Instinct, conscience and moral values in Islam:

 It is among the favors and graces of Allah on His servants that He created them with natural love for good ethics and noble qualities.

The Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) informed us about a group of moral values, stating that they are instilled in the nature of people, either in the nature of most of the people or in some of them.

The Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Amanah (the trust) descended in the innermost (root) of the hearts of people. Then they learnt from the Qur’an and they learned from the Sunnah." (1)

In addition to that, the Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “People are mines like the mines of gold and silver. The best of people during ignorance (pre-Islamic era) are the best in Islam when they understand.” (2)

The origin of righteousness is present in a number of people even before the revelation of Shari`ah. This ethical origin includes the natural inclination to some ethical virtues. However, the deep understanding of Allah's religion adds some strength and durability and guides to the right direction. And directs the people to make their aim and purpose merely the pleasure of Allah (Glory be to Him) and His reward, in accordance with His Shari`ah.

Furthermore, the Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) told Ashajj `Abdul-Qais: “Verily, you have two khuluq (characteristics) that Allah loves; forbearance and shyness.” (Another narration mentions the word ‘Al-anah’ or patience.) He said: “O Messenger of Allah! Are they two characteristics that I became accustomed to, or was I created with them?” He said: “Rather, you were created with them.” Then he said: “All praise is due to Allah Who has created me with two characteristics that Allah loves.” (3)

In short, Shari`ah in this subject helps to complete the ethical potential instilled in human nature, as was stated by the Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) who said: “I was only sent to complete the good ethical characters.” (4)

Ibn Al-Qayyim says in this regard: “Allah (Glory be to Him) called the causes that complete the aptitudes of soul ‘Dhikr’ (reminding) and His Prophet (peace be upon him) was described with ‘Mudhakkir’ (reminder). Allah (Glory be to Him) said: “Indeed in that is a reminder for whoever has a heart.” (5) And He (Glory be to Him) said: “So remind, [O Muhammad!]; you are only a reminder.” (6)

This type of verses is frequent in the Glorious Qur’an that states that His Glorious Book and His Messenger are reminders to people of what is already instilled in their nature, such as the awareness of Allah, His love, His veneration, His reverence, devotion to Him, sincerity for Him, commitment of His Shari`ah and preference of His orders over other things. Therefore, the instinct can recognize and can feel in a general manner, or in a slight detail, and when the messengers came they reminded of the moral values, drew their attention to them, detailed them for the people and explained their significance, and introduced people to defying causes that disturb the natural instinct and hold back from obeying the dictation of the innate aptitude. The same would be said about the divine rulings that were brought by the messengers; the ruling that enjoins what is good and forbids what is evil, and makes the pure thing permissible and makes the impure prohibited, and orders to do justice and forbade committing injustice. These values are basically instilled in their natures, however, their explanation and elucidation in a comprehensive manner depends on the messengers.”(7)

Nevertheless, the instinct and conscience by their own can not be an independent source of moral values in Islam, because the instinct though is naturally inclined to the righteousness, piety, love and loyalty to Allah (Glory be to Him) but it is not enough for a person to be determined on the right path due to the pile of habits, customs and traditions that disturb the instinct and consciousness, spoil their function, mislead them and mix some error and mistake into their evaluation and conclusion. (8)

The Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) has warned of some changes and modifications that befall the instinct under the influence of the surrounding environment, as he said: “Then his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Magian.” (9) And Allah (Glory be to Him) said: “And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah.” (10)  As well as Allah the Almighty said: “And most of the people, although you strive [for it], are not believers.” (11) 

On the other hand, the conscience can not be the source of the moral values,  because it needs a standard that distinguishes between virtue and vice with detail so that it can stimulate to do the good and to avoid the bad. So the conscience either returns to the instinct to borrow the criterion to evaluate the words and deeds, we have already stated the corruptions and changes that befall the instinct, or the conscience returns to the customs and habits that are generally more vulnerable to corruptions and changes than the conscience. That is why the conscience needs Shari`ah which determines the limits of the virtue and vice, defines a safe system and shows the way that must be adopted in conduct.

In addition to that, the vitality of instinct and vigilance of conscience are not same in all people, rather, it vary depending on the care of its development and perfection or negligence in its advancement. These factors cause dispute in the evaluation of the actions, ethics and conduct. Eventually, balance of the values is disturbed and its evaluating power is lost, until the instinct is totally destroyed and the conscience becomes inactive then the righteousness appears as an evil and the evil appears as righteousness.

Finally, Islam did not rely only on the instinct and its guidance or on the conscience and its qualm. Therefore, Islam has laid down regulations and rules for various aspects of life, including the moral values.

Anyhow, the instinct should be regarded as an assisting factor for determining the right path and an encouraging element for the moral obligation.




(1) Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim. See: Ibn Hajar, Fat’h Al-Bari, vol.11, p.333 and An-Nawawi, Commentary on Sahih Muslim, vol. 1, p. 351.

(2) Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim. See: Ibn Hajar, Fat’h Al-Bari, vol.6, p.525, and An-Nawawi, Commentary on Sahih Muslim, vol. 5, p. 386.

(3) Reported by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, p. 86, Dar Al-Kutub Al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut. Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar commented on this Hadith saying: “Repeating the question and recognizing its meaning denote that some ethics are inborn and some are acquired.” See: Fat’h Al-Bari, vol.10, p.459.

(4) Reported by Ahmad, Al-Hakim and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, as was mentioned previously.

(5) Qaf 50: 37.

(6) Al-Ghashiyah 88: 21.

(7) Ibn Al-Qayyim, Shifa’ Al-`Alil, pp. 301, 302.

(8) Al-Manna`a Al- Qattan, the Need to the Messengers (in Arabic), p. 196 with modification.

(9) Agreed upon by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as was mentioned before.

(10) Al-An`a’m 6: 116.

(11) Yusuf 12: 103.

Add comment

Security code