So far, we have looked at Islamic beliefs and acts of worship, both of which deal with man’s relationship with God. Now we come to social and moral codes in Islam which relate to man’s conduct with fellow human beings. These codes are based on the teachings of the Quran and the Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad and must be followed by all Muslims for the establishment of a proper social structure.
The underlying principle in Islam for all social behaviour is the love for fellow human beings and service to humanity. In God’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, as much emphasis was laid on service to humanity as on the worship of God, perhaps more on the former. In the eyes of God, Prayer is completely meaningless if it is not accompanied by service to humanity.
In the following pages we will talk about the various institutions and Commandments that exist in Islam for regulating the social and moral behaviour of Muslims.
While Zakat is an obligatory charity enjoined upon all Muslims, the voluntary charity is called Sadaqah. This is given to the needy for the purpose of gaining God’s pleasure. It must, therefore, be free from show, ulterior motives, personal gain or putting the recipient under any obligation.
Charity of any kind should be given out of good things and not out of improperly acquired wealth nor from items that were useless and were going to be discarded anyway. This voluntary charity is not limited to fellow Muslims; if needy non Muslims exist in the society, they should be given a share.
LOOKING AFTER THE ORPHANS, THE WAYFARER, THE NEIGHBOUR AND THE POOR
Great emphasis is laid in Islam on looking after the orphans. Muslims are enjoined to keep the properties of the orphans in trust and to hand those over when the orphans are mature enough to take care of the properties themselves.
Similarly, Muslims are enjoined to look after the needs of the wayfarer and the neighbour. Islam does not favour the idea of looking after one’s own needs and requirements only. In Islam, an individual is part of a social whole and is urged to share his or her good fortune with other fellow beings.
DISCHARGING OF TRUSTS
Great stress has been laid in Islam on honouring agreements and trusts. Muslims are enjoined to fulfill all covenants, whether they are with God or with fellow man. Islam teaches great respect for the law, both religious and social. The Holy Prophet and his Companions always stood firmly by their agreements and treaties even under the most trying conditions. There was not a single instance when they broke their pacts with any other nation or group.
The trusts and agreements can take a variety of forms. They may include treaties or pacts between nations, or the trust that an employer places in his employee to look after the business, or the trust that is implicit in all marriage contracts, or business transactions that may be carried out between two parties, or the trust which the electors place in their nominees. These are all trusts that must be discharged honestly.
History tells us that even the bitterest enemies of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, acknowledged his truthfulness and called him as Sadiq and al Amen. Being so truthful and honest himself, he laid great emphasis on truth as the basis of a high moral character. The Quran also mentions truthfulness as the most prominent quality of a Muslim.
A Muslim always speaks the truth even if it goes against his own interests or the interests of his relatives or friends. Giving of false testimony, therefore, is strongly prohibited in Islam.
CARRYING OUT OF JUSTICE
In Islam all people, whether rich or poor, strong or weak, men or women, have equal rights. Islam strongly forbids the violation of anyone’s rights and enjoins all Muslims to carry out justice. In the discharging of justice, no special favours are to be granted to either party and bonds of friendship or kinship are not allowed to influence one’s decision.
KINDNESS TO PARENTS AND CHILDREN
In the moral code of Islam, kindness to parents occupies a very high position. Complete obedience to parents is enjoined upon Muslims as long as this does not conflict with one’s duty to God. Similarly, parents and elders are urged to show mercy to the young. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said:
“He is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and respect to our elders”
The Holy Prophet was fond of children and always wanted the Muslims to excel among other communities in showing kindness to children. It is also a charity in the eyes of God to attend to the children’s educational needs, spiritual welfare and their general wellbeing.
DUTY TO ANIMALS
While the rights of fellow man are indeed paramount, the religion of Islam does not ignore the rights of the animal kingdom. A verse of the Holy Quran clearly draws one’s attention to this fact:
“There is not an animal on the earth, nor a bird that flies on its two wings, but they are communities like you” (6: 39)
Man, therefore must treat all animals with great kindness and compassion. Man employs many animals for his own use and even eats their meat. In Islam, the beasts of burden and animals used for riding or ploughing the fields must not be over worked or pushed beyond their normal limits of endurance. Similarly, animals that make up the human diet should be killed or slaughtered in the most humane manner.
PROHIBTION FROM SOCIAL VICES
So far we have studied various codes of conduct which promote good social relations and fulfill the general requirements of an Islamic society. Now we come to some restrictive regulations, the purpose of which is to keep certain vices from corrupting the society. These regulations relate to certain foods and drinks, gambling and the taking of usury.
There are four things the eating of which is forbidden to a Muslim. These are:
- that which dies of itself
othat which has been slaughtered in the name of anyone other than God.
