By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
06 September 2016
Atheism is also a belief system and in this article, I show that vis-à-vis theism, it is the more irrational one. Not that there aren’t irrational religions or religions that combine irrationality with rationality. As for me, but for the Quran, I may have been an atheist. As a believer in the Quran after intense study, I am also able to see that there are several other scriptures which contain divine revelations. Recognition of the signs of divinity in one book of scriptures opens the eyes to recognize divinity in other books of scripture as well. I also show that the claim of some religions as divinely inspired and its scriptures as revelations from the Divine, is strongly indicated as true, based on the very low probability of the opposite being true. This article is built on three of my previous articles:
1. Religion as a Civilizing Influence
2. Causes For The Rise And Fall Of The Muslims
3. Is There A Rational Basis For The Atheists To Oppose Religion?
The first article explored the source of all durable moral precepts and showed that although philosophy covers every discipline of human inquiry and knowledge, it has failed to generate a single moral precept. Ethics and morality are developed disciplines in philosophy and yet have failed to generate a single moral precept. Philosophy has given us several Ethics theories such as Utilitarianism, Consequentialism and several variations on the same theme. These theories based on reason are unable to look beyond maximizing utility or gain as the source of all human motivation. We know that morality transcends such considerations and as a matter of fact is contra intuitive.
Utilitarianism is amoral. The choices indicated by it may be neutral as far as morality is concerned or even immoral. Philosophy therefore had to fall back on Deontological theory of ethics or ethics based on scriptures or a fixed moral code as a source of rules for ethical and moral conduct. While Kant has given us an excellent definition of morality, he has failed to generate a single moral precept based on his definition. Kant’s philosophy however covers the process for making moral choices. Since this process is not based on self-interest, why would any rational human being make moral choices that may require sacrificing self-interest for what is right and just? Kant responds to this predicament by saying that it is justified to believe in the immortality of the soul and of consequences of our actions beyond this life in which we are rewarded, without which he agrees that it is not possible to be moral. Philosophy not only failed to produce a single moral precept, but has conceded that what we know to be moral may not be possible without a belief in a life beyond our present life in which we are rewarded or punished based on our actions in this world.
What about literature? Great literature has the power to arouse strong feelings of anger and disgust against injustice but no literature, however great, has produced a single moral precept. While the story may have a moral and a message, it is not the source of any new or original moral precept.
Let Us Look At Some Of The Moral Precepts:
1. Love your neighbour as yourself
2. Do not steal
3. Keep your promises, treaties and covenants
4. Do not kill except as a matter of justice
5. Repel evil with good
6. Resist oppression
7. Always speak the truth and stand for justice
8. Always accept an offer for peace and end strife.
9. Feed the indigent, help the orphan etc.
10. Persist in all good works with patience
10. Do not covet, envy etc
11. Guard your modesty except from your spouse
12. Do not kill an animal except for food
13. Help in all good deeds but not in sin, rancour or enmity
It is easy to see why none of these have come from philosophy or literature because none of them is self-evident and none of it appears at first sight to serve self-interest. These were imbibed as religious duties first and practiced. The validation that these precepts promoted the collective good came later which made these intelligible in hindsight as well. Long familiarity with these precepts has made it easy for us to see that these serve a higher purpose than self. It is these moral precepts that have civilized us. Otherwise, we lived as savages and killed each other for personal gain.
Since the moral precepts are not self-evident, we recognize the moral in any story only when the precept is known to us. So while we have literature such as Aesop’s fables with a moral, literature cannot by itself be a source of a new moral precept. A story that is neither rational nor based on a known or accepted moral principle would not make sense. For example stories of theft and murder which are immoral acts make sense because we can see for what gain these immoral acts are being done. We can also identify with stories of honesty which is apparently against self-interest or against immediate gain only because we recognize this as a moral act. Otherwise it would not make sense. This may not be so obvious to us only because these moral precepts are deeply ingrained in us from our childhood which makes us accept these instinctively. No matter from what source these moral precepts has come, all religions support these and even atheists accept them as good moral principles.
