To be able to understand the ultimate aim of Islamic morality (akhlāq), we should make ourselves aware of the distinction between two related yet different matters: the aim of the science of akhlāq and the aim of Islamic morality.
As is the case with the study of any subject matter, there should be an aim in studying the science of akhlāq. For example, when studying business, mathematics, economics, politics, or any other subject, there should be an aim which gives meaning to our study of that particular aspect of reality. In the present case, we study good qualities (virtues) and bad qualities (vices) in order to improve ourselves and to become better people. We study good actions so that we can perform them and we study bad actions so that we make sure to avoid them. The idea is to acquire a better understanding, which would be followed by better performance. Of course, it is not the case that everyone who knows the science of akhlāq or even masters it is necessarily a good person. A person may know something and not
implement it in his life. There are doctors who know better than anyone else the damage that smoking does to the body, yet they smoke even more than other people do. Therefore, knowing something does not necessarily mean that a person is practicing it. However, knowing something is at least a first step to implementing it. Furthermore, we cannot be expected to practice something without first knowing it.
In the science of akhlāq we learn everything we need to know about qualities and actions so that we can benefit from them in order to become better human beings. However, the aim of akhlāq and in a wider sense, spirituality, is not merely to know in theory but rather to actually achieve all those virtues and perform those good actions so that we can become a very good person who resembles God in the best way possible. Of course, we can never resemble God completely but we can acquire qualities which are liked by God and try to resemble Him as much as is possible for us as human beings. We are advised by the Prophet (s) to “acquire those qualities that are available in God”1 except for those which are directly related to His Lordship.
There are certain traits which are exclusive to God, like kibrīyā’ (greatness), and we cannot resemble Him in such traits. Indeed, if we wanted to become like that we would be arrogant because this is a trait which is exclusive to God.2 However, these are not the only traits of God. He is also Merciful, Forgiving, Grateful, Knowledgeable, Supporting, Providing security and Giving peace. These qualities of God indicate the level of perfection that is available to us, and so when we try to resemble God and get closer to Him it means that we are moving towards our own perfection. Therefore, a person who is interested in akhlāq not merely as a subject matter for academic studies but rather as a priority in their life, aims to be as good, as perfect, and as close to God as humanly possible. Moreover, it is not only ordinary people like us who are involved in this spiritual journey and practice of morality because in reality all prophets (a) were
also involved in it.
1 Rawḍah al-Muttaqīn fī Sharh Man Lāyahḍuruhu al-Faqīh, vol. 1, p. 312. The original text is as follows:
2 Irshād al-Qulūb ila al-Sawāb, vol. 1, p. 189. It is narrated by the Prophet (s) that God says: “Greatness is my garment.” The original text is as follows: