What Is the Moral Code of Islam?

Instructor: Mara Sobotka

Mara holds an MA in Comparative Religion, and she teaches writing, religious studies and the Hebrew language.

This lesson will take a brief look at Islamic ethics. There are many surprising things that Islam requires of its followers, from the personal all the way up to caring for the environment.

Morals in Islam

Islam is a vast and diverse faith of many languages, regions, ethnicities, and countries, encompassing many schools of thought. Because of this diversity, there are many more interpretations of what a good Muslim should be than we can possibly discuss in a short piece, but most Muslims share a few core beliefs that might make it a little easier to start! In this lesson, we are going to take a look at these core beliefs and quickly examine how they apply to community life.

The Five Pillars

You may already be familiar with the concept of the Five Pillars. These pillars make up the most well-known part of Islamic morals. The Five pillars do not appear as such in the Qur'an, but in a hadith called The Hadith of Gabriel. A hadith is a writing said to document actual words said by the prophet Muhammad. Hadiths are some of the most important writings in Islam.

The shahada, or profession of faith, in Arabic calligraphy.
The shahada, which is the Muslim profession of faith, is shown on a green background in Arabic.

The Five Pillars are:

  • The shahada, or profession of faith. The shahada, one of the most central parts of Muslim life, is inscribed on the front of many mosques, and it also starts many prayers. It is also recited by people who wish to convert to the faith. In English, the shahada goes: 'There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.'
  • Salat, or ritual prayer, is the requirement for Muslims to pray five times per day. This is to be done as a physical and public declaration of one's faith in God, and it is done to help keep people mindful of their duties to God and the community. All men and women are required to take their shoes off, not be sick, and perform ablutions (or ritual washing of hands, face, and feet) beforehand.
  • Zakat, or almsgiving, is the requirement for all Muslims at a certain level of wealth to give money to the community. Traditionally, this was a tax, and all Muslims who qualified had to pay 2.5% of their net worth to a local mosque. The money would then be used to provide food for the poor, to relieve people of debt, and maintain infrastructure, among other things.
  • Sawm is the Arabic word for the required fast during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic lunar calendar, and it is the month which commemorates the initial revelation of the Qur'an to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. People fast to demonstrate and reinforce their commitment to God. This fast not only includes food, but sexual activity and alcohol as well! If a person is ill, pregnant, or otherwise too frail to complete this fast, they do not have to.
  • The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. The Qur'an establishes this pillar in Sura 3 and Sura 22. Sura 3 also notes that making this pilgrimage may not be possible for many people. It is a very expensive trip, and if a person is not in good health, this also makes it difficult. So while this pillar is a goal for all Muslims, it is acknowledged that it is not possible for everyone.

The Moral Commandments

If you are familiar with Jewish or Christian thought, you may remember the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus. Well, Islam has something very similar! The moral commandments can be found first in Sura 17. Some scholars have argued that there are ten of them, like there are in the Hebrew Bible, while others (particularly legal scholars) argue that they can be broken down into fewer categories. I'm going to take the three categories approach, but I'll explain some things in Sura 17 that fall under these categories.

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