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The ethical framework

Surah Luqman provides an outline of the Islamic ethical framework. Verses 12 to 19 clearly spell out the indicators of a well-organised ethical framework for everyone.

God says in Verse 12 that, “And certainly We gave wisdom to Luqman [and said] be thankful to God. Those who are grateful are grateful [for their own soul]. And whoever denies, then God is free of need and praiseworthy”.

The innate ethical sense programmed in a human being commands him or her to be thankful to God. This act of thanksgiving makes a person humble and generous to fellow human beings. Those who show compassion and warmth to the creatures of God are the true manifestations of ethical sensibility.

The act of thanksgiving purges our egos from feelings of evil and whisperings of all sorts, hate, jealousy, revenge and oppression. This ego-cleansing activity has been termed by the Sufis as takhliya. Some spiritual teachers have made it mandatory upon their students to engage in takhliya every night and prepare a balance sheet and diagnose and rectify in case some evil feelings towards a fellow creature have crept into one’s thoughts and feelings.

The visible psychological effect of this purging gradually makes an ego recipient to the pain and suffering of fellow creatures.

The real value of thanksgiving is thus revealed in one’s own ego transforming and becoming humble. The permanent psychological advantage thus lies in humility and not pride and prejudice. It connects a person with God.

Then Luqman engages in a conversation with his son from verse 13 onwards. He advises him, “…Do not indulge in an act of association (shirk) with God. Shirk is the greatest injustice”. The next verse urges man to be kind to his parents: “…His mother carried him bearing weakness after weakness…. Be thankful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination”.

Parental care is thus incumbent upon a person under all circumstances, except in case one’s parents force one to engage in an act of association (shirk) with God. The right of parental care is inalienable because God says that one should keep worldly relations with one’s parents in a decent manner even if they force one to indulge in shirk, but one must not engage in it at any cost.

The intactness of familial organisation is irreversibly connected to parental care. The sociological implication of ethical sensibility can be seen here very explicitly that bears upon the social foundations of human societies. The act of being thankful to God and one’s parents not only cleanses one’s ego but keeps the social system healthy, clean and dependable.

Verse 16 takes up the problem of evil very squarely. Luqman advising his son says, “Oh son! If the [evil] is equivalent to a mustard seed and remains hidden inside a rock or in the heavens or in the earth, God shall bring it forth. Verily God is subtle and aware”.

Those who think that they can get away with doing evil or hide it from divine accountability are mistaken. God has made examples of evil individuals and evil civilisations that transgressed and committed tyranny against others. The best practice Luqman advises his son is to stay away from evil.

Verses 17 to 19 describe the behavioural attributes of a person which have far-reaching moral, cultural and social consequences for a harmonious and healthy society. Luqman advises, “Oh my son! Establish prayer, and command good and forbid evil and be patient over what befalls you….” The next verse advises “And do not turn thy face away from people and do not walk in insolence on the land. Verily, God does not like the arrogant and the boastful”. Verse 19 says that “And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice. Verily the braying of the donkey is the most disagreeable of sounds”.

The practice of prayer connects one with God. This spiritual connection has a logical corollary: that one practises well and avoids evil in life. This also leads one to be patient and bear the pains, discomfort and losses in one’s life.

This patience is then reflected in interpersonal life and psychomotor activities of a person. One walks in harmony and talks with temperance. The attributes outlined by Luqman help create an ethical personality that is likeable. The ethical individual thus created would form the basis of a trust-efficient, interdependent and harmonious social fabric. The ethical and self-aware individuals then turn out to be the building blocks of a socially aware and critical collective.

This ethical model is absent from our collective life. Our public discourse and our textbooks promote pedagogy of loud speech, arrogance, complaining, discrimination and impatience etc. Our personality building discourse in classrooms as well as personality testing methods are based on alien ethical concepts.

For example, aggressive, competitive and self-confident are considered to be the core values of a successful manager. So management books are replete with examples of ‘aggressive managers’ who achieved success in their life by subscribing to utilitarian ethics, and which only focus around the notion of self-interest. One must pause here and ask what kind of ‘success’ one is looking for.

Similarly, TV talk shows, which promote loud speech and violent aggression, are highly rated and liked. Thus, our crisis is ethical and not of a political or economic nature.

The writer is a social scientist based at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore.


Ahmad Raza, "The ethical framework," Dawn. 2012-01-18.