The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam – Part 6No Comments | June 2011
Moral Qualities Related to the Doing of Good
The second types of moral qualities are those that are related to doing good. The first of these is forbearance or forgiveness. He who commits an offence against another causes him pain or harm and deserves to be punished either through the process of the law, with imprisonment or fine, or directly by the person offended. To forgive him, if forgiveness be appropriate, would be to do good unto him. In this context the teaching of the Holy Qur’an is:
That is, good men are those who control their tempers when they are roused and who overlook people’s faults when that is appropriate.1 The recompense of an injury is a penalty in proportion thereto; but whoso forgives and effects thereby a reform in the offender, and no harm is apprehended, that is to say, exercises forgiveness on its appropriate occasion, will have his reward with Allah.2
This verse shows that the Qur’an does not teach non-resistance to evil on all occasions, or that mischief-makers and wrongdoers should never be punished. Its teaching is that one must consider whether the occasion calls for forgiveness or punishment, and to adopt the course which would be best in the interests both of the offender and the public. Sometimes an offender turns away from wrongdoing in consequence of being forgiven, and sometimes forgiveness incites him to further wrongdoing. Therefore, God Almighty directs that we should not develop the habit of forgiving blindly on all occasions, but should consider carefully whether forgiveness or punishment would be most appropriate, and, therefore, constitute a virtue, in each particular case, and should adopt that course. Some people are so vindictive that they keep in mind the wrongs done to their fathers through generations, and there are others who carry forbearance and forgiveness to the extreme, sometimes even to the limit of shamelessness. They exercise such weakness, forgiveness and forbearance as are utterly inconsistent with dignity, honour, and chastity. Their conduct is a stain on good character and the result of their forgiveness and forbearance is that people are disgusted with them. That is why the Holy Qur’an attaches the condition of appropriate time and place for the exercise of every moral quality, and does not approve the exercise of a moral quality out of its place.
It should be remembered that forgiveness is not a moral quality in itself. It is a natural impulse which is found in children also. A child soon forgets an injury, if it is inflicted upon him wrongfully, and again approaches affectionately the person who has inflicted the injury upon him, even if such a person should intend to kill him. He is pleased with his beguiling words. Such forgiveness is in no sense a moral quality. It would become a moral quality when it is exercised in its proper place and on its proper occasion; otherwise it would only be a natural impulse. There are few who are able to distinguish between a natural impulse and a moral quality. We have repeatedly pointed out the distinction between a true moral quality and a natural condition, which is that a moral quality is conditioned by conformity to place and occasion, and a natural impulse often comes into play out of place. A cow is harmless and a goat is humble but we do not attribute these qualities to them because they are not invested with a sense of time and place. Divine wisdom and God’s true and perfect Book have made every moral quality subject to time and place for its proper exercise.
The second moral quality in this category is equity, and the third is benevolence and the fourth is graciousness as between kindred. God, the Glorious, has said:
This means that we are commanded to return good for good, and to exercise benevolence when it is called for, and to do good with natural eagerness as between kindred, when that should be appropriate. God Almighty forbids transgression or that you should exercise benevolence out of place or should refrain from exercising it when it is called for; or that you should fall short of exercising graciousness as between kindred on its proper occasion, or should extend it beyond its appropriate limit.3 This verse sets forth three gradations of doing good.
The first is the doing of good in return for good. This is the lowest gradation and even an average person can easily acquire this gradation that he should do good to those who do good to him.
The second gradation is a little more difficult than the first, and that is to take the initiative in doing good out of pure benevolence. This is the middle grade. Most people act benevolently towards the poor, but there is a hidden deficiency in benevolence, that the person exercising benevolence is conscious of it and desires gratitude or prayer in return for his benevolence. If on any occasion the other person should turn against him, he considers him ungrateful. On occasion he reminds him of his benevolence or puts some heavy burden upon him. The benevolent ones have been admonished by God Almighty:
That is, O those who do good to others–good that should be based on sincerity – do not render it vain by reminding them what favours you have done them or by inflicting injury on them.4 The Arabic word for alms (Sadaqah) is derived from a root (sidq) that means sincerity. If the heart is not inspired by sincerity in bestowing alms, the almsgiving ceases to be alms and becomes mere display. That is why those who exercise benevolence have been admonished by God Almighty not to render vain their benevolence by reproaches or injury.