That religion is rich in durable moral precepts is well-accepted. The fact that religion is the sole source of all moral precepts should not be surprising after this discussion. The moral precepts have brought about revolutionary changes in human behaviour and civilized us. The fact that the society benefited immensely from these precepts has made the moral principles understandable to us in hindsight and literature merely reinforces the moral lessons already learnt.
If these moral precepts had merely evolved, then there is no reason why we should not find them in philosophy and why only in religion. There have been many philosophers and litterateurs who were religious but did not contribute a single moral precept. Religious scriptures make claims that these are divinely inspired and are not the work of man. Is this claim true? The religion of Islam provides a fascinating case study since it is the last of the great religions with a Book claimed to have been divinely inspired or revealed and preserved exactly as revealed in a language that is spoken and understood even today.
What did the religion of Islam do to its followers? That the society reached great heights in every field is well known. What new moral precepts and re-emphasizing of known ones caused this? This is covered in the second article cited above.
The third article deals with the arguments relating to the alternative theory of evolution to explain everything, and shows how this theory although possible, is less probable than the theory of creation and of divinely inspired religions with their highly effective moral precepts which are not accessible to us in foresight which is why we do not find them in philosophy. These make sense only in hindsight based on the collective experience of civilized societies.
In this article, I cover the revolutionary changes brought by Islam in the concept of equality of all human beings in the short period of 22 years of Muhammad’s prophethood, and compare with the evolutionary changes the rest of the world went through before it reached the same level Islam did 13 centuries earlier. What took the rest of the world so long to catch up with the precept and the practice that was available in Islam? Let us explore.
There are many ways to look at the word equal. One may look at the etymology of all equivalent words in all our languages and then say that the word meaning what we understand by equal today is found in the earliest known language. Looking at the question in this manner, we may say that the first man may have had the concept of equal which to him may have only been in the context of things such as one apple is equal to another apple although they are not the same. Is that what we are talking about? That is not what we are talking about but the concept that Islam gave us in the seventh century which was:
1. Freedom is the natural state of all human beings and slavery is unnatural and even morally unacceptable. Islam therefore restricted enslavement to those taken as Prisoners of War. There were POW who were freed for ransom or charity or enslaved based on the understandings and treaties between the warring parties. For example, no Meccan was enslaved although the main war was with them.
2. Not only that, but the Quran encouraged Muslims to even marry slaves making them the equal of a free person in all respects except their economic condition. By precept and example, the following was established in Islamic society of the seventh century:
a) Marriage of freed slaves with Muslims including those from the Quraish (ruling) tribe. This is explicitly supported by the Quran.
b) A black freed slave Bilal held the position of treasurer of Medina. He also gave the first call for prayer from the sacred mosque when the Prophet made his first pilgrimage to Mecca after his migration. This was according a high honour based on talent alone irrespective of colour, social or economic condition.
c) Many pious Muslims following the Prophet’s example spent all their wealth to purchase slaves and free them keeping only those who could not support themselves from out of compassion. Apart from personal wealth, the Quran empowers the state to use Zakat funds for the freeing of slaves.
d) In the mosque, when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the equality of all before God is embodied five times a day, when the slave, the ruler, the Arab, non-Arab, the white, the black, the brown and the yellow stand shoulder to shoulder and pray.
The Quran thus paved the way for a society free of slaves only if the practice established by Muhammad had continued at the same pace for 10 years of peace. That this did not happen may be due to the frailties of human nature. The Quran also paved the way for equality irrespective of whether the person was slave or a free person and many slaves served in the army and administration in high positions. The society encouraged slaves to get educated and take advantage of opportunities outside the master’s home.
Why Was Slavery Not Banned By Islam?
Was it for the economic reason? Jacob Neusner said “Prohibiting slavery in the context of seventh-century Arabia apparently would have been as useful as prohibiting poverty; it would have reflected a noble ideal but would have been unworkable on an immediate basis without establishing an entirely new socioeconomic system."
The economic reason exists even today where people serve a single master for life without becoming slave in the legal sense. The reason to my mind is that since Islam restricted enslavement to prisoners of war and there was no system of prisons then, banning enslavement would have resulted in killing of the POWs.
Also the women taken as captive were distributed as slave to the soldiers and sex with own slave was permitted. This prevented the rape, gang rape of the captured men and women which is a common feature of every war.
Adultery was taken seriously in that society and a soldier who had sex with a captive woman who was not given to him as his slave was punished by stoning to death.
Slavery in Rest of the World
What about the Rest of the Word? When did the rest of the world reach the state that Islam reached in the 7th Century?
Every philosopher without exception, who talked about equality, talked only of their own society and within it limited to the male, white and privileged if they were from Europe or America or to the upper classes in India. The concept did not include even their women much less the slaves. The slaves, other ethnicities and races were taken to be self-evidently inferior and therefore the thought of they becoming the equal of the rest was unthinkable. Those who considered the slaves as either naturally inferior or deserving of their status include, Aristotle, Plato, Homer, the Christian theologians St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and the modern day philosophers Locke, Hume and most surprisingly Immanuel Kant (died 1804). Up to the beginning of the 19th century therefore, we find that the philosophers have held slavery to be justified and self-evidently so.
Struggle for Abolition of Slavery in the US
Towards, the end of the 18th century however, it was becoming apparent in the US, that there was a strong justification for abolishing slavery for economic reasons. The rapidly industrializing north was in need for labour that could come from the south which had slaves in large number. In 1793, Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin greatly increased the demand for slave labour.
In 1800, Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African-American blacksmith, organized a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy was uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels were hanged. Virginia's slave laws are consequently tightened.
In 1822 Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African-American carpenter who had purchased his freedom planned a slave revolt with the intent to lay siege on Charleston, South Carolina. The plot was discovered, and Vesey and 34 co-conspirators were hanged.
In 1831, Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American preacher, leads the most significant slave uprising in American history. He and his band of followers launch a short, bloody, rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The militia quells the rebellion, and Turner is eventually hanged. As a consequence, Virginia institutes much stricter slave laws.
William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing the Liberator, a weekly paper that advocates the complete abolition of slavery. He becomes one of the most famous figures in the abolitionist movement.
In 1849, Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes one of the most effective and celebrated leaders of the Underground Railroad.
In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin is published. It becomes one of the most influential works to stir anti-slavery sentiments.
1857 The Dred Scott case holds that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states and, furthermore, that slaves are not citizens.
1859 John Brown and 21 followers capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W. Va.), in an attempt to launch a slave revolt.
1861 The Confederacy is founded when the deep South secedes, and the Civil War begins.
1863 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederate states "are, and henceforward shall be free."
The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee by ex-Confederates
The law abolishing slavery in the US was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, provides that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.".
Comparison of the 13th Amendment of 1865 with the Islamic Law of Circa 620
Did the 13th amendment of 1865 surpass the law enacted in Islam in the 7th Century? The 13th amendment still permits voluntary servitude and also as a punishment for crime. In Islam enslavement of only captives taken in war was permitted (equivalent of imprisonment or punishment for waging war). The Muslims following the example of the Prophet freed all other slaves who could support themselves and what remained were those who could not support themselves as free men/women. This is the equivalent of voluntary servitude. Muslims also bought slaves only to free them. That Islamic society regressed in subsequent years and slavery which should have ended did not end is due to several factors the primary one being self-interest or the opposite of what was considered the moral thing to do in Islam.
Struggle for Equal Rights
Racism, racist thinking, racial segregation, legally sanctioned discrimination against blacks did not end with the abolition of slavery in the US in 1865 and not until a long struggle for more than a century subsequently. This underscores the fact that the economic argument was stronger than the moral argument for the abolition of slavery in the US.
Also while the US Declaration of Independence of 1776 declared it ‘self-evident’ that all men were created equal, this truth was denied to slaves and of course women. To the extent that we are inspired by these ideals today, we accept it as ‘self-evident’ that they must apply equally to all human beings but this was not self-evident even in 1865.
Between 1865-1866 Black codes are passed by Southern states, drastically restricting the rights of newly freed slaves.
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, defining citizenship. Individuals born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens, including those born as slaves. This nullifies the Dred Scott Case (1857), which had ruled that blacks were not citizens.
In 1870, Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving blacks the right to vote.
In 1877 Reconstruction ends in the South. Federal attempts to provide some basic civil rights for African Americans quickly erode.
In 1879 The Black Exodus takes place, in which tens of thousands of African Americans migrated from southern states to Kansas.
In 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson: This landmark Supreme Court decision holds that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South.
In 1909 The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People is founded in New York by prominent black and white intellectuals and led by W.E.B. Du Bois. For the next half century, it would serve as the country's most influential African-American civil rights organization, dedicated to political equality and social justice In 1910, its journal, The Crisis, was launched. Among its well known leaders were James Weldon Johnson, Ella Baker, Moorfield Storey, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Benjamin Hooks, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Julian Bond, and Kwesi Mfume.
In 1931 nine black youths are indicted in Scottsboro, Ala., on charges of having raped two white women. Although the evidence was slim, the southern jury sentenced them to death. The Supreme Court overturns their convictions twice; each time Alabama retries them, finding them guilty. In a third trial, four of the Scottsboro boys are freed; but five are sentenced to long prison terms.
In 1955 A young black boy, Emmett Till, is brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Two white men charged with the crime are acquitted by an all-white jury. They later boast about committing the murder. The public outrage generated by the case helps spur the civil rights movement (Aug.).
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the "colored section" of a bus to a white passenger (Dec.1). In response to her arrest Montgomery's black community launch a successful year-long bus boycott. Montgomery's buses are desegregated on Dec. 21, 1956.
In 1960 Four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter (Feb. 1). Six months later the "Greensboro Four" are served lunch at the same Woolworth's counter. The event triggers many similar nonviolent protests throughout the South.
In 1961Over the spring and summer, student volunteers begin taking bus trips through the South to test out new laws that prohibit segregation in interstate travel facilities, which includes bus and railway stations. Several of the groups of "freedom riders," as they are called, are attacked by angry mobs along the way. The program, sponsored by The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), involves more than 1,000 volunteers, black and white.
In 1962 James Meredith becomes the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi (Oct. 1). President Kennedy sends 5,000 federal troops after rioting breaks out.
In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested and jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Ala. He writes "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which advocated nonviolent civil disobedience.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is attended by about 250,000 people, the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital. Martin Luther King delivers his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The march builds momentum for civil rights legislation (Aug. 28).
Despite Governor George Wallace physically blocking their way, Vivian Malone and James Hood register for classes at the University of Alabama.
Four young black girls attending Sunday school are killed when a bomb explodes at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a popular location for civil rights meetings. Riots erupt in Birmingham, leading to the deaths of two more black youths (Sept. 15).
In 1964 President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, colour, religion, or national origin (July 2).
The bodies of three civil-rights workers are found. Murdered by the KKK, James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had been working to register black voters in Mississippi (Aug.).
Congress passes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for Southern blacks to register to vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and other such requirements that were used to restrict black voting are made illegal (Aug. 10).
In six days of rioting in Watts, a black section of Los Angeles, 35 people are killed and 883 injured (Aug. 11-16).
In 1967 The Supreme Court rules in Loving v. Virginia that prohibiting interracial marriage is unconstitutional. Sixteen states still have anti-miscegenation laws and are forced to revise them.
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing (April 11).
In 1972 The infamous Tuskegee Syphilis experiment ends. Begun in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service's 40-year experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis has been described as an experiment that "used human beings as laboratory animals in a long and inefficient study of how long it takes syphilis to kill someone."
In 1992 The first race riots in decades erupt in south-central Los Angeles after a jury acquits four white police officers for the videotaped beating of African-American Rodney King (April 29).
In 2014 On Aug. 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., by Darren Wilson. On Nov. 24, the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced, sparking protests in Ferguson and cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston.
The protests continued to spread throughout the country after a Staten Island grand jury decided in December not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by Pantaleo in July.
