Friday 15 April 2022

Allah enjoins Three Virtues - and Forbids Three Vices

Man's life is full of pushes and pulls and his entire life passes away in an attempt to live a balanced life. But the forces of evil are always pursuant of anyone trying to push them and live of a life of purity and peace. Allah has always been mindful of this struggle of man, specially when it comes to believers who wish to stay away from the path of evil and follow a righteous path as prescribed in the Qur'an and stressed by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. And that is why at umpteen number of times, man has been cautioned to follow the life of virtues, while strictly abstaining the life of vices.

Today in our series of posts on Selected Verses from Qur'an, we share a one verse, the 90th verse of Surah 16 An Nahl, which encourages the believers to adopt a life of virtues with a focus on Justice, Kindness and being good to others while staying away from the vies which include lewdness, acts unbecoming and oppressiveness. And the list of virtues and vices is not long: It is just three virtues to follow and three vices to abstain from. In fact this great verse is a summary of all the dos and don’ts of the Sharī‘ah

اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَاۡمُرُ بِالۡعَدۡلِ وَالۡاِحۡسَانِ وَاِيۡتَآىـئِ ذِى الۡقُرۡبٰى وَيَنۡهٰى عَنِ الۡفَحۡشَآءِ وَالۡمُنۡكَرِ وَالۡبَغۡىِ​ۚ يَعِظُكُمۡ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَذَكَّرُوۡنَ‏ 
(16:90) Surely Allah enjoins justice, kindness and the doing of good to kith and kin, and forbids all that is shameful, evil and oppressive. He exhorts you so that you may be mindful.

Eminent Muslim scholar Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi explains that In this brief sentence Allah has enjoined three most important things on which alone depends the establishment of a sound and healthy society:

The first of these is justice which has two aspects.
To make such arrangements as may enable everyone to get one's due rights without stint. Justice does not, however, mean equal distribution of rights, for that would be absolutely unnatural. In fact, justice means equitable dispensation of rights which in certain cases may mean equality. For example, all citizens should have equal rights of citizenship but in other cases equality in rights would be injustice. For instance, equality in social status and rights between parents and their children will obviously be wrong. Likewise those who render services of superior and inferior types cannot be equal in regard to wages and salaries. What Allah enjoins is that the full rights of everyone should be honestly rendered whether those be moral, social, economic legal or political in accordance with what one justly deserves.
The second thing enjoined is "ihsan" which has no equivalent in English. This means to be good, generous, sympathetic, tolerant, forgiving, polite, cooperative, selfless, etc. In collective life this is even more important than justice; for justice is the foundation of a sound society but ihsan is its perfection. On the one hand, justice protects society from bitterness and violation of rights: on the other, ihsan makes it sweet and joyful and worth living. It is obvious that no society can flourish if every individual insists on exacting his pound of flesh. At best such a society might be free from conflict but there cannot be love, gratitude, generosity, sacrifice, sincerity, sympathy and such humane qualities as produce sweetness in life and develop high values.

The third thing which has been enjoined is good treatment towards one's relatives which in fact is a specific form of ihsan. It means that one should not only treat one's relatives well, share their sorrows and pleasures and help them within lawful limits but should also share one's wealth with them according to one's means and the need of each relative. This enjoins on everyone who possesses ample means to acknowledge the share of one's deserving relatives along with the rights of one's own person and family. The Divine Law holds every well-to-do person in a family to be responsible for fulfilling the needs of all his needy kith and kin. The Law considers it a great evil that one person should enjoy the pleasures of life while his own kith and kin are starving. As it considers the family to be an important part of society, it lays down that the first right of needy individuals is on its well-to-do members and then on the others. Likewise it is the first duty of the well-to-do members of the family to fulfill the needs of their own near relatives and then those of others. The Holy Prophet has emphasized this fact in many Traditions, according to which a person owes rights to his parents, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, other relatives, etc., in accordance with the nearness of their relationships. On the basis of this fundamental principle, Caliph Umar made it obligatory on the first cousins of an orphan to support him. In the case of another orphan he declared that if he had no first cousins he would have made it obligatory on distant cousins to support him. Just imagine the happy condition of the society every unit of which supports its every needy individual in this way-most surely that society will become high and pure economically, socially, and morally. 

