The basis of sound ethics is the Sunna
By: Kemal Sandıkçı, PhD
One of the most important reasons for anarchy and depression, two of the greatest problems in today’s societies, is undoubtedly moral degeneration. In the past prophets were sent to nations which were morally degenerated. As a matter of fact, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) states that he was sent to complete moral virtues (Muvatta, “Husn al-Huluq” 8; Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, II, 381). We learn from the Quran that the nations which could not save themselves from the vortex of immorality, despite having prophets sent to them, were punished severely with divine retribution.
In today’s world, where science and technology has rapidly developed, where new weapons of mass-destruction are created daily, where the largest share of national budgets has been allocated to the defense industry, there can be no doubt that the importance of ethical values has become increasingly more important.
Islamic morality is aimed at the individual forming a just and honest personality in general and a “Muslim identity” in particular. The only means to practically and actually grasp this morality is the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is an undeniable fact that the sunnah (practices) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is an important factor in forming such a Muslim identity. It is clear that Muslim nations, which can be very different in terms of race or culture or which can be very distant to each other regionally, have the same general moral values. There is a significant unity and similarity between their belief values; their attitudes, considerations of what is halal or haram (permitted or forbidden), their traditions, how they perceive events and natural phenomena, their style of dressing, even how they entertain themselves. We can state that today there is a unique system of values and a homogenous culture among Muslims, just like in the past. Despite the limitless power of the dominant “global” culture and its effort to replace local cultures, some of the unique features of Muslim nations have been able to survive, and we owe this success to a large extent to Islam. The sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) helps to create a common identity and a common life-style among Muslim nations, even when they belong to different races and cultures or are found in different geographical locations. Naturally, the Quran is the main source for this culture, but the Quran usually provides only general principles. On the other hand, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a living example in every issue, from governmental administration to the most basic daily behavior. People are more affected by a living example of another human rather than general principles from a text. As a matter of fact, Muslims have followed the beautiful example of the Prophet, as ordered by the Holy Quran, and they try to live their lives like him. The sunnah has become the most important factor in sustaining the faith of Muslims and in preserving their identity in the periods of difficulty.
THE ETHICAL PRINCIPLES INTRODUCED BY PROPHET MUHAMMAD (pbuh)
Here we will give a few examples of the principles that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) set forth fifteen centuries ago for the human character and the structure of the personality which still retain their universal values.
1. The basis of Islamic morality introduced by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is to believe that there is a Divine Power that creates life, perpetuates it, and takes it away. This faith is the source and the basis of Islam. The most important feature of this faith that is reflected on the human soul is the feeling of “Allah sees all my actions, hears all my utterances, and knows everything that I think.” Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordered us to serve Allah “as if we could see Him” and said, “Allah sees you although you cannot see Him” (Bukhari “Iman” 37, “Tafsir” 31/2; Iman” 5; Nasai, “Iman” 5; Ibn Maja “Muqaddima” 9). This faith installs a type of auto-control mechanism into humans and accordingly helps them gain a conscience that also demonstrates a sense of responsibility for things they do when no other human being can see them. A human who combines this strong feeling of faith with an active determination will not cause harm to other humans or to the environment.
2. One of the issues to which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave great importance is making humans the central value of the world. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us that the human is the purpose of existence. He said that the earth, in all its magnificence, was created for mankind and that the prophets were sent to ensure the peace and happiness of the people. All of Prophet Muhammad’s efforts were directed to providing peace, trust and happiness.
Prophet Muhammad said that Allah sees the human as the most superior creature and that He “glorified humans to the angels” (Muslim, “Hajj” 436; Nasai “Adabu al-Qudat” 37; “Hajj” 194; Ibn Maja, “Masajid” 19). He also said, “The prestige of the humans for Allah is holier than the prestige of the Kaaba Muazzama” (Ibn Maja, “Fitan” 2). He said, “Insulting someone is all one needs to do to commit a sin.” (Muslim, “Birr” 32; Tirmizi, “Birr” 18; Abu Dawud, “Adab” 35; Ibn Maja, “Zuhd” 26). “Allah prefers the downfall of the earth over the unjust killing of a believer” (Tirmizi, “Diyet” 7; Nasai, “Tahrim” 2; Ibn Maja “Diyat” 1). He also said that “A person must also ask for the things that he wants for other people” (Tirmizi, “Zuhd” 2; Ibn Maja, “Zuhd” 19, 24). He regards “Looking at people with a smiling face as sadaqa (charity)” (Bukhari, “Jihad” 128, “Mazalim” 24; Tirmizi, “Birr” 36, “Iman” 6). “You cannot enter Heaven without believing, and you are not considered a believer if you don’t love each other” (Muslim, “Iman” 93; Abu Davud, “Adab” 142; Tirmizi, “Isti’zân” 1; Ibn Maja, “Muqaddima” 9, “Adab” 11.) “The believers are the people that love other people and are loved by them; those that get along with other people and themselves well.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad, V. 335). “The people who say bad things about other people, who curse other people, who habitually say bad things and who perform bad actions are not believers.” (Tirmizi, “Birr” 48).
