Ethical Practices

Ethical Practices

In moral science, topics like the following are discussed: Good and evil behavior of man, pleasing and hateful qualities, good and bad deeds, good and bad behavior… to propagate ethical matters, scholars of ethics have used the following practices:
1- Practice of the Prophets

The Prophet of Islam and other divine prophets, in calling people to ethics used encouragement and kind motivation, because their aim was control of selves and to prepare them for actions. Therefore they considered the practice of encouragement as effective.

Ethical topics and problems in the Holy Quran and sayings of the Holy Prophet (s) are mentioned in a scattered way in different contexts and members of audience are also encouraged in different ways.

The practice of Infallible Imams (a) in inviting to ethics was of this same type; that is they have mentioned different ethical topics and problems in widespread and repetitive manner.
2- Academic Practice

Some intellectuals have investigated and compiled ethical topics and problems in a scientific manner. The topic of discussion in the science of ethics is good and bad behavior of man, which affects his success or misfortune in the life of the world and hereafter. In the science of ethics, living a better lifestyle is introduced to man.

Science of ethics is having special topics, whose branches and different problems studied in a proper arranged manner, and its good or bad effect is explained.

Implications of bad ethics are also studied and the bad effects and consequence of each of them is hinted. Ways of avoiding them and purification of the self is also placed in charge of those who are interested. Although to prove a point, rational argument and textual evidences, and sometimes even gnostic and skilled means are employed.

Science of ethics is among the ancient instances of contributions of scholars and philosophers. Socrates, Plato (born 427 B.C.) and Aristotle (born 384 B.C.) were the first Greek philosophers that founded ethics in the form of a science and a part of wisdom (practical wisdom) perfected through other philosophers of Greece.

Western intellectuals and philosophers also, by the contribution of Greek philosophers, have continued discussion of ethics. Books have been written regarding this and schools have come into existence. This has gathered momentum in the past century.

Since morals were a part of the principles of Prophet Musa and Isa (a), Christian and Jew intellectuals are more attentive with regard to sources of morals. By the contribution of Greek philosophy and texts of their own religion the started discussions and research into the topic of ethics and compiled books on them.

In Islam also, in continuation of ethical propagation of the Holy Prophet in this subject two important acts took place:

A: Collection of verses and traditions regarding ethics and their arrangement and interpretation.

B: Giving ethical discussions an academic form.

During the period of the Holy Imams (a), companions of the Prophet started to compile verses and traditions regarding ethics; for example, it is mentioned in the account of Muhammad bin Hasan (born 258 A.H.), a companion of Imam Musa Ibne Ja’far (a): He wrote a book entitled Al-Sunan wal Adaab wa Makarimul Akhlaq.[43] Muhammad bin Sulaiman bin Hasan bin Jaham (237-301 A.H.) also has a book to his credit entitled Al Adaab wal Mawaiz.[44] Such types of titles can be found in the list of writings of some narrators of traditions. Regrettably the mentioned books are lost and we don’t know how they were written, but most probably it was classification of traditions about morals.

The first and most comprehensive book, which has compiled and arranged traditions and which has survived to this day, is Al-Kafi. This book was written by Muhammad bin Yaqub Kulaini (died 328 A.H.) and it took him twenty years to complete. The Late Kulaini lived during the period of the Minor Occultation (Ghaibat Sughra) and also met the special deputies of Imam Zamana (a) (Nawwab Khas). This book is one of the most reliable and self sufficient sources of Islamic sciences, which in an extremely beautiful style, has classified different Shia traditions and one of its sections deals especially with traditions of ethics.

Afterwards, other books were also compiled on the same style on the topic of ethics like Sawabul Aamaal wa Iqaabul Aamaal by Late Shaykh Saduq (died 381 A.H.) etc.

In recent times most comprehensive and detailed books have been compiled like: Biharul Anwar, Miratul Uqool dar Sharh Kafi,[45] Wasailush Shia,[46] Mustadrakul Wasail,[47] Wafi[48] and Jami Ahadith Shia, which was written on the directions and under supervision of Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husain Tabatabai Burujardi (1292-1380).

The above books are some collections of traditional reports in which all types of traditions are collected.

In the second part, that is compilation of science of ethics also many efforts are made. Perhaps the first book in this regard is Tahdhibul Akhlaq wa Tatheerul Araaq written by Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Yaqub Miskuya (died 421 A.H.). He has based and compiled Islamic ethics as a science through the verses of Quran, traditions of infallibles and ethical beliefs of Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle.

After him Khwaja Nasiruddin Tusi (597-672 A.H.) wrote Akhlaq Nasiri and Akhlaq Mohtashimi according to the above sources.

Muhammad Ghazzali (450 A.H. to 505 A.H.) is also from the scholars of moral science. He has also on the basis of verses of Quran, traditions of the Prophet, wise sayings of philosophers and Islamic common parlance wrote Ahyaul Uloom in Arabic and Kimiya Saadat in Persian. Ahyaul Uloom is one of the valuable books of ethics, but regrettably it contains some weak points; that is why Mulla Mohsin Faiz Kashani (1007-1091 A.H.) took up the task of its correction and completion and in this way compiled the book entitled Muhajjatul Baidha fee Ahyaul Ahya, which is a very valuable work.