In contrast to the above-mentioned three virtues, Allah prohibits three vices which ruin individuals and the society as a whole:
(1) The Arabic word fahsha applies to all those things that are immodest, immoral or obscene or nasty or dirty or vulgar, not fit to be seen or heard, because they offend against recognized standards of propriety or good taste, e.g., adultery, fornication, homo-sexuality, nakedness, nudity, theft, robbery, drinking, gambling, begging, abusive language and the like. Likewise it is indecent to indulge in giving publicity to any of these evils and to spread them, e.g., false propaganda, calumny, publicity of crimes, indecent stories, dramas, films, naked pictures, public appearance of womenfolk with indecent make-ups, free mixing of sexes, dancing and the like.
(2) Munkar applies to all those evils which have always been universally regarded as evils and have been forbidden by all divine systems of law.
(3) Baghy applies to those vices that transgress the proper limits of decency and violate the rights of others, whether those of the Creator or His Creation. 

Yusuf Ali Explanation: Justice is a comprehensive term, and may include all the virtues of cold philosophy. But religion asks for something warmer and more human, the doing of good deeds even where perhaps they are not strictly demanded by justice, such as returning good for ill, or obliging those who in worldly language "have no claim" on you; and of course a fortiori the fulfilling of the claims of those whose claims are recognized in social life. Similarly the opposites are to be avoided; everything that is recognized as shameful, and everything that is really unjust, and any inward rebellion against Allah's Law or our own conscience in its most sensitive form. 

Muhammad Asad Explanation: ( BEHOLD, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one's] fellow-men; ) Lit., "the giving to [one's] kinsfolk (dhu'l-qurba)". The latter term usually denotes "relatives", either by blood or by marriage; but since it occurs here in the context of a comprehensive ethical exhortation, it obviously alludes to man's "kinsfolk" in the widest sense of the term, namely, to his "fellow-men".

(and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason,) The term al-munkar (rendered by me in other places as "that which is wrong") has here its original meaning of "that which the mind [or the moral sense] rejects", respectively "ought to reject". Zamakshari is more specific, and explains this term as signifying in the above context "that which [men's] intellects disown" or "declare to be untrue" (ma tunkiruhu al-'uqul): in other words, all that runs counter to reason and good sense (which, obviously. must not be confused with that which is beyond man's comprehension). This eminently convincing explanation relates not merely to intellectually unacceptable propositions (in the abstract sense of the term) but also to grossly unreasonable and, therefore, reprehensible actions or attitudes and is, thus, fully in tune with the rational approach of the Qur'an to questions of ethics as well as with its insistence on reasonableness and moderation in man's behaviour. Hence my rendering of al-munkar, in this and in similar instances, as "all that runs counter to reason".

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation: This great verse is a summary of all the dos and don’ts of the sharī‘ah. Imām Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī writes:

… The foundations of what the Qur’ān directs people to do and what it stops people from doing are also indicated in this verse. The basis of all the dos of the Qur’ān is justice (‘adl), goodness (iḥsān) and spending on kindred and the essence of disorder is found in its don’ts indicated comprehensively by the words lewdness (faḥshā’), evil (munkar) and rebelliousness (baghī). The purpose of mentioning these here is to warn those who are trying their best to oppose the Qur’ān so that they think about the teachings of the Book they are opposing and that doing this is tantamount to opposing justice and goodness and supporting evil and disorder. (Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī, Tadabbur-i Qur’ān, vol. 4, 438)

The foundations of good and evil that are mentioned in this verse are totally in conformity with human nature. Thus, they have always been established in the religion given by God and the ten commandments of the Torah are based on these and the Qur’ān too has actually explained them as part of its moral directives.

