Written by Dr. Mohd Sani Badron. Posted in The Star
Tried ethical virtues are called probity, while adherence to moral principles is termed integrity.
Interpreted and conceptualised according to the worldview of Islam, integrity and probity are discussed in Islamic ethics under the rubric of “sidq”.
So much significant integrity and probity are in reality, that in a passage of Abu Bakr’s speech when he was elected caliph after the Prophet’s demise, he declared that “the essence of sidq is amanah (being trustworthy), while the essence of kadhib is khiyanah (perfidy).”
It is indeed important to remember that Islam emphasizes not only upon the duty to be honest, truthful and trustworthy and hence not to be dishonest, deceitful, or untruthful at the individual level; but also, upon the social obligation to always support the truthful people, to associate with the truthful ones, and to keep their company.
This is evident in the following Qur’anic verse: “O believers, fear God, and be among those who are the truthful ones” (al-Tawbah, 9:119).
“Truthfulness,” as aptly observed by al-Qushayri, “is the supporting pillar of any state of affair, by it comes the perfection of the affair, and through it comes its order.” Well-known as a theologian and Sufi, Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072) used to teach traditions of the Prophet in the palace of caliph al-Qa’im in Baghdad.
It should be borne in mind that “honesty” already refers to comprehensive moral traits, covering being truthful in speech, fairness in dealing with others, keeping one’s promises, being trustworthy, duly repaying one’s debt, being responsible, and so on. Such is a conclusion made by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, in their study of important statements on man and his institutions by the great thinkers in western history. (See, their Great Treasury of Western Thought, page 668).
Such a moral ideal of being rectitude in intention, speech and action is arguably more emphatically couched by the term “integrity”.
Derived from the Latin integer, meaning entire or untouched, integrity implies moral “incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge”.
Abu ‘Ali al-Daqqaq, who is a Sufi master as well as father in law of the above mentioned al-Qushayri, once remarked, “Truthfulness is that you be with people just as you perceive yourself to be or that you perceive yourself to be just as you are.”
Within a spiritual fellowship, sidq or sincerity and truthfulness, therefore, comes highest after the grade of prophethood, as God says, “(Those who obey God and the Messenger) are in the company of those on whom God has blessed-the prophets and the veracious…” (al-Nisa’, 4: 69).
While the term sadiq (truthful one) is derived from truthfulness, the term used in that Qur’anic verse is siddiq (exceedingly truthful, veracious), which is the intensified form of the former, being he who is pervaded by truthfulness. The lowest degree of truthfulness is that both one’s inner being and outward actions are in harmony with revealed guidance.
In other words, while the sadiq is one who is truthful in word, the siddiq is one who is truthful in all his words, deeds, and inward states.
Hence, to be the siddiq is in general comparable to what John Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture has described: “to speak and act truth with constancy and precision.”
Such an attitude is referred to by Samuel Johnson as “a strict attention to truth, even in the most minute particulars.”
It is also well said by al-Qushayri that “truthfulness means asserting the truth even in times of peril.”
Abu Sa‘id al-Qarshi hence noted, “The truthful one is he who is ready to die and he who would not be ashamed if his secret were disclosed”, reflecting God’s challenge, “Wish for death if you are truthful” (al-Baqarah, 2: 94).
“Integrity” reflects well the inner self of an honest man, who is conscious that to be morally corrupt means to violate the unity of his human self as a whole-to at once betray the wholesomeness of his very self and human society whose general welfare he partakes.
Compare this with how The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines “integrity: most simply a synonym for honesty. But integrity is frequently connected with the more complicated notion of a wholeness or harmony of the self, associated with a proper conception of oneself as someone whose life would lose its unity, or be violated…”
Hence, to be dishonest is to lose harmony in both the private and public life.
When al-Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 243/857) was asked about the signs of truthfulness, this great authority in Islamic ethics answered, “The truthful one is he who would not be concerned if the welfare of his heart demanded that all his fame among men should vanish. He does not want even one jot of his good works to be known by men, nor does he care if men were to know his wrongdoings. Any desire to be held in the good opinion of men is not a characteristic of the truthful.”
For al-Muhasibi, ethical integrity can be attained through God-consciousness, the observation of religion-moral obligations, abstaining from that which He forbids, acting in all things only for Him, and taking His Prophet as a model.