Every one of us is a climber in a certain sense. Some of us seek avidly after reaching the top of the ladder of fame, others climb the ladder of wealth, or the ladder of power, or of knowledge, etc. The kinds of ladders to ascend are so many to the extent that one gets the feeling that we are living in a race. Most people set the top of a certain ladder as their goal in life, and they keep on climbing as long as they live; but rarely does any of them look beneath his or her feet, and take a close look at the place where his foot stomps on the way up. Rarely does any person try to see how many people he has hurt in the process of trying to reach his goal, or how many ethical and moral qualities he has forsaken in his endeavor. Many people reach the top of their ladders, and their names are cherished all over the world. They are thought of as successful examples whom people should look up to. Well, they may be successful, but the ones who are truly great among them, are those who achieved their success without violating the ethical and moral qualities of righteous people. Hence, if you wish to be great, the most important ladder that you should seek to ascend, is the ladder of ethics.
When I ponder deeply over the Islamic teachings, I see amidst them an ethical and moral code that may benefit Muslims, and non-Muslims alike; so is the case with other religions as well. By all means, ethics are not confined to a certain religion aside from the others, nor could they all be mentioned, or taught during the life time of one prophet or messenger. Humanity needed a sequence of prophets to set examples for people throughout the ages, and stand as beacons of light for those who would reflect. Likewise, our Creator’s messages came holding amidst their verses and pages guidance and light for humanity throughout the ages. If any unethical teaching or order is to be found therein, then know by heart that it’s either a misunderstanding of the context, or a later human insertion, and it’s not from our Lord, praised be His supreme qualities and attributes.
If one wishes to ascend the ladder which matters the most—that is the ladder of ethics and morals—he must purify his heart, and use his reason in his pursuit of what’s worthy, and what’s right, even if it was something that was never preached in his religion, nor is there any injunction inside his holy book addressing the issue. A truthful seeker of goodness contributes in all good and beneficent activities he encounters or is invited to. He gives aid to those who are trying to set things right, and repair the community and this earth on which we are living.
Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H. contributed in the “Oath of ethics” before Islam when he was still 20 years old, and he said: “If I were invited to it by the pagans after I received the message of Islam, I would have attended.” This oath was sworn twenty years before Prophet Muhammad received the revelations of the Qur’an. It was a pledge taken by the people of Makkah to protect their guests, and non-natives from any unjust treatment, and judge fairly between them and the native merchants. This shows us that even paganism may hold amidst its teachings some ethics that are praiseworthy.
The Islamic history also tells us that when the persecution campaign against Muslims in their homeland Makkah worsened, and became unbearable, the prophet P.B.U.H. ordered those who were weak among the companions to immigrate to Abyssinia. He told them that he heard of a Christian king there who never wronged any of his subordinates. A group of men and women took shelter in the night and started their escape towards Abyssinia. The pagans decided to pursue them and bring them back, so they dispatched a special delegation to Negus, king of Abyssinia for this purpose. Without indulging into the details, after asking them about the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, King Negus refused to deliver the Muslims to the pagans, and He said his famous sentence to those standing in his presence: “What your Prophet preaches, and what Jesus preached before him, seem to radiate from the same source.” When Negus refused to deliver those who were weak and couldn’t defend themselves to the pagans of Makkah, he was following the ethics and morals he understood from Christianity, not Islam.
The prophet used to praise a rabbi named “Mukhaireeq” for refusing to betray the alliance with Muslims, and he died while defending Madinah with the Muslims’ army in the “Battle of ‘Uhud.” When his people denied his action, he opposed their opinion saying, “This is not how I understand Judaism.” When that rabbi refused to betray his pact with Muslims like the rest of his tribe did, he was following the ethics he understood from Judaism, not Islam.
It was narrated that one day, a funeral of a Jew from Madinah was passing by. On seeing it approaching, the prophet stood up. His companions said in an astonished manner: “O prophet, this is a funeral of a Jew.” They were referring to the fact that the man met the prophet, and died without believing in him. The prophet P.B.U.H. responded saying: “Isn’t it a human soul.” The prophet’s action and response teaches us a lot about humanism, and its ethical and moral code in Islam. If this was the kind of respect the prophet had for the man’s funeral, how be it with the man himself.
When Muslims returned to Makkah after 21 years of suffering persecution, tortures, killings, and invasions; on entering the holy city, the prophet showed great modesty. He ordered his companions to show leniency and to assure the Makkans that no harm was going to befall them. When he reached the sacred mosque, he started breaking all of the idols placed around the mosque and his companions did the same. Then the prophet prayed inside the mosque and called on all people to attend, he gave a brief speech glorifying Allah, then he stipulated that all people are equal and that the pre-Islamic customs of taking pride in ancestry should be forsaken. He stipulated that all people are Adam’s progeny and Adam was created from dust. He recited the verse that says: “O mankind, We have created you from males and females, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest among you in Allah’s sight are those who are most pious. Verily Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” [The Qur’an (49:13)], then he asked the Makkan pagans: “O people of Quraish, what is it that you think I’m going to do to you?”
They responded saying: “You have always been a noble brother and the son of a noble brother.”
The prophet then said: “I can’t but say the same words which Joseph said to his brothers: ‘Let there be no reproach against you today.’ Go your way, you are all free.”
The prophet’s action here was an honoring, and revival to what Prophet Joseph P.B.U.H. did thousands of years earlier with his brethren who persecuted him. Their humanity forbade them from hurting those who hurt them the most, even when they were in their power.
The respect Muslims had for these ethics and morals was recorded by the European writers centuries later, during the times of the Crusades. One writer, “Oliverus Scholasticus,” (1196-1227 A.D.) related how the Sultan “Al-Malik Al-Kamil” supplied a defeated Frankish army with food saying: “Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power.”
The bottom line is, seek avidly after improving your sense of humanism, and ascending its ladder of ethics till you reach the highest step you can therein; or else, you shall end up empty handed, no matter what your religion, social status, or professional title maybe.
Written by: Ehab Shawky