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IslamQA: The foundations of morality in Islam: Reason or revelation?

Salaam. Can I say that religion is one of human needs, and that is to attain inner peace? As for how human beings live on the earth, we are free to make our own rules on how to regulate our people. I know from an Islamic religious group that human should not make their own rules on earth, but rather use God's Law (what they call Sharia Law) and whomever live life according to the rules made up by the geniuses (ones that is more capable in thinking than most of people) is considered ungrateful towards God and is openly disgrace His Greatness? I need your opinion about this. Thank you and I very much appreciate your time.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Attaining inner peace is a side effect of religion, not its purpose. The purpose of religion is to teach us how to form ourselves into that which pleases God the most.

We can discover many aspects of morality (conducting ourselves in the best way possible) by philosophical reflection. God has given us the ability to reflect on history and on the conduct of others and to aim for that which is good and wholesome. The problem is that we do not have any guiding principle that allows us to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, in all cases. Morality without guidance will always be on flimsy foundations because our perspective is limited to the human experience. We cannot access the keys of the universe to find out what the best conduct is within our particular universe. If you imagine two universes with two different creators, each of them may have different ideas about right and wrong. The moral rule in one of the universes may be that any society that engages in a particular sin will be wiped out within 100 years. There is no way to discover this based on philosophical reflection alone. People cannot talk to the Creator and ask them what the moral rule is in their particular universe. In the second universe there may be a different moral rule that causes people to be wiped out for a different sin.

So if it is true that our universe has a creator and that he is actively involved in running the universe, in directing history and the fates of individuals and civilizations, then it would be extremely naive to fully rely on our own philosophical reflections to decide moral questions. We may get some things right and some things wrong, and if we get important things wrong, that may cause us to be wiped out before we are able to make a correction.

So the wise thing to do in a universe managed by a creator is to find out the creator’s opinions on morality and to use those opinions as our guiding principles in morality. The creator’s opinions matter more than anyone else’s since they are in charge and can reward and punish us. The right course of action is to submit to the creator for our own safety and well-being rather than ignoring him and completely relying on our own philosophical reflections.

So while we are given enough wisdom to be able to decide many moral questions on our own, it would be arrogant and insulting to cut off the creator from our moral reflections. The creator is the most important moral authority, so their opinions should be our first principles.

This does not mean that we throw away our own reasoning and power of reflection. It means that we should be in constant conversation not just with each other, but also with the creator, through his revelations. In this way we can get a complete picture of morality. Without the creator’s opinions, we can never be sure if our morality is right or complete, and we may make the greatest errors and bring the greatest punishments on ourselves.

I do not support the opinion that all human morality is automatically wrong if it is not based on revelation (the Sharia). Humans can discover many aspects of morality on their own, it is just that their morality will be primitive and deficient without the creator. We do not have super-human intelligence and our universe is not managed by us. So it is only logical and reasonable to rely on the universe’s designer, creator and director on questions of morality.

And God knows best.

3 thoughts on “The foundations of morality in Islam: Reason or revelation?

  1. Anonymous

    I see. Thank you very much for your insight.

    So this is related to your essay or blog post regarding “The Muslim Plan for Western Civilization”, but I’m saying that what if I live in the Asