When the Prophet Muhammad’s mission was coming to an end, he delivered a famous ‘farewell sermon’ to a large gathering of his followers, in the year 632AD. In it, he famously said he was leaving behind two things, the Scripture (the Qur’an) and his own example (the Sunnah)… if Muslims held onto the guidance and teachings within these, Muslims would fare well. The values, ethics and principles within the Qur’an, which resonate within his example, are therefore essential for a healthy Islamic life. So what are these values?
The values contained within the Qur’an and the examples demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad are the values that so many will recognise as good ‘salt of the earth’ qualities. Compassion, charitable action, honesty, spreading peace, looking after the earth, modesty, good character, speaking well, respecting people’s privacy, keeping people safe, social justice, gratitude, equality, having good intentions, remembering others less well, kindness to people and animals, preserving life, enjoining good, stopping wrong, perseverance, eating well, smiling, living a life of balance, honouring one’s word, spreading peace are among the central teachings emphasised for doing good and having good conduct.
Although many books begin by stating the Prophet Muhammad founded Islam, Muslims do not actually see his mission that way. If anything, the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad strongly emphasise that Muhammad is not bringing a new religion, and that people and civilisations in the past has also been sent Prophets, all of whom brought the same essential teachings about goodness and righteous actions. Given this, the values and teachings of Islam do not claim to be something different and alien, but the opposite, values that are instinctively recognisable as common, inherent goodness. Many of the lessons grandma would teach her blossoming grandchild.
As time moves on and technology changes the way we live, the way we interpret and practice the values we hold to be important can also change. Our understanding of social justice or equality for example has evolved and adapted. Nevertheless, the principles and aims of our values often stay the same. The challenge for modern Muslims then, is to stay true to these commonly held values whilst applying them to new environments or realities.