Strengthening Ethical Basics Of Conduct

THE heart-wrenching tragedy that befell one of the tahfiz schools recently struck everybody to the core. Yet, equally tragic is when the suspected perpetrators turned out to be all juveniles.

What is most distressing is how the mere youngsters could possibly come up with such a treacherous plan to set fire to the tahfiz as a result of some apparently trivial interpersonal exchange.

Whatever the results of the ongoing police investigations would be, the incident has certainly left us brooding over what has actually happened to the quality of ethics among our young generation and what should be the urgent solution to this ethical problem.

More often than not, unfortunately, ethical problems among youths are underestimated. There are some who argue for more freedom of choice and thinking given to them. However, it is only when the ethical problems rear its ugly head and transform itself into criminal problems do we only then realise that these are serious concerns.

When the crimes committed are fatal, the immediate response by many is none other than to impose severe punishment on those convicted in order to ensure that justice is served and it acts as a deterrent to any potential similar criminals in future.

Despite its important role, the law has some discrepancies especially in solving ethical problems. First, the law deals more with limitations and consequently, the punishment meted out for the guilty. Hence, the law does not deal with the root of the problem. On the other hand, a person who is bad will always look at the law as his enemy and will always find ways to escape from it particularly when there are loopholes to be found in its implementation.

Secondly, the law does not cater to the rewards of human actions. A person who goes against any law will definitely face punishments, but one who abides by them is not given any explicit reward for doing so. Therefore, by simply meting out severe punishments to offenders will not necessarily lead to the inculcation of good ethical conduct.

Thirdly, compared to ethics, the law is external to a person. It will always be seen as an extraneous imposition and limitation on someone’s conduct and behaviour rather than coming from within and with his own will.

Thus, it is important to find solutions that will not only complement the law, but also tackle the root of the problem. The more proactive and long term strategy is through ethical means and education. Although ethics and law are always redundant in some respects, there are also differences especially in terms of their emphasis and approach.

Ethics and education, compared to law, is more internal in approach. It concerns more on the moulding of human behaviour through inculcating good virtues into the human self. In the Islamic tradition, the word used to denote ethics is akhlaq (which is derived from the word khalaqa, means ‘to create’) which implies the state of human soul whose good and pure condition will lead to proper external human conduct.

The emphasis of the internal dimension of human being is based on the fact that man is created with dual nature—the soul and body—and that the betterment of the former will ensure the betterment of the latter.

Ethics is also about the habituation of someone’s behaviour towards doing good actions based on one’s understanding about the principles of good and bad. It is about developing the second nature within one’s self. This is done through continuous suppression of the elements of vices within and outside the human being.

And since akhlaq is an attempt to inculcate good virtues towards being part of human nature, it cannot be accomplished within a short period of time. Rather, it needs to be developed gradually within someone’s self through self-discipline.

This is where serious religious and ethical education plays a tremendous role. The education system should explicitly place its highest aim to produce ethical human beings rather than only emphasise the cognitive aspect of the human development. How ironic it is that an educational system can produce human beings with the ability to memorise and understand good theories, yet fail to translate them into ethical action. Far from denying the importance of  fulfilling the pragmatic objectives of the nation’s development, education must first and foremost aim at strengthening the ethical and religious objectives that will contribute extensively to the internal development of the human being.

In the current world full of extremism, the notion of balance is highly important. Ethics implies the stable and balanced condition of the soul which will lead to good behaviour. In order to do that, the main elements of the human internal self must be properly balanced out.

In the ethical expositions among great Muslim scholars such as al-Ghazali, Ibn Miskawayh and al-Razi, they explained that a balanced soul which will produce good virtues in human behaviour resulted from a just and proper treatment of three important elements of the human self namely the faculty of reason, anger and desire (shahwah).

When reason is being properly treated, it will manifest the virtue of wisdom where the mind can properly place information in it’s proper place and knows the limits of truth. This will later lead to good actions based on proper wisdom.

When anger is being justly positioned, it will lead to the virtue of courage where anger will only be manifested when it is really needed. Hence, people of courage do not resort to brutal and aggressive actions but a more sober and patient response. Indeed, such is what the prophet referred to when he said “The most courageous person is the one who can control himself when he is angry.”

Finally, when the faculty of desire is properly positioned, it will lead to the virtue of temperance in which the human soul is properly curbed from its lustful enemy. This is done through the control of sexual desire and food. Hence, Islam encourages fasting as an important way to control desire and introduces the proper institution of marriage.

All the three cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage and temperance are the reflection of just and balanced character which are extremely needed in the present young generation in order to prevent another tragedy from happening in the future.

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