Although there are different views amongst Muslim ethicists on how to classify moral virtues and actions and their opposites, they agree that Islamic ethics addresses all voluntary human actions and qualities. In what follows, we will try to elaborate on some of the ways in which different trends in Islamic ethics have classified moral values. It is necessary to be able to classify discussions on ethics because there are very many things which could be said.
Classification According to the Faculties of the Soul
Certain books that discuss human faculties have a mainly philosophical approach to ethics. For example, somewhat influenced by the Aristotelian approach to ethics, scholars such as Narāqī in his Mi‘rāj al-Sa‘ādah, say that human beings have three faculties: the faculty of reason (al-quwwah al-nātiqah or al-‘aqlīyah), the faculty of anger (al-quwwah al-ghaḍabīyah), and the faculty of appetite (al-quwwah al-shahawīyah).
These faculties are the principles which help us to work, function, and react. Each faculty has its own virtues and vices which if taken to extremes, become vicious, but if balanced, become virtuous.
Faculty of Reason
In the balanced position with respect to the faculty of rationality, we find hikmah (wisdom). It is not good if one becomes too critical, too analytical, and too rational, but it is also not good if one is not thinking and reasoning sufficiently. It is wrong to go to extremes at either end of the spectrum. We must make sure that we are in the middle position which will result in hikmah (wisdom).
Faculty of Anger
With respect to anger, it is not good if one has an angry disposition and is usually easily angered. On the other hand, it is also not good if one never gets angry, never reacts, and never shows any dissatisfaction. The balanced position is shajā‘ah, to be brave, which means taking a stand when necessary because rationally, such a situation is supposed to be handled with power, strength, and resistance.
Faculty of Appetite
If the faculty responsible for appetite is functioning well, then we have ‘iffah or modesty. If it is too active, it leads to sinful actions. However, if it is not active at all, then one becomes inactive and passive, and in this state marriage does not take place; no communication occurs within society and no one works in order to earn money for buying goods, building a house, and so on and so forth. Therefore, we need to have this appetite but in a proportionate and appropriate amount or intensity.
Classification According to the Social and Personal Aspects of Ethics
In some books, ethics is divided into only two major areas: social ethics and personal ethics (akhlāq-e-ejtimā‘ī and akhlāq-e-fardī). The teachings of the Qur’an on morality are about either what each and every person must achieve and refrain from, or what the society or members of the society must achieve and refrain from.
Therefore, the realm of social ethics concerns everything that we need to do as a member of society; it covers such things as behaviour with respect to neighbours, teachers, students, family members, colleagues, and so on. On the other hand, behaviour related to oneself or one’s relationship with God is very personal. Of course, sooner or later it will also affect other people because if someone is a good person then this will also be good for other people. However, in principle these things are primarily personal
Classification According to Four Groups of Human Relations
This classification divides ethics into four groups of moral teachings concerning our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, our relationships with other people, and our relationship with the rest of the world such as with the environment, animals, plants, water, air, and so on and so forth.
There are other ways of classifying ethics but these are the major ways which are presently available.
In future lessons, we will refer to the four classes of morality mentioned above and study firstly, our relationship with our Lord, secondly, our relationship with ourself, thirdly, our relationships with other people, and fourthly, our relationships with the rest of the world and the environment.