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The ethical ideal


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IT can be argued that the biggest dilemma confronting the Muslim world currently is a moral and ethical one. The root cause of all the major ills that plague Muslims — ignorance, poverty, intolerance, etc — is the fact that many of us have failed to apply the practical ethics taught by Islam in our everyday lives.

The Quran and Sunnah contain very clear guidelines regarding the construction of an ethical personality. The Almighty desires that each individual reach the exalted station of ashraf al-makhluqat, the pinnacle of creation. Yet most Muslims are content — out of either lack of direction or lack of effort — to be counted amongst the asfala safileen, or the lowest of the low. The disastrous results of such a course of action are clear for all to see.

But what is strange is that in a country like Pakistan, which is so full of religiosity and claims to be an ‘Islamic’ society, there is a huge moral and ethical vacuum. This either means that the majority of us are hypocrites, or we have not endeavoured far enough into the bottomless oceans of knowledge to seek out the pearls of truth — and act upon it. One would like to believe the latter is the case.

Considering that Rabiul Awwal, and particularly this day, is linked to the blessed birth of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) — that greatest of teachers and possessor of the most sublime morals — it would be in order to reacquaint ourselves with the examples of moral excellence found in the life of the Messenger. This is important for two reasons.

Firstly, in order to improve our own ethical situation we need to go beyond just professing love for the Prophet and try to apply his example to our own lives. Secondly, in the wake of crude attempts by some to malign his impeccable character, Muslims need to practically demonstrate to other communities what it means to be a follower of the Messenger. In other words, burning down our own cities to ‘protect’ his honour is light years away from the example he has set; building a compassionate, knowledgeable, egalitarian and indeed ethical society is in line with what the Prophet taught.

To get a proper idea about the personality of the Prophet, we must consult the traditional primary sources of Islam: the Quran and the authentic hadith. This is important for as Iranian scholar Prof Syed Hossein Nasr argues in his book Ideals and Realities of Islam, “In order to understand the significance of the Prophet it is not sufficient to study from the outside historical texts pertaining to his life. One must view him also from within the Islamic point of view. …”

However, it is also important to consider what those outside of Islam say about the Prophet, especially regarding his moral excellence. While there is much spurious material available in historical texts meant to malign the Prophet’s character — due partly to Orientalist biases against Islam and partly due to the early controversies regarding the recording of hadith within the Islamic realm — there are some truly remarkable and frank admissions from non-Muslim thinkers regarding the Messenger’s ethical excellence.

For example English historian Edward Gibbon says in History of the Saracen Empire, which he co-authored: “The greatest success of Muhammad’s (PBUH) life was effected by sheer moral force without the stroke of a sword.” On the other hand Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said: “I became more … convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam. … It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission.”

Aside from the words of such luminaries of history, most Muslims have — from childhood — heard traditions in which the moral excellence and outstanding character of the Prophet have been highlighted. Traditions which speak of his magnanimity towards adversaries, his tenderness towards the weak, the poor and the downtrodden of society, his love of knowledge, his dislike of arrogance and ostentation, his simplicity etc. Yet if we study our own society most of these values are completely absent, despite our claims of love for the Prophet.

Instead, what we find here and in most Muslim states is a vicious society steeped in ignorance, malice and exploitation. Justice — the foundation upon which an Islamic society is built — is completely absent. And those who talk of imposing Sharia present a frightening, mutilated version of Islam, one which is at complete odds with the Prophet’s Islam.

This disconnect between what we preach and what we practise must be urgently addressed in order to reform society. The pulpit must be at the forefront of this struggle: instead of focusing on relatively minor issues and fanning differences, society’s shortcomings (and their solutions) must be highlighted in mosques. This is admittedly a tall order, but until the pulpit — perhaps the most powerful of religious platforms — is used to construct a better society, change will not be forthcoming.

Going back to what Prof Nasr has written, in the Holy Quran the Almighty announces that He and the angels confer blessings upon the Prophet, going on to order those who believe to do the same (‘Surah Ahzab’). Such is the stature of the Noble Messenger that without conferring blessings upon him and his progeny the daily prayers are incomplete. These are clear signs for those who believe that there is no better an example to emulate in order to achieve excellence in this world and the next.

