“Religion and the Moral Development of Man”
Al-Azhar Magazine – August 1971
The moral and ethical development of man is due to religion. That all that is good and noble in man has been inspired by faith in God is a truth at which perhaps even an atheist would not cavil. It is through the teachings of Prophets and Reformers that has been able to conquer his lower nature and to set before himself the noblest ideals of selflessness and the service of humanity. If we study the noble sentiments that inspire man today we will find their origin in the teachings and example of some great Prophet or sage who had a deep faith in God and through whom was sowing the seed of faith in other human hearts.
If the sanction of religion removed today, the ignorant masses will sink back, gradually of course, into a state of wild. Even those who count themselves above the common level will no longer feel the inspiration to noble and high ideals which only faith in God can give. The belief in God Who is the Nourisher of all the worlds, Merciful and Forgiving, creates in the believer love and affection towards His creation. In another way, religion brings man closer to God and makes His existence felt as a reality in his life, and that is a force in the moral development of hm.
All articles of faith are in reality principles of action. The Almighty God is the Being who possesses all the perfect attributes, and when a man is required to believe in God, he is really required to make himself possessor of the highest moral qualities. He must set before himself the highest and purest ideal of which the heart of man can think, and make his conduct conform to that ideal.
Love, amity, sympathy and kindness to one’s fellow-men, and human brotherhood have been the message of every religion. Every nation has learnt these essential lessons in their true purity only through the spirit of selflessness and service which a faith God has inspired. If there have been hatred and bloodshed they have been there in spite of religion. It is not as a consequence of the message of the love which religion has brought, but they have been there because human nature is too prone to these things; and their presence only shows that a still greater religious awakening is required, that a true faith in God is yet a urgent need of humanity.
As a matter of fact a true human civilization is based on religion. Tracing back its history in all nations, it will be seen that whenever it has begun to fall, a new religious impulse has always been at hand to save it from utter destruction, it is often said that religion is responsible for much of the hatred and bloodshed in the world, but a hasty glance at the history of religion will show this to be a horrible misconception. If unification, or human brotherhood, be the true basis of human civilization of humanity as a whole, then Islam is undoubtedly the greatest civilizing force the world has ever known or is likely to know.
The religion of Islam, as the greatest spiritual force of the world, laid the basis of unification of humanity; and of a brotherhood of man which knows no bounds of color, race, country, language, or even of rank; and of a unity of the human race beyond which human conception cannot go. Its fundamental doctrine is “All men are a single nation” (2:213). Islam has proved itself to be a spiritual force the equal of which the human race has never known. Its miraculous transformation of world conditions was brought about in an incredibly short space of time.
How great a force it was in bringing back the lost civilization of people to them, is clear from the following facts: Fourteen hundred years ago it was Islam that saved the human civilization from crushing into an abyss of barbarism that came to the help of a civilization whose very foundations had collapsed, and that set about laying new foundation and rearing an entirely new structure of culture and ethics. A new idea of the unity of the human race as a whole, not of the unity of this or that nation, was introduced into the world. This idea was so mighty that it welded together nations which had warred with and hated each other. It not only cemented together the warring tribes of one country but it established a brotherhood of all nations of the world. An English writer terms it in following words: “A more disunited people it would be hard to find till suddenly the miracle took place. A man arose who, by his personality and by his Divine Guidance, actually brought about the impossible – namely the union of all the those warring factions.” (The Ins and Outs of Mesopotamia). It was no only in Arabia, among the over-bickering tribes of a single peninsula, that this great miracle was wrought, but it established a brotherhood of all nations of the world, joining together those which had nothing in common except their common humanity.
Islam had actually achieved the unification of many races and harmonized the jarring and discordant elements of humanity. The following passages show the significance of mankind. So far as Islam is concerned the facts are entirely clear and practical in all aspects of social and moral life of man. It came as the real friend of the poor and the destitute, and it has accomplished an upliftment of the poor to which history affords no parallel. It made of slaves not only leaders in thought and intellect but actually leaders and rulers of the nation. As regards the advancement of science and learning Islam gave an impetus to learning in a country which had never possessed a seat of learning and was sunk in the depths of superstition.
As regards the teaching of Holy Quran it teaches the people to work their best and hardest for success in life and lay down, in plain words that: “Man shall have nothing but what he strives for” (53:39). It actually made the most neglected nation in the world, the Arabs of Arabian peninsula, a nation of supreme conquerors in all phases of life. This great revolution was brought about only by awakening in them a desire for work and striving hard.
According to the teachings of the Religion of Islam, the main moral qualities are the honesty, sincerity, justice, keeping promise, patience.
The Quran enjoins upon the believers to lead a polite social life. It considers politeness as a high moral quality. The preliminary stages of this quality are to avoid defaming one another, and not traduce any person in his absence, not to decide others, not to insult anyone, to avoid suspicions and even not to call on by his nickname.
The following verses of Quran refer to the essential conditions of a polite life: “O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nick names. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil-doers”. (S: XLIX, V:11).
“O ye who believe! Shun much suspicion: for Lo! Some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat flesh of his dead brother? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other). And keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is relenting, merciful” (S: XLIX, V: 12)
“And walk not in the earth exultant. Lo! Thou caste not rend the earth, nor canst thou stretch to the height of the hills” (S: XVII, V: 37).
“The (faithful) slaves of the beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the foolish one address them, answer peace” (S: XXV, V: 63). And: “And those who will not witness vanity, but when they pass near senseless play, pass by the dignity” (S: XXV, V:72).
The real courage is a virtue which is resembled in those who lose not their hearts but stand firmly and behave patiently under hardships and in battlefields. The quality of courage is not a movement in an insolent manner or in a vain display. With the help of it the true believer resists and overcomes the passions of the body and the attacks of transgressors, when it is advisable in the cause of truth and justice.
The courageous man resists his passions and does not fly from danger like a coward, but he takes any step to resist evil by patience and steadfastness even in the violent battle field. The true faith in the God increases the instinct of bravery in the way of establishing the truth and resisting injustice. The Holy Quran explains this point:
“Those unto whom men said: Lo! The people have gathered against you therefore fear them (the threat of danger) but increased the faith of them and they cried; Allah is sufficient for us. Most excellent He is in Whom we trust! So they returned with grace and favor from Allah, and no harm touched them. They followed the good pleasure of Allah, and Allah is of infinite bounty. It is only the devil who would make (men) fear his partisans. Fear them not; fear Me, if ye are the true believers” (S: III, V: 173-175).