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The Moral System of Islam: Motives and Practices

The Moral System of Islam: Motives & Incentives

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The love and fear of God become the real motives which impel man to obey the moral law without external pressures.

The fact that a man voluntarily and willingly accepts God as his Creator and obedience to God as the aim of his life and strives to seek His pleasure in his every action provides sufficient incentive to obey the commandments which he believes to be from God.

Belief that whoever obeys the divine commands is sure to be rewarded in the Hereafter, whatever difficulties he may have to face in his life on earth, is another strong incentive for leading a virtuous life.

And the belief that breaking the commandments of God will mean eternal punishment is an effective deterrent against violation of the moral law, however tempted a man may be by the superficial attractiveness of a certain course of action.

If this hope and fear are firmly ingrained in one’s heart, they will inspire virtuous deeds even on occasions when the immediate consequences may appear to be very damaging, and they will keep one away from evil when it looks extremely attractive and profitable.

This clearly indicates that Islam possesses a distinctive criterion of good and evil, its own source of moral laws, and its own sanctions and motivating force; through them it shapes the generally recognized more virtues in all spheres of life into a balanced and comprehensive scheme and ensures that they are followed.

It can therefore be justifiably claimed that Islam possesses a perfect moral system of its own. This system has many distinguishing features and I will refer to three of the most significant ones which, in my opinion, form its special contribution to ethics.

Distinctive Features

1- By setting divine pleasure as the objective of man’s life, Islam has set the highest possible standard of morality, providing boundless possibilities for the moral evolution of humanity.

By making divine revelation the primary source of knowledge, it gives permanence and stability to moral standards, while at the same time allowing scope for reasonable flexibility and adjustment, though not for perversions or moral laxity. The love and fear of God become the real motives, which impel man to obey the moral law without external pressures.

And through belief in God and the Day of Judgment, we are motivated to behave morally with earnestness and sincerity.

2- The Islamic moral order does not, through a mistaken love of originally and innovation, seek to lay down any new moral standards; nor does it seek to minimize the importance of the well-known moral standards, or give exaggerated importance to some and neglect others without cause.

Rather, it takes all the recognized morals and assigns a suitable role to each within the total scheme of life. It widens the scope of their application to cover every aspect of man’s private and social life – his domestic associations, his civic conduct, and his activities in the political, economic, legal and educational fields.

It covers his life at home and in society, literally from the cradle to the grave. No sphere of life is exempt from the universal and comprehensive application of the moral principles of Islam. These ensure that the affairs of life, instead of being dominated by selfish desires and petty interest, are regulated by the dictates of morality.

3- The Islamic moral order guarantees for man a system of life which is free from all evil. It calls on the people not only to practise virtue, but also to eradicate vice. Those who respond to this call are gathered together into an Ummah (a community) and given the name ‘Muslims’.

The main purpose underlying the formation of this community is that it should make an organized effort to establish and enforce goodness and suppress and eradicate evil. It would be a day of mourning for this community and a bad day for the entire world if its efforts were at any time directed towards establishing evil and suppressing good.

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The article is excerpted from the author’s 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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