The third grade of doing good is graciousness as between kindred. God Almighty directs that in this grade there should be no idea of benevolence or any desire for gratitude, but good should be done out of such eager sympathy as, for instance, a mother does good to her child. This is the highest grade of doing good which cannot be exceeded. But God Almighty has conditioned all these grades of doing good with their appropriate time and place. The verse cited above clearly indicates that if these virtues are not exercised in their proper places they would become vices. For instance, if equity exceeds its limits it would take on an unwholesome aspect and would become indecent. In the same way, misuse of benevolence would take on a form which would be repelled by reason and conscience; and in the same way graciousness between kindred would become transgression. The Arabic word for transgression is baghi, which connotes excessive rain which ruins crops. A deficiency in the discharge of an obligation or an excess in its discharge are both baghi. In short, whichever of these three qualities is exercised out of place becomes tainted. That is why they are all three qualities conditioned by the due observance of place and occasion. It should be remembered that equity or benevolence or graciousness between kindred are not in themselves moral qualities. They are man’s natural conditions and faculties that are exhibited even by children before they develop their reason. Reason is a condition of the exercise of a moral quality and there is also a condition that every moral quality should be exercised in its proper place and on its proper occasion.
There are several other directions set out in the Holy Qur’an concerning benevolence which are all made subject to the condition of place and time. It is said:
That is, O ye who believe, spend by way of generosity or benevolence or charity such of your wealth as you have acquired lawfully, that is to say, no part of which has been acquired through theft or bribery or dishonesty or embezzlement or wrongdoing. Do not select for charity out of it that which is useless or unclean.5
Render not vain your alms with reproaches or injury, that is to say, never remind your donee that you had bestowed anything on him nor inflict any injury upon him, for in such case your charity would be rendered vain, nor spend your money merely for display.6 Be benevolent towards your fellow beings, for Allah loves those who are benevolent.7
The truly virtuous shall drink of a cup tempered with camphor. The reference to camphor means that their hearts will be cleansed of all the burning desires and impure urges of the world. The root of the Arabic word for camphor connotes suppression, or covering up, which means that their illicit emotions will be suppressed and they will become pure hearted and will enjoy the coolness of understanding. Then it is said that they will drink from a spring which they shall cause to gush forth from the earth through their efforts.8 This indicates a deep mystery of the philosophy of paradise. Let him who has understanding understand it.
Then he said: the truly virtuous feed the poor, the orphan, and the captive for the love of Allah with such foods as they eat themselves, assuring them: We are not laying you under any obligation but feed you only to win Allah’s pleasure. We desire no return or thanks from you.9 This is an indication that they exercise the third grade of doing good which proceeds out of pure sympathy.
The truly virtuous are in the habit of spending their wealth out of love of God on their kindred and on the upbringing and training of orphans and in making provision for the poor and for providing comfort for travellers and for those who ask and for procuring the freedom of slaves and discharging the burdens of those who are in debt.10
They are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but keep a balance between the two.11 They join together that which Allah has bidden to be joined, and fear their Lord.12 In their wealth those who ask and those who are unable to ask have a right.13 By those who are unable to ask are meant animals such as dogs, cats, sparrows, oxen, donkeys, goats and others that cannot express their needs in words.
They do not hold back in times of scarcity or famine, but continue to spend at such times also according to their capacity.14 They spend in charity secretly and openly; secretly, so that they might safeguard themselves against displaying their charity, and openly, so that they might set an example for others.15 That which is set aside for charity should be spent on the poor and the needy, and on those employed in connection with its collection and distribution, and to help those who have to be rescued from some evil, and on procuring the freedom of slaves, and on those burdened with debts, and the afflicted and on other purposes which are purely for the sake of God and on those striving in the cause of Allah.16
You cannot attain the highest grade of virtue unless you spend for the promotion of the welfare of your fellow beings that part of your wealth which you hold dear.17
Render to the poor their due and to the needy and the wayfarer but safeguard yourselves against extravagance.18 This is a direction to restrain people from spending unnecessarily on weddings and luxuries and on the occasion of the birth of a child etc.
