By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
21 April 2021
A Wider Liberal Education Including The Study Of Philosophy Is Essential To Realize That The Object Of Morality Is To Please God By Promoting The Greatest Happiness For All In This World
1. Incestual relationships defined in the Quran make scientific sense today.
2. People expect religion to even deal with “marital rape”.
3. Ethical Egoism is the radical view that one’s duty is only to oneself.
4. A non-religious person can be made to act “morally” by devising “moral” laws.
5. Pervasive False Beliefs among Muslims.
The term “morality” can be used either
1. Descriptively to refer to a code of conduct prescribed by a group which is more commonly a religion, or
2. Normatively to refer to a code of conduct that would be accepted by all rational persons.
Early religions put forward a code of conduct or a list of do’s and don’ts without explaining the rationale behind the code. This was what may be called the ‘descriptive’ stage. In the early stages, without the people having practiced the prescribed moral code, there was no empirical evidence available to back the efficacy of the prescribed code in preventing harm to the people and promoting the well-being of the society. The code went against the common wisdom of the people which showed lying, deceit, and killing to be essential for survival. It is natural to think of self-preservation first and foremost and such thinking dominates even today. Inter community hostility and killing was rampant and the proof of it is the history of large-scale genocide practiced by mankind. An appeal to reason could not therefore be made to follow the code which went against the empirical evidence of what was best for the preservation of self and the local community. The code therefore demanded, that it be followed out of reverence to the Law Giver or God who is also the Creator, Sustainer, omniscient and omnipotent with the power to reward and punish in this world, as well as in the Hereafter. A community which began to practice the moral code as a religious duty became stronger because the shared values led to greater trust and cooperation among its members. Evangelizing was important to enlarge the group. The groups that accepted the moral code became part of the in-group and those that resisted became the out-group. In a combat the in-group had the advantage of greater trust and cooperation among its members, and even when greatly outnumbered, easily prevailed over the savages or the out-group. The in-group expanded and became progressively stronger until the new religion with its moral code covered all the people in a region. The early prophets were also rulers who could lay down the law and ensure that it was followed by severely punishing the transgressors. The empirical evidence that became available after centuries of practicing the code as a religious duty, showed the benefits of following the code, and the harm from flouting it. The code began to appear practical and rational in hindsight.
Among the so called Abrahamic religions, no law was revealed after the Torah until the Quran. The Bible for example, contains no law and merely endorses the Law in the earlier scriptures, but the moral codes are explained through parables. The Bible contains the “Hikmat” or “wisdom” behind the moral code in the Torah, explained through parables. Not every moral code is explained even in the Quran. For example, the rule that prescribes what persons related biologically are impermissible as marital partners and the rules for dietary prohibitions are not explained. The part of the morality from religion that we could establish as beneficial based on empirical and/or scientific evidence, became normative after several centuries of practicing the code as a religious duty. The rationale underlying the moral code that the people practiced as a religious duty became progressively clear and the philosophers began discussing it outside religion and the moral code from religion became the accepted norm. Once the moral code became normative and amenable to discussion based on reason, it also became a subject for secular study. Society began to enact laws with explicit written rules, penalties, and officials to interpret the laws and apply the penalties. As may be expected, there is considerable overlap in the conduct governed by morality and that governed by the law. The laws are also often evaluated and changed on moral grounds. Some theorists, including Ronald Dworkin (1986), maintain that the interpretation of law must make use of morality.
Incestual relationships defined in the Quran make scientific sense today with a part that is still not very clear. The Quran proscribes marriages between children unrelated by blood but breast fed by the same woman while it allows marriages between cousins who share on an average 12.5% of their DNA. It is tempting to think that the reason for proscribing marriages between “milk-siblings” are cultural/sociological rather than biological but we have evidence that the Quran shows little consideration for cultural/sociological factors alone. The reason must therefore be biological. We are beginning to get some evidence of what the biological reason could be but further research may be required for clinching evidence.
