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Moral Ethics and General Behavioural Norms: Chapter 19 And 20, Essential Message of Islam

By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

10 July, 2015

(Published Exclusively On New Age Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)

19.    Moral Ethics

19.1.       General Moral Precepts

An early passage, beginning with a statement on the innate instability of human mind, interweaves a set of moral precepts, including wealth sharing (as discussed in the preceding section) and sexual and ethical morality.

“Man (Insan) has been created restless (70:19). He is panicky when evil befalls him (20) and ungrateful when something good happens to him (21), except the prayerful (22): those who are regular in prayer (23), and in whose wealth, there is a definite right for (24) the beggar and the destitute (25); and who affirm the (truth of) the Day of Judgment (26); and who fear the punishment of their Lord (27) - for indeed none should feel secure from their Lord’s punishment (28); and who preserve their private parts (Furujah)*  (29) - except from their spouses (Azwaj), that is (awe) those under their lawful trust (Ma Malakat Ayman), and then (they are) not blame worthy (30), and those who seek beyond that exceed limits (31); and who preserve their trusts and commitments (32), and who stand by their testimony (33), and who watch over their prayer (34). Such (people) shall be in gardens, highly honoured” (70:35) *[Sexual impulses]

Note: The traditional gender biased rendering of the underlined transliterated words (masculine for Insan and feminine for the others) with normative translation of the particle awe (70:30) as ‘or’, instead of ‘that is' allows the verses 70:29/30 to be interpreted as a sanction for men to keep mistresses. This, however, contradicts Qur’anic family laws (which explicitly prohibit extra-marital relations), as well as Qur’anic inheritance laws (which do not mention any mistress or unwedded spouse, though claiming to cover all family relationships (4:33/Ch. 38.4). Our rendition maintains the gender integrity of the passage, is based on the Qur’anic usage of its particle awe in the verse 25:62,1 is supported by Muhammad Asad2 and conforms to the broader message of the Qur’an.

With time, the Qur’an admonishes against various mundane as well as grave vices such as foul talk, miserliness, bearing a false witness, adultery (Zina) 3 killing of innocent people, and all manners of abominable acts (Fawahishah), 4 and reiterates its exhortation against unwedded relationships. [The verses 70:29/30 above and 23:5/6 below have identical text.]

“Believers will indeed succeed (23:1): those who are humble in their prayer (2), who avoid foul talk (3), who are active in charity (Zakah)5 (4), and who preserve their private parts (Furujah)* (5) - except from their spouses, that is, those under their lawful trust - and then (they are) not blame worthy (6); and those who seek beyond that – it is they who exceed limits (7); and those who are faithful to their trust and their commitment (8), and who watch over their prayers (9) - it is they who are the heirs (10) who will inherit Paradise; and they will remain there” (23:11). *[Sexual impulses]

 “Those who are alert in fear of their Lord (23:57), and those who believe in the message of their Lord (58), and those who do not associate (others) with their Lord (59), and those who give whatever they give with their hearts trembling (at the thought that) they must return to their Lord (60) - – it is they who hasten to all good things, and they will outpace (others) in this” (23:61).

“The servants of the Benevolent are those who walk humbly on earth and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘Peace.’ (25:63), and those who meditate on their Lord by night standing and prostrating (64), and those who say: ‘God, avert from us the torment of hell - whose torment undoubtedly is terrible (65), and surely it is an evil place for abode (66); and those, when they spend, are not wasteful, nor miserly but take a position in between (67); and those who do not invoke any deity with God, nor kill any person as God has forbidden this - except when lawful; nor commit adultery (la Yaznuna)3 - for whoever does that will meet punishment (68), (and such) punishment will be doubled on the Day of Judgment and he will live there in disgrace (69) - except those who repent, have faith, and do good deeds - for God will substitute the evil in them for good, as God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (70), and anyone who repents and does good deeds has truly turned to God in repentance (71); and those who bear no false witness, and if they pass by folly - pass by with dignity (72); and those who, when reminded of the messages of their Lord, do not fall at them deaf and blind (oblivious of their message) (73); and those who say: ‘Our Lord, give us joy* in our spouses and our offspring and make us models for the heedful (Muttaqin)’ (74) – it is they (who) will be rewarded with lofty abodes for their endurance, and they will be received there with salutations and peace” (25:75). * [Lit., ‘delights of the eye’.]

