Moral Teachings of Islam- Foundations of Islamic Ethics

Summary of 6.1 “Main Ethical Questions”
There is hardly any difference among people of today that the world is facing a crisis as our civilization is being threatened.’ Some say that the problem is economic, social, technical or political which only emphasizing the symptoms of the problem rather than the real causes.’ We tried to indicate last time that at the heart of all of these problems is basically a moral crisis.’ We also indicated that ethics and morality can either be secular or religious.’ The last program focused on secular morality and how it addresses some of the issues that are faced in ethical systems.

The points covered were mainly: what is the ultimate good one should strive for, what are the sources of knowledge for good and evil, whom has the right to sanction the moral or ethical code and finally what motivates the individual internally to follow the moral code.’ The thrust of the program was a discussion and critique of how secular morality answers these questions.’ For example one answer was that happiness is the ultimate good one should strive for.’ Some said that perfection and others said that duty for the sake of duty is ultimate good.’ Sources of knowledge of good and evil were suggested to include human experience or empiricism, intuition, inspiration or reason.’ Again in terms of sanctions and motives for morality there are various explanations given as people may do it in pursuit of happiness, perfection or because of political or social pressure.

In our basic critique of how secular morality answers these questions first of all we indicated that there is lack of clarity in defining what exactly is meant by happiness.’ The answer to any given question is never the same, thus there is no clear stable ethical moral system in the secular system.’ The main problem is that the secular system tries to establish a system completely separate from God which is probably the heart of the problem.

6.2′ Foundations of Islamic Ethics
Host:’ What are the main differences between secular ethics and religious morality and ethics?

Jamal Badawi:

Basically the difference between the two is that religious morality is based on the belief in God as the creator of the universe and second in the belief in the hereafter.’ The problem here is that the fundamentals of religious morality is not all the same for all religions.

Host:’ What is the Muslim concept of God as it relates to the ethical system?

Jamal Badawi:

Essentially a Muslim believes in absolute perfection, sovereignty and lordship of God as he is the only creator and sustainer of this universe.’ Some of the major divine attributes of God include things like absolute perfection, absolute life, absolute knowledge, absolute power, absolute mercy and absolute justice.’ I would also like to indicate that the emphasis in Islam on the absolute transcendence and perfection of God goes hand in hand with the emphasis on God as a personal God.’ This is important in relating to some of the philosophical ideas about God being so transcendent that He is so different and removed from this universe.’ Many philosophers like Plato and Aristotle believe in the Hellenistic philosophy which believes that God is impersonal.’ They believe that He is identical with the world or totally separate from it.’ This is not the view held by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The question of God as a personal God in Islam is a relationship which is a loving conscious submission to the will of God.’ The question of closeness is reflected very succinctly in the Quran (50:16) where God says ‘We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.” In Islam we have both the absolute power and transcendence of God alongside His direct relationship with mankind.

Host:’ How different is this concept of God than that held by other religious communities?

Jamal Badawi:

When we talk about religious morality we are talking about ultimate ideal, supreme good and the highest model for human conduct.’ This is not a major problem in Islam because of the Muslim belief in one supreme and universal God whose divine attributes are not shared by any of his creators which automatically leads us to a moral and ethical system which is completely stable.’ This is the only plausible explanation about God which is consistent with the scientific mind of today.

Any person whom observes the phenomena in nature can see that there are certain permanent laws that the universe doesn’t work in a hap hazard way and there is definitely coordination between the different components of this universe.’ This in itself leads to the conclusion that there must be a single and uniform will behind creation.’ Some people like to refer to this as the laws of nature, but as a believer one should put it as the laws that God created in nature.’ If we look at this issue using fair minded scientific deductions of the universe we will come to the conclusion that there is a single will and creator behind it all. ‘If we compare this to polytheism we run into difficulties.’ By definition polytheism believes in more than one ultimate will or sovereign which can not be.’ The Quran makes it very clear when it says (21:22) ‘If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides Allah, there would have been confusion in both!” Polytheism covers all beliefs in more than one god, creators sharing some or all of God’s divine attributes or the belief in minor gods who might intercede between man and God.

Host:’ What is the Biblical concept of God compared to the Islamic concept of God as revealed in the Quran?

Jamal Badawi:

The extent of difference between Islamic monotheism and the concept of God as depicted in the Bible is not as large as the difference between Islamic monotheism and other forms of polytheism which are totally rejected on the part of the Muslim.’ There is a very common error that is repeated by authors that write about Islam that gives the impression that the Islamic concept of monotheism is simply a kind of extension or based on the Biblical concept of God.

