Summary of 6.2 “Foundations of Islamic Ethics”
The first thing we discussed was the difference between religious and secular morality.’ We said that in religious morality covers basic subjects like the concept of God, belief in the hereafter, nature of the human beings and a person’s role on earth.’ In regards to the concept of God we saw how Islam insists on pure and perfect monotheism and rejects the philosophical notion of God as being an impersonal being that is so high or great that He is totally separate from the universe or that he is totally identical with it.

We indicated also that Muslims believe in God as a personal God.’ We also said that Islam rejects the polytheistic notion of God, the belief in other gods beside God or minor gods, which is contradictory to logic and science.’ The universe is ruled by one ultimate will as there can be no two conflicting powers.

Third we said that when we compare Islamic monotheism with the concept of God in the Bible (in both The Old and New Testaments) we find that there are differences.’ In The Old Testament we are left with the impression that God was perceived to be a supper human as He is described as someone who walks and needs rest after having created the heavens and earth and in The New Testament it addresses the necessity of blood sacrifice in order for God in order for God to accept mankind.’ Similarly we have indicated that the importance of this pure consistent belief in God is essential and related to the ethical outlook of the believer.

In a similar way we discussed the belief in the hereafter.’ We said that Islam does not accept the notion of renouncing this world in order to earn the hereafter and that both should be coordinated and harmonized in order for the person to fulfill his duty on earth.

6.3′ Human Nature in Islam

Host:’ What are some views that are held by others regarding human nature?

Jamal Badawi:

The first common view that addresses human nature views the human as an evolving animal.’ In this view the basic nature of the human is materialistic that had no divine plan for the creation of the human on earth.’ The second view is that the human is a spiritual being.’ The soul is over emphasized in this view while the body is nothing more than an illusion that should be neglected or tortured in order to free the soul from the shackles of materialism.’ A third approach regards the human as an intellectual being with an over emphasis on the intellectual qualities of the human.’ This view regards intellect as the master of everything and as the ultimate judge over revelation.’ Fourthly, there is the view that a human is a sinful being.’ Sin in this case is essential in human existence, as mankind inherited sin and is desperately looking for salvation.’ Some scholars refer to the writings of Paul who regarded sin as a universal tendency and human beings as people who are enslaved by their flesh’s nature.’ In this view the wages of sin is death and salvation is not through the law but only through blood sacrifice.

Host:’ What is a Muslim’s point of view in regards to these views?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all Islam rejects the notion of regarding the human as an animal and that there is no divine plan behind creation.’ In the Quran in (54:49) ‘Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure.” A similar verse appears in (25:2) ‘He who created all things, and ordered them in due proportions.” Thus the notion of hap-hazard existence is alien to the mind of a Muslim.’ The notion of regarding the human as an animal is described in the Quran as very erroneous as found in the Quran in (47:12) ‘those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode.” In (7:178) it talks about those who over emphasize material existence and forget about the existence of the soul and how they are less guided than animals because animals don’t have the spirituality and knowledge that we have.

In regards to the human only being a spiritual being, we do believe in the soul, but the problem again is the over emphasis of the spiritual aspect at the expense of the material aspect.’ An example would be torturing the body because of the belief that the salvation of the soul is achieved by neglecting the body.’ This belief leads to celibacy and monasticism which goes against human nature.’ There are a few people who can take the discipline of this highly saintly type of behavior which can not be expected from average people.’ Also civilization would not be able to perpetuate itself.’ Once people are pushed against their natural needs which are partly physical then they are also being pushed to discard the law.

If we look at the point that views the human as an intellectual being, we can see that intellect is very useful but can be deficient.’ There are lots of sources of knowledge, intellect is a very important one but is not all.’ When we talk about intellect whose intellect are we talking about?’ Do we follow my intellect, your intellect, his intellect or her intellect?’ There is always a lack of an ultimate standard of right or wrong and as such to over emphasize intellect is to worship it and forget that there are other sources of knowledge.

The fourth item regards the human essentially as a sinful being which contradicts with Islamic teachings which does not accept any notion of original sin.’ Islam does not regard the human as a falling being.’ Mankind is actually regarded as a special creature who is trying to rise above his or her shortcomings and to overcome the weaknesses that might be inherent in his or her creation.’ Again the whole notion of original sin is not inline with the Islamic idea of mankind.

Host:’ How do Muslims interpret the story of Adam and Eve without accepting the doctrine of original sin?