The first thing which the verse directs is justice (‘adl). This means that whatever obligation is imposed on a person viz-a-viz a fellow human being is discharged in the way it exactly is and in an impartial manner, whether his fellow human being is weak or powerful and whether he is liked or disliked by him.

The second thing mentioned in the verse is goodness (iḥsān). It is over and above justice and is the pinnacle of ethics and morality. It means that not only should a right be fulfilled, but that it be fulfilled in a manner that a person is generous and considerate in this regard. A person should give more than what he owes and should be happy to take what is less than his due. This attitude develops in a society the values of sympathy, compassion, sacrifice, sincerity, gratitude and magnanimity. As a result, of these values life becomes sweet and blessed.

The third thing mentioned is spending on one’s near ones. It is one of the most important corollaries of goodness and determines one of its specific forms. It means that one’s near ones are not merely worthy of justice and goodness from a person, they also deserve to be thought of as having a share in one’s wealth. They should never be abandoned in case of need and deprivation and like a person’s own family, their needs should also, as far as possible, be generously fulfilled.

In contrast, the verse has prohibited three things also.

The first of these is lewdness (faḥshā’). It connotes fornication, homosexuality and similar acts of lewdness.

The second thing is evil (munkar). It is the opposite of ma‘rūf and refers to evils which mankind has generally recognized as evils, has always called them evils and so obvious is their evil that no argument is needed to prove it. In every good tradition of religion and culture, they are regarded as bad. At another instance, the Qur’ān, by using the word ithm for them, has clarified that they connote acts which are instrumental in usurping the rights of others.

The third thing is arrogance and rebelliousness (baghī). This of course means that a person takes undue advantage of his power and influence, exceeds his limits and tries to usurp the rights of others whether they are of his Creator or of his fellow human beings.

Explanation Sayyid 'Ibrāhīm Ḥusayn Quṭb: The previous passage ended with a verse that included the following statement: “We have bestowed from on high upon you the book to make everything clear, and to provide guidance and grace, and to give good news to those who submit themselves to God.” (Verse 89) This new passage begins with a clarification giving some glimpses of what the Qur’ān contains of clear guidance, grace and the good news it brings. The passage also includes orders to maintain justice and to act with kindness, particularly to relatives, and to steer away from indecency, evil and transgression, and to remain true to one’s pledges and promises. It forbids going back on oaths once they have been made. All these are essential practices that we must maintain, as the Qur’ān impresses upon us.

The passage also states that those who violate pledges or swear solemn oaths to deceive others will endure tremendous suffering. It also brings good news for those who persevere in the face of adversity. These will certainly be rewarded in accordance with their best actions.

It outlines some of the good manners which must be maintained when reading the Qur’ān, such as seeking refuge with God against Satan, so that he does not come near the place where the Qur’ān is being read. It mentions some of the fabrications the pagans used to repeat about the Qur’ān. Some plainly accused the Prophet of inventing it, while others claimed that a foreigner taught it to the Prophet. The passage concludes by stating the punishment for those who disbelieve after having accepted the faith, and the position of those who are compelled to declare their rejection of the faith while their hearts are full of the certainty of its truth. It tells us about the reward of those who are subjected to oppression on account of their faith, and who strive and fight hard, always remaining patient in adversity. All this serves as clarification, guidance, mercy and good news, as the last verse of the previous passage mentions.

An Order Combining All Goodness{ God enjoins justice, kindness [to all], and generosity to one’s kindred; and He forbids all that is shameful, all reprehensible conduct and aggression. He admonishes you so that you may take heed. (Verse 90)

This book, the Qur’ān, has been revealed in order to bring a nation into existence, and to regulate a community; to establish a different world and initiate a new social order. It represents a world message for the whole of mankind, which does not allow any special allegiance to tribe, nation or race. Faith is the only bond that unites a community and a nation. It puts forward the principles that ensure unity within the community, security and reassurance for individuals, groups, nations and states, as well as complete trust that governs all transactions, pledges and promises.

