What makes us good or bad? Are some moral qualities appropriate for every situation? Where do our moral instincts come from? And does Divine Reward cheapen moral sacrifice? Find out below…

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad c. 1897

His Holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Promised Messiah & Mahdi, Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam


Three Types of Human Actions 

“The first question relates to the natural and moral and spiritual states of man. The Holy Qur’an has indicated three separate sources of these three states. In other words, it has pointed out three springs out of which these respective states flow.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

First Source: the Self That Incites to Evil

“The first spring which is the source of all natural states is designated by the Holy Quran the Nafsi Ammarah, which means the self that incites to evil, as it says:

“The soul is surely prone to enjoin evil.”

(Holy Qur’an, 12:54)

This means that it is characteristic of the human self that it incites man to evil and is opposed to his attainment of perfection and to his moral state, and urges him towards undesirable and evil ways. Thus the propensity towards evil and intemperance is a human state which predominates over the mind of a person before he enters upon the moral state. This is man’s natural state, so long as he is not guided by reason and understanding but follows his natural bent in eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, anger and provocation, like the animals. When a person is guided by reason and understanding and brings his natural state under control and regulates it in a proper manner, then these three states, as described, cease to remain the categories as natural states, but are called moral states.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

Second Source; the Reproving Self

“The source of the moral state of man is designated by the Holy Quran Nafsi Lawwamah, as is said:

“And I do call to witness the self-accusing soul”

(Holy Qur’an, 75:3)

That is, I call to witness the reproving self; that is to say, I call to witness the self that reproves itself for every vice and intemperance. This reproving self is the second source of human state from which the moral state is generated. At this stage man ceases to resemble the animals. Calling it to witness is for the purpose of doing it honour, as if by advancing from the state of the self that is prone to evil and arriving at the state of the reproving self, it has become worthy of honour in divine estimation. It is so called as it reproves man on vice and is not reconciled to man’s submitting to his natural desires and leading an unbridled existence like the animals. It desires that man should be in a good state and should practise good morals, and no kind of intemperance should be manifested in any aspect of human life, and natural emotions and desires should be regulated by reason. As it reproves every vicious movement, it is called the reproving self. Though it reproves itself in respect of vices, yet it is not fully effective in practising virtue and occasionally it is dominated by natural emotions, when it stumbles and falls. It is like a weak child who does not wish to stumble and fall but does so out of weakness, and is then remorseful over his infirmity. In short, this is the moral state of human self when it seeks to comprehend within itself high moral qualities and is disgusted with disobedience, but cannot achieve complete success.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

The Third Source; The Soul at Rest

“The third source which should be described as the beginning of the spiritual state of man is called by the Holy Quran Nafsi Mutma’innah, that is to say, the soul at rest, as is said:

“And you, O soul at peace!

Return to your Lord well pleased with Him and He well pleased with you.

So enter you among My chosen servants, And enter you My Garden.” 

(Holy Qur’an, 89:29-31)

That is, O soul at rest that has found comfort in God return to thy Lord, thou well pleased with Him.

This is the stage when the soul of a person being delivered from all weaknesses is filled with spiritual powers and establishes a relationship with God Almighty without Whose support it cannot exist. As water flowing down from a height, on account of its volume and the absence of any obstruction, rushes with great force, in the same way the soul at rest flows towards God. That is indicated by the divine direction to the soul that has found comfort in God to return to its Lord. It undergoes a great transformation in this very life and is bestowed a paradise while still in this world.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

Three states are connected

“The Holy Word of God has classified man’s natural faculties and desires and urges, as natural conditions. These, when they are consciously regulated and controlled and are brought into action on their proper occasions and places, become moral qualities. In the same way, moral conditions are not entirely distinct from spiritual conditions. When moral conditions develop absolute devotion to God and complete purification of self and, cutting asunder from the world, turn wholly to God and to perfect love and complete devotion and full serenity and satisfaction and complete accord with the Divine will, they become spiritual conditions.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

