(Arab. Akhlaq, Turk. Ahlak)
Under the Islamic view, the notion of ethics has a more sweeping semantic content than ethics does under a non-Islamic view and stands in a direct relationship to religion, character, and behaviours. The term is used in three different forms: a) general way of life (e.g. Islamic ethics), b) totality of behavioural rules (e.g. professional ethics) and c) reflection upon rules of behaviour and lifestyles (e.g. ethics as a field of philosophy).
In the Islamic view, there is a close link between ethics and the human character. Under this view, an aptitude for ethical behaviour is part and parcel of human nature; the human individual is ethical at his or her core. This can be seen, among other things, in moral decisions, which are always based on ethics. A close connection exists between the statement by Muhammad, ‘I was sent to perfect ethical virtues’ (cf. Baihaqi), and the notion of an ethics common to all people. The assumption of a core ethical capacity stands in opposition to the view that the human individual has emerged from material as a result of evolution, and it also distinguishes ethics from tradition, habit, and custom. Ethics, in other words, points to universally valid standards of action, while the standards to which traditions point are relative ones. The relationships that the human individual enters into with all living beings, and with the Creator, are the object of ethics as well.
Ethics, defined generally as the science of acts of volition, is a normative branch of science that delivers rules according to which actions are approved or disapproved of. The science of ethics is broken down into two areas: a theoretical area concerned with general principles and a practical area that formulates specific instructions for action.
The key problem at the theoretical level is the question as to the source of the ethical. The answers to this question differ according to the connection drawn between reality and value. According to the theological schools of the Mutazilites and the Maturidites, reality is linked to values. God, they believe, created reality with characteristics of a particular quality, such as good or evil; at the same time, through His commandments, He prohibits evil and orders pursuit of the good. The human individual has the possibility to distinguish between good and evil independently of revelation. God orders something only if that which is ordered is inherently good and useful; by the same token, something is forbidden because the forbidden is inherently evil and harmful. The Ash’arites, on the other hand, take the view that Creation is value-neutral. Only through revelation does a person know what is good and what is evil. What God orders is good, and what He prohibits is evil.
Mutazilites and Maturidites assess human actions on the basis of their consequences; the ethical value of a particular action is judged based on benefit or harm in which that particular action results. For the Ash’arites, the value of an action is gauged not according to its consequences but according to the intention (niyya) of the person in question. In the theological currents described above, ethical rules are of the nature of the unconditional, yet a single ethical judgement pronounced with respect to a particular person can always be questioned.
Islamic ethicists ascribe greater weight to the practical aspects of ethics than to the theoretical aspects. The Islamic religion offers the individual role model for his or her ethical development, and that role model is the Prophet Muhammad. He not only passed God’s commandments along to the people but put them to practice himself in exemplary fashion, and this made him a role model for the people. For the Muslim, it is a religious and ethical obligation to take the conduct of Muhammad’s life as a model for emulation in one’s own. For in the Qur’an, God says to Muhammad: ‘And indeed, you are of great moral character’ (68:4); and to the people: ‘There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.’ (33:21).
The Qur’an and hadiths continually emphasise truthfulness and honesty as virtues; as a result, one can consider being truthful the first commandment of ethics. Other central Islamic virtues are justice, sincerity, trustworthiness, modesty, faith in God, generosity and patience.