Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Islam, Community, and Ethics

Islamic ethicsEdit

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Islamic ethics (أخلاق إسلامية), defined as "good character," historically took shape gradually from the 7th century and were finally established by the 11th century. The Islamic ethic code was eventually shaped as a successful amalgamation of the Qur'anic teachings, the teachings of the Sunnah of Muhammad, the precedents of Islamic jurists, the pre-Islamic Arabian tradition, and non-Arabic elements (including Persian and Greek ideas) embedded in or integrated with a generally Islamic structure. Although Muhammad's preaching produced a "radical change in moral values based on the sanctions of the new religion and the present religion, and fear of God and of the Last Judgment", the tribal practice of Arabs did not completely die out. Later Muslim scholars expanded the religious ethic of the Qur'an and Hadith in immense detail.

Foundational motifsEdit

The foundational source in the gradual codification of Islamic ethics was the Muslim understanding and interpretations of the Qur'an and practices of Muhammad. Its meaning has always been in context of active submission to God (Allah), performed by the community in unison. The motive force in Islamic ethics is the notion that every human being is called to "command the good and forbid the evil" in all spheres of life. Muslims understand the role of Muhammad as attempting to facilitate this submission. Another key factor in the field of Islamic ethics is the belief that mankind has been granted the faculty to discern God's will and to abide by it. This faculty most crucially involves reflecting over the meaning of existence. Therefore, regardless of their environment, humans are believed to have a moral responsibility to submit to God's will and to follow Islam (Quran 7:172).

This natural inclination is, according to the Qur'an, subverted by mankind's focus on material success: such focus first presents itself as a need for basic survival or security, but then tends to manifest into a desire to become distinguished amongst one's peers. Ultimately, the focus on materialism, according to the Islamic texts, hampers with the innate reflection as described above, resulting in a state of jahiliyya or "heedlessness." Muslims believe that Muhammad, like other prophets in Islam, was sent by God to remind human beings of their moral responsibility, and challenge those ideas in society which opposed submission to God. According to Prof. J. Kelsay, this challenge was directed against five main characteristics of pre-Islamic Arabia:

  • The division of Arabs into varying tribes (based upon blood and kinship). This categorization was confronted by the ideal of a unified community based upon Islamic piety, an ummah;
  • The acceptance of the worship of a multitude of deities besides Allah - a view challenged by strict Islamic monotheism, which dictates that Allah has no partner in worship nor any equal;
  • The trait of muruwwa (manliness), which Islam discouraged, instead emphasizing on the traits of humility and piety;
  • The focus on achieving fame or establishing a legacy, which was replaced by the concept that mankind would be called to account before God on the day of resurrection;
  • The reverence of and compliance with ancestral traditions, a practice challenged by Islam — which instead assigned primacy to submitting to God and following revelation.

These changes lay in the reorientation of society as regards to identity and life of the Muslim belief, world view, and the hierarchy of values. From the viewpoint of subsequent generations, this caused a great transformation in the society and moral order of life in the Arabian Peninsula. For Muhammad, although pre-Islamic Arabia exemplified "heedlessness," it was not entirely without merit. Muhammad approved and exhorted certain aspects of the Arab pre-Islamic tradition, such as the care for one’s near kin, for widows, orphans, and others in need and for the establishment of justice. However, these values would be re-ordered in importance and placed in the context of strict monotheism.[

Moral commandmentsEdit

Folio from a Qur'an, 8th-9th century.

The Qur'an defines and sets the standards of social and moral values for Muslims. S. A. Nigosian, Professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto, states that a lengthy passage in the Qur'an [Quran 17:22] "represents the fullest statement of the code of behavior every Muslim must follow". Nigosian and Ghamidi hold that these resemble the Ten Commandments in the Bible.

In the 17th chapter, "Al-Israa" ("The Night Journey"), verses [Quran 17:22], the Qur'an provides a set of moral stipulations which are "among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee" that can be reasonably categorised as ten in number. According to Nigosian, these resemble the Ten Commandments in the Bible and "represents the fullest statement of the code of behavior every Muslim must follow". However, these verses are not regarded by Islamic scholars as set apart from any other moral stipulations in the Qur'an, nor are they regarded as a substitute, replacement, or abrogation of some other set of commandments as found in the previous revelations.

