I have been surprised by how rarely I have seen explicit admonitions for virtue in the part of the Qur’an we have read thus far.  I am certainly not saying Muslims are not virtuous.  Of course they are. 

Several years ago my wife worked with a group of Muslim young men and another group of young ladies who self-identified as Christians.  I remember her saying how much more virtuous those men were than the women.  She said she would have much preferred to have those Muslim men as neighbors than those women who seemed to be wearing the name “Christian” more out of convenience, habit, or security than out of devotion.  Definitely, Islam is a religion of virtue. 

I am just surprised how so often it seems the surahs we have read thus far dwell on internal belief and a willingness to serve but then leave it there.  I haven’t seem many long passages on how to interact with others in everyday activities, what attitudes to have to the vagaries of life, or what behavioral virtues Allah longs to find the heart of his followers. 

On the other hand, the Bible, of which I am a devoted follower, makes frequent mention of virtues.  Take this two famous passage from the New Testament as an example:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)

Or this one:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:16-26)

You rarely go more than a page or two in the New Testament without mention of some prescribed or prohibited action.  Now, with this focus on morality Christianity can easily degrade into little more than “moralism,” that is a code of conduct that is held up as the most important part of religion, expected as a condition of salvation, and separated from a bigger story that gives the rationale for that morality.  To be sure, there are versions of Christianity out there that are guilty of this.  Nonetheless, living life in a manner that God finds pleasing and that promotes love and relational peace is an excellent aspect of Christianity. 

So as a devotee of a book that emphasizes virtue, something has seemed to be missing from my reading of the Qur’an.  Then as we start a new surah today, called “The Believers” or “The Faithful,” we come to mention after mention of virtue. 

  • When you pray, be humble and reverent.  Don’t treat God like a genie or vending machine. (23:2)
  • Be sober-minded and decorous, instead of living a frivolous life obsessed with the pleasures of that which passes away. (23:3) 
  • Be compassionate and give charitably to those in need. (23:4)
  • Abstain from sexuality except in those relationships deemed legitimate and wholesome  (23:5-7)
  • Be known as a trustworthy person financially.  Honor your pledges. (23:8)
  • Be consistent and fervent in prayer.  Don’t just turn to prayer when you are in a bind. (23:9)

I hope to read more like this.