The writer is a member of staff.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (35) Closed

Cyrus Howell Jan 26, 2013 08:40pm
China has had Confucian ethics for 2,500 years without benefit of religion. It is not perfect but China is a more ethical nation that Pakistan.
SM Jan 26, 2013 10:17pm
And when were the times when Marx's ideology helped out the mankind to get rid of its problems? Marx and his ideology are a forgotten story dear - beware before quoting anything from him next time! The Europe has undoubtedly achieved very high level of economic development whose effects are evaporating with the passage of time. (Reality check: Give a read to the latest economic data of the European economies) Moreover, it is not necessary that we have to follow any model which, which you suppose, have been 'successfully' implemented in the West (There is no one definition of democracy in the West) What writer has opined here is about our moral and ethical values which our religion has taught us. If a Muslim does a wrongdoing, it does not mean that Islam has taught him to do. Similarly, it was not the Christianity which taught the Europe to fight and murder each other. We cannot blame a religion if it followers misinterprets it. The religions do not teach intolerance! And really you think Europe is secular? *Irony*
SM Jan 26, 2013 10:24pm
Sir, its not Islam which has taught the Muslims to be intolerant. As far religious freedom is concerned then kindly read history before defaming others. The religious, racial, ethnic intolerance is at historic high in all parts of the world. So, plz. stop defaming a particular religion for that. Islam taught ME to be open-minded and respect other religions. If one misinterprets those teachings please avoid hurting others' feelings who are followers of the same religion and respect others' religious or ideological believes.
Cyrus Howell Jan 26, 2013 08:46pm
Observant Muslims are in a competition with all other faiths and all other people. It is a life and death Tour d' France in order to reach Paradise before anyone else.
Cyrus Howell Jan 26, 2013 09:00pm
"The accomplishments of Western civilization cover all areas of life: methods of organization, politics, ethics, economics, and human rights. It is our obligation to acknowledge its amazing excellence." Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, Saudi Shura Council member. Al-Buleihi credits the West's emphasis on human rights above all other accomplishments.
sri1ram Jan 26, 2013 10:47pm
It is not always about religion. Mohammed PBUH was a great role model for Muslims in everyday life. For Hindus like me, the life of Ram serves as a model for inspiration and excellence. It only starts to matter when one compares and starts to impose his own version on others. The many examples of people \who have come up in Pakistan by not sacrificing their personal integrity, moral compass is itself motivational - Take Edhi or Cowasjee or even Hoodbhoy.
Dr, D. Prithipaul Jan 26, 2013 11:15pm
As someone belonging to the Indian sub-continent I find it difficult to ignore Buddha and Tirthankara Mahavira and agree that Muhammad was, or is, the supreme moral model for the whole of humanity. The Prophet may not advise burning your own cities. But he did teach how to burn the cities of others and the faithful have not failed him to oblige him in a large number of genocidal works. Without alternative sources of inspiration due to the absence of an antiquity, or to the development of a literature of wisdom inspired by reason and dictates of the heart, you keep turning round and round justifying every form of violence, of intolerance, of enmity, by references to the celestial suras. Such an exercise is a constantly recurring missing the bus of morality and spirituality cohering with practice in relation to a pluri-religious world. There may be wisdom in believing that an Arab God, as an object of thought, residing above, out there, however exalted with religious fervour, is a fiction. The Arab Deity does not exist, though it may be useful as a prop to support a belief. It was logical that your forbears would have destroyed Indian Buddhism to efface what the genuinely spiritual Gautama taught. It is spiritually and morally possible - and the Buddhists in India did so for fifteen centuries - to live a life full like an egg with goodness and charity and tolerance and loving kindness, without a belief in a Brown Indian God-out-there. You deprived humanity of something noble, rich in contemplative thinking, perfect in practical goodness, loving without limit. What a loss! And that obliteration was all done according to quranic prescriptions, according to the example set by a morally perfect prophet! All the contorsions of logical interpretations of the injunctions contained in the Holy Book and of the incidents of the prophet's life do not explain away the willing destruction of so much that was good and beautiful and true.
Cyrus Howell Jan 26, 2013 08:35pm
The biggest dilemma confronting Pakistan is that most of it's judges and police are corrupt. The biggest crime ever committed against Pakistan was it's feudal lords and ruling families allowing this by bribing the judges and police in order to to corrupt them. Talk of ethics is futile and meaningless unless and until corruption in the courts and in law enforcement has been eliminated. In such a case any methods of destroying corruption are permitted and sanctioned, and should be rewarded. No one will be at peace until that happens. Would you see this in Saudi Arabia?
Cyrus Howell Jan 26, 2013 08:37pm
Sharia Law is better than no law.
anon Jan 26, 2013 06:04pm
Somehow, the most intolerant and hate spewing people are the ones who spend years studying Quran and Sunnah. How do they end up misunderstanding Islam so much is beyond comprehension unless one considers tha real possibility that that is what Islam( Quran and Sahih Hadith) teaches.
Nisha Rai Jan 26, 2013 03:22pm
Simple solution for the upliftment of any Muslim society is implementation of Sharia in letter and true spirit. Half measures won't do. For example, Pakistan has made a good start with tough blasphemy laws, but nothing more. Continue the good work!
NASAH (USA) Jan 26, 2013 03:06am
"The root cause of all the major ills that plague Muslims ? ignorance, poverty, intolerance, etc ? is the fact that many of us have failed to apply the practical ethics taught by Islam in our everyday lives." Muslims in Pakistan are as moral and ethical as -- Hindus in India -- Catholics in the Vatican or Protestants in the United States -- or the Jewish in Tel Aviv -- or Buddhists in Japan. Muslims are just like anybody else -- neither morally superior nor ethically inferior to anybody. No need to self flagellate oneself in order to prove a self demeaning point. The day the Muslims learn to SEPARATE the religion from the politics -- the supernatural from the natural science -- inquisition from the inquiry -- emotion from the logic -- their salvation will begin -- and they will become as moral, as ethical and as knowledge-seeking as our prophet was.
Fawad Ahmed Jan 26, 2013 11:57am
This is very well written article clearly depicting the problem of our so called "Islamic Society". We are not tougth or never think about the real principles of islam. We are more show off rather practicle as for islamic practices are concerned.
farid maharaj Jan 26, 2013 06:58am
a well researched and timely article. this is a time for "Fikr" and only through this can the community see its face in the mirror of truth. the next step should be easy........
S Raghavan Jan 26, 2013 10:52am
Religion preaches practices for self discipline through which the character is shaped. No religion preaches avenues for development of society and nation. These are to be learned by individuals from moral values and principles of life. Blaming Quran and Islam for the evils afflicting the Muslim world is like defiling the church because of wrath against the priest. Muslim countries have produced intelligentsia who are competent to lead their nation / province through their well known and widely acknowledged ethics and values of human life and respect for humanity. The disconnect seen by the author is because of religious bigotry impeding the rise of such intelligentsia.
Muhammad Adeel Saleem Jan 25, 2013 08:24pm
Mr.Anoop and Mr.Srichand, I am drawing your attention. first, You both must understand the core meaning of Islam Islam comes from the word Salaam which means peace and also means submitting one`s will to Allah. Let us start with the very basic concept of religion.To a non-Muslim nurtured on a traditional concept of religion,it is only a private relationship between man & His Creator.But for a Muslim,religion comprehends the whole of life:its pattern of thought and behavior. It posits the ideal of a life in which,from the cradle to the grave,not a single moment is spent out of tune with or merely not provided for by a religious ruling.No sphere is left in which the thoughts and deeds of a Muslim- both in his personal and public life- are inconsequential for his fate in the Hereafter. That is the reason why God exhorts people to accept Islam in its entirely, [O you who believe! Come all of you into submission (to Him):follow not the footsteps of the devil.He is open enemy for you.] (Al-Baqarah 2:208) Islam is the only religion of the world which knows no distinction between the religious and secular,but views in one sweep the entire life of humanity. The philosophy of ethics,law and morals,manners and mores,arts and sciences, forms of social,political and economic organization,including the nature of family and marriage-side by side with the problems of worship and theology-have their legitimate place in the all-inclusive system of islam. The Qur`an calls upon Muslims to say: [Verily my prayers and my sacrifices and my life and death are all for Allah] (Al-An`am 6:162) It means that the whole life of people in all its spheres should be an expression of complete submission to Allah,the Creator of this universe and the Rightful Master. The word ''Ibadah''( Arabic for worship) does not signify worship only.It stands for submission and prayer,and worship is only a symbol of submission.
akhter husain Jan 26, 2013 07:47pm
Religion is not opium if one understands and practice it in letter and spirit. Unfortunately the vested interest have made it ritualistic there by creating hatred among the human beings.Just by the way if some one equip with guns, is trying to break in to your house,and you also have guns with you. Will you not fight the fire by fire.You will fight,because it is natural and permissible in law.or you will hand over all your life savings to the invaders just to show that you are civilised. You do not fire unless fired upon.This is exactly what Quran teaches.
Naseer Jan 26, 2013 03:00am
Unfortunately the Islam portrayed at the government levels in countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc is not the real Islam. They only use the name of Islam for their benefits. Proof is that the practices in these countries are against the teachings of holy prophet PBUH and a lot of times against Quran. Prophet said, "Learn even if you have to go to China" and Muslims are the most illiterate people. Prophet said, "cleanliness is half the religion" and Muslims usually are not clean and/or do not keep their surroundings clean. Prophet said, "Muslim is that who doesn't hurt other Muslim with his words or deeds" and you will see people killing others in the name of religion. Specially the harsh and unjust interpretation of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia is a big reason non-Muslims are uncomfortable with Islam.
BRR Jan 25, 2013 11:50pm
The same old same old. All that the writer seems to be doing is to yet again extol the glory of Islam and the prophet. Such endless rhetoric serves little purpose, and people can indulge in it forever. No calls for action, no pushing against the wheel, nothing concrete to be achieved. Just a feel good feeling on old glory.
Ali Jan 25, 2013 07:33pm
This happens when those who profess to be the followers of the Prophet no longer practice what they preach and divert from the golden words of "let there be no compulsion in religion".
rajiv thomas Jan 26, 2013 06:44pm
Interesting article. Muhammed appears to have been Christified by tradition. Not surprising since the people of the Levant, Mesopatamia and Egypt were mostly Christian. The Muhammed described here sounds a great deal like the Christified Jesus, except for the fact that Muhammed was not actually a pacificist. Apart from that, the two figures - at least the mythical if not hisorical figures - are very similar indeed
Pradeep Jan 25, 2013 10:26am
Wow.. those were some rare pearls of good thought.
Dr Khan Jan 25, 2013 02:01pm
Because we muslims are not following the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). We are following the ignorant mullahs who believe in hatred and intolerance. May Allah save Islam from muslims.
Dré Dé Prithipaul Jan 25, 2013 05:57pm
All the wrongs that the article mentions are actually attributable to the Quran and to the actions and utterances of the Prophet himself. With history having given to Humanity virtuous benefactors like Moses, Galen, Seneca, Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and so many others it is indeed astonishing that a sword wielding leader like Muhammad be deemed the ideal, the perfect man and at the same time to lament that so many Muslim countries offer so many forms of violence and calamities. These disturbed societies are violent and chaotic precisely because they strive so much to conform to the teachings of the Prophet and his revelations. Islam meaning peace is at best a slight euphemism as is evident if one just looks at the disappearance of the minorities in Pakistan which was founded as a haven of Islam. Replace the word Kaffir in the Quran with the word Jew and you get a celestial Mein Kamph and its sequel in the race laws of the National Socialist state. Can it be that Qasim Moini does not really get it, while living in a National-Islamist state, that the Quran is a recipe for violence and intolerance? Can it be that he cannot understand that there is no one up there, an uber-Arab, who asks a non-existent Gabriel to tell men and women on earth what to do and what not to do?
Beg Jan 25, 2013 04:07pm
Anoop, you are biased since you have not read islam, quran and teachings of mohammad ( pbuh ) you are looking at non practicing muslims and muslim countries and therefore drawing a wrong conclusion. It is like medicine is good but a medical practitioner (doctor )can practice bad medicine. So don't blame islam, blame muslims for not practicing islam. If you read islam, quran, you will realize that we in current world has not even close to the loftiest principles of islam which if practiced truly will bring complete justice, equality and harmony among all humans. Kindly read quran you will be surprised what have you missed in your life.
Dr Khan Jan 25, 2013 11:25am
I totally agree with the writer. We muslims are in a state of moral decline. We claim to be lovers of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) but our deeds are in opposite what He taught. In one hadith The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said " The best among humans is one who is more beneficial to other human beings". In other one He (PBUH) said " Wisdom is the foundation of my religion and Knowledge is my weapon". These are just two examples, many more are there. We muslims have to prove ourselves by our deeds not by preaching because actions speak louder than words.
jehangir Jan 25, 2013 11:21am
Finally an educated well written Friday Feature- this is most certainly a departure from the infantile points of view expressed by quite a few contributors to this column in the past. Though I disagree with you that the basis of ethics can only be divinely inspired- perhaps it is always been the battle between Good and Evil- the Zarathustra kind- yet I must congratulate you on underscoring the fact that it is the ethics or lack thereof which is the true plight of believers.