  • Worship only God: Take not with Allah another object of worship; or thou (O man!) wilt sit in disgrace and destitution. (Quran 17:22)
  • Be kind, honourable and humble to one's parents: Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (Quran 17:23) And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (Quran 17:24)
  • Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one's expenditure: And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. (Quran 17:26) Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful. (Quran 17:27) And even if thou hast to turn away from them in pursuit of the Mercy from thy Lord which thou dost expect, yet speak to them a word of easy kindness. (Quran 17:28) Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard's) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute. (Quran 17:29)
  • Do not engage in 'mercy killings' for fear of starvation: Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. (Quran 17:31)
  • Do not commit adultery: Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). (Quran 17:32)
  • Do not kill unjustly: Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). (Quran 17:33)
  • Care for orphaned children: Come not nigh to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength...(Quran 17:34)
  • Keep one's promises: ...fulfill (every) engagement [i.e. promise/covenant], for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (Quran 17:34)
  • Be honest and fair in one's interactions: Give full measure when ye measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight: that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. (Quran 17:35)
  • Do not be arrogant in one's claims or beliefs: And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (Quran 17:36) Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. (Quran 17:37)

Early reforms under IslamEdit

Many reforms in human rights took place under Islam between 610 and 661, including the period of Muhammad's mission and the rule of the four immediate successors who established the Rashidun Caliphate. Historians generally agree that Muhammad preached against what he saw as the social evils of his day, and that Islamic social reforms in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery, and the rights of women and ethnic minorities improved on what was present in existing Arab society at the time. For example, according to historian Bernard Lewis, Islam "from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents." Professor John Esposito sees Muhammad as a reformer who condemned practices of the pagan Arabs such as female infanticide, exploitation of the poor, usury, murder, false contracts, and theft. Bernard Lewis believes that the egalitarian nature of Islam "represented a very considerable advance on the practice of both the Greco-Roman and the ancient Persian world."

The Constitution of Medina, also known as the Charter of Medina, was drafted by Muhammad in 622. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, and pagans. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Aus) and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community-the Ummah. The Constitution established the security of the community, freedom of religion, the role of Medina as a haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, a judicial system for resolving disputes, and also regulated the paying of blood-wite (the payment between families or tribes for the slaying of an individual in lieu of lex talionis).

Muhammad made it the responsibility of the Islamic government to provide food and clothing, on a reasonable basis, to captives, regardless of their religion. If the prisoners were in the custody of a person, then the responsibility was on the individual. Lewis states that Islam brought two major changes to ancient slavery which were to have far-reaching consequences. "One of these was the presumption of freedom; the other, the ban on the enslavement of free persons except in strictly defined circumstances," Lewis continues. The position of the Arabian slave was "enormously improved": the Arabian slave "was now no longer merely a chattel but was also a human being with a certain religious and hence a social status and with certain quasi-legal rights."

Esposito states that reforms in women's rights affected marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures, including the West, until centuries later. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam states that the general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood. "The dowry, previously regarded as a bride-price paid to the father, became a nuptial gift retained by the wife as part of her personal property." Under Islamic law, marriage was no longer viewed as a "status" but rather as a "contract", in which the woman's consent was imperative. "Women were given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society that had previously restricted inheritance to male relatives." Professor Annemarie Schimmel states that "compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work." Historian William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad, in the historical context of his time, can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights and improved things considerably. Watt explains: "At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible - they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons." Muhammad, however, by "instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, gave women certain basic safeguards." Haddad and Esposito state that "Muhammad granted women rights and privileges in the sphere of family life, marriage, education, and economic endeavors, rights that help improve women's status in society."

Sociologist Robert Bellah (Beyond belief) argues that Islam in its seventh-century origins was, for its time and place, "remarkably modern...in the high degree of commitment, involvement, and participation expected from the rank-and-file members of the community." This because, he argues, that Islam emphasized on the equality of all Muslims, where leadership positions were open to all.

Constitution of MedinaEdit

Mosque of the Prophet in Medina.

The Constitution of Medina, also known as the Charter of Medina, was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Medina, including Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans. This constitution formed the basis of the future caliphate. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Aus) and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community—the Ummah.

The precise dating of the Constitution of Medina remains debated but generally scholars agree it was written shortly after the Hijra (622). It effectively established the first Islamic state. The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, a judicial system for resolving disputes, and also regulated the paying of blood money (the payment between families or tribes for the slaying of an individual in lieu of lex talionis).

AttributionEdit

"Islamic ethics" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_ethics

Last modified on 16 April 2013, at 17:45