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Islam's Plan for the Propagation of Moral Virtues

One of the precious teachings of Islam is that Muslims should be grateful for the boundless bounties of God. In reality, the feeling of gratitude arises from an inner freedom, which is something mysteriously united with the human essence.

Emotional motivation and encouragement is a useful means for the propagation of human virtues in society. Should the people reward good- doers and punish those guilty of misconduct by means of their appropriate reactions, society would move steadily towards health and growth. For when the feelings of reprobation for offenders and admiration and appreciation for the pious and virtuous are alive amongst the people, society naturally inclines towards piety and human merit and the ideals of moral rectitude and virtue come to prevail. The moral worth of everyone becomes distinct and the qualities of the pure and the polluted become distinguished.

'Ali-may peace be upon him-in his historic directive addressed to Malik al-Ashtar, says:

(O Malik:) The good and the wicked must not be equal in your eyes, for otherwise it would discourage the good from good-doing and encourage the wicked in their misconduct. Treat them in accordance with the kind of conduct he has chosen for himself. 5

For the rare kind of persons whose personality has reached the sublimest heights of development, the very satisfaction and inner peace that they derive from carrying out their duties and responsibilities is their reward and motivating agent. But reaching such an ideal level of morality is possible for only a numbered few. Most people have not attained such a spiritual development so as not to stand in need of praise and appreciation. Hence the significance of the effect of appreciation should not be ignored at any time. Shachter, the well-known psychologist, says:

If it be necessary to find fault with someone and to criticise his conduct, it is essential first to mention one of his good points and commend him for it, so that his need for attention and appreciation is fulfilled. If you censure him after that it would not be so bitter and unpleasant; rather, he might accept your advice, and even reproof, eagerly and gratefully.

If the boss is dissatisfied with a letter written by his secretary, it would be better to tell him, "The one you had written the other day was quite clear and lucid. But this one is somewhat vague. Please look it over again and change it if necessary." Certainly the secretary will not feel dejected by this remark but would feel grateful for the chiefs attention and appreciation. He will perform his work with greater effort and attention. When you observe a bearer at a restaurant moving about swiftly and serving food, do not scold him and create ill feeling if there is some delay in bringing your food. Show appreciation for his effort and compliment him for his skill and agility. Rest assured that he will do his work with greater zeal and, by the way, bring your food as soon as he can. Irrespective of age and status, everyone likes his work to be appreciated by people. Even the old school teacher, after years of giving lessons and receiving recognition for his work, feels elated on hearing his little pupil say, "Sir, we have benefited greatly from your lesson today."

Respect others' need for appreciation and care so that the give and take of life goes on smoothly and happily. Don't lose any opportunity of showing appreciation for others and complimenting them for their good work so that others too may honour your need for appreciation and attention. 6

We should realise that in the same way as persons possess certain positive and outstanding qualities, they may also have some shortcomings and defects. We ourselves are no exception to this rule. Therefore, instead of always pointing out others' weak points, we must keep in view their merits and positive qualities. 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may peace by upon him, draws our attention to this point with an interesting metaphor. He says

Be like the honeybee, which always drinks the purest of things (i.e. the nectar) and yields the purest of things and does not break any bough that it alights upon. 7

When one receives the affection and benevolence of one's friends and observes them making effort to fulfil one's wishes with utmost sincerity and eagerness and striving lovingly to solve one's difficulties, then morality and humanity dictate that one should thank them for their generosity and kindness, win their pure hearts, and give them one's ungrudged love in order to be worthy of their unmingled affection.

Gratitude may express itself in an act of kindness free from any kind of ostentation. Kronin (?) writes:

My son, who was studying medicine, narrated that once a patient was admitted into the hospital. A blood transfusion was necessary for his treatment and recovery. On recovering from his illness, he began to inquire about the identity of the person who had given blood for his treatment. He was told that the names of the blood donors were not disclosed. After several weeks, the same person turned up at the hospital to donate his blood. He did that repeatedly without any ostensible motive. When one of the surgeons asked him about it, he answered in a very simple manner: Some unknown person donated his blood for me. This way I want to thank him for it. 8

It would be far from manliness not to give benevolence and kindness even the most elementary kind of recognition, which is verbal appreciation and thanks. It is also a kind of injustice.


5. Nahj al-balaghah, "Kutub," no. 53 addressed to Malik al-Ashtar.

6. Shachter, Rushd-e shakhsiyyat, pp. 45-46.

7. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam wa durar al-kalim, p. 569.

8. Danistaniha-ye jahan-e 'ilm, p. 159.

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

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