an is valuable since it is a preliminary stage for getting near to taqwa:

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