Be benevolent towards parents and kindred, and orphans and the needy and the neighbour who is a kinsman, and the neighbour who is not related to you, and the wayfarer and your servants and your horses and your cattle and your other animals that you possess. This is what God loves. He loves not those who are heedless and selfish, and those who are niggardly and enjoin other people to be niggardly, and conceal their wealth and tell those who are needy that they have nothing which they can give them.19
Of the natural conditions of man is that which resembles courage, as an infant sometimes seeks to thrust his hand into the fire on account of its natural condition of fearlessness. In that condition a person fearlessly confronts tigers and other wild beasts and issues forth alone to fight a large number of people. Such a one is considered very brave. But this is only a natural condition that is found even in savage animals and in dogs. True courage, which is one of the high moral qualities, is conditioned by place and occasion, which are mentioned in the Holy Word of God as follows.
That is, those who are steadfast in adversity and under affliction and in battle;20 their steadfastness is for the purpose of seeking the favour and countenance of Allah and not for the display of bravery.21 They are threatened that people have gathered together to persecute them and they should be afraid of them, but this only adds to their faith and they say: Sufficient for us is Allah.22 Thus their courage and bravery are not like that of dogs and wild animals which proceed from natural passions and are only one-sided. Their courage has two aspects. Sometimes they contend out of their personal courage against the passions of their selves and overcome them; and sometimes when they feel that it is appropriate to fight against an enemy they issue forth against him, not out of any urge of a roused self but for the support of truth. They do not depend upon their selves but trust in God and behave courageously. They do not issue forth from their homes insolently and to be seen of people.23 Their only purpose is to win the pleasure of God.
These verses illustrate that true courage derives from steadfastness. To be steadfast against every personal passion or against any calamity that attacks like an enemy and not to run away out of cowardice is true courage. Thus, there is a great difference between human courage and the courage of a wild beast. A wild animal is moved only in one direction when it is roused, but a man who possesses true courage chooses confrontation or non-resistance whichever might be appropriate to the occasion.
1. …and those who suppress anger and pardon men… (Ch.3:V.135)
2. And the recompense of an injury is an injury the like thereof; but whoso forgives and his act brings about reformation, his reward is with Allah… (Ch.42:V.41)
3. Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression… (Ch.16:V.91)
4. ….render not vain your alms by taunt or injury… (Ch.2:V.265)
5. O you who believe! Spend of the good things that you have earned,……and seek not what is bad to spend out of it… (Ch.2:V.268)
6. …render not vain your alms by taunt and injury, like him who spends his wealth to be seen of men… (Ch.2:V.265)
7. …and do good; surely, Allah loves those who do good. (Ch.2:V.196)
8. But the virtuous drink of a cup, tempered with camphor – a spring wherefrom the servants of Allah drink. They make it gush forth – a forceful gushing forth. (Ch.76:Vs.6-7)
9. And they feed, for love of Him, the poor, the orphan, and the prisoner, saying, ‘We feed you for Allah’s pleasure only. We desire no reward nor thanks from you. (Ch.76:Vs.9-10)
10. …and spends his money for love of Him, on the kindred and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask for charity, and for ransoming the captives… (Ch.2:V.178)
11. …when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly but moderate between the two; (Ch.25:V.68)
12. And those who join what Allah has commanded to be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread the evil reckoning. (Ch.13:V.22)
13. And in their wealth was a share for one who asked for help and for one who could not. (Ch.51:V.20)
14. Those who spend in prosperity and adversity… (Ch.3:V.135)
15. …and spend out of that with which We have provided them, secretly and openly… (Ch.13:V.23)
16. The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the freeing of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is All-Knowing, Wise. (Ch.9:V.60)
17. Never shall you attain to righteousness unless you spend out of that which you love… (Ch.3:V.93)
18. And give you to the kinsman his due, and to the poor and the wayfarer, and squander not thy wealth extravagantly. (Ch.17:V.27)
19. …and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbour that is a kinsman and the neighbour that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful; Who are niggardly and enjoin people to be niggardly, and conceal that which Allah has given them of His bounty. (Ch.4:Vs.37-38)
20. …and the patient in poverty and afflictions and the steadfast in time of war; (Ch.2:V.178)
21. And those who persevere in seeking the favour of their Lord… (Ch.13:V.23)
22. Those to whom men said, ‘People have mustered against you, therefore fear them,’ but this only increased their faith, and they said, ‘Sufficient for us is Allah, and an excellent Guardian is He.’ (Ch.3:V.174)
23. And be not like those who came forth from their homes boastfully, and to be seen of men… (Ch.8:V.48)