Being moderate and temperate in all things was part of Prophet Muhammad’s character. Accordingly he said, “You must be temperate in love and hate and must not go to extremes.” (Tirmizi, “Birr” 60). “Extreme love can blind a person.” (Abu Davud, “Adab” 125). “Extreme hostility can make a person a hypocrite.” (Bukhari, “Iman” 24, “Jizya” 17, “Mazalim” 17; Muslim, “Iman” 106; Tirmizi, “Iman” 14; Abu Davud, “Sunnah” 16).
3. One of the issues that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) cared most about was honesty and loyalty to justice. While making a pledge with his companions, the Prophet ordered, “You shall only speak the truth wherever you are.” (Bukhari, “Ahkam” 43; Muslim, “Imarat” 41; Muwatta, “Jihad” 1; Nasai, “Pledge” 1; Ibn Maja, “Jihad” 41). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a prophet “who did not accept a person who had cheated other people as one of his companions.” (Muslim, “Iman” 164; Abu Dawud, “Buyu” 50; Ibn Maja, “Tijarat” 36). “The true Muslim is a person who does not slander other people or perform bad deeds against them.” (Bukhari, “Iman” 4, 5; “Riqaq” 26; Muslim, “Iman” 64; Abu Dawud, “Jihad” 2; Tirmizi, “Judgment Day” 52; ” Iman” 12). “The person whose neighbors are uncertain about whether or not he is evil is not a Muslim.” (Bukhari, “Adab” 29; Muslim, “Iman” 73; Tirmizi, “Judgment Day” 60).
He also said, “Religion is about being honest and sincere to Allah, His Book, His Messenger, and all people.” (Bukhari, “Ilim” 43; “Mawaqit” 3; “Zakat” 2; “Buyu” 68; “Shurut” 18; “Ahkam” 43; Muslim, “Iman” 95–99; Abu Dawud, “Adab” 67).
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never considered that the ends justify the means. The means that lead to any end result should be good and just, not just the end result itself. When seventy of his companions were put to the sword in Bir al-Mauna in an ambush while going to Najid to teach about Islam, only Amr ibn Umayya ad-Damri could escape. On his way back, Amr ibn Umayya ad-Damri killed two men from the tribe that had set this trap for the Companions. The Prophet was saddened when he heard this and he expressed his displeasure saying, “You shall pay their blood money.”
4. One of the fundamentals of the morality system that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) introduced is the institution of the family. The family is the most fundamental institution which sustains nations and is an important source for gaining superior human characteristics. Working, making sacrifices, showing love, cooperating, performing something without expecting anything in return, displaying responsibility and love for country and people can only be gained in a safe family environment.
In contrast to the fact that marriages world-wide have rapidly decreased and the divorce rate has increased at an incredible rate of 20%, in Turkey it is not possible to find marriage halls that are not fully booked and the divorce rate is at about four in ten thousand. Is it not thanks to Prophet Muhammad’s care for the family that this situation exists?
For a person to be happy not only the material environment, but also the spiritual environment should be stable. Animosity and hatred among people should be turned into love and affection. Greed and expediency should be ripped away from the conscience of humans. Consciences should be washed in the shower of love and sent to human beings as a blessing. For that reason we must follow the example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who changed the thoughts of Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan. Hind said “There was not a house on earth that I wanted to destroy more than your house. Now, there is no house on earth that I so dearly wish to honor and raise in glory than yours.” (Bukhari, “Ahkam” 14; “Ayman” 3; “Manaqıb al-Ansâr” 23; Muslim, “Aqdiya” 8–9).
We need the moral values that Prophet Muhammad brought; he did not try to find fault with other people, he did not think to take revenge, (Bukhari, “Manaqib” 23; “Adab” 80; “Hudud” 10, 43; Muslim, “Fadail” 77; Muwatta, “Husn al-Huluq” 1; Abu Dawud, “Adab” 4), he did not ask for anything from anyone, he who did not reject any gifts or invitations, he cursed no one, he always wished good things for everyone, he always acted as a provider, and he never said “I have none”, not even once. In any case, is it not moral values that we need most at this time when injustice is on the rise?