Studies in Muslim Ethics
Studies in Muslim Ethics
After periods of warfare, when ordinary moral restraints have been set aside, Islamic thinkers have returned repeatedly to the study of ethics. As distinguished from Logic and Metaphysics, they call ethics "Practical Philosophy". But it is not a study that they have pursued independently. Always it has been considered in relation to the Qur'án, that unique book for Muslims in which their Prophet Muhammad set forth the way of life which he said had been revealed to him by Allah.
Muslim ethical literature, therefore, covers an exceedingly wide field. The general moral character of the pre-Islamic Arabs, the outstanding ethical teachings of the Qur'án itself, the portrayal of the Prophet as an example for the personal conduct of his followers, the theological efforts to limit the doctrine of determinism so as to provide for moral responsibility, the wholesome influence of Greek thought in the Muslim world, the ready acceptance of the attempted Neo-Platonic reconciliation between religion and philosophy, the Stoics' illuminating conception of a universal law of nature, the valuable contributions that were made by Christian ascetics and mystics, and the individual struggles of the Muslim mystics, or úfís, to master the inner life of man in relation to the will of his Creator, all these subjects belong to the ethics of Islam.
But in the narrower sense of systematic moral philosophy, Muslim ethics may be represented as the story of one remarkable book that was written in Arabic at the beginning of the eleventh Christian century by Ibn Maskawaihi (d. A.D. 1030), a man who is also distinguished for work he accomplished as a theologian and as an historian. This book is The Correction of Dispositions and the Cleansing of Veins (al-Tahdhíb al-Akhldq wa Taáhír al-A'ráq). It was written when Muslim scholars were most receptive to Greek philosophy, but it was after some two hundred years of almost incessant fighting between rival Muslim dynasties that it was brought to light again when it was translated into Persian, with amplification and adornment, by the astrologer and diplomat Naír al-Dín al-Túsí (d. A.D. 1274), who was minister plenipotentiary between the chiefs of the "Assassins" and the great Mongol leader Khulugu Khan. Again, approximately one hundred and fifty years later, when the Timuríds had swept with ruthless destruction from Central Asia to Baghdad, at the court of the famous Uzun Hasan this work of . . .