Revolutionary Change in Islam Compared With the Evolutionary Change in the US
Considering that a millennium after Islam, it took a hundred years of intense struggle to get slavery abolished in the US helped by economic reasons in addition to the moral one, and it took another hundred years to end segregation, and give rights of citizenship to the ex-slaves without fully ending the deep seated discrimination and racism in American society, the achievement of Muhammad in the short span of 22 years is nothing short of an unbelievable miracle in a society which was by no means ready for such changes. It also explains why that society regressed in later years and why the practice did not end since it never made sense from the economic or utilitarian point of the rich but was more of a moral duty for attaining piety that was imposed by religion. Moreover, the new converts from other lands who outnumbered the early Muslims by a factor of 10 or more, brought with them their own social norms, beliefs, traditions and laws and in no small way influenced the development of the society causing it to regress in multiple ways.
Without the example in Islam, slavery may have continued to have been considered as the “natural state”. Many of the ideas of the Renaissance are borrowed from Islam including the most fundamental one of abolition of the privileges of the aristocracy and the Church and the ideas in the phrase “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. The Medina charter established a fraternity of all the tribes and Spain under the Moors was a shining example of the heights reached by people working together as a single fraternity.
Women’s Rights in Islam
What about the contribution of Islam to women’s rights?
As far as the female is concerned, there is no scripture apart from the Quran in which she is given the following rights:
1. Own property
2. Inherit Property
3. Is a person in her own right and not the possession of man. She continues to retain her family name after marriage.
4. She can divorce
5. Her marriage is a contract where she can specify her meharor marriage gift and other terms.
6. Has claims on all male relatives for financial support but no responsibility to support anyone including her children irrespective of her means except as charity (but not as duty.)
Do your research as to when women won similar rights in other societies and after how much struggle and you will realize how Islam revolutionized its society. What are the preceding events in that society that make such changes evolutionary? None.
But did Islam make the woman the equal of man? The answer is a yes except for the slight advantage that it gives to the man for no other reason except that the man supports the woman from his means. This is a reason which holds good even today. The employee is not the equal of his employer and the subordinate is not the equal of his superior and the debtor is not the equal of creditor etc. Islamic society however did regress but it will be useful to remember that four of the Ibn Taymiyyah’s teachers were female scholars. His name is also unusual in that it is derived from a female member of his family. Taimiyatu was a woman, famous for her scholarship and piety and the name Ibn Taymiyyah was taken up by many of her male descendents. Ibn Taymiyyah was a 13th century scholar, theologian, logician and political activist.
As for practice, the Prophet was a former employee of his first wife Khadija and their relationship was therefore on equal terms since he did not support her from his means.
The Islamic precept of equality of all human beings and freedom is taken today as a self-evident truth but this was not evident to any of the philosophers or reformers upto the 19th century. The revolutionary changes brought by Islam have no history of a gradual evolution and no reason to believe that the society of the 7th century in Arabia was ready for such changes. As a matter of fact the religion was bitterly opposed for the very same reasons. It is the inferiority of slaves, and the inferiority of people of other ethnicity and social class that was self-evident to all the philosophers’ up to the end of the 19th century. The abolition of slavery in the US in 1865 was after a long and bitter struggle for a hundred years and even then it was for strong economic reasons rather than moral ones which is why it took another hundred years of political struggle to win equal rights and end segregation.
None of the moral precepts are self-evident or intuitive and most are the opposite of what Utilitarianism would suggest. The fact that only religions have contributed to every moral precept makes religion different from any other human endeavour and lends credence to the claim of such religions as divinely inspired or revelations from God.
There isn’t even one example of a durable moral precept coming through the process of evolution or from a source other than religion. The Quran claims that Prophet Muhammad is the last of the prophets. There is not a single example of a revolutionary change in the moral sphere since then. Revolutions brought about through human effort are in Science and Technology and in other Utilitarian fields. Morals and morality remains the sole domain of religion. Without the moral precepts we would have remained savages. If human thinking could produce moral precepts, philosophy would have been rich in moral precepts. Without moral precepts, we would have not reached our present state and without these we cannot maintain it either. If human thinking has failed to produce moral precepts, the claim of religions that have given us these precepts as being of divine origin is a very strong claim indeed. The Atheists’claim that everything is a result of the evolutionary process, is a weak one and not supported by facts.
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 is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com
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