Animals that die of themselves are not fit to be eaten because they may be diseased or rotting. Eating of blood is prohibited on the grounds that it is a sign of barbarity and primitiveness, Pork is forbidden on the grounds that its meat carries many diseases. Eating of the last mentioned item is prohibited on spiritual grounds. It is not proper for a Muslim to be eating something on which the name of someone other than God has been invoked. At the time of the Holy Prophet, and in some places even today, it was a common practice to prepare foods as offerings to various gods. Muslims are forbidden to eat such foods.
Except for the four things mentioned above, Muslims are allowed to eat everything that is clean, pure and agreeable.
Dinking of intoxicating liquors was prevalent among the Arabs at the time of the Holy Prophet. The prohibition against their consumption came gradually. First the Muslims were told by God that the intoxicating drinks contain more harm than good. Then they were commanded not to say their Prayers if they were intoxicated. Finally came the commandment to shun this uncleanliness altogether. Muslims, therefore, are not permitted to consume alcoholic drinks.
Gambling and other games of chance are also prohibited in Islam. According to the Quran, these things carry little good and more harm. A Muslim, therefore, avoids indulging in such activities.
TAKING OF INTREST
Taking of interest goes against the Islamic principle of charity and is, therefore, prohibited. In the Islamic philosophy, a borrower who is already in hardship should not be expected to repay an additional sum as interest. A lender should only take his original loan back or, better still, forgive it if he can afford to do so.
PENAL LAWS IN ISLAM AND PUNISHMENTS
Besides enjoining voluntary acts of righteousness, Islam contains penal codes to deal with gross violations of social trust. In Islam it is strictly prohibited to violate the life, property or honour of another person. According to the many Commandments of the Holy Quran and the various Tradition of the Holy Prophet, the above three things are made sacred for the Muslims and are not to be violated. The willful violation of these limits placed in Islam could be punishable by the society.
The Islamic institution of Jihad is the least understood and the most talked about aspect of Islam in the world today. There is great misunderstanding among the non Muslims that Islamic Jihad is a holy war directed towards the unbelievers for the sole purpose of converting them into Muslims. Nothing, in fact, could be farther from the truth.
Literally, the Arabic word jihad means “utmost effort” or “striving”. The Muslims are commanded in the Holy Quran to strive in the way of God. This struggle could be in the form of propagation, promotion or defense of Islam and may or may not include armed conflict with the unbelievers. In Islamic terminology the effort to preach Islam to non Muslims and the struggle to overcome one’s baser inclinations and desires are all called jihad. If the struggle does indeed take the form of an armed conflict, it must be in self defense and in accordance with all the rules and regulations laid down in the Quran.
For a long time the early Muslims suffered persecution and torture at the hands of the Quraysh. The Holy Prophet and the Muslims never retaliated, simply because there were no commands from God to this effect. Finally, when persecution had reached its peak, permission to fight in self defense was granted to the Muslims. However, the purpose of fighting was limited to establishing freedom of worship and removing oppression and iniquity. Muslims were strongly enjoined to spare the lives of women and children, to treat the prisoners of war with kindness, to restrain at all times from any excesses, and to restore peace as soon as possible. This is the true concept of jihad in Islam.
ISLAMIC MANNERS AND ETIQUETTES
There are certain manners and etiquettes that a Muslim follows when conducting his affairs in the society. Following are some examples:
- When two Muslims meet, they greet each other by saying Assalamo alaikum, meaning “peace be upon you”, and wa alaikum assalam, and “upon you be peace”.
- When Muslims undertake any activity, they always start it with the name of God, saying: Bismillah ar Rahman ar Raheem, meaning: “I begin in the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Ever Merciful”.
- When Muslims terminate an activity, such as the eating of one’s meal, they say Alhamdo Lillah, meaning: ‘praise be to God.’ This phrase is said at many other occasions when expressing gratitude to God.
- When a Muslim talks about carrying out some activity in the future, he always adds the phrase insha Allah, meaning: ‘if God be willing.’
- When a Muslim receives a favour or a gift he thanks the person by saying jazakomullah meaning: ‘may God reward you.’
- When a Muslim hears sad news, particularly of someone passing away, he says inna lillahe wa inna alaihe rajeoon meaning: ‘we belong to God, and unto Him shall we return.’
- When a person sneezes, he says Alhamdo lillah, ‘praise be to God’; the other person who hears him sneeze, says yar ham komullah meaning: ‘may God have mercy on you.’ Then, the first person says: ‘yahdee komullah’ (May Allah guide you) and the second person concludes Yusleh lakum balokum (May Allah set all your affairs right).
- When a Muslim wants to enter another’s home, he first greets the dwellers and then asks for permission to enter. It is prohibited to enter someone’s home without his permission or knowledge.
- A Muslim does not talk evil against somebody particularly at his back. This act of backbiting is not only impolite but also sinful and cowardly in Islam. If a genuine complaint exists against someone, it should first of all be brought to that person’s own attention.