Ethics and Community

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

Five ethical categories
The obligatory (wajib)
The prohibited (haram)
The supererogatory (mandub)
The disfavored (makruh)
The indifferent (mubah)

Muslim ethical thinking begins from the premise that the most fundamental relationship in the life of human beings is their relationship with God. Accordingly, the first subject of ethics is to understand the nature of the relationship between humanity and God. Muslim theologians have categorized all human acts from this perspective as falling into one of five ethical categories: the obligatory (wajib); the prohibited (haram); the supererogatory (mandub); the disfavored (makruh); and the indifferent (mubah).

This overriding concern with the relation of the human to the divine is manifested most clearly in Islamic ritual law, which is always the first topic discussed in any work of Islamic law, and generally takes up roughly a quarter of the pages of any treatise on Islamic law. Five Pillars of IslamThe most important elements of Islamic ritual life are known as the "Five Pillars of Islam," and impose, as moral obligations, the requirement to witness to the truth of Islam by declaring publicly that there is no god except for God and that Muhammad is God's messenger; to pray in the specified manner the five daily prayers—at dawn, at noon-time, in the afternoon, at evening, and at night-time—in their specified times; to fast from food, drink, and sexual intercourse during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan, the tenth month of the Islamic lunar calendar; to dedicate a portion of one's wealth (customarily believed to be 2.5 percent) for poor-relief annually; and to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca once in one's lifetime if one has the means to do so. Islamic ritual law also includes countless supererogatory ritual acts, observance of which constitutes the bulk of the spiritual discipline of the Sufi orders.

Social interactions (mu 'amalat) Ritual
*concerns human welfare in secular world
*assumes human ability to understand and interpret divine commands
*concerns relationship between human and divine

Islamic ethics, however, is also concerned with social interactions, mu‘amalat in Arabic. Mu‘amalat are sharply distinguished from ritual in Islamic ethics insofar as Islamic law presumes that when regulation speaks to human interactions, it does so to further human welfare in the secular world rather than to regulate the relationship between the human and the divine. It is the assumption that revelation's regulation of social life is essentially comprehensible to human reason, which makes feasible the project of an expansive Islamic law grounded in human interpretation of the divine command. 

For Sunni Muslims at least, this means that much of Islamic law—especially as applied to social interactions—is largely a product of human reflection upon the message of revelation, with the inevitable result that differences of opinion regarding what revelation requires for any particular situation abound. In theory, Shi‘i Muslims, because of their adherence to the concept of a divinely guided imam, are not in need of human interpretation of revelation, with all its foibles. In practice, however, because the great majority of Shi‘i Muslims are Twelvers and believe that the last Imam is currently in hiding, they too are required to construct the rules of Islamic law using interpretive techniques. 

Fundamental norms (daruri) Secondary norms (ijtihadi)
set forth explicitly in revelation based on scholarly interpretation
include religious doctrine
(unity of God, accountability before God)
include most doctrines and ethical obligations
also include practical obligations
("Five pillars of Islam," dietary restrictions)
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