We live in a time when more people refuse to believe in the existence of God. The ethical guidelines given in divine revelations are being implemented to much lesser degree than ever before. Yet, the religion of Islam is growing each year at an astounding rate and Muslims are known to practice their religion in day to day lives. The ethics and morality preached through religious texts can be considered as legitimate only if they are considered to be of divine origin. The same reasoning applies to the religion of Islam too. Muslims around the world believe that the laws and code of ethics given in their holy book, the Koran, are the word of God. In this paper, I will discuss why Islamic ethics are indeed divine command and will also explore their implications in a modern society.
Islamic Ethics and Divine Command
Statistics show that modern generations are losing their faith in the existence of God. In the UK, 66% of teens do not believe in the existence of a deity [ CITATION Mai09 \l 1033 ]. Although 86% Americans believed in the existence of God, most of them are not aware of the tenets of their own religion or others [ CITATION Gro10 \l 1033 ]. However, there are about 1.57 billion practicing Muslims in the world today and their numbers are expected to increase at a rate of 35% over the next 20 years [ CITATION The11 \l 1033 ]. That means that one out of every four people in this world is a practicing Muslim. It is vital to understand why Muslims follow their religious tenets so strictly and what makes Islam the fastest growing religion in the world.
To begin with, Islam openly claims to be a ‘sister-religion’ to Christianity and the Koran preserves several tenets of the Old Testament as well as Jewish scriptures. The fact that the Islamic holy book has such great similarities to two other world religions gives strength to its claim of being the word of God. The history of human beings, all the way from the banishment of Adam and Eve from heaven till the birth and life of Jesus Christ, is nearly the same in both, the Bible as well as the Koran.
The ethics of Islam are based on the attributed of Allah, the Arabic name for the single, all mighty God in Christianity and Judaism. Islam literally means ‘the submission of one’s will to God’. It should be noted that, if a Muslim is expected to submit his or her will to Allah, they cannot then act in difference to his Attributes. Yet, believing in God as the supreme creator, without considering and emphasizing His essential attributes, such as Goodness, Justice and Rightfulness might introduce serious suspicions concerning the morality of the believers who obey His command [ CITATION AlA10 \p xi \l 1033 ]. For any attribute to be followed religiously, it is imperative that the code of ethics contain no flaws. Human nature is flawed by creation and hence, should the divine scriptures have been written by man, they would have innumerable defects and would not be followed by billions of people worldwide.
Islamic Law, known as the Sharia, is often confused to be a predecessor of Islamic ethics. On the contrary, the Sharia law is derived from the ethical teachings of the Koran, the word of God. The legal profession in the first two centuries of Islam tried to make the law of Sharia cover every ethical situation and to make the study of this law the culminating study in Islamic Education. Thus, since the Islamic education was the most formative element in Islamic civilization, the important role of ethics in this civilization becomes obvious [ CITATION Hou85 \p i \l 1033 ].
Islamic Ethics and Modern Society
Islam prescribes a strict code of ethics on all its followers. This code, mainly listed in the Holy Koran, covers all spheres of life. Furthermore, the Sharia laws have been formed to make sure the ethics are followed and those breaking the tenets of Islam face the prescribed retribution. A lot of people view Islamic laws to be very severe and inhumane. However, if the laws of a country were to be lax, the incident of crime in that country would expectedly be high as perpetrators would have no fear of retribution. The punishment for crime has to either match or surpass the loss caused by the crime being committed. Only then will the law be good enough to discourage people from committing criminal acts.
The Sharia gives capital punishment to major crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery as well as use and trafficking of drugs. Most Muslim countries follow this law through and the punishment is meted out in prisons. However, Saudi Arabia conducts beheadings in public. Several human rights groups have condemned this act and it may seem brutal to most people. However, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia is ranked 65th for rape incidences with a mere 0.00329 in every 1000 people. Comparatively, countries with more lenient rules ranked much higher (#1 - South Africa 1.195/1000, #3 – Australia 0.777/1000, #5 – Canada 0.733/000 and #9 – USA 0.301/1000) [ CITATION UNO08 \l 1033 ]. It can hence be deduced that the implementation of strict punishments prescribed by the Islamic law leads to a lowering of crime rates even in modern times.
Although Islam prescribes capital punishment for murders, the Koran repeatedly calls for the family of victims to show mercy. The victim’s family has the right to waive the capital punishment by either forgiving the perpetrator or demanding a monetary recompense (Koran 2:178). Mercy is a key attribute of Allah and Muslims are expected to follow this virtue in their daily lives. So while Islam prescribes strict punishment for crimes, it also dictates virtues of kindness and forgiveness. It is this balance that many modern judiciary systems and ethical codes lack that can ultimately result in lowering of crime rates.
Islam prescribes a dress code for Muslim women. Known as the Hijaab, women are to cove themselves up in loose fitting clothes and can reveal only their faces, hands and feet below the ankles. Although this is seen as exploitation of women, the Koran first asks men to treat women with respect and ‘lower their gaze’ when in their company. This is a Hijaab for men. Women were given the right to own property and conduct business since the formation of Islam, a right that women in Western society got much later. In addition to these, Islam prescribe kind treatment and obedience towards ones parents, prohibits swindling of property and has several measures in place to eradicate exploitation of the weak. The Sharia law incorporates these tenets too.
The similarities between the teachings of Islam and Christianity, calling mankind towards following the attributes of an All Mighty God, shows that perfect virtues have to be of divine origin and not of flawed human nature. While Islam is often perceived to be an extreme religion, an in-depth study of its tenets reveals the religion preaches Godly behavior among its followers. Although certain sections of the Muslim society have been misled to believe in concepts of violence, the religion itself teaches virtues of kindness and forgiveness. The strict implementation of Sharia law and the resulting low crime rates in most Muslim countries illustrates how the ethics of Islam can be highly beneficial even to modern society.
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