Universal Ethical Laws

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 27, 2020

The following explanations are intended to clarify the nature of the universal ethical laws of Islam which are shared but not exclusively embodied by Eman:

  1. These ethical guidelines are meant to restrain human behavior. One may call them our inner conscience (al-dhameer), something we attain through education.
  2. They are essential, innate moral values that exist only within our human consciousness. One can easily transgress ethical rules and violate moral injunctions because they are, insofar as they do not objectively exist, inherently weak. Therefore, every civilized society is compelled to firmly establish them as social rules by way of reward and sanction. Those who dare to undermine these values by reckless, unsocial behavior must be prosecuted without mercy.
  1. In principle, these guidelines do not need to be explained to people nor should they be imposed upon people by force, because they are part of a human’s innate disposition, and people therefore absorb these moral values naturally and instinctively. Thus, sincerity and honesty are natural virtues, while fraud and deceit are despicable. These things are neither culturally nor historically conditioned.

4-These moral injunctions are social obligations that cannot be disputed or become the subject of public referenda. They are social facts whose content and meaning are unambiguous. Lies or disrespect of parents will always be seen as repulsive behavior and cannot be reinterpreted as honesty or respect. To establish these moral values as social norms does not imply a denial that immorality and evil exist in this world. islam is a realistic and pragmatic religion in which there is no room for beatified, unreal visions or fantasies. It knows how to accept both good and evil in this world, in the same way as it acknowledges the existence of death. We hear it in the Book: ‘Every soul shall have a taste of death; and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must you return’ (Al-Anbiya” 21:35).

  1. These guidelines reflect universal values that encompass all periods of human history. This means that their ethical truth is hidden beneath their explicit expressions in the Book. The vast potential of ethical truth is not exhausted by explicit expressions of moral guidelines. In other words, one may add other moral guidelines and expand on those that already exist. What is required is human wisdom, not divine revelation. Moral guidelines are formulated by the most astute people of a society who know how to harmonize ethical rules with the life experiences of the common people and how to link them to the accumulated wisdom of their cultural past. Undoubtedly, history offers people much wisdom and is, at the same time, their fiercest admonisher, since it relentlessly mirrors the real experiences that people have in their daily lives.
  1. All these moral guidelines are firmly interlinked, forming a holistic net of strings and connections; no partition or division is allowed, because there is only one, undividable path. The Book puts it like this: ‘Verily, this is My way, leading straight, follow it’..( Al-An’am 6:151–53).
  2. To adhere to these moral guidelines does not depend on the individual’s strength and human capability. To believe in God and to follow these moral commandments requires neither special skills nor high intelligence. One does not need to be exceptionally gifted in order to know that the killing of other people is wrong.

Such an aversion is engrained in human nature. One may, perhaps, compare the pillars of al-Islam and its commandments to what we know from counting goals in football: it is, for example, either 1 or 0 but never anything in between. The Book says: ‘O believers, fear Allah as He should be feared, and do not die except as Muslims It means that al-Islam and its pillars demand that we fear Allah as He should be feared. And everyone who thinks this verse has been abrogated by verse 64:16 has been spitefully deceived.

Morality is here understood as a socio-spiritual law that lays the foundation of the relationship between the members of the human race. It distinguishes human beings from animals and it is effective, regardless of the economic structure in a society. The morality of al-Islam is characterized by universal validity. It achieves its characteristic as ‘general ethics’ through its status as divine revelation. This morality differs from mere custom and tradition, which, although mentioned in the Book, were neither stated as precise rules nor—because of their nature as constantly changing social practice— explicitly particular norms. In contrast, social ethics were revealed in the form of commandments, the al-furqan, from Noah onwards until Muhammad. They are still valid at the present time and are shared by many different cultures in the world; they are enforced regardless of the nature of the economic system or social environment.

In sum, they are the common (human) denominator which unites cultures, political systems, race, class, and gender. They directly influence the individual’s social behavior once they have been institutionalized as a cultural norm or common practice.

What every traditional Muslim must realize is that, contrary to what is currently believed, social obligations towards society are first and foremost moral obligations and only secondarily religious duties or political legal obligations. ‘So fear God as much as you can; listen and obey and spend in charity for the benefit of your own soul and those saved from the covetousness of their own souls…’ ( Al-Taghabun 64:16).

The ill traditional understanding of Islam has seriously corrupted our minds and has caused us to stagnate in our thinking of Islam. The fateful error of defining religion exclusively in terms of the performance of the rituals of al-Eman, and the false labelling of these rituals as pillars of Islam, has meant that religion was defined in isolation from ethical laws that are universally applicable. It meant that a person’s religiosity was measured solely by his or her fulfilment of ritual obligations, regardless of that person’s moral or social behavior in society. The confusion of islam with Eman has produced other conceptual difficulties, for example, the confusion between several different degrees of ‘permission’ and ‘prohibition’, such as,

  1. a) al-halal what is absolutely allowed / al-haram what is absolute taboo (and which can only be decreed by God), and
  2. b) al-masmuh what is permitted / al-mamnu” what is forbidden (which is decreed by positive law),

c) al-ma”ruf what is prescribed as right / al-munkar, what is proscribed as wrong (the result of popular practice and social conventions),

d) al-hasan what is good / al-qabeeh, what is bad (and which is subject to the personal taste of each individual).

This confusion between legal, social, and moral rules, and the muddling of the many different levels of jurisdictions, has created this dreadful current trend among many traditional Muslims to excessively label things as absolute taboos (haram), for which there is no evidence in the divine text of the Book. We hear, for example, that for a woman to show her face in public, to hear a woman’s voice, to play musical instruments, to make sculptures, to take photographs, or, for fear that the devil might slip into someone’s mouth, to yawn with one’s mouth open, even to clip one’s fingernails at night, all things that are normal everyday activities, have suddenly become absolute taboos!

We should remember that the great sins in al-Islam are only those acts that transgress the ten commandments of the universal furqan. Everyone who claims that there are seventy major sins, or even seven hundred, has been thoroughly misled.

Faith and Believers is next.