The Philosophy of Islamic Teachings (5)

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The real purpose of the teachings of the Holy Qur'an is the reformation of the three conditions: the natural conditions, through their regulation, are converted into moral qualities.

Before going into a detailed exposition of the threefold reformation I have just mentioned, it must be pointed out that none of the teachings of the Holy Qur'an are imposed by compulsion. The sole purpose of the Holy Qur'an is the threefold reformation, and the teachings are but means to achieve it. In order for a patient to regain his health, a doctor sometimes advises the need for a surgical operation or the application of an ointment. Likewise, the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, out of compassion for the human race, also resort to similar methods. All its precepts, its reproofs and its doctrines carry within them the purpose of raising man from his natural savage state to a moral state, and thence to the infinite ocean of spirituality.

It has already been stated that the natural condition of man cannot be separated from his moral condition. When moderated and used according to the dictates of reason, on the proper occasion, the natural condition acquires a moral character. Before it is subjected to the control of reason and good sense, this condition is not in the nature of a moral quality, but of a natural impulse, however much it may resemble the moral condition. 

For example, the affection or docility which a dog or a lamb shows towards its master cannot be considered proof of courtesy or good manners, nor can the fierceness of a wolf or a tiger be regarded as rudeness or misbehaviour. The moral state is arrived at after meditation and realisation of the importance of the role of time and occasion. A person who does not use reason and common sense is like a child whose mental capacity is not yet subject to the dictates of reason, or like a madman who has lost his mind. A child and a madman may behave in an apparently moral manner, but no one would call such behaviour moral, since it does not proceed from the use of reason, but is a natural impulse in certain circumstances.

For example, the human being seeks the mother's breast as soon as it is born, while the newly hatched chicken begins to feed by pecking. Similarly, the baby leech behaves like a leech, the newborn snake behaves like a snake, and the tiger cub behaves like a tiger. As soon as a human being is born, he begins to show human reactions, and these reactions become more and more pronounced as the years go by. For example, he cries more loudly, his smile turns into laughter, and his gaze becomes more focused. At one year or eighteen months of age, he develops another natural characteristic: he begins to express pleasure and displeasure in his actions, trying to hit someone or giving them something. All these acts are natural impulses. 

In the same way, a savage with little human sense expresses his natural impulses through his words, actions and movements, and obeys his natural emotions. His actions are not the result of reflection. Whatever he does in obedience to a natural impulse, or in reaction to external stimuli, is manifested externally. Natural impulses provoked by external stimuli may not all be bad, and some may resemble judicious actions, but in general they are not the result of reflection and reasoning, and even if they are to some extent motivated by reason, they cannot be trusted because of the dominance of natural impulses.

True morality

In a word, we cannot call the conduct of a person who is subject to natural impulses, such as animals, children or the insane, truly moral behaviour. 

The first indication of true morality, whether good or bad, comes when reason begins to mature, when a person comes to distinguish between good and evil, between various degrees of goodness and badness, and when he begins to regret the omission of a good deed, and to repent after committing a sin. This is the second stage of human life, described by the Holy Qur'an as the self-accusing soul. 

It should be noted, however, that a simple rebuke is not enough for a savage to reach the stage of the self-accusing soul. It is necessary for him to become aware of the existence of God to such an extent that he no longer regards his own creation by Him as an unmotivated act, so that the understanding of the Divine may stimulate his true moral qualities. For this purpose God Most High reveals to us the necessity of understanding the Divine, and all morality gives rise to a result which may give rise to spiritual comfort or pain in this life and which will be clearly manifested in the Hereafter. 

In short, upon reaching the state of the self-accusing soul, man acquires such a degree of reason and conscience that he rebukes himself for any unrighteous act, and desires to do good deeds. In this state man begins to show high moral qualities.

Distinction between Jalq (creation) and Julq (moral qualities)

"Jalq" denotes physical birth, and "Julq" denotes inner birth. As the inner birth is perfected through moral development and not simply through obedience to natural impulses, "Julq" connotes moral qualities and not natural impulses. 

It should be noted that the popular belief that moral qualities consist only of meekness, politeness and humility is totally wrong. The truth is that to every physical action there corresponds an internal moral quality; for example, tears fall from the eyes when one cries, and to this physical action corresponds an internal quality called tenderness, and this quality, when brought under the control of reason, and properly utilised, assumes the character of a moral quality. 

Similarly, when man uses his hands to defend himself against an enemy attack, to this physical action corresponds a quality called courage. When this quality is exercised in the right place and on the right occasion, it enters into a moral quality. 

Likewise, man desires to save the oppressed from the oppressor, or to protect the homeless or the hungry, or to serve humanity in some way. To all these acts corresponds the inner quality of compassion. When a man punishes a wrongdoer, there is an inner quality called vengeance. There are times when a man who is attacked does not wish to attack in return, and refrains from action. In such cases the forbearance corresponds to the quality of forbearance and patience. When a man uses his feet and hands, his brain or his fortune, to promote the welfare of other human beings, such acts reflect the quality of benevolence. Therefore, when a person displays all these qualities at the right place and at the right time, they are called moral qualities. God Glorious has addressed the Holy Prophet (lpbD) with the following words:


"Verily you possess high moral qualities" (68:5).

This means that in the person of the Holy Prophet (lpbD) all the high moral qualities were gathered: charity, courage, justice, clemency, kindness, goodness, sincerity, long-suffering, etc. 

In short, all the natural qualities of man - courtesy, modesty, integrity, benevolence, zeal, perseverance, chastity, piety, equity, compassion, courage, generosity, patience, forbearance, kindness, sincerity, loyalty, etc. - manifested at the right time, and subjected to the dictates of reason and reflection, would be regarded as moral qualities. In reality they are natural states and human impulses, which become moral qualities when voluntarily and properly exercised. Progress is a natural characteristic of man, and therefore true religion, good company and virtuous precepts transform his natural impulses into moral qualities. Man does not share this characteristic with any animal.

(lpbD) - peace and blessings of God be upon him.

[We will continue with the 6th installment, where we will expound to the esteemed reader various verses of the Holy Qur'an that were revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to teach elementary rules of human behaviour to the people where he was sent as a Messenger.