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Good and Evil in Islam: From Moral to Legal

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It has been enjoined on Muslims by clear mandatory injunctions to refrain totally from everything that has been declared haram.

The Shari`ah shapes Islamic society in a way conducive to the unfettered growth of good, righteousness and truth in every sphere of human activity. At the same time it removes all the impediments along the path to goodness. And it attempts to eradicate corruption from its social scheme by prohibiting evil, by removing the causes of its appearance and growth, by closing the inlets through which it creeps into a society and by adopting deterrent measures to check its occurrence.

Ma`ruf (Good)

The Shari`ah classifies ma`ruf into three categories: the Mandatory (fard and wajib), the Recommendatory (matlub) and the Permissible (mubah).

The observance of the mandatory (ma`ruf) is obligatory on a Muslim society and the Shari`ah has given clear and binding directions about them. The recommendatory ma`ruf are those which the Shari`ah wants a Muslim society to observe and practice. Some of them have been very clearly demanded of us, while others have been recommended by implication and inference from the sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Besides this, special arrangements have been made for the growth and encouragement of some of them in the plan of life enunciated by the Shari`ah. Others still have simply been recommended by the Shari`ah leaving it to the society or to its more virtuous elements to look to their promotion.

This leaves us with the permissible ma`ruf. Strictly speaking, according to the Shari`ah everything which has not been expressly prohibited by it is a Permissible ma`ruf (i.e., mubah). It is not at all necessary that an express permission should exist about it or that it should have been expressly left to our choice.

Consequently, the sphere of permissible ma’ruf is very wide so much so that except for the things specifically prohibited by the Shari`ah, everything is permissible for a Muslim. And this is exactly the sphere where we have been given freedom and where we can legislate according to our own discretion to suit the requirements of our age and conditions, of course in keeping with the general spirit of the Shari`ah.

Munkar

The munkar (or the things prohibited in Islam) have been grouped into two categories: haram, i.e., those things which have been prohibited absolutely and kakruh, i.e., those things which have been disliked and discouraged. It has been enjoined on Muslims by clear mandatory injunctions to refrain totally from everything that has been declared haram.

As for the makruh (disliked) acts the Shari’ah signifies its dislike in some way or another, i.e., either expressly or by implication, giving an indication also as to the degree of such dislike. For example, there are some makruh bordering on haram, while others bear affinity with the acts which are permissible. Of course, their number is very large ranging between the two extremes of prohibitory and permissible actions. Moreover, in some cases, explicit measures have been prescribed by the Shari`ah for the prevention of makruh, while in others such arrangements have been left to the discretion of the society or of the individual.

The Shari`ah, thus, prescribes directives for the regulation of our individual as well as collective life. These directives touch such varied subjects as religious rituals, personal character, morals, habits, family relationships, social and economic affairs, administration, rights and duties of citizens, judicial system, laws of war and peace and international relations.

In short, it embraces all the various departments of human life. These directives reveal what is good and bad, what is beneficial and useful and what is injurious and harmful. What are the virtues and which are the evils for which we have to suppress and guard against.

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The Shari`ah prescribes directives for the regulation of our individual as well as collective life.

All-embracing Way of Life

What is the sphere of our voluntary, untrammeled, personal and social action and what are its limits. And finally, what ways and means we can adopt in establishing such a dynamic order of society and what methods we should avoid.

The Shari`ah is a complete plan of life and an all-embracing social order; nothing superfluous, nothing lacking.

Another remarkable feature of the Shari`ah is that it is an organic whole. The entire plan of life propounded by Islam is animated by the same spirit. Hence, any arbitrary division of its plan is bound to harm the spirit as well as the structure of the Islamic order. In this respect, it might be compared to the human body which is an organic whole.

A leg pulled out of the body cannot be called one-eight or one-sixth man, because after its separation from the living body, the leg can no longer perform its human function. Nor can it be placed in the body of some other animal with any hope of making it human to the extent of that limb.

Likewise, we cannot form a correct opinion about the utility, efficiency and beauty of the hand, the eyes or the nose of a human being separately, without judging its place and function within the living body.

The same can be said in regard to the scheme of life envisaged by the Shari`ah. Islam signifies the entire scheme of life and not any isolated part or parts thereof. Consequently neither can it be appropriate to view the different part of the Shari`ah in isolation from one another and without regard to the whole, nor will it be of any use to take any part and bracket it with any other ”ism”.

The Shari’ah can function smoothly and can demonstrate its efficacy only if the entire system of life is practiced in accordance with it and not otherwise.

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The article is an excerpt from the author’s book “The Islamic Way of Life”. 

Abul A`la Mawdudi (1903-1979) was one of the most eminent Islamic thinkers, reformers, and scholars of the 20th century. Mawdudi’s thought has spread all over the world and greatly influenced the work of Islamic da`wah. As a revivalist leader, theologian and political philosopher, his books and articles covered most topics that needed guidance for the revival of Islam. He also wrote many articles on the critique of the Western thought and strategy of Islamic da`wah.

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