22 September 2003, 22:18

Muslim ethic

The Muslim ethic began to take shape in transition from the tribal community to the early class state, so the groundbreaking sources of Islam's religious teaching, the Quran and Sunnah (a collection of hadiths, reports on Prophet Muhammad's sayings and deeds), in many respects proceed from the simple rules of morals and justice typical for the community morals of that period which later were reviewed to comply with circumstances of the development of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic state. Having a lot in common with the Judaist and Christian ethics, the Muslim ethic also has some substantial distinctions.

The Muslim ethic is the ethic of specific rules. It is deeply practical and takes no interest in the general foundations of behavior, but its content. Its key problem is not what and how is to be done overall, but quite specifically, in every area of life, every day. The Quran and the Sunnah clearly define all good and evil acts, the permitted and prohibited. Theologians and lawyers have classified these acts. The choice is left to the person. And so is responsibility. The Quranic formulae "God will not change his gifts to men, till they change what is in themselves" and "God changeth not the favour with which he favoureth a people, so long as they change not what is in their hearts" gives space for human initiative in doing good to those around one and to oneself.

The Muslim ethic does not accept the thesis of people's responsibility for the sins of their ancestors. The Quran teaches Allah forgave Adam, so his fault does not extend to his descendants. People are thus born sinless, so it is they and their efforts that determine whether they become people of high moral standards or get bogged in unworthy deeds. The Almighty is always ready to come to help a person in their search for moral perfection. In the Quran we read: "Verily, God enjoineth justice and the doing of good and gifts to kindred, and he forbiddeth wickedness and wrong and oppression. He warneth you that haply ye may be mindful" (16:92). Constant moral perfection is the duty of every Muslim. It is also linked to the notion of jihad (fighting for the faith). Legend has preserved Prophet Muhammad's words he uttered having returned from a military campaign: "We have come back from the small jihad to start the great jihad." Theologians claim the latter meant the spiritual self-perfection of the Muslims. It should also be noted that in theologian works as soon as in the X-XI cent. the notions appear such as the "heart jihad" which means zeal in fighting one's own evil bents; and the "hand jihad," i.e. taking disciplinary measures in respect of those breaking the rules of public morals. In their interpretations of the "heart jihad," Muslim thinkers often proceed from Muhammad's saying: "The worthiest of the people is the one who has prevailed over their soul's whims."

The ideal model of personal relations in the Muslim community is based on principles of mutual aid, equality, solidarity, justice, and humanity. The Muslim ethic emphasizes mercy and charity considering them the most important means of moral upbringing of a person and consolidation of the society consisting of people of different social positions, ethnicities, and religions. The showing of mercy and participation in charity is claimed in Islam one's duty before God. The Quran determines the categories of people to whom the doing of good is prescribed: "Worship God, and join not aught with Him in worship. Be good to parents, and to kindred, and to orphans, and to the poor, and to a neighbour, whether kinsman or new-comer, and to a fellow traveller, and to the wayfarer, and to the slaves whom your right hands hold" (4:40). Islam's sources also describe various types of the doing of good. Repeated day after day, month after month, year after year; at first performed as a duty; prescribed by the religion, the doing of good gradually develops into a person's internal need, acquires the form of a habit, and is then performed without an external or internal compulsion contributing to the development of such human qualities as magnanimity, kindheartedness, sympathy and humanity. An important social problem is solved along with this - conditions are created that help to smooth social conflicts and consolidate the society. The deep insight into the Muslim teaching and profound knowledge of how it is put into practice enabled Vasily Bartold, eminent Russian scholar and academician, to come to the conclusion that Islam has accomplished "the ideals of brotherhood and equality, if not the ideal of freedom, to a greater extent than Christianity."

The Muslim ethic highly appreciates human honor and dignity. In showing mercy and providing charitable aid, Islam teaches one should take care the doing of good will not hurt the self-esteem of the recipient. On the other hand, one's high self-esteem, according to the Muslim ethic, should urge one not to wait for someone else's mercy, but be active and enterprising in order to provide for one's family by honest labor and to be capable of doing good to the indigent. The Muslim ethic condemns idleness, stinginess and self-interest; it supports diligence, economy, mutual aid and loyalty to the contract concluded between the employer and the worker. It demands that the employer should respect the worker's rights and their human dignity; take care of the worker's welfare; and pay their labor on time, "before the sweat on the worker's clothing has dried up." The Muslim ethic recognizes pardonable circumstances and reckons with the human potential. According to the Quran, the fast during the month of Ramadan is absolutely obligatory for every Muslim. Yet pregnant women, prisoners, and travelers are exempt from it. The faithful have no right to eat pork, but this ban is lifted when there is no other food. Thus, deviation from prescriptions is permitted to save a human life, but of course, not from the faith itself.

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