Jamal Badawi:

There is no dispute that the story of Adam and Eve appears in the Quran however the way it is interpreted is quite different.’ When the Quran talks about the story of Adam and Eve it does not present only as the story of the first man and woman but rather it depicts the ethical experience of Adam and Eve as well as every other human being.’ Each human being has within himself the spirit of God but is also created from matter.’ How a person fulfills his spiritual aspiration and yearning with the limitations of the physical body is in itself the experience that Adam and Eve have gone through.’ The physical part of our existence is what tempts us to disobey God and our spirituality pulls us out of this.’ We fall make mistakes and our spirit is what helps us recover or overcome this.’ In addition to this when the Quran speaks about the story of Adam and Eve it addresses the fact that they committed their mistake, realizing their mistake, repenting and praying sincerely to God who forgave both of them.’ An example of this is found in the Quran in (2:37).’ There was no original sin as God who created Adam and Eve knew their weaknesses, He know that they could not help it at times so He forgave them when they showed a sincere attitude and as such it ended there.’ The Quran is very clear that sin can not be inherited and no soul can carry the burden of another soul or passed on to a future generation.’ In Islam every child is born pure just like a white cloth.’ To say that a person is born with tendencies towards sin is a different issue than saying that someone comes into this world a sinful person.’ The other thing is that human existence on earth is not a punishment for what is so called original sin because there is no original sin.

Life on earth was planned by God as we were destined to live on earth.’ Before the human being was created God was telling the angels that He is going to create trustees that will live on earth.’ So what happened with Adam and Eve was just a lesson they had to go through before coming to earth.

So what do we do if we as humans have a tendency to sin?’ The Islamic approach is very simple and direct.’ First acknowledge the sin, feel sorry about it, earnestly pray for forgiveness and have the determination not to fall into it again and if the sin involves the right of another person the fourth condition would be to return whatever was taken from them or to ask them for their forgiveness.’ In a simple and direct approach the Quran says (3:135) ‘And those who, having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins,- and who can forgive sins except Allah.- and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done.” Another example is found in (11:114) ‘For those things, that are good remove those that are evil.” In a very moving citation in (20:32) ‘But, without doubt, I am (also) He that forgives again and again, to those who repent, believe, and do right, who,- in fine, are ready to receive true guidance.” This is a very simple direct approach of sin and the redemption of sin.

Host: ‘What is the Islamic view point on human nature?

Jamal Badawi:

A human being is regarded by Islam as the trustee of God.’ In the Quran in (2:30) ‘Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I will create a vicegerent on earth.’ They said: ‘Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?’ He said: ‘I know what ye know not.” Here the term khalifah, the trustee of God, was very specifically mentioned as the essence of the human being.’ In a very similar citation in (6:165) it says ‘it is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth.” This does not mean that God needs our help but rather it shows the dignity that God has endowed on mankind.’ The essence of the khilafah starts with the notion that the human being is regarded as the crown of creation as shown in the Quran and even Angels were commanded to bow down in respect to man kind.’ The Quran also says in (17:70) ‘We have honored the children of Adam.’

The secret for the honoring of mankind is that only the human being has to integrate and harmonize the various components of his existence by utilizing his physical body, intellect and soul.’ We find that the Quran describes the human as having been created from clay, the material part, in chapter two it talks about God teaching mankind his intellect, and in (15:29) it talks about having the spirit of God within him and that God breathed into mankind of His spirit.

The reason why human beings are dignified is that they have free choice, and the potential for good and evil.’ In (90:10) the Quran states clearly that God has ‘shown him the two highways’ of truth and falsehood.’ In (76:3) it says ‘We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will).” In (18:29) God gives the human being the choice when it says ‘”The truth is from your Lord”: Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it)’ and each will deal with the consequences of their actions.

The fourth point of why a human is the trustee is the notion of responsibility.’ Responsibility goes side by side with freedom of choice.’ First of all, in the Quran in (75:36) it says ‘Does man think that he will be left uncontrolled, (without purpose)?” Thus if there is responsibility and purpose on earth, it follows that one will be questioned about this responsibly.’ Another verse in the Quran in () says ‘Did ye then think that We had created you in jest, and that ye would not be brought back to Us (for account)?” As a response to some of the people who used to talk in pride about their ancestors (when people talked about their relation to Abraham and other Israelite prophets) the Quran says in (2:141) ‘That was a people that hath passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and ye of what ye do!” In the time of the Prophet (PBUH) some of the Israelite used to boast that if they were going to go to the fire will only touch them for a few days in (2:80) ‘And they say: ‘The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days:’ Say: ‘Have ye taken a promise from Allah, for He never breaks His promise? or is it that ye say of Allah what ye do not know?” Addressing the Muslims themselves in order to avoid the attitude of spiritual arrogance the Quran says in (4:123) ‘Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides Allah, any protector or helper.” It is essential when we talk about the trusteeship of mankind on earth that we realize that it is a big job and we will be held responsible for our deeds.