Sam Davidson: Pillars of Islamic Ethics

While it will never be possible to classify the key elements of all Islamic Ethics as different Muslims believe in different things, there are certain beliefs which transcend these bounds. Central to ethics that could be considered “Islam” is an understanding of one’s relationship with God, and to be humbled by it. From this humility comes a respect for all of God’s creations, and a strong sense of unity. While both of these elements are crucial tenets of Islamic Ethics, a person’s relationship with God is the first and foremost catalyst for ethical thought in Islam.

Respect your interactions with friends and family is considered by any to be the ultimate embodiment of Islamic ethics. The term “Adab” refers to this practice, although its exact definition may be slightly harder to define. “Etiquette, manners, thoughtfulness-no single expression adequately captures the expression of Adab…It has been said that the highest attainment of Sufi-ism is nothing but good character. What is meant however is not a rigid moralism but a natural, spontaneous beauty of character that is the result of a long-maturing process of transformation…It is an embodied spirituality.” The practice of mindfulness and  being good company to honor God is but one example of how Islamic ethics seeks to venerate God in everyday life. Adab is a strong element of Islamic ethics, and not only reserved for fellow muslims, or even for fellow humans. As Helminsky writes, “In the Mevlevi tradition this respect was extended to inanimate objects to such an extent that one would never say “Please put out the candle” but rather “Put the candle to rest.” Nor would one “close” a door but “cover” it. Fastidious care was taken to convey respect in one’s language. And for every object that one used in daily life, one would engage in reciprocal seeing with it. In other words, when I pick up my coat, I might kiss it lightly, see it, and be seen by it.”  Here we see that the authors respect for the various inanimate objects in his life is so great, he acknowledges each of them in turn. The way in which Adab encourages mindfulness and respect for all of God’s creations in everyday life is a perfect example of Islamic ethics epitomized in human interactions.

In addition to respect, there is also a powerful sense of unity and brotherhood, a sense of obligation to one’s community. While some argue this is more indicative of the tribal culture that existed in Arabia before the advent and spread of Islam, the fact remains that much of Islamic ethics encourages caring for one’s community. Indeed, The Prophet Muhammad himself was one of the biggest proponents of a strong Muslim Community, encouraging communal rituals and public events to encourage friendships. The sense of obligation that a pious Muslim feels for his community is in part an acceptance of his service to God: By helping and supporting other Muslims, the believer helps to propagate Islam and by extension, God’s will. As Muslims are God’s people, it is only just to treat them properly as otherwise it would be an insult against God. Montgomery goes into this concept briefly “The basic purpose of government is to give the community of Muslims internal and external security so that each may be able to gain a livelihood for himself and his dependents and to carry out his religious duties, especially that of worship. It is significant in Islamic political thinking that there is virtually no mention of the rights of man or of the concept of freedom. With regards to the question of rights, it is of course the case that a Muslim may justifiably expect other Muslims to act in certain ways towards him and refrain from other acts. These are not thought of, however, as rights belonging to the individual; the emphasis is rather on the fact that God has commanded others to act, or refrain from acting in these ways.”  The religious bond that Muslims share is even thought to supersede boundaries such as race and class, as Montgomery writes “Against the occidental principle of Homo Homini Lupus-which may be part of the reason for the emphasis on freedom-the Islamic Community has a strong sense of brotherhood, and in this respect continues the solidarity of The Arabian Tribe. This brotherhood is not just theoretical, but influences the conduct of Muslims in many ways. Thus, there is no racial discrimination in Islam (after the Arabs accepted the non-Arab Muslims as equals), though there are traces of color consciousness in medieval Arabic literature. Where the white missionary to Africa was unwilling to have an African wife, the Muslim trader, while white or nearly white, would not hesitate to marry the daughter of the African Muslim.” The sense of friendship and obligation that Islam encourages its believers to feel for their fellow Muslims is another cornerstone of Islamic ethics through which the devout can enact the will of God.

Faith has always been a social institution, and this is something that Islam understands.While a relationship to God is stressed above all else, Islam strives to push somebodies relationship with God to the forefront of their interactions with the rest of society and in their own day-to-day lives. Ebrahim Moosa exemplifies this as he writes “In her practice, God’s name connects Kaukab’s act to a deeper meaning; A reality higher, greater, and beyond her…For this housewife, cooking is a service to her family. At the same time, this act connects her to something infinitely complex and beyond her comprehension: God. It is the frame of mind and the way that one conducts oneself-physically and cognitively, that forms the all important network of the ethical.” Be it through the application of Adab or the protection of fellow followers, Islamic ethics strive to exist in all aspects of life, connecting a person’s relationship to God with all things.


Kabir. “Adab: The Sufi Art of Conscious Relationship”. From The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, ed. William Chittick. Morning Light: 2007. pp 93

Watt, W. Montgomery. Islamic Political Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1987, pp.94

Moosa, Ebrahim. Laws, Norms, and Morality. New York: Routledge Taylor, and Francis Group, 2014.pp 37-38