Understanding the Theme of Values in the Quran

A Thematic Interpretation of the Quran - 6

The major theme of the Quran we are going to discuss in this episode is a theme that has an impact on our lives and our thinking and the way we should understand Islam. It is the theme of values (qiyam).

So turn your face to that valuable faith… (30:43)

What is valuable in your life? How do you assess value in your life?

Unfortunately, as we all know, the material assessment of value is overwhelming in our time. So it’s important that we go back to that theme of assessing values and understanding values, and seeing what does the Quran teach us. What does Allah intend to teach us in terms of values so that we can establish these values in our lives and in our actions.

If we analyze the Quran thematically looking for values, we will see three kinds of values:

– A value we could call in Arabic An-naf’ (utility)

– A value we could call Al-khuluq (morality or virtue)

– And a third value that we could call Al-jamal, or ihsan (beauty)

These three kinds of values integrate with each other.

1- There is utility in things, it’s true that the material benefit of what you do is important, even though the material benefit is not just accumulation; it could be a kind of happiness, it could be a kind of pleasure within what Allah allowed… but this is one side of values.

2- There is another side of values, which is moral values. Usually, they’re expressed in virtues, not necessarily in the Greek sense, but virtues in the Quran are expressed in a very unique way as well.

3- There is a value of beauty, the value that Allah has associated so much with the root word ihsan (excellence).

The Value of Utility

Now, if you look at utility, you will see that Allah said:

Your parents or your children – you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit. (4:11)

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

Be keen to gain what benefits you.

The benefit is something that we look for. But benefits are not just according to how pleasurable we find them to be, but they have to integrate with the other themes of the rules, of the universal laws, the objectives… Not everything that we feel is beneficial is actually a value in Islam, because some of these things that we find pleasurable are actually harmful and not beneficial.

How do you know? What balance you can use?

It is the balance of the word of Allah and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Therefore, the utility is a value, but it does not mean, on the other hand, that we exploit our natural resources. There is a concept that is called “At-Taskhir” or making the universe available, making it beneficial for us.

Allah talked about this many times in the Quran that He did this taskhir (make things beneficial for us): the sun, the moon, the mountains, the skies, water… all of this is made available for us. But this does not give us a carte blanche to kind of exploit or destroy what Allah made beneficial.

The animals are also beneficial for us, but it does not mean that we make their lives miserable or destroy the species but making this available according to the other rules that Allah told us He made.

The Value of Morality

The second dimension is morality. And in this case, there are certain moral values that Allah is teaching us in the Quran.

The way morality is presented in Islam is not through a philosophical argument, whatever that is, it is actually through the example of Prophets.

Also, through the example of pious people who were observing these values in their moral system and in their moral framework.

It was through the example of Yusuf (peace be upon him) and other examples that Allah mentioned in the Quran that we understand chastity for example. We can’t argue for chastity philosophically, otherwise, we end up with the relativistic kind of chastity, or a conditional kind of chastity based on our own minds and our own logic.

But Allah is giving us the example of chastity in particular stories and particular examples so that we know exactly what chastity means.

So, in the case of Yusuf (peace be upon him) when the wife of the minister tried to seduce him, and when he refused that kind of offer, he is showing us an example of chastity. And the rest of the story clarifies this value for us.


The values of courage that the Quran is talking about in terms of Prophets, especially Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in his life. The example of Prophet Muhammad that we read in the books of Hadith and the books of Seerah are part of this too, but the Quran is the best book of Hadith and the best book of Seerah.

We sometimes don’t give this fact due attention, but if you want to learn about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it is the Quran first and under that you put the narrations of companions and followers who came after them and how they saw bits and pieces of his life, and tried to tell us about them. But the bigger picture is in the Quran.

This is how the Seerah should be “chaptirized” and understood in terms of events because it gives a different perspective from every human perspective that the narrators had given us, with all the respect to their integrity, especially the ones who are authentic.

I am talking about how the Quran is giving us the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) proper, and how we understand morality through his example.

The Value of Beauty

Beauty in Islam is not just material beauty, it’s not just the superficial beauty. The superficiality of knowledge or beauty are not only the kinds of beauty that the Quran is telling us to look for. It is actually telling us to look for beauty in many other things, not just how beautiful people are, but how beautiful animals are, for example:

And for you in them is [the enjoyment of] beauty when you bring them in [for the evening] and when you send them out [to pasture]. (16:6)

Allah is talking about beauty in nature, the different colors that you see, flowers, trees, the leaves, the fish… Allah is telling us a lot about how beautiful the universe is. This is very important for our well-being, and our faith, and our understanding of Islam.

Allah is also telling us about beauty in actions, like “beautiful patience”. Look at this expression how Allah is teaching us a dimension of beauty that has to do with our actions.

Even actions that could be unpleasant, or events in circumstances between people that could be unpleasant, Allah is telling us to keep it beautiful, like the case of divorce:

Divorce is twice. Then, either keep [her] in an acceptable manner or release [her] with good treatment. (2:229)

Even though divorce is a painful event, it has to be beautiful. Allah is teaching us how to build your value system through the values of utility, the values of morality, and the values of beauty.

That is how a Muslim approaches the events that he sees in life. You approach big and small questions that you have through a value system that is a theme of the Quran, that is structured according to that theme, not according to our philosophical whims.

It’s important to give this theme due attention.

We ask Allah to teach us.

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4Part 5

About Dr. Jasser Auda
Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.