Is The Morality of Islam Suitable for the Modern World, or Antithetical to It?

blue mosque and hagia sophia

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Source: Huffington Post

By Kabir Helminski; Sufi author, activist, translator of Rumi & Yunus Emre, @KabirHelminski

Let us rephrase the question: can a morality suitable for the modern world be derived from the principles expressed in the Qur’an? Or are the principles found in the Qur’an antithetical to contemporary civilized values?

It is important to make a distinction between the original revelation, the Qur’an, and Shari`ah which comprises the various interpretations and applications of that revelation in terms of religious practice, personal morality, and societal law. For the general public in the West who have glimpsed Islam through the keyhole of mass media Shari`ah has come to mean the forceful application of an oppressive and rigid morality enforced by harsh punishments. But the Qur’an lends no support to such religious tyranny, and in the battle for the soul of Islam Muslims are confronting the injustices and oppression perpetuated by authoritarian and harsh interpretations of the religion.

At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the people of the Arabian Peninsula were without a deep tradition of spirituality and were barely aware of the other great religious traditions. Before Islam, tribal vengeance was the common law in the Arabian Peninsula. The first legal pronouncements of Islam came at a time when there was neither a legal system nor prisons. Within 150 years Islam had developed into a civilization that spanned from Spain to India. It was especially under the first Abbasid Caliph, al Mansur, that the need for a more systematic approach to law was recognized. Beginning in the mid-700s the great formulators of Islamic law — Abu Hanifa, Malik bin Anas, Al-Shafii, and Ibn Hanbal — began the project of systematizing Islamic law from the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad. Eventually Islamic Law grew into a highly developed system of justice whose stated aim was to secure the well-being and dignity of human beings.

While in a few cases punishment for crimes is specified in the Qur’an, these punishments represent the maximum penalty to be imposed, and considerable latitude is left for mercy, mitigating circumstances, and the uniqueness of each case.

For instance, during the reign of the Caliph Omar, in the earliest years of Islam, a man was brought up for judgment for having stolen food. The Caliph asked him, “Why don’t you work and earn money for food rather than steal.”

“I do work,” the accused said, “but still I do not have enough money to feed my family.” The truth of the statement having been verified, the Caliph sent a message to the man’s employer telling him that he would be the one punished if his employee were caught stealing again.

Islamic Shari`ah has Three Major Goals:

Nurturing the righteous individual

The first goal of Islamic Law is nurturing the healthy and moral human being who is a source of good both for himself and for others.

Establishing justice

Secondly, it came to establish justice between people within the community of believers, and with other communities and groups. Indeed, Allah commands justice … (An-Nahl 16:90) as He said in the Qur’an and commands people to stand firmly for justice.} (An-Nisaa’ 4:135) Shari`ah considers people to be equal, no one has superiority over another because of race, wealth, or family. Shari`ah even obligates Muslims to be just with their enemies during war. It establishes justice between men and women and makes women peers to men in terms of rights and responsibilities. And women shall have rights similar to the rights (their husbands have) upon them, according to what is equitable; although the men have a degree more … (Al-Baqarah 2:228). [Issues of women’s rights and responsibilities will be more thoroughly covered in a supplementary blog following this one.]

Realization of benefit (Maslahah)

Thirdly, Shari`ah never states anything except to achieve a real benefit (maslahah). Muslim scholars have traditionally agreed that the principles of Shari`ah aim at preserving and protecting five major benefits, namely, religion, life, intellect, progeny, and property. Those five benefits (or necessities as some call them) are essential to the honorable human life.

Islamic Law was never meant to be applied in a rigidly mechanical way.

Read further

Suggested Reading

Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran

Forty Hadiths or Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad about Compassionate Living

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