The body is the mother of the soul

“The movements of the soul follow the movements of the body. If the body is drawn in a particular direction the soul automatically follows it. It is, therefore, a function of the Book of God to direct itself to the natural state of man: that is why the Holy Qur’an pays so much attention to the reform of the natural state of man and gives directions with regard to everyone of his actions, his laughing, weeping, eating, clothing, sleeping, speaking, keeping silent, marrying, remaining celibate, walking, standing still, outward cleanliness, bathing, submitting to a discipline in health and in illness etc. It affirms that man’s physical condition affects his spiritual condition deeply.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

Gradual reform of man through the Qur’an

“When I reflect upon the Holy Word of God, it becomes clear to me how He bestows on man, through His teachings, rules for the reform of his natural condition and then gradually lifts him upwards and desires to raise him to the highest spiritual state, I realize that the principle of profound spiritual insight [underlying the following Divine Scheme] is that first God desires to teach man the rules of social behaviour like sitting, standing, eating, drinking, talking etc., and thus to deliver him from a state of barbarism and distinguish him from the animals and thus bestow upon him an elementary moral state which might be described as social culture. He then desires to regulate his elementary moral habits so that they should acquire the character of high moral qualities. Both these methods are part of the same process as they are related to the reform of man’s natural condition. There is between them a difference only of degree. The All-Wise One has so arranged the moral system that man should be able to rise from a low to a high moral condition.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

Natural conditions alone deserve no praise

“We have already stated that natural conditions are not something distinct from moral conditions. When they are regulated and are used on their proper occasions, under the direction of reason, they acquire a moral character. Before they are controlled by reason and understanding they have not the character of moral qualities, but are natural impulses, however much they might resemble moral qualities. For instance, if a dog or lamb displays affection or docility towards its master it would not be described as moral or good-mannered. In the same way a wolf or a tiger would not be described as ill-mannered on account of its wildness. A moral state emerges after reflection and regard for time and occasion come into play. A person who does not exercise reason and deliberation is like a child whose mind and intellect are not yet governed by reason, or is like a madman who has lost his reason and good sense. A child or a mad man sometimes behaves in a manner that has the appearance of moral action, but no sensible person calls such conduct moral, as such conduct does not proceed from good sense and appropriateness, but is a natural reaction to the circumstances…

All these motions are natural impulses. Similarly a barbarian who possesses little human sense is like such an infant and displays natural impulses in his words, actions and movements and is governed by his natural emotions. Nothing proceeds from him in consequence of the exercise of his inner faculties. Whatever surges up from his inside under the operation of a natural impulse and as a reaction to external stimuli, becomes manifest. It is possible that his natural impulses that are exhibited as a reaction to an external stimulus may not all be vicious, and some might resemble good morals, but they are normally not the consequences of reasonable reflection and consideration, and even if they are to some degree so motivated they cannot be relied upon on account of the domination of natural impulses.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

What makes true morals? 

“The time of true morals, whether good or bad, begins when a person’s reason becomes mature and he is able to distinguish between good and bad and the degree of evil and goodness, and begins to feel sorry when he misses an opportunity of doing good and is remorseful when he has done some wrong. This is the second stage of his life which is designated by the Holy Quran the self that reproves. It should, however be remembered that casual admonition is not enough to lead a barbarian to the stage of the self that reproves. It is necessary that he should become conscious of the existence of God to a degree at which he should not consider his creation as without purpose, so that an understanding of the Divine should stimulate his true moral qualities. That is why God Almighty has drawn attention to the need of understanding of the Divine, and has assured man that every act and moral produces an effect which brings about spiritual comfort or spiritual pain in this life, and will be manifested clearly in the hereafter. In short, at the stage of the self that reproves, a person is bestowed so much of reason and understanding and good conscience, that he reproves himself over a wrong done by him and is anxious to do good. That is the stage when a person acquires high moral qualities.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

What is the definition of morality?