Recent research has established that breast milk is a living substance that includes i) genetic materials (such as microRNAs), ii) stem cells and iii) organic substances affecting epigenetic regulation mechanisms and gene transcription. The period in which the individual is most vulnerable to these changes is before the age of two, during the suckling period. In other words, such a relationship cannot be established if the milk recipient has already completed his or her developmental period. Possible explanations for this phenomenon, in light of current knowledge, may be: i) inadequacy of the child’s immune system in the early infancy period to reject maternal living cells and genetic materials, ii) increased plasticity of the human body during the early developmental period, and iii) increased vulnerability of the epigenome to epigenetic changes during the early developmental period. It is therefore possible that children born of a marriage between two individuals breast-fed by the same woman may be at risk of certain genetic diseases in the same manner as children born from an incestuous relationship between siblings sharing common parents.
Also Read: Pervasive False Beliefs among Muslims
Similarly, the prohibition on consuming pork is not explained and it is left to mankind to figure out the reasons. Recent research establishes very close genetic similarity between humans and pigs. University of Illinois animal geneticists Lawrence Schook and Jonathan Beever have created a side-by-side comparison of the human genome and the pig genome that reveals remarkable similarities. "We took the human genome, cut it into 173 puzzle pieces and rearranged it to make a pig," said Schook. "Everything matches up perfectly. The pig is genetically very close to humans." The ill-effects of consuming pork may therefore be similar to the ill-effects of cannibalism besides the high content of saturated fats and cholesterol in pork and the risk from parasites like roundworm or tapeworms that a pig is host to.
Rules of conduct that are exclusive to a society/group/religion continue to be understood in the descriptive sense, especially, when there are no plausible conditions under which these would be accepted by all rational beings. What explains the part that is not common to all religions? Divine laws are mixed with man-made rules and it is the man-made rules that account for many of the differences. The practice of untouchability, sati, male/female circumcision, are examples of man-made rules that became part of religion. The differences are mostly because of varying interpretations of the divine law. For example, banning of abortion in Christianity derives from the moral rule “Thou shall not kill”. Rules for purity and sanctity and their varying interpretations account for the practice of untouchability, sati, circumcision, treatment of menstruating women etc. Consumption of pork although prohibited in the Bible is not followed by a majority of the Christian population because the people were pork consumers before they adopted Christianity as their religion. People rationalize what they would not like to change
The coupling between religious morality and the Society’s laws loosened over a period. Practices prohibited by religion and incorporated into the law of the land began to be questioned and some of the laws modified or annulled. For example the law against abortion in Catholic countries was abolished. Adultery and incest between consenting adults has been decriminalized in many countries. Homosexual relations were also decriminalized followed by sanctioning and recognizing same sex marriages in some countries. Some of the practices imposed by some religions were annulled and even criminalized such as untouchability and the burning of widows. Secularization of the laws helped taking the best from every religion and taking forward the direction set by religion such as the banning of slavery, criminalizing discrimination based on race, colour, nationality, gender, etc.
While the criminalization of adultery by religion perhaps made rational sense even in the initial descriptive phase, its subsequent decriminalization in the laws of the country is an example of man legislating against a divine law ordained in the Scriptures including the Quran. This presents a good opportunity to study the ill-effects of going against a divine law versus the gains. If the Quran is indeed the word of God, then the ill-effects must clearly outweigh the gains (if any). This is covered in my article:
The Law on Adultery in the Quran
The Quran informs us that Allah has been guiding mankind from Adam onwards with His revelations and Messengers. Allah’s religion has therefore been both pervasive and continuous. Although Allah’s religion is known by different names in different regions and has traversed different paths over the centuries, the source of inspiration for all these religions having been the same one God, the moral code of all the religions is unsurprisingly identical for the most part. The part of the moral code from these religions that now makes the same rational sense to all the people, has come to be known as the “natural law”, although, there is nothing natural about a law imposed by religion under compulsion of harsh punishment for transgressions. It has become “natural”, “instinctive” or “normative” only by becoming acceptable on a rational basis through long practice. Moral codes that have come to be universally accepted involve avoiding and preventing harm to others and norms for truthfulness, honesty, fair dealing and keeping of promises.
