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Faith and Duty-Consciousness

The sense of duty and consciousness of responsibilities, which envelop all aspects of human life, are the most fundamental factors of individual and social welfare. Islamic education is also based on developing the sense of duty and its fulfilment.

In his pursuit of welfare and happiness every Muslim must rely solely on his faith and actions in life and refrain from putting his reliance in anything else. Imam al-Sajjad, may peace be upon him, in one of his precious sayings describes the encompassing character of man's duties in various spheres:

You-may God include you in His infinite mercy and blessings-should know that the Sustainer of the world has assigned certain duties and rights to you whose number is so great that they cover your entire conduct and behaviour, your every act and movement, every pause and stop that you may make and every halt that you may decide upon, and, ultimately, every bodily member that obeys your will. These rights are evident and clear, although some of these involve greater responsibility than others. 3

In Islam everyone is responsible for his actions and no one is answerable for another's duties and responsibilities. The Qur'an declares:

Whosoever is guided, is only guided to his own gain, and whosoever goes astray, it is only to his own loss; no soul laden bears the load of another. (17:15)

There is a power present in the depths of man's being that calls upon him to perform his duties and carry out his responsibilities. That inner power reassures him when he responds to its call and carries out his duty, and after its performance infuses his soul with tranquillity and delight. This invisible power is the same conscience that arises from the depths of innate nature and impels us to perform good acts and to shun vice.

It may be imagined that the conscience is solely capable of insuring the fulfilment of various duties without our needing to follow the teachings of religion. However, in fact, the moral faculty of the conscience, notwithstanding its worth in providing the needs of man's well-being, is not singly capable of saving man from decadence and fall in all situations and under all conditions.

Before everything, we must pay attention to the range and scope of the activity of the conscience. The dictates of the conscience concerning a matter vary in relation to the different national and ethnic customs and factors of space and time. The persuasive activity of the conscience relates to matters that have been approved as right and praiseworthy previously by social custom and habit, although it may in fact be something abominable or blameworthy from the viewpoint of the customs of another people. In certain eras of human history some of the most shameful and filthiest of acts have been considered by people as being virtuous and praiseworthy and have borne the seal of general approval.

The Holy Qur'an refers to this fact in these words:

O Prophet, say to the people, "Shall we tell you who will be the greatest losers in their works? Those whose striving goes astray in the present life, while they think that they were working good deeds. " (18:103-104)

But their hearts were hardened, and Satan had decked out fair to them what they were doing. (6:43)

Moreover, conscience is not capable of resisting unaided the onslaughts of many carnal desires and withstanding the fierce hurricane of lust for wealth and position. In the battlefield against urges and instincts its resistance is diminished in degrees, and it is possible that it may be overwhelmed in the very first encounter with them. The tricks of the carnal self, by turning facts upside down, may deceive the conscience and extinguish the light of this lamp that illuminates man's inner being.

The conscience needs a firm foothold and guide as represented by faith, which stands above the domain of common custom and is not subject to its mandates. Those in whose inner being the innate spirit of tawhid (monotheism) has been awakened and who have real faith in God, they pay full attention to the voice of conscience, considering its mandates to be God's natural guidance. For them not only duty is not a heavy burden to carry about but gives them strength and joy. They carry out their duties with burning love, dedication, and zeal.

Where there is no conflict between conscience and instinctive urges, it is easy to obey the mandates of conscience. But difficulty arises when obeying conscience entails suppression of one of one's inner desires. The power of instinct, which has a wide field open in front of it for its assaults, overwhelms conscience if it is not reinforced by religious faith, and the field of action will be practically taken over by instinct.

It is fact that every human call that is not derived from faith in God is devoid of meaning in the objective world and amounts to no more than a pretty and exciting fancy. The call of Islam, which was realised in the objective world and became practical on earth, opened a brilliant chapter for itself in history. It is a call based on calling the souls of people to the Source of legislation, to the sublime horizon of human felicity, on guiding and linking the hearts to the infinite Divine essence. Otherwise man will not always accept the mandates of insipid and dry human calls and will not submit to their logic in all situations and under all conditions. When moral teachings come into conflict with the carnal desires of people, they violate those teachings in order to attain to their wishes and demands.

Le Comte du Nouy says:

Some atheists who are morally inclined by temperament say that the basic problem is obedience to ethical laws. Hence if we can act in accordance with these laws in practice, we would not stand in need of religion. This approach indicates ignorance of human psychology, for man is sceptical of the worth of laws whose source is uncertain to him. Moreover, such an approach discloses a misunderstanding of the basic problem, for the objective is that man should grow inwardly so that he thinks in an ethical manner. The goal is not to induce him to behave in an ethical way. For so long as one's conduct is not indicative of a deep inner development, his behaviour will remain a series of artificial, conventional and temporary restraints which will vanish at the first excuse. If moral rules are imposed in an arbitrary manner, no matter how much practical value that may have, they will never be successful in fighting animalistic urges. 4

William James, the famous Western philosopher and psychologist, writes:

The sheer moralist obeys the universal laws that govern the universe on the basis of his knowledge, but this obedience is accompanied with a certain sense of burden and regret. He does not feel any warmth and passion in his heart. The feeling that these laws are like a yoke never leaves him. In religion, on the contrary, this cold and dismal obedience is replaced by a warm welcome and enthusiasm that fills everything in life with grace, joy, sincerity and vigour.

All our moral rules are like bandages that are applied to conceal scars and wounds, without containing any healing balm...

It is here that religion comes to our help and takes charge of our destiny. Religion offers a spiritual state and station that cannot be found anywhere else. 5

Luqman's Counsel

In the verses of the Holy Qur'an we came across the sayings of Luqman addressed to his son, which are rich in meaning and loaded with profound advice. While giving educative and beneficial exhortation to his son, he sets down in outline the principal duties of every human being.

1. Man's Duty to God:

And when Luqman said to his son, admonishing him, "O my son, do not associate others with God; to associate others with God is a great in justice. " (31:13)

2. One's Duty to Parents:

And We have charged man concerning his parents (to treat with kindness and gratitude, and to fulfil the rights of) his mother, who bore him in weakness upon weakness and his weaning was in two years-Be thankful to Me, and to thy parents; to Me is the homecoming (of all My creation). (31:14)

3. Man's Duty towards Others:

O my son, perform the prayer, and bid people unto virtue and honour, and forbid them from vice and dishonour. And bear patiently whatever may befall thee in this path of guiding and educating people at the hands of ignorant persons, for surely that is a mark of true constancy. (31:17)

Turn not your face from men in scorn and pride, and do not be indifferent towards them, and walk not in the earth exultantly, for God loves not any man proud and boastful. (31:18)

4. Man's Duty to Himself:

In general be modest and moderate in your conduct in life, and speak in a low voice, for the coarsest and most hideous of voices is the ass's. (31:19)


3. Al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-uqul, p. 255.

4. Pierre Le Comte du Nouy, Sarnevisht-e bashar, p. 216.

5. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Persian Trans,. Din wa rawan, p. 19.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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