It requires that justice should be established and maintained, because justice ensures a solid and constant basis for all transactions and deals between individuals and communities; a basis subject to no prejudice, preference or favouritism; a basis influenced by no family relationship, wealth or strength; a basis that ensures equal treatment for all and subjects all to the same standards and laws.

Along with justice, the Qur’ān urges kindness, which relaxes the strictness of absolute justice. It lays the door open for anyone who wishes to win the heart of an opponent to forgo part of what is rightfully his. This means that the chance is available to all to go beyond strict justice, which is both a right and a duty, to show kindness in order to allow wounds to heal or to win favour. 

Kindness has an even broader sense. Every good action is a kindness. The command enjoining kindness includes every type of action and transaction. It thus covers every aspect of life, including a person’s relationship with his Lord, family, community and with the rest of mankind.

Perhaps we should add here that some commentators on the Qur’ān say that ‘justice’ is the obligatory part, while ‘kindness’ is voluntary, but highly encouraged, particularly in so far as matters of worship are concerned. They say that this verse is part of the revelations received by the Prophet in Makkah, when the legal provisions had not as yet been outlined. But the way the verse is phrased uses both justice and kindness in their broadest sense. Moreover, from a purely ethical point of view, both are generally applicable principles, not mere legal provisions.

One aspect of kindness is ‘generosity to one’s kindred’, but it is specially highlighted here in order to emphasize its importance. From the Islamic point of view, this is not based on narrow family loyalty, but on the Islamic principle of common solidarity which moves from the smaller, local circle to the larger, social context. The principle is central to the implementation of the Islamic social system.

The verse proceeds to outline three prohibitions in contrast to the three orders with which it begins, stating that God “forbids all that is shameful, all reprehensible conduct and aggression.” (Verse 90) Under shameful conduct everything that goes beyond the limits of propriety is included, but the term is often used to denote dishonourable assault and indecency. Thus it combines both aggression and transgression. Hence it has become synonymous with shamefulness.

‘Reprehensible conduct’ refers to any action of which pure, undistorted human nature disapproves. Islam also disapproves of any such conduct because it is the religion of pure human nature. Human nature can however become distorted, but Islamic law remains constant, pointing to what human nature is like before distortion creeps in.

Aggression’ in this context denotes injustice as well as any excess that goes beyond what is right and fair. No community can survive when it is based on the spread of shameful, reprehensible conduct and aggression. No community can hope to flourish if it does not stamp out shameful conduct, reprehensible actions and aggression. Hence human nature is bound to rebel against these whenever they are allowed to spread in society.

Human nature will not allow such destructive forces to remain in full play without staging a rebellion. This is inevitable even though such forces may be exceedingly powerful, functioning under the protection of tyrant rulers. In fact the history of humanity is full of such rebellions aiming to purge humanity of such parasites, in the same way that the human body mobilizes its defences to expel any alien organism. The very fact that human nature rebels against them proves that they are alien to proper human life. While God enjoins justice and kindness, He forbids shameful, reprehensible conduct and aggression. This is in perfect accord with what pure human nature desires. It strengthens human nature and supports its resistance to such alien forces. Hence the final comment in the verse tells us that God “admonishes you so that you may take heed.” (Verse 90) The admonition serves to awaken human conscience and support an undistorted human nature. 

Please listen to explanation of the ayat by eminent Muslim scholar Nouman Ali Khan:
May Allah help us understand Qur'ān and help us to act upon the commandments of Allah contained therein. Aameen.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Selected Verses from the Qur'anYou may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
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Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that the exegesis of the chapters of the Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided, additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Al-Quran, Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
In addition the references of other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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