The Ethics of Decent Behavior in Islam (Adab al-Muasharat).Part1

The Ethics of Decent Behavior in Islam (Adab al-Muasharat).Part1


The Arabic root “adb” means “feast or invitation”; the word “adab,” which is derived from this root, carries the meanings of “decency,” “politeness,” “reverence,” and “high regard,” as well as “refined manners that have been socially adopted.”

Adab, then, refers to all guidelines about words and deeds that are considered proper, mannerly, ethical, and morally correct in Islam. In this respect, adab indicates the minimum level of good or moral behavior that people should follow.

  • In his book Al-Tarifat Sayyid Sharif writes that adab “is the knowledge that saves one from erring.”
  • Ibn Hajar said that “Adab is to say  and  do  that which is commendable and of merit; that is, to possess good moral character.

In the same way that there are people who interpret adab as meaning ‘acting in good and appropriate ways,’ or ‘acting respectfully towards elders and treating the young with kindness and compassion’ there are also scholars who believe the word originated from madaba, a word that means banquet.’”

There is no direct reference to the word adab or its derivatives in the Qur’an. However, the related word da’b, which means way, path, manner, or custom, is used, for instance in the verse,

 “(Their way is) as the way of Pharaoh’s folk and those before them” (Anfal  8:54).

Similarly,  daab, which  appears  in  the  verse,

“You shall sow for seven years as usual,” (Yusuf 12:47)

means as usual. In yet another verse, the related word daibayn is used to mean constant:

“And He has made the sun and the moon constant in their courses…” (Ibrahim 14:33).

However, the word adab does appear in Prophetic traditionsIn the hadith

“My Lord trained me and gave me adab and He gave me the best training,”

adab is used to mean training or education.

When Junayd al-Baghdadi set out on his pilgrimage, he saw that the disciples of Abu Hafs in Baghdad were extremely mannerly and polite. He said to the scholar,

“You have taught your followers adab that is befitting of courtiers.” Abu Hafs replied, “No, their inner adab is reflected in their outward  actions,”  implying that their behavior arose from their heart.

This is striking, as it underlines the importance of maintaining good social relationships with everyone. In fact, some have said that adab is an outward sign that reveals the greatness of a person’s character. It is for this reason that one of the most important responsibilities of parents is to give their children adab and moral training. Adab is like a garment for the soul, or the inner strength of the spirit that saves one from erring or doing inappropriate things.

  • The term adab in Islamic jurisprudence refers to “behavior befitting the example of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.” 
  • Accordingly, the term adab implies “avoidance of anything that is contrary to the Sunna or the practice of the Prophet.” 

In a broader sense, adab is to act in accordance with the commands and admonitions of God and His Messenger.

Religiously, adab falls into the category of sunna ghayr mu’akkada, that is, actions which the Prophet performed at times; therefore, the execution of such actions is to be rewarded, but the abandonment of them is not reproachable. Adab is also used interchangeably for recommended (mustahab) acts, supererogatory acts, or virtuous acts. Acts that are defined as part of adab are divinely rewarded, praiseworthy manners that were recommended and encouraged by the Prophet.

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