Islamic Studies Ethics
Andrew March
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0021


Broadly speaking, the concept of “ethics” refers to any normative evaluation of acts. While some make a conceptual distinction between “morality” and “ethics,” based on a distinction between obligations of the “right” owed to other persons and the pursuit of the “good,” this entry will subsume under the term “ethics” both theories of moral obligation (to others, to God) and theories of the good, of virtue, or of cultivation of the self. According to this general conceptual definition, ethics in the Islamic tradition have taken a number of forms. Of course, all genres of Islamic ethics will have some relationship to the Qurʾan; however, there is a genre of scholarship that attempts to apprehend the moral vision of the Qurʾan in its own right, which is where this bibliography begins. In the Islamic tradition, study of the Qurʾan quickly became accompanied by meta-ethical theological debates about the ontology and epistemology of moral values and obligation. These theological debates were in some ways concerned with the same questions as Islamic philosophy inspired by the appropriation of Greek texts. Practical or applied ethics, on the other hand, were largely a matter for Islamic positive law and jurisprudence. Rather different approaches to morality and the good life can be found in the theories and practice of Islamic mysticism as well as the semi-secular humanist and literary tradition of adab.

General Overviews

The following four articles (Moosa 2005, Nanji 1991, Reinhart 2005, Stelzer 2008) give good, encyclopedia-style introductions to the distinctions discussed in the Introduction.

  • Moosa, Ebrahim. “Muslim Ethics?” In The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics. Edited by William Schweicker, 237–243. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

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    Moosa begins with the Abrahamic context of the Qurʾanic revelation, focuses on the broad historical trends of Islamic ethical traditions, theological presuppositions, and legal reasoning, and concludes with contemporary approaches.

  • Nanji, Azim. “Islamic Ethics.” In A Companion to Ethics. Edited by Peter Singer, 106–118. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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    A very good conceptual overview of the basis of Qurʾanic religious ethics with some summaries of the approaches of traditional theology, Muʿtazilism, falsafa, Sufism, Shiism and contemporary trends.

  • Reinhart, A. Kevin. “The Origin of Islamic Ethics.” In The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics. Edited by William Schweicker, 244–253. London: Blackwell, 2005.

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    A good introduction to the ethical vision of the Qurʾan and the origins of various approaches to applied ethics in the first three centuries of Islam.

  • Stelzer, Steffen A. J. “Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology. Edited by Tim Winter, 161–179. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    A very helpful introduction to various modes and methods of Islamic ethical thought, including the philosophical, theological and Sufi traditions.

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