moral compass

How having a Moral Compass influences behaviour

How having a Moral Compass influences behaviour

Journey of life Zishaan E Fatema Karim is a writer and a poet, passionate about making a difference and believes in beginning at the roots. She has a Montessori Diploma in Early Childhood Education and 4 decades’ experience in teaching as a Madrasah teacher She also writes children’s stories and creates comic strips and video stories for little children. She facilitates Teaching Skills Practice programs under the MCE of WF and Leadership and Mentorship Development Programs under CBG of AFed. “Small changes by many people equals a Big Change,” is her motto. With that, she anticipates the reappearance of Al Hujjah (atfs) and wishes to be a part of his system of governance.


ne’s moral compass plays a crucial role in guiding human interactions, influencing behaviour, and shaping ethical decisions in various social situations.

The idea of an intrinsic moral orientation is often observed in the early behaviour of children, where an internal struggle can be evident as they face temptations or consider wrongdoing. This internal dialogue or self-reflection is seen as an indication of an innate sense of morality. Over time, external influences and experiences may shape or challenge this innate moral compass, contributing to the complexity of individual moral development.

The “voice in the head” often starts as external guidance, often from parents or authority figures. As individuals mature, this guidance internalizes, forming their own moral compass. It becomes a personal guide, influencing decision-making and ethical considerations throughout life. This process reflects the evolution of moral development from external influences to an internalized sense of right and wrong.

While individuals have an inbuilt moral compass, various factors such as environmental influences, societal norms, personal circumstances, and psychological factors can impact decision-making. The analogy of a disturbed magnetic field affecting a compass aligns with the idea that external influences or internal conflicts can impact an individual’s moral compass.

Let me share a grim tale illustrating how a person’s upbringing can influence their actions and sense of morality. Once a young man was caught having committed a huge theft and he was going to be stoned to death. He was allowed to make his final wish and he asked for his mother. Feeling proud that he asked for her, the mother got up and crossed the crowd to go meet her son. As she went to him, he asked her to come closer. When they were so close that they could feel each other’s breaths, the young man bit the nose of his mother and said, ‘That was for not stopping me when I brought home stolen erasers and sharpeners from my classmates’ pencil cases as a child.’

This story suggests that the young man held resentment toward his mother for not stopping his childhood thefts, expressing his anger in a disturbing manner. Had she guided him then, when his moral compass was being formed, he would not be in the position he was in then!

This tale also exhibits the responsibility of parents and the community for doing the right things at the right time. This is where the two tenets of Furoo Ud Deen also come into play. A Muslim community prospers when Amr bil Ma’roof and Nahy anil Munkar are used appropriately to keep the community guided with the right morality standards.

The Holy Qur’an continuously asks man to reflect and ponder by phrases like:

Do you not then use your intellect? 2:44/76

Do you not then reflect? 5:60

There is a sign in it for those who ponder. 16:67

One who uses his intellect comes to the correct world view that answers three basic questions for him:

  1. Where did I originate from?
  2. Where am I going?
  3. Where am I now?

This worldview forms one’s faith and beliefs, and that gives him the right doctrine and values in life, which in turn determine his actions and behaviour.

While religion can provide a set of moral principles for some, non-religious individuals are also guided by a moral compass, deriving their moral values from sources like philosophy, humanism, or personal reflections. The absence of religious doctrine doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of moral values; people can still cultivate a strong ethical framework based on empathy, reason, and societal norms. Morality is diverse and can be grounded in both religious and secular perspectives.

The moral compass performs two main two tasks- guiding actions and appraising them. In Islamic terminology, along with the intellect, the Nafs can be one of the components of the moral compass. The concept of Nafs indeed plays a significant role in understanding the internal struggle related to morality.

The purification of the Nafs is thus emphasized as a path to spiritual success in the Holy Qur’an. When we look at Surah Ahs Shams, after 11 oaths, talking about the Nafs, Allah (swt) says,

“Indeed, one who purifies it is successful” 91:9

This process of purification involves self-discipline, moral reflection, and striving to align one’s actions with Divine values, ultimately leading to a purified and virtuous state of being.

When inner purification is neglected, external factors may disturb one’s ethical orientation, leading to behavior misaligned with moral standards. Cultivating inner virtues and ethical reflection becomes crucial in maintaining a consistent and morally upright outward behavior.

Deviation from moral behavior occurs mainly due to external pressures, situational factors, or personal flaws. Crimes may originate from a combination of these influences, leading individuals to act against their intrinsic moral compass in certain situations. Understanding these complexities, along with creating a correct worldview, allows one to address and prevent such deviation, and maintain the right conduct and behaviour in his private, as well as social, life.

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