Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Roman Broszkowski: Morality Through Action

 

The Quran presents a dynamic moral order that instructs Muslims on how to actively live their lives. It is not satisfied to simply laying out truths, but insists that what is good and what is bad are the result of actions that Muslims must take.

In the 60th Surah, the Quran touches on the nature of justice. “God doth not forbid you to deal with kindness and fairness towards those who have not made war upon you on account of your religion, or driven you forth from your homes: for God loveth those who act with fairness.” (60:8)[i]  The verse is set up in a parallel structure with both negative and positive Godly acts. God does not forbid, a passive action, humanity to deal with kindness, an active phrase. Even without an explicit commandment from God, there exists obligations people have towards one another. But this obligation isn’t portrayed as a neutral state; humans should actively be kind to each other. The verse establishes a moral duty to act justly rather than just be just. The final part of the verse, “for God loveth those who act with fairness” describes a continuous action on the part of an omnipresent creator. Just as people have an ongoing obligation, God actively loves without a definite time. The verse’s structure creates a Quranic injunction for people to act just as God acts. Such a command is common throughout the Quran and weaves together a moral system based on obligations to take positive actions. Active verbs are used instead of passive language and God is described a present and involved factor in morality.

These themes are echoed in the Fourth Surah as well. “O ye who believe! Stand fast to justice, when ye bear witness before God, though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kindred, whether the part be rich or poor. God is nearer than you to both. Therefore follow not passion, lest ye swerve from the truth. And if ye wrest your testimony or stand aloof, God verily is well aware of what ye do.” (4:135)[ii]  The Surah starts with a command to “stand fast to justice” which implies that to be justice is an active process rather than a stagnant phase. In order to be justice, those who believe must continuously steel themselves in the face of temptation. Justice is a moral good, but as such is only attainable, according to the Quran, through action. From there the verse places God in the immediate surroundings of all people and describes him as existing in the space between friendships. It is telling that this description is used since all relationship are the result of continuous action and must be continuously kept up or else will atrophy.  The verse ends with a second command, “follow not passion”. The phrasing here is also important since instead of creating an opportunity for passivity by saying “do not do x”, the Quran is insisting that people “Do x” in this case follow things other than passion. Justice acts as a foundation for Quranic law, but it itself is made up of smaller acts that Muslims are obligated to do. These obligations are fundamental to Islamic thought and represent a covenantal moral system where Good stems from active cooperation between God and people. Action is so important to the Quranic understanding of Justice that the very next Surah once again commands believers to be active in their pursuit of Justice. The first verse of the Fifth Surah plainly states, “ O believers! Be faithful to you engagements.”[iii] Muslims must fulfill their obligations in order to live a good a virtuous life.

The Quranic moral system establishes Justice at its center and prioritizes action as the best expression of that quality. Humanity has obligations that it must continuously and actively attend to in order to be unity with God.

 

[i] “Surah 60” Rodwell, J. M., and D. S. Margoliouth. The Koran.  Digireads.com Pub., 2012.

[ii] “Surah 4” ibid.

[iii] “Surah 5” ibid.

 

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