In a late Meccan passage, the Qur’an declares some of its moral precepts as binding or Haram for all believers:

“Say, ‘Come, I will tell what your Lord has made binding (Haram) on you: do not associate anything with Him, be kind to (your) parents, do not kill your children on account of poverty - We provide for you as well as for them, keep away from abomination (Fawahishah) - whether open or secret, do not kill any person as God has forbidden this - except when lawful.’ Thus does He command you, that you may use your reason (6:151). ‘And do not approach the property of an orphan before his full maturity - except for its betterment, give full measure and (use) true scale: We do not task a soul beyond its capacity; and when you speak, uphold justice (Fa‘Dilu) even if it concerns a relative, and fulfil the covenant of God.’ Thus does He instruct you that you may be mindful (152). This is My straight path: so follow it, and do not follow (other) paths - lest you should be parted from His path. Thus He instructs you for you to heed” (6:153)

19.2.       Qur’anic Broader Notion of Halal And Haram

The Qur’anic moral precepts of the Haram category (6:151-6:153 above) are binding for all believers at all times. Most Muslims today are very particular about what they eat; and take only Halal food. This is fine. But they hardly take the broader Qur’anic message on what all are declared Haram with a similar zeal. The fact remains, one can have the most sumptuous meal even by keeping away from the Haram category of food, but to abide by the precepts of the Qur’an on the whole range of hurmah deeds, is a totally different matter. Moreover, a food of the Halal category (properly slaughtered and cooked with Halal recipe) is liable to become Haram if it is acquired by unlawful means (Ch. 25.2). So, an exaggerated emphasis on the method of slaughtering may not be all that meaningful, if the lawfulness of earning is ignored.

In the western world, various Islamic agencies advise Muslims on what food items are Halal or otherwise. Like-wise, some commercial houses claim the ‘lawfulness’ of their products (consumer goods, cosmetics etc.) by not using ingredients from a source, declared unlawful (Haram) for food (such as animal slaughtered without Islamic rites). However, the Qur’anic notion of Halal and Haram as clearly spelled out in the above verses is far wider.

19.3.       Qur’anic Broader Notion of Heedfulness (Taqwa)

A Medinite verse (2:177) declares that piety or heedfulness (Taqwa, Ch. 8) is not attained merely by expression of faith, and outward gesture of prayer: 

“Virtue (birr)* does not mean that you turn your faces towards the East or West; but (imbued with) virtue (birr) is one who believes in God, the Last Day, the angels, the revelation (Kitab)** and the prophets; and gives away his wealth - out of love for Him - to relatives, orphans, the needy (Masakin),6 the traveller (Ibn Al-Sabil),7 and the beggar, and for (the freeing of) slaves; and (virtuous are those who) keep up prayer and give charity; and (virtuous are also those) who fulfil their commitments, once they have pledged (to them), and show endurance in suffering and adversity, and during times of peril – it is these people who confirm (the truth), and it is they who are heedful (Muttaqun)” (2:177). *[Lit., ‘moral excellence’] **[Lit., the Book, the divine edict.]    


1.       “And He it is Who has appointed night and day in succession, for anyone who desires to remember, that is (awe), desires thankfulness” (25:62).

2.       Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 23, Note 3; Chap.70, Note 13.

3.       In the context of the revelation, the word zina (verb yaznun) connoted wilful sexual relation of a married woman with a man.

4.       Commentators agree that fahishah denotes an act or a behavior that is grossly immodest, indecent and abominable, and includes sexual lewdness, adultery and pandering to such deeds by speech, suggestion or action -Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar, 1980, Chap. 4, Note 14.