Despite what their Scriptures say, the followers in their bigotry, do not subscribe to the belief that the God who guided them, is the same God who has guided all of mankind through the ages. Most consider their religion to be both unique and the only true religion and every other religion as false. So, how do they reconcile the fact that we share a common moral code? They explain it by saying that God has implanted this knowledge in the reason of all persons. If that be so, then the “natural law” is the product of human thought while all the evidence points to the fact that these codes have come exclusively from religion and common to all the religious Scriptures. For the atheists, all religions are man-made and therefore the “natural law” is man-made even if proved to have come exclusively from religion.
Islamic scholars are also bigots who pay only lip service to many of the ayats of the Quran. While saying that Allah has sent 124000 messengers over the period since Adam and upto Muhammad(pbuh) to guide mankind, they do not dwell on the very obvious implication that most religions must therefore have been inspired by the same God and the proof of it has to be in what is common between the religions.
There are only two possibilities for the commonality of the moral code in all religions that has come to be known as the “natural law”.
It is because the same God revealed it through His messengers to the people in every region.
Religions are man-made. The descriptive phase of laying down the moral code was driven by exceptional visionaries who were followed centuries later by people who could explain the same rationally with the empirical evidence that became available.
Implicit in the alternate view is the assumption that the visionary prophets were exceptional human beings who could come up with a moral code that would take thousands of years to be accepted as both pragmatic and rational and become normative. Such a view is problematic because, if it was based on their own thinking, then they would have been able to justify the moral code based on reason and not attributed it to God and revelations. The fact is that none of the prophets/avatars could explain the rationale behind the moral code in the early stages of our history.
The first view is therefore proven right from the evidence available. Both the theists and the atheists remain oblivious of this fact for different reasons. The theists in their bigotry are driven by what separates them from the rest rather than what unites us all. They, therefore, remain oblivious of the signs of Allah that go against their bigotry. The “natural law” common to all religions is another proof of Tauheed or the Unity of God.
41:53. Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own being, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is it not enough that your Lord does witness all things?
We do find that what has come to be called the “natural law”, is part of every Scripture from every region and every religion, from the earliest civilizations to this day, and this conforms to what the Quran says about Allah sending guidance to all the people. It is also proof of Tauheed or the Unity of God. There is no evidence that the moral code that has become normative, could have come from outside of religion, as all that the moral philosophers have contributed in the entire history of philosophy are definitions, theories and discussions on moral dilemmas. Their significant contribution has been in explaining how the moral codes have contributed to the well-being of the individual and the society and therefore in the progression of morality from the descriptive stage to the normative stage. They also derive the moral principle underlying the code which helps in universalising the code to guide in a wide range of situations. The moral principles derived are very useful in judging the moral codes themselves and rejecting the harmful ones that crept into the society such as, sati, untouchability, discrimination based on religion, colour, race, gender, sexual orientation etc. The moral principles also help framing laws not covered by religion such as the law against rape. Why hasn’t religion covered rape? This is because the laws for rape are easily derivable from the other laws. Rape is adultery although only by the rapist and causing injury. The rapist should therefore be punished as an adulterer and made to pay a compensation for the trauma and damage caused. There are many other complexities in a crime such as rape. It may not be possible to get four eye witnesses to prove the crime of rape. Today, forensic science does away with the requirement for four witnesses to establish whether an accused had sex with the accuser or not. There are other aspects to rape such as the accusation could be false and the sexual act may have been consensual sex etc. All these are amenable for consideration and can be dealt by us humans without requiring a law from religion to cover rape. Given the broad framework of laws from religion, we are eminently suited to develop laws covering every shade of crime.
Some people expect religion to even deal with “marital rape”! This is a difficult subject to deal with, but the Quran does what is best to avert the possibility of “marital rape” by requiring that the husband, before the act, “.....do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe” (2:223). Performing an act of charity before sex primes the person towards kindness and compassion elevating the act to a gift from Allah for which he must show gratitude by performing an act of charity. Calling to remembrance the prospect of meeting Allah in the Hereafter, eliminates any chance of coercion or cruelty. No law can achieve better results at avoiding marital rape than following this verse.
It is easy to get carried away by normative morality and question rule based descriptive morality, but the origins of normative morality in descriptive morality from religion should not be forgotten. Not every moral code from religion has become normative through discovery of the scientific basis for the rule, but there is enough evidence to show that someday, these rules may become normative, once the scientific basis for the same is fully established, as has been the case for so many other rules from religion.
