The supreme end for which we were created and towards which we have led is not the gratification of physical pleasures but the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of justice: these two occupations are our sole deliverance out of the present world into the world wherein is neither death nor pain.(Abu Bakr al-Razi)
Islam is a monotheistic vision entailing a moral mission. It is a theocentric world-view as well as a theocentric value-system. Of all the beliefs and doctrines, it lays greatest emphasis on commitment to monotheistic creed. The Qur’an asks believers to submit unfailingly to the commandments of Allah. The moral laws enunciated in the Qur’an are life-giving and life-enriching. The ideal of the Qur’an is to develop a healthy social organization appropriating the middle path of rectitude avoiding all forms of extremism. The life of the present world is no doubt significant and purposive but its purposes are directed toward the good of future life, for the real abode of life is in the hereafter. The present life and the future life are to be viewed as a unity for man’s creation here and resurrection later on are events related to an individual soul.
The ideal of unity leads to the conception of unity of the whole of humanity. Mankind was created from a single pair of a male and a female and from a single breath of life. All people are equal members of the human community; the only distinction recognised by the Qur’an is based on the degree of righteousness possessed by the people. In this regard the Qur’an said:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he
who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Al- Qur’an, 49:13).
The Qur’an underlines the unqualified need for social justice. We should adopt justice as a moral ideal. God’s Revelation itself is an embodiment of truth and justice. Furthermore we should love God as the complete embodiment of all moral values. A human being should be kind and loving to his or her parents and to kindred, orphans, neighbours, needy and wayfarers. Believes are asked in the Qur’an to be quick in emulating good works. They are advised to strive together, as in a race, towards all that is good and virtuous. The Qur’anic revelations and record of the sayings and doings of the Prophet (S) are the basic sources of the Islamic philosophy and ethics. The Qur’an laid down the basic foundation of ethics and Muslim ethical philosophers have developed their ethical thought in the light of basic Qur’anic beliefs and values. However, the emergence of ethics as systematic science took several centuries.
Ibn Miskawaih (932-1030)
Ibn Miskawaih is considered the first Muslim thinker who advanced a systematic treatise on ethics. He was born at Rey (932 AD) now in modern Iran. His complete name was Abū ʿAlī Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Yaqūb ibn Miskawaih. During early stage of his career, he took education & training at Baghdad. He also served as a secretary to the vizier of the Buyid amir Moez Al Dawla. During his stay at Baghdad, he remained affiliated with the library of Baitul Hikma, the grand learning center of Abbasid empire. He wrote a book called Tahadhib-al-Akhlaq, which is the first treatise of its kind embodying the ethical views and opinions of the Greeks and the ethical principles and criteria of Islam. The eruption of different problems in Muslim society and state and Greek studies influenced the Muslim Mind. The early Muslim philosophers tried to advance reconciliation between Greek philosophy and the Qur’anic beliefs and values. They tried to reconcile revelation with reason, knowledge with faith and religion with philosophy. They tried to demonstrate that reason and revelation do not necessarily oppose each other. The Greek and other indigenous systems of thought profoundly influenced this development. Muslim jurists, theologians and commentators on the Qur’an have tried to understand the moral principles and ethical grounds of the Qur’an by various methods. They wanted to build a thoroughly Islamic ethical system which derives all its basic elements from the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. So it is appropriate to subsume their views under the rubric of “Islamic ethics.” The basic sources of inspiration of Islamic ethics are always the Qur’an and the Sunnah (practices of the Prophet). They are the spring from which the spiritual and ethical teachings of Islam flow (Ansari, 1964, 25). The Qur’anic revelations and record of the sayings and doings of the Prophet (S) are the basic sources of the Islamic philosophy and ethics. The Qur’an laid down the basic foundation of ethics and Muslim ethical philosophers have developed their ethical thought in the light of basic Qur’anic beliefs and values. However, the emergence of ethics as systematic science took several centuries. Ibn Miskawaih is considered the first Muslim thinker who advanced a systematic treatise on ethics.
Ibn- Miskawaih is one of the outstanding figures in the history of Islamic philosophy and ethics. He is considered the first Muslim thinker who presented a systematic treatise on ethics and wrote Tahadhib-al-Akhlaq, a book that is philosophic and systematic.
It is the first treatise of its kind embodying the ethical views and opinions of the Greek and the ethical system of Islam. Ibn- Miskawaih developed his moral philosophy from his metaphysical conceptions. He viewed God as the ‘First Mover’. The unity, eternity and materiality are His primary attributes. Everything ’emanates’ from Him. There is the order or gradation in the universe as the order of emanation. First emanation from God is “The first intelligence which is same as the active intelligence“. The perfection of mandated being is according to their relation or the source from which they emanate. Thus first intelligence is “eternal, perfect in existence and immutable in state because of its emanation from the first Being. (Sharif, 1963, p.474)
However, Miskawaih argued that happiness (Sa ‘ada) is realized by avoiding vice and cultivating virtue. According to him happiness is the supreme goal of mankind and he divided it into two parts worldly and divine. Though divine happiness is higher and more noble, it on the other hand, according to him, builds on worldly happiness, which, among others things consists of health, success, and honour. Miskawaih clearly indicated that the truly happy person is one who combines temporal and spiritual happiness and as a consequence internalizes morality to such an extent that all action is performed for its own sake, but for the sake of the virtue and goodness inherent in the actions itself, and not for any ulterior end. The order goes downwards accordingly. The soul emanates from intelligence. It is a simple and conscious substance. It remains in motion, which is its essence. The motion is circular and necessary for soul, because of its imperfection. It gets perfection when it frees itself from the fetters of matter. Matter is devoid of life, activity and reality. Matter is only the subject upon which soul acts. The entire world is the creation of the soul. Matter is disorder, darkness and evil. It causes disorder, imperfection and defects in soul. It makes its path of activity unclear. The soul has two-fold direction in motion, upwards and downwards. In the upward direction “soul ascends to the intelligence, contemplates the intelligence, imagines perfection and by doing so acquires light and splendour, and it becomes illuminated, thereby achieving its perfection. In its downward direction it “confers light and illumination to matter” and thus goes far from its real direction. (Umaruddin, 2003, p.7).
- Ansari, A.H. (1964). The Ethical Philosophy of Miskawaih. Aligarh.
- Sharif, M. M. (1963). A History of Muslim Philosophy (vol. 1). Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.
- Umaruddin, M., (2003), The Ethical Philosophy of Al-Ghazali, Aligarh: Series 9, Faculty of Arts Publication, A.M.U.