5.       See Glossary for broader notion of Zakah.

6.       See Explanation 2 under the rendering of 9:60/Ch. 18.8 for the generic meaning of Masakin.

7.       See Note 2/Ch. 17 for the broader meaning of ibn al-sabil.

[7 references]


20.    General Behavioural Norms

20.1.       Restraining anger, forgiveness, courtesy, avoiding conflict, and self-reproach

The Qur'an asks people to restrain anger, forgive others (3:134), return a greeting with a nicer greeting (4:86), speak nicely avoiding conflict (17:53), and refrain from talking evil in public without being wronged (4:148).

“Hasten to forgiveness from your Lord, and to a garden - as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the heedful (muttaqin) (3:133): those who spend (in charity) in (times of) plenty as well as hardship, restrain anger and forgive people for God loves the compassionate”  (3:134).

“When you are greeted with a greeting, return it with a more courteous greeting or (at least) its like. Indeed God takes account of everything” (4:86).

“God does not love of evil talk in public except by one who has been wronged. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (4:148).

“Tell My servants to say what is best - for verily Satan sows dissension among them, for Satan is an open enemy to man” (17:53).

20.2.       Arrogance, Loud Talk, and Listening To Whispers Are Condemned

The Qur’an asks people to maintain a modest bearing and not to behave arrogantly or talk loudly (17:37, 31:18/19), and reminds them that the harshest of sound is the braying of an ass (31:19). It cautions people against believing any wicked person without verifying facts (49:6).

“And do not walk arrogantly on earth - for you can neither cleave the earth apart, nor reach the mountains in height” (17:37).

“(Said Luqman to his son): ‘Do not turn your cheek away from people (in scorn), nor walk arrogantly on earth. Surely God does not love any arrogant boaster (31:18). Therefore, be modest in your bearing, and keep your voice low; (and remember) the harshest of sounds is the braying of an ass’” (31:19).

“You who believe, if a wicked person comes to you with a (slanderous) news, verify it, otherwise you may ignorantly harm (other) people, and become regretful for what you have done” (49:6).

20.3.       Slandering, Fault-Finding, Contempt and Excessive Suspicion Are Condemned

The Qur’an condemns slandering (24:23), backbiting, scandal-mongering, excessive suspicion (49:12, 104:1) and miserliness (47:38, 104:2) and does not approve of showing contempt or giving derogatory nicknames to other people (49:11).

“Those who (falsely) accuse carefree, believing, chaste women are cursed in this life and (in) the hereafter, and there is a severe punishment for them” (24:23).

“Behold, (O you people!) You are invited to spend in God's way, but some of you are miserly; though whoever is miserly, is being miserly to his own soul. (Remember,) God is Self-Sufficient, whereas you stand in need. If you turn away (from His path), He will replace you with other people, and they would not be like you” (47:38).

“You who believe, let not any people (Qaum) among you mock other people (Qaum) who may be better than they are; nor should some women (ridicule) other women who may be better than they are; and do not find fault in each other, nor insult others with (insulting) nicknames. (Giving) an insulting name after embracing the faith is most wicked, and those who do not repent (after giving such nicknames to others) – it is they who are unjust” (49:11).

“You who believe, avoid excessive suspicion, for suspicion in some cases is a sin; and do not spy (over others), nor backbite each other. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it! So heed God and (remember,) God is Most Relenting and Merciful” (49:12)

 “Woe to every backbiting critic (104:1), who amasses wealth, and keeps counting it (and does not spend in charity)” (104:2).

20.4.       Good Conduct at Places of Worship

“Children of Adam, conduct yourselves graciously (Khuzu Zinatakum) at every place of worship. Eat and drink - but do not be lavish*, for He does not approve of those who are given to excesses” (7:31). *[Lit. ‘to be given to excesses’.]

Note: Based on the generic Qur’anic notion of the word Zinat as God’s endowments, the most accurate rendering of the transliterated words will be ‘hold on to your God given endowments (Zinat).’ We have tried to capture the essence of this literal rendering in the underlined words. In a very restrictive sense fine clothes are also God’s endowments, and accordingly the words have been traditionally rendered to imply the wearing of one’s best dress at every place and occasion of prayer.

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.