The significance of conscience:
It is noteworthy that conscience is not an independent source of values in Islam, but it does not mean to underestimate the importance of conscience, or to neglect its development and care. Rather, the care of conscience and illuminating it constantly is the most obligatory duty due to its role in guiding human behavior and determining its goal. Human being is driven by his interior, not by his exterior. The rules of groups and the power of governments alone are not enough to establish a virtuous society where the rights are respected and the duties are performed properly. Whoever fulfils his duty due to the fear of whip, imprisonment or monetary penalty, he no longer abides by them whenever he feels that he is away from the reach of the law. (1)
Therefore, the righteousness of an individual and his full commitment of the moral values depend on the soundness of his heart and purity of his conscience. Similarly, the righteousness of his conscience is dependent on the religion. Al-Mawardi (may Allah have mercy on him) says in this context: “The religion keeps the souls away from their carnal desires and divert the hearts from their worldly inclinations, until the religion becomes a ruler over the hearts, an instructor for the consciences, a supervisor on the souls in their loneliness and an advisor for them during tough times. These meanings could not be brought to the consciences without the religion and people could not be turned into good individuals without it. (2)
Also the religion is based on faith in the unseen, that gives the soul feelings of desire and fear of Allah Who is fully Aware of human being and his all movements, and Who knows even his imaginations and temptations. Allah (Glory be to Him) says: “And conceal your speech or publicize it; indeed, He is Knowing of that within the breasts. Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (3)
Allah (Glory be to Him) said: “And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” (4)
In addition to that, He (Glory be to Him) said: “He knows that which deceives the eyes and what the breasts conceal.” (5)
Thus Islam unsheathes from the vigilant human conscience a sword that eliminates the germ of evil before it spreads. The authority of a righteous conscience is stronger than any exterior authority. The qualm of the conscience when committing a sin is more painful for the soul than stabbing with a spearhead. The faithful and pure soul is branded with the blaze of sin before it is committed. This meaning has been pointed out by the Prophet (may the peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him) in the definition of sin: “And wrongdoing is that which wavers in your soul, and which you dislike people finding out about.” (6) (7).
(1) Muhammad `Abdullah Draz, Ad-Din (the Religion), p. 99, Dar Al-Qalam, Kuwait 1400 A.H..
(2) Al-Mawardi, Adab Ad-Dunya Wad-Din, p. 136, edited by Mustafa As-Saqqa’ , Dar Al-Kutub Al-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut, edition 4th, Year 1398 A.H.
(3) Al-Mulk 67: 13, 14.
(4) Qaf 50:16.
(5) Al-Ghafir 40:19.
(6) Reported by Muslim.
(7) Mannaa` Al-Qattan, The Characteristics of Islamic Legislation (in Arabic), pp. 191, 192, Nadwah Al-Muhadhrat, the issues of Muslim World League, 1385 A.H.