While some of our behaviour is instinctive such as a mother’s love and care for her child, and some behaviour a result of conditioning, the rest is a result of making conscious moral choices between what we would like to do but know is wrong, and what we know to be right but the painful thing to do. Moral behaviour is when we make a conscious moral choice. Animal behaviour in contrast, is mostly instinctive or as a result of conditioning, and although pro-social behaviour among animals is common, it is amoral. Instinctive behaviour may be considered amoral as there is absence of choice. It is only when we act based on moral reasoning do we act as moral agents, and only such behaviour can be described as moral or immoral. As it concerns the motivation for acting morally, the religious motivation of reverence for the moral code, or for the love of God, or for rewards in the Hereafter, or even out of fear of Hell-fire, come closest to pure altruism as nothing is expected in this world or from the people who are helped. A public servant, who serves the public sincerely without demanding and accepting bribes, is an ideal public servant. We do not find fault with him because the government pays him a salary. We only hope and pray that the government pays him well for his worth. Likewise, the expectation in the Hereafter does not dilute the concept of altruism. It is only expectation of rewards and/or consequences in this world that dilute the concept of altruism.
The motivation for acting morally has been the subject of study in philosophy and there are various theories such as:
Psychological Egoism: It is the theory that every human action is motivated by self-interest. We may think that we are noble and self-sacrificing but in reality we care only for ourselves. It is possible to re-interpret every action as emanating from self-interest. It is therefore impossible to refute the theory. An irrefutable theory is not necessarily correct.
Ethical Egoism is the radical view that one’s duty is only to oneself. It does not merely say that people act only in self-interest, but that they ought to do so. Your acts in the pursuit of self-interest may incidentally help others, but the centre of your concern is only yourself.
A non-religious person can be made to act “morally” by devising “moral” laws that reward those who obey the laws and punish those who break them, and installing a good surveillance system to monitor conformance. People will then act “morally” based on the risk/reward considerations of the gain from breaking the law and the risk of getting caught and punished. It then becomes a game of “catch me if you can” for many. Poor people will more readily cheat on small things but the rich will remain honest in most transactions and only cheat on the very big ones. For the same reason we find greater honesty in ordinary life in the rich countries but pervasive corruption in the poor countries. It is a difference of degree and not of kind. Businesses that rely on repeat business are honest because it pays to be honest but there is less honesty in businesses in tourist places where the customers are less likely to come back for more purchases. Such behaviour can hardly be described as moral behaviour.
Religious morality is however different. A person will remain honest irrespective of the chances of getting caught or the size of the transaction, because his hopes are based not on any consideration of reward or punishment in this life, but only in the Hereafter. A religious person also considers his every act as being seen and recorded by God. Moral behaviour is therefore possible only by a religious person and for a non-religious person there can only be conformance to the norms of the society if it pays to do so and non-conformance otherwise.
A non-thinking religious person who blindly follows the code could be easily fooled into following a cleverly masked spurious code and become a menace to society as is the case with the extremists. Please read:
Pervasive False Beliefs among Muslims
A wider liberal education including the study of philosophy is essential to realize that the object of morality is to please God by promoting the greatest happiness for all in this world. This is a truism and also the view of the Utilitarian philosophers, but most religious persons are oblivious of it, which is why they are easy prey to the preaching of the anti-social radicals. A religious person, while seeking to please God, should make sure that he does not end up incurring God’s wrath instead. He can avoid acts that incur God’s wrath by checking whether the act will also promote the greatest happiness for all, and avoid those acts that are anti-social. Bigotry and extremism have become so common, that religion which gave the world its morality, is today more often associated with what is bestial and immoral. The state of the faithful has today become what was the state of the unfaithful earlier:
(2:11) When it is said to them: "Make not mischief on the earth," they say: "Why, we only Want to make peace!"(12) Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not.
With the result that:
(18:103) Say: "Shall we tell you of those who lose most in respect of their deeds?-(104) "Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they thought that they were acquiring good by their works?"
A frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com, Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He has spent years studying Quran in-depth and made seminal contributions to its interpretation.
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