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Ethics or akhlaq (Arabic: أخلاق) is a part of religion dealing with inner attributes of human beings. The term Akhlaq refers to inner attributes of human being formed into habits and characteristics. It covers both good and bad dispositions as well as individual and social ethics. The Qur'an has mentioned correction of people's dispositions as the goal of the Prophet's (s) mission. In hadiths, the most important virtues are referred to as Makarim al-akhlaq (noble traits). Jami' al-sa'adat, Mi'raj al-sa'ada, Akhlaq Shubbar, and Akhlaq-i Nasiri are among the famous Shia books on ethics.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Importance
- 3 Individual and Social Ethics
- 4 Moral Virtues and Vices
- 5 Ethics in the Qur'an
- 6 Moral System in the Qur'an
- 7 Moral Instructions of the Qur'an
- 8 Noble Traits in the Speech of the Ahl al-Bayt (a)
- 9 Sciences related with Akhlaq
- 10 Shia Books on Ethics
In usage, Akhlaq refers to inner attributes of human being formed into habits and characteristics. The word “akhlaq” covers both good and noble dispositions such as courage and chivalry and bad and ignoble dispositions such as iniquity and cowardice. Also, according to some books of ethics, akhlaq covers both individual qualities such as patience and courage and social characteristics such as humility and sacrifice.
Islam has considered an important position for ethics. The Qur'an considers moral concepts such as good and evil, justice and injustice, patience and doing good, important and mentions the correction of human's dispositions as the important goal of the Prophet's (s) mission.
According to a hadith from Mustadrak al-wasa'il, the Prophet (s) introduced perfection of noble traits as the goal of his mission. Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi wrote, “managing individual and social life of human being which is among the goals of religion, can only be done by following certain moral instructions. Thus, it can be said that, without ethics, religion cannot reach its objectives or provide the happiness of both worlds for human being.”
Individual and Social Ethics
Some books of ethics have categorized it to two branches of individual and social ethics. Akhlaq dar Qur'an says, “Some moral characteristics are only individual and can exist regardless of the society. Such characteristics are referred to as individual morals. Some others are formed in the relationships of a person with other people, and would not exist for a person living alone. Such characteristics are referred to as social morals.”
According to this book, most moral concepts belong to social morals, some of which are as follows:
- Good thought
Also, some moral concepts belong to individual morals such as:
Moral Virtues and Vices
Most books of ethics give a list of moral virtues and vices. In these books, every moral characteristic is defined first and then, the factors which form those characteristics and their results are discussed. The methods for diagnosis of moral diseases, their cures, and also the way to achieve virtues are among other issues discussed in moral discussions. In Akhlaq Muhtashami, Khwaja Nasir al-Din Tusi gave a list of some famous moral characteristics as below:
- Detachment from world
Ethics in the Qur'an
The word “tazkiya” means “purification of soul from moral vices and decorating it with moral virtues” which has been considered among the goals of the Prophet's (s) mission in the Qur'an, has always been mentioned prior to education except in one verse. In the Qur'an, the existence of nature is recognized as characteristics dominating human soul, so that when praising the Prophet (s), he (s) is considered to have a superb nature.
Moral System in the Qur'an
Moral system mentioned in the Qur'an is a religious system and the base of its instructions is the relationship between human being and God. Human being received the primary guidance from God and has this capability to find the right path by appreciating the divine guidance.
Birr [Goodness] and taqwa [God-wariness]: In moral system of the Qur'an, the two concepts of birr and taqwa are among the most important ones and are correlated:
- Birr which means goodness embraces all religious virtues in the Qur'anic view. In a verse, the glorious Qur'an considers birr embracing beliefs, religious obligations and moral virtues.
- Taqwa is a characteristic of human soul which draws the person away from wrongdoings and draws him toward doing good. In many verses, the characteristic of God-wariness is accompanied with different virtues such as correction, good doing, forgiveness and patience. The glorious Qur'an introduces itself as a guidance for the God-wary and considers the most God-wary, the most honorable people before God.
Moral Instructions of the Qur'an
In the Qur'an, many moral concepts have been mentioned, but some of them have been more emphasized:
- Equity and Justice: The Qur'an considers establishment of justice as the goal of sending Messengers (s) and the Holy Books. The Prophet (s) himself was bound to judge based on justice. God also orders the believers to observe justice at any situation.
- Patience: Patience is among the most important moral characteristics emphasized in the glorious Qur'an. In two verses of the chapter Anfal, it is mentioned that God is with patient ones. The Qur'an asks the believers to call each other to patience. Important examples of patience in the Qur'an are having patience upon obedience of God, patience upon refraining from disobedience of God, patience upon calamities and patience against misbehaviors of people.
Some other moral virtues emphasized by the Qur'an are:
- Mercy and compassion
- Doing good to parents
- Associating with relatives
- Giving to and helping the needy and orphans
- Keeping the promise and returning the trust
- Honorableness in transactions
Noble Traits in the Speech of the Ahl al-Bayt (a)
In hadiths, the Prophet (s) introduced the accomplishment of noble traits as the goal of his mission. Makarim al-Akhlaq [noble traits] have also been mentioned in narrations from the Ahl al-Bayt (a). Thus, this concept was emphasized in moral discussions and several books on ethics have been written with this name. Makarim al-akhlaq has originally been “akhlaq al-makarim” and “makarim” has been an attribute for “akhlaq”. “Makarim al-akhlaq” means “noble traits”. Some believe that “makarim al-akhlaq” are different from moral goodness or moral virtues; that it refers to greatest moral dispositions and that moral goodness can be a primary step towards them.
In replying to a question about the meaning of Makarim al-akhlaq, Imam al-Sadiq (a) mentioned examples for which as follows: forgiving the one who has oppressed you, making relationship with someone who has cut his relation with you, giving to someone who has withheld giving to you and telling the truth, even with it is against you. In another hadith, he (a) mentioned the following as the examples of Makarim al-akhlaq: having stamina in calamities, telling the truth, trust-keeping, associating with relatives, receiving guests, feeding the needy, returning goodness, observing the rights of the neighbor and observing the rights of friends and he (a) considered modesty the most important trait among them.
Also, Imam Ali (a) considered keeping away from prohibited things as the way to achieve Makarim al-akhlaq.
Akhlaq has been discussed using different approaches. Different sciences have had different approaches toward Akhlaq. Sciences related to Akhlaq are:
- Ethics: the science which studies good and bad attributes and actions and their results.
- Descriptive ethics: this science describes the ethics in different schools of thought, people, nations and individuals.
- Education: is a science which shows the way to achieve moral virtues.
- Philosophy of ethics: which studies the history, developments, goal and necessity of ethics and introduces its dignitaries.
- Philosophy of Akhlaq: is a science which studies fundamental issues about moral statements, such as criterion for moral values, absoluteness or relativeness of akhlaq and moral should and should not.
Shia Books on Ethics
Akhlaq has been discussed in different ways among Muslims. These differences in views led to writing books having different approaches towards it. According to Ketabshenakht Akhlaq Islami, different approaches can be seen in the books on Akhlaq by Muslims including traditional, rational or philosophical, mystical or spiritual aspects and a combination of these aspects. Some famous Shia books on Akhlaq are:
- Jami' al-sa'adat written by Muhammad Mahdi Naraqi
- Mi'raj al-sa'ada written by Mulla Ahmad Naraqi
- Al-Akhlaq or Akhlaq Shubbar written by Sayyid Abd Allah Shubbar
- Awsaf al-ashraf written by Khwaja Nasir al-Din Tusi
- Akhlaq Nasiri written by Khwaja Nasir al-Din Tusi