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Ethics (Akhlaq)

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Shia Islam

Ethics or akhlāq (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 Shi'a 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 ethics to two branches of individual and social ethics. Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi in 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:

مکارم اخلاق.jpg

Moral Verses
Ifk VersesAl-Ukhuwwa VerseAl-It'am VerseAl-Naba' VerseNajwa VerseVerse of Trusts

Moral Hadiths
Hadith of qurb al-nawafilHadith Makarim al-akhlaqHadith of Mi'rajHadith Junud al-'Aql wa l-Jahl

Moral Virtues
HumilityContentmentGenerosityControlling AngerTruthfulnessHilm (forbearance)AsceticismBraveryChastityInsaf (Equity) • Silat al-Rahim

Moral Vices
HubrisGreedEnvyLieBackbitingNamima (Talebearing)MiserlinessDisobedience to Parents'Ujb (self-conceit)Sum'aCutting blood relationSpreading grave sinsIngratitudeHypocrisy

Moral Terminologies
Jihad with the selfSelf-accusing soulAmmara soulSoul at peaceSelf-reckoningSelf-observationMusharataSinMorality lessonsImperceptibility

Scholars of Ethics
Muhammad Mahdi NaraqiAhmad al-NaraqiSayyid 'Ali Qadi Tabataba'iSayyid Rida Baha' al-DiniSayyid 'Abd al-Husayn DastghaybMuhammad Taqi Bahjat

References of Ethics

Qur'anNahj al-balaghaMisbah al-shari'a wa miftah al-haqiqaMakarim al-AkhlaqAl-Mahajja al-bayda' fi tahdhib al-ahya'Tanbih al-khawatir wa nuzhat al-nawazirJami' al-sa'adatMi'raj al-sa'adaAl-Muraqabat

Also, some moral concepts belong to individual morals such as:

  • Patience
  • Impatience
  • Courage
  • Fear
  • Persistence
  • Sloth

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, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi gave a list of some famous moral characteristics as below:

Moral Virtues

Moral Vices

Ethics in the Qur'an

The word "tazkiya" (Arabic: تزکیة) 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 character is recognized as what rules the human soul; thus, when praising the Prophet (s), he (s) is considered to possess a great character.

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 (Arabic: بِرّ; translation: 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 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 (a) 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 Qur'an 8, 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 (Makarim al-Akhlaq) as the goal of his mission. Makarim al-Akhlaq 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.

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.

Sciences related with 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.

Shi'a 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 including traditional, rational or philosophical, mystical or spiritual aspects and a combination of these aspects. Some famous Shi'a books on Akhlaq are:


  • The material for writing this article is mainly taken from اخلاق in Farsi WikiShia.