Beg Jan 25, 2013 03:54pm
Because muslim countries are not practicing islam. True islam is tolerant. Muslims who want to die for mohammad ( pbuh ) are not following him. Hence defaming islam.
rajiv thomas Jan 26, 2013 06:53pm
because people need religion to make it thru life - the tragedies that inevitably come our way like the loss of loved ones will not be consoled by secularism and democracy. to paraphrase "man loves, and all that he loves he loses what more to say is there than that" Well, religion has something to say about it and people find a great deal of consolation in what it says. To discount it is to underestimate its primal force in man's consciousness.
Ali Jan 25, 2013 12:54pm
More religion is not the answer!
Srichand Jan 25, 2013 06:04am
The followers of the most magnanimous Prophet are the most intolerant! How that is possible? I like to ask Mr. Qasim A. Moini, "why there is no freedom of religion in Muslim countries?
Anoop Jan 25, 2013 06:13am
This fight fire with fire and Quran quoting with further Quran quotes will not work. Does common sense really require Quran? The best part about common sense is there are no violent interpretations! But, it will happen with the Quran. Religion is the opium of masses, said Marx. Europe has experienced it first hand and they are letting common sense drive them now. Why not follow suit? Letting go of something so dear is hard, but also necessary. In the course of evolution of the Muslim world this HAS to happen, why not speed up the development and talk about basic values of secularism, democracy and the proven methods to implement them?
umesh bhagwat Jan 25, 2013 02:25pm
FRIDAY, 25 JANUARY 2013 Id-e-Milad(The Prophet's birthday) It was on this day that the Prophet was born in the holy city of Mecca! This day is celebrated by muslims all over the world with great pomp and splendor. The Prophet's birth marked a turning point in the history of mankind.Priot to the Prophet's birth the Arab world was dominated by obscurantism,slavery, suppression of women,human sacrifice and oppression.The Prophet's youth and middle age are shrouded in a mystery. It is commonly believed that he was a hunted man through out much of his life and was always moving from one place to another in fear of his life. It was only after his marriage to Ayesha,a rich widow that the Prophet found some semblance of stability in life. The Prophet was appalled by the prevailing conditions and desperately wanted to change the situation. He received god's word during his many periods of solitude. Later these divine revelations were to become the Holy Quran! The Prophet always believed that he was only a teacher who had followed in the footsteps of earlier prophets like Abraham,Moses,Jesus,Buddha and others.He never wanted his teachings to become a dogma but were only meant to show the path to a truer and meaningful life.The Prophet had the highest regard and respect for the dignity and honor of women. In my opinion the word Jehad has many meanings. The commonly accepted meaning is a call to arms to uphold the word of God.Even Lord Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita has preached violence has a legitimate option to uphold Dharma. However Dharma is not a static concept but a continuously evolving process.The eternal Dharma is the presence of God in the human heart and his guidance.Some Muslim scholars also interpret Jehad to mean the victory of truth,righteousness,love,brotherhood and justice over the opposite forces.It is suggested that all attempts should be made to win over the opposition by negotiation and dialogue before resorting to war. Unfortunately Islam like all other religions has become dogmatic and fanatic.The spirit is lost and the letter has prevailed!What is needed today is a more liberal and progressive interpretation of Islam Scholars like Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer have been suggesting that muslims should re-interpret Islam in the light of discoveries of science and try to give up their isolationist attitude.They have also been laying great stress on women's education and gender equality. I wish a happy Id-e-milad to all muslims and pray May Allah shower peace,prosperity and harmony to all! Posted by umesh bhagwat at 03:42
Ditt Jan 25, 2013 02:09pm
Islam is the only major religion that legislates every part of an individual's life. It treats individuals like children who have to be controlled and guided all their lives. All other major religions advise, but do not compel their followers. In the long run, giving people the freedom to make mistakes and voluntarily reject destructive behavior is better than forcibly preventing them in the first place. Foran example, just look at the Scandinavians. they have all the freedoms, and yet they are some of the most responsible people on the planet. The force approach might have worked a thousand years ago for primitive trading tribes in Arabia who had no philosophical sophistication, but it is unlikely to work in the modern era of science and twitter. The Middle Ages in Europe taught them that.
NASAH (USA) Jan 25, 2013 02:06pm
Thanks for the Friday sermon -- but no thanks. Muslims problems are NOT 'moral or ethical' -- they are political. Mixing sermonizing with the politics.