There are numerous ways to encourage one’s self to behave ethically. Scholars of all religions and ideologies have debated and offered different analyses on why people should behave ethically and how they can eliminate moral vices from their actions. For example, some argue people should act ethically because society appreciates and praises such behaviour, which eventually leads to worldly benefits. Speaking the truth is good because people will trust you more, it will give you a good reputation in society, it will increase your business sales. If you are known as a liar, not only will society not trust you, you will hurt your reputation and your business will not make any money.
Some others argue one should act ethically and abstain from vices as this will result in benefits in the Hereafter. If you are patient in this world and endure its hardships, you will receive your reward in heaven. If you are generous in this world and spend from your money to help people, you will be given innumerable reward in heaven. This does not necessarily have anything to do with what people will think or say about you or what worldly benefits you will attain by acting ethically.
Despite many other proposed reasons for why one should act ethically, according to ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī, the Qurān offers a reason no other book – not even the previous Divine Books – offer. He says, through the Qurān:
“Man is trained in character and knowledge, and the knowledge is used in a way that does not leave room for the very basis of vices. In other words, this system removes the vile characteristics, not by eliminating them, but by repulsing all motives other than Allah.”1
The Qurān says [10:65] Indeed, honour belongs to Allah entirely; and [2:165] All power belongs to Allah. Why does one do any action for other than Allah (swt)? It is because man is either seeking honour and power, or they fear someone else’s honour and power. Both become a basis from which moral vices emanate. However, if we were to truly understand and act on the meanings of these two verses, there would be no basis, no foundation, from which moral vices could originate.
What would be the source of someone’s riyā’ (ostentation and showing-off)? Riyā’ is when one shows off to gain something for themselves or out of fear of what others might say about them if they do not see them behaving in a certain way. Would there be any basis left for committing this moral vice when one recognizes that all power and honour belongs to Allah (swt) – who would one fear other than Allah and what honour would one seek through showing-off when all of it belongs to Him alone? Others do not have anything to give to us for us to show off to them in the hopes of receiving something.
What would be the source of stinginess? One is stingy when they do not want to give that which they believe is their own, in a situation where they should be generous. This is because they believe spending from their wealth will cause a dent in their power, authority and honour. Would there be any basis of being stingy when one recognizes all power belongs to Allah (swt) and He (swt) is the Owner of all things? One does not own anything in reality for them to believe spending from it will result in a deficiency or loss.
Such is the case with the rest of the moral vices. Essentially this is nothing but a different way of rendering the Tawḥīdī worldview. Thus, the Qurān does not fundamentally tell humans to behave ethically by telling them about the worldly benefits that will be achieved or the rewards of the Hereafter – a method which generally results in the selective elimination of certain vices after one has already attained them. Instead, the Qurān primarily trains humans to repulse away the very basis from where absolutely any moral vice could originate.
قَالَ عَلِيُّ بْنُ الْحُسَيْنِ ع لَوْ مَاتَ مَنْ بَيْنَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَ الْمَغْرِبِ لَمَا اسْتَوْحَشْتُ بَعْدَ أَنْ يَكُونَ الْقُرْآنُ مَعِي
Imam Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (a) said: I will have no fear or anxiety even if everyone between the East and West were to die, as long as the Qurān is with me.2
Featured Image: An endowment receipt (waqf-nāmeh) of all 30-parts of the Qurān by a man named Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Sharaf al-Dīn to the shrine of Shāh Cherāgh (Aḥmad b. Mūsa al-Kāẓim – brother of Imām Riḍā) in Shiraz, in Sha’bān of the year 914 AH. It was common for individuals to give all 30 parts of the Qurān as charitable endowments to mosques, shrines and schools.