The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din 'Attar

By Hellmut Ritter; John O'Kane | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
SOCIAL VIRTUES

Essentially the Islamic social ethic arises from two sources. One source is the ancient Arabian, heathen virtus, i.e. muruwwa. This consists in part of a typical morality of solidarity: one is dutybound to support one's fellow-tribesman in battle, irrespective of whether he is in the right or in the wrong. The other constituent part appears to have its origin in the special economic relations and requirements of life in the desert, such as the famous Arab hospitality and the duty to protect a person who seeks refuge or a visiting guest. Generally, travelling and living in the desert is only possible if one can count on finding accommodation, provisions and protection in the few places where people reside. Moreover, the nourishment which the desert provides is in such short supply that only someone possessing a greater quantity of livestock is in a position to survive through the winter. The poor and the economically weak must be carried along by the well-off. Thus a duty arises for the latter to practice extensive hospitality and generosity. This becomes the primary virtue of the great lords, on which they pride themselves in their own poetry and for which they have others praise them. Accordingly, in the ancient Arabic eulogies praise of the lauded person's generosity occupies an unusually large space, and conversely, in defamatory poems of the old days, the chief reproach made against a slandered person regularly appears to be a lack of generosity and bad treatment of his guests. (As a typical example see: Ḥuṭayʾa). Furthermore, these virtues still continue to have validity even after earlier economic and social foundations have changed.

The second principal source of the Islamic social ethic is a religious one. How Islamic solidarity, which had been recently created through religion, emerged in contrast to the old heathen solidarity and its concomitant duties has been described by Goldziher and need not be repeated here. ("Muruwwa und Dîn", Muhammedanische Studien 1/1–39). His presentation is chiefly concerned with the early period of Islam. The refined religious

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