Muhammad Mahdi Naraqi (died 1209 A.H.) also wrote an important book, Jamius Saadaat. Other books as well are written on the subject of ethics, but we must admit that regretfully as much work as is needed has not been done. In spite of the emphasis that Islam lays on ethics, it expects Muslim scholars that in step with progress of science and changes that have come in the individual and social life of man and appearance of different schools of ethics, they should endeavor to widen the scope and systemize the science of Islamic ethics and should be more earnest in this regard.
Philosophy of Morals

Philosophy of morals is almost a new science. In Philosophy of morals, implications of good and bad ethics of man are not discussed; on the contrary it is a process of moral judgments about good and bad matters, righteousness and evil, merits and demerits and beauty and ugliness. For example whether goodness is a factual quality and has external implication or it is a supposed matter? Whether moral judgments are indicative or creative? How and from where have the ethical ‘should be’ and ‘should not be’ been derived? How is it possible to derive a creative result from an indicative situation? What is the meaning of felicity and wickedness? Do they really exist or it is just notional? And…so on.

Philosophy of morals in western countries and academic institutions of the world is the customary and living science. Numerous intellectuals have specialized in this science and have written hundreds of books on this topic and schools have come into existence in this sphere. But regrettably among Muslim intellectuals, it is not having any attraction; neither have we had many specialists in this field nor have contemporary books been written on this subject.

Here, we cannot discuss knowledge and philosophy of morals and research and criticize different moral schools and explain the view of Islam on this subject, but for the introduction of readers, it is necessary to present brief discussions in this regard:
Ethics in the view of Islam

Of the different schools of ethics that have appeared, most display a broad minded world view and thinking of the followers of those schools; school of Islamic ethics is also a consequence of its particular world view.

In Islamic world view, there is existence of a divine being; who has created them and is controlling them. Man is a being that everlasting and ever living; that is not destroyed by death, on the contrary, he is transferred from this world to the abode of the hereafter so that he may receive the rewards of his good deeds and be punished for his evil acts.

It considers man to be a being, who is responsible and having a free will; who is not created without an aim, on the contrary he is created for gaining of human perfection and rising up towards Almighty Allah and finally for a beautiful, happy and illuminated life of the hereafter. Man is a being having two dimensions:

On one side he is a beast having animal desires and physical needs, which are related to animal life and which have to be fulfilled in any way.

On the other side he is having an ethereal soul, having superiority over other animals. That is why he became the vicegerent of Allah and gained precedence on angels. The spiritual and internal life of man is also having felicity or wretchedness; in case man reached his aimed perfection in such a way that he develops his ethereal and human aspects and moderates animal desires to the limit of need.

It is at this point that the position of ethical values becomes clear; the same spiritual perfections, which are related to the ethereal soul of man and which have compatibility and which illuminate and comfort the soul of man.

However, bad morals and being immersed in animal lusts, is contrary to the ethereal soul and noble essence of man and weakens, degrades and lowers the aspects of humanity.

Although Islam considers moral values to be compatible to the pure nature of man, but does not consider this much sufficient in enjoining good morals and refraining from bad behavior and does not accept natural morals and non-religious morals, therefore in order to develop faith in God and resurrection and glad tidings of the hereafter and threats of the chastisements of Hell, it calls people to good morals and behavior.

Morals in Islam are based on faith in God and resurrection and hope for rewards of the hereafter and fear of punishment, which are the best guarantees of it effectiveness. As a result of faith in God and gaining His satisfaction, one can in a better way dominate selfishness and animal desires and it revives human values like loyalty, sacrifice, defense of oppressed, confrontation with tyranny, seeking justice, Jihad, trustworthiness, honesty and doing a good turn to others.

In Islam basically the value of every act depends on faith and intention of divine proximity. So much so that moral values lead to perfection and rectitude of man only if they are accompanied with faith and intention of divine proximity and if not, they have no real value; even though they might be regarded as values in public opinion.
Types of ethical problems

Ethical topics and problems can be divided into two groups:

First group: Individual ethics like: attention to God, love for God, reliance on God, being satisfied with the satisfaction of God, sincerity, hopefulness, patience, spiritual needlessness, valor, steadfastness, self contentment, absoluteness in act etc., which are good qualities.

In the same way, show off, self conceit, jealousy, anger, anxiety, despair, haste and impatience, materialism and love of position, fear, greed, feeling insecurity, faithlessness, not being satisfied with God’s will, indetermination etc., which are from the bad moral traits.

Second group: Social ethics like truthfulness, nice behavior, humility, respect for others, well wishing, doing good to others, trustworthiness, forgiveness, goodness to parents, good relations with relatives, fulfilling the rights of others, arranging the affairs of Muslims, cognition of duties etc., which are from the manners of life and social good morals.

In the same way, bad nature and behavior, arrogance, disrespect for others, insulting people, betraying trust, lying, breaking of oath, exposing the secrets of others, ill behavior with others, non-fulfillment of the rights of others, carelessness of the matters of Muslims, creating mischief, helping the oppressors, wasteful expenditure and miserliness, which are from the social evil morals.

These and similar points are mentioned in Quran and books of ethics and are explained and expounded therein. Those who are interested can refer to them.


[43] Majmaur Rijal, Vol. 5, Pg. 188
[44] Majmaur Rijal, Vol. 5, Pg. 219
[45] Writings of Allamah Majlisi
[46] Writings of Shaykh Hurre Amili
[47] Writings of Haji Noori
[48] Writings of Faiz Kashani