There are many scholars (non-Muslim) who have pointed out that among the early Israelites the conception of God was of a sort of supper human being.’ If we look at the book of Genesis it describes God as needing rest after He created the heavens and earth and that He walked in the Garden and that Adam and Eve heard the sound of his feet.’ Sometimes He was depicted as a God who is jealous of the power of humans like in the famous story of Babble and when the humans began to build the tower of Babble God said that they were becoming very smart and that is why He changed the language of some of them which his the explanation of having different languages in the Bible.’ In other places God is depicted as someone who makes mistakes and of people correcting Him.’ Many times in the Bible the term God of Israel is used giving the impression that He is more of a tribal God.’ When we see these descriptions we can see the justification of the scholars who said that God was viewed more as a super human which doesn’t match with the transcendence of God and his total freedom from these human defects.’ Also, to contrast the idea that He is only God of Israel we find that the first chapter in the Quran says ‘Lord of the universe’ and the last chapter in the Quran describes God as ‘Lord of mankind’ not of Arabs, Muslims, or any other group but of all of humanity.’ In between the first and last chapter of the Quran it is consistent that God is of the whole of mankind and not a specific group of people.’ We can conclude that the Islamic concept of monotheism is definitely far from being a replica of what is found in the Bible.

In the New Testament we find certain passages are attributed to Prophet Jesus (PBUH) which indicate that he is the son of God who came to shed his blood on the cross in order to save humanity.’ From the Quranic point of view we find that this concept of God is not acceptable.’ A Muslim believes that Jesus is a holy, righteous and noble prophet from among the greatest prophets of God.’ Jesus is exclusively human just like all other prophets of God.’ In Islamic monotheism is definitely the purest and highest form that we can think of in terms of purity of monotheism and it is extremely erroneous to say that Prophet Muhammad is a replica of the Biblical concept of God.

Host:’ How doest the difference you described effect the question of ethics?

Jamal Badawi:

Last week for example we discussed the fundamental question of ethics which is to identify the supreme Good in order to establish some sort of criteria for good and bad.’ If the conception of the highest ideal which is God, in the case of religious morality, is mixed up with imperfections, errors or inconsistencies then how can it be used as an absolute source of morality?

When a believer upholds pure monotheism where God is totally and completely perfect and free from any imperfections that apply to us as humans and when this belief is so consistent and coherent that there are no vague doctrines or inconsistencies a stable source can be referred to as ultimate good. ‘Another point is that by acknowledging God as the soul provider of all gifts in this life leads people to be faithful and to lovingly and consciously submit with loyalty to God.’ Submission is the meaning of the term Islam.

By believing in God and His perfection and divine attributes as the soul power in this universe and as the ultimate deity who has full and perfect knowledge it follows that God knows what is in our hearts and minds and that we can not hide anything from Him.’ This results with a feeling of self control as one knows that they can get away with stuff if they are not caught but that they can’t get away from the all encompassing knowledge of God.

Host:’ You had mentioned that the belief in the hereafter is the difference between religious and secular ethics.’ Can you explain some of the views held by religions other than Islam on the issue of life in the hereafter?

Jamal Badawi:

For example, eastern religions look at the pleasures of this life as something that passes which is common in other religions but their conclusion is different.’ They conclude from this that because they are passing pleasures there is no sense to try to get anything in this universe.’ Their attitude is that the best thing to do in this life is to renounce the body, physical existence, and to focus on purifying the soul.’ Saving their soul means getting it out of the shackles of material and leading a life of meditation becomes their ideal way of living.’ This is not limited to eastern religions as we find in a book by E.F. Scott called The Ethical Teachings of Jesus he indicates that some of the early Christians (of the first, second and third century) tended to uphold similar views that somehow the kingdom of God is only going to take place in the future and that denouncing this world would be an act of piety.

Host:’ How does the Islamic view point of life in the hereafter contrast with the above view?

Jamal Badawi:

Islam teaches that the belief in the hereafter should not mean in any sense neglect of this life.’ The Quran says in (28:77) when addressing Qarun, one of the contemporaries of Moses, ‘but seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world.” Islam firmly holds the belief in life in the hereafter but ultimate righteousness is not to renounce this world but rather that we should coordinate this life with the life hereafter.’ One aspect of preparing for life hereafter is to accumulate credit for salvation by struggling on this earth to achieve justice right here on earth.’ Yes the kingdom of God is partly in the hereafter but the other part is right here.

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