Answered by Mirza Tahir Ahmad

Moral qualities correspond to physical actions

“The truth is that corresponding to every physical action there is an inner quality which is moral; for instance, a person sheds tears through the eyes and corresponding to that action there is an inner quality which is called tenderness, which takes on the character of a moral quality when, under the control of reason, it is exercised on its proper occasion. In the same way, a person defends himself against the attack of an enemy with his hands, and corresponding to this action there is an inner quality which is called bravery. When this quality is exercised at its proper place and on its proper occasion, it is called a moral quality. Similarly a person sometimes seeks to relieve the oppressed from the oppression of tyrants, or desires to make provision for the indigent and the hungry, or wishes to serve his fellow beings in some other way, and corresponding to such action there is an inner quality which is designated mercy. Sometimes a person punishes a wrongdoer and corresponding to such action there is an inner quality which is called retribution. Sometimes a person does not wish to attack one who attacks him and forbears to take action against a wrongdoer, corresponding to which there is a quality which is called forbearance or endurance. Sometimes a person works with his hands or feet or employs his mind and intellect or his wealth in order to promote the welfare of his fellow beings, corresponding to which there is an inner quality which is called benevolence. Thus, when a person exercises all these qualities on their proper occasions and at their proper places they are called moral qualities.” Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, First Question

Mirza Bashir-ud-din Mahmood Ahmad




Who is the perfect man- the moral exemplar? 

Every field of study has its central object. In medicine we seek a description and definition of the physically normal, healthy man, In the spiritual field we seek a description and definition of the spiritually perfect man. The first essential quality of a spiritually perfect man is that his relationship should be correct and right both with God his Creator, and man, his fellow-creatures. Both relationships should be right and correct. This is the definition of a perfect man laid down by the Promised Messiah — on him be peace. Relationship with fellow-men bifurcates into two: (1) relationship with one’s own self. As the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) clearly said: Thine own self has claims on thee. (2) Relationship with fellow-creatures.” Way of the Seekers

What are morals? 

“To deal with morals as a subject, we first need to have some kind of definition of the terms moral, morality or Khulq as they say in Arabic. On this apparently very simple subject, all religious teachings and philosophies, excepting those of Islam, have made mistakes. They have defined this term in a variety of ways. (1) According to some Khulq is a deep-rooted instinct or faculty which enables a person to choose and adopt a course of action instantly, without having to weigh or consider and judge; or to reject immediately a course of action, without any rational consideration. (2) According to a second way of thinking Khulq is a kind of sensitivity implanted in man, as evidence of the existence of a Being like God. (3) According to a third way of thinking, Khulq is a capacity which has evolved slowly and is now inherited from generation to generation. It consists of making and appreciating moral distinctions. Western philosophers seem to have arrived at this view.

To my mind, a moral state or moral activity comes into play when a person’s natural disposition begins to function in collaboration with his reason, and he or she becomes capable of choosing or rejecting the natural play of this disposition. If this play proceeds from a being devoid of reason, then the play is natural, not moral as in the case of animals or children. Animals love or behave in a friendly manner. But nobody calls them moral. Sometimes activities resembling human activities appear even in plants or metals or stones. We call such activities natural.

This part of the subject is difficult. But it is an essential link between what I have said so far and what I am going to say further.

I define moral action as action proceeding from a person who is capable of thinking and reasoning, also of choosing or rejecting a course of action. Such action could be good or bad.” -Way of the Seekers

What is the origin of morality? 

“Morals or near-morals are rooted in certain faculties or dispositions. They are to be found not in human beings only, but are found also in animals, plants and even stones. They are to be found not only in units but even in particles of which units are composed. Thus, as you move down from man to animals you can see in animal behaviour something similar to human behaviour. You can see pugnacious behaviour in both men and animals. You can see loving behaviour in men and in animals. Going still further down, we find in plants behaviour similar to the behaviour of man and animals. There are obvious differences, of course. Plant behaviour is subtle. But its similarity to the behaviour of man and animal is unmistakable. The tendency to give and take so obvious in man and animals is present also in plants. It is now accepted on all hands that there is sex in all or nearly all plants. The Holy Quran announced this long ago. It is when the male and the female plants unite that they yield fruit. This has been known about the date-palm for thousands of years, which shows there is sex in plants. The Indian scientist, Sir J. C. Bose, demonstrated this by means of sensitive instruments. Plants also display other responses and emotions like displeasure, disapproval, etc. The well-known plant called ‘Touch me not’ shrinks and dies at the slightest touch. If you touch its flower or fruit, it throws its seed, itself shrinking into a small size. An American tree loves meat. Take a meaty substance near it, it tends to burst with pleasure. If it is allowed to touch the substance, it shrinks away, then sucks the blood of the substance before throwing it away. These examples show that plants, like men and animals, can be stimulated. They respond to stimuli in characteristic ways.

Let us look lower down still at the minerals. Love is said to be a typically human moral quality. But what is love? It is to draw something to oneself. Does not a magnet draw a piece of iron to itself? One could say the magnet loves in a rudimentary manner. On the other hand, if two substances are charged with electricity of the same kind they begin to repel each other, as though they hate each other. This shows minerals in their way, at their level, display responses similar to those of men, animals and plants.

These responses are demonstrated by the tiniest particles. Without mutual attraction, there would have been no conglomeration of particles, no world. If particles did not have the disposition and faculty to attract each other and form bodies, it would have been impossible for anything to exist and survive in the world. It is this faculty of attraction which unites the particles into bodies. From all of which it follows that morals have their roots deep down into the last particles of matter. The deeper we go, the more and more examples, albeit of a rudimentary kind, of morals we find. At least their roots can be identified.

These examples should make it clear that the elements which make up moral qualities are to be found in their rudimentary form, at lower levels of existence, in animals, plants, minerals and down to the most elementary particles. I will now give some account of the elementary qualities which grow eventually acquire the character of moral qualities. Briefly, let me say that all forms of matter, including the most elementary forms, are spread out in six directions. These are the physical directions of up-down, right-left and front-back. Spiritual directions too are found in pairs. The same direction is up relatively to some things and down relatively to others, right relatively to some, and left relatively to others, in front relatively to some things, and at the back relatively of others. That is how we have the physical and the spiritual worlds spread out in three pairs, or a total of six directions. The pairs are active-passive or masculine-feminine or those capable of activating and those capable of being activated. It is obvious that anything incapable of being activated will not be activated. A good example is baker’s dough. Thrust your fist into it, the dough will make way, but not the hard top which does not accept the hand thrust. It follows that nothing can take place unless there is an efficient agent, on the one hand and a passive and ready to receive recipient, on the other. Every particle that exists is capable of both attracting and being attracted by something else.” -Way of the Seekers

What are the six axes of moral impulses? 

“The first spiritual direction or faculty we call attraction, the power to draw. Paired with it is the faculty to incline, to be drawn. As soon as conditions permit, a particle will either begin to draw another particle to itself or would be ready to be drawn towards some other particle. The same is the case with [the second] the faculty to repel and the correlated faculty to turn away or to be repelled.

The third spiritual direction is to destroy which is correlate of creation. Everything that comes into existence does so by sending out of existence many other things. Take as simple an act as the movement of my hand from one place to another. The earlier position of the hand disappears and dies and in its place a new position is created. So is the case with the particle of matter. When particles accept influence from outside and acquire a new shape, their earlier shape is gone. Similarly its correlate, destruction, has the faculty to destroy others and at the same time to destroy itself.

The fourth direction is the faculty to survive. Drop a thing; it will be stopped by a wall or a floor. This is the faculty to survive.

The fifth direction or pair of faculties is manifestation. Every particle has the faculty to enlarge other particles and make them manifest. Its correlate is self-manifestation. Every particle has the capacity to become manifest and prominent.

The sixth direction or pair of faculties is screening. Every particle has the faculty to screen another particle. The correlate of screening is the passive faculty of being screened, to accept another particle’s shadow, as it were.

These pairs of faculties, present in the tiniest of material particles, provide the ultimate theoretical basis of human morals. A steady process of growth and composition takes place which in the case of man assumes the most amazing forms. As matter becomes compounded, more and more elements conglomerate and the resulting behaviour becomes more variegated, more precise. Progressive change in the basis results in progressive change in behaviour. As we look inversely at this change we find its manifestation becoming lower and lower and more and more limited. While these properties operate under mechanical natural laws we can call their results good or bad — good or bad in relation to their functions. We cannot describe them as if they were moral qualities. Everything is either good or bad, in terms of its functional nature or efficiency and this grading applies in terms of the six pairs of basic faculties. Can the inter-behavioural modes of the six faculties be called moral? Let this stick drop on someone and hurt him. The person hurt will feel pain but will not blame the stick as ill-mannered or immoral. Similarly if a person chances to find a coin lying on the road, he would welcome the sight and be pleased. But he will not praise the coin for thus presenting itself to him. No credit attaches to the coin. In short, as long as the behaviour of things is in accordance with natural laws, we can call it good or bad only in a limited sense, but we cannot treat it as moral. They are good or bad for our purpose, in terms of our needs.

Often goodness or badness is just relative, from a particular point of view only. A bullet is fired, a man dies or is hurt. His friends will call it bad or unfortunate. But his enemies will have a different view altogether. The good or evil involved here is relative to a point of view. It is not moral in its own right. A natural process or the manifestation of a faculty takes place under natural laws. No will or intention is involved; therefore, it is not moral, though good from one point of view, bad from another.

However, when through progressive change matter emerges in the shape of man, the six paired faculties begin to manifest themselves in a thousand and one different ways. Man is fashioned out of matter but through an infinite number of changes, each more complicated than the last. The resulting behaviour also becomes more and more complicated at every stage. Colour and colour perception provide an excellent example. Basic colours are only a few, six or seven, or even three or four but by mutual adjustment, an infinite variety of colours can be produced. In case of man the basic pairs of faculties begin to express themselves in ever new combinations and compositions. Because these expressions are new, we can call them Khalq. In fact even human behaviour is compounded out of the six pairs of faculties which are to be found in the most elementary forms of matter. When we see them at work in minerals we call them powers or forces. In plants, we call them sensations. When found in animals we call them passions. In man, when they are unaccompanied by will and thought, we call them natural dispositions and expressions of natural instinct. When accompanied by will and thought, we call them Khulq, which is the peak of this progressive change from matter to man. We have this very picture set out in the Holy Quran:

Verily, We created man from an extract of clay. We then placed him as a drop of sperm in a safe depository. Then We fashioned the sperm into a clot, then We fashioned the clot into a shapeless lump, then We fashioned bones out of this shapeless lump, then We clothed the bones with flesh, then We developed it into a new creation. So blessed be Allah the Best of Creators.

(Holy Qur’an, 23:13-15)

Man is the acme of creation. All other creation is below him, under him. He is the top.” -Way of the Seekers

Why should we do good? 

“There should be one preponderant motive to all moral actions, high and low. This would be thawab or divinely determined merit

[Thawab] means the end, the ultimate end, for which life exists. Thawab has almost the same sense as the term summum bonum. Summum bonum for man is to become a perfect profile of God which indeed is the purpose of his creation. Morally and spiritually, we should become as holy and as perfect imitations of God as possible. Pure spirituality should be within our grasp. The rewards described in physical language and metaphors are to be interpreted like all metaphors. They are not the end we aim at, but adjuncts to the end. Adjuncts are adjuncts, not the end. A friend entertains a friend. The extra attention, the little things he provides and presents to the friend, are not the real purpose. The real purpose is the meeting of hearts and the meeting itself. So, here, thawab does not mean the eating and drinking which is done on the occasion, but getting close to the end which is to be as like God attributively as possible, to be as much of an abd as one can be. Says the Holy Quran:

I have not created the Jinn and men but that they may worship Me.

(Holy Qur’an, 51:57)

When actions are thus motivated, only then can they acquire the status of true morals.” Way of the Seekers

When are we deemed as good people in the eyes of God? 

“The Christian view is that a man has to possess all the virtues and to be free from all the vices, all defects, to be called a good man. Other religions have more or less followed the same line. But the Holy Quran says explicitly:

Then, as for him whose scales are heavy, he will have a pleasant life. But as for him whose scales are light, hell will be his resort.

(Holy Qur’an, 101:7-10)

For instance, if an examinee answers nine questions correctly but his answer to the tenth is not correct he will not be penalised for it. Similarly doctors too commit occasional mistakes but if by and large their patients get well, they are considered good doctors.

This means that a moral person is one the quantum of whose virtues is overwhelming by greater than that of his vices, or alternatively an immoral person would be one whose vices outweigh his virtues. This is unlike what other religions say. From their point of view, a person may live a clean, full and virtuous life; but let him commit one mistake and this would be enough to condemn him as immoral. The Islamic approach is different. In Islam a moral person is one who honestly and sincerely exerts himself to do the right, so much so that his virtues cover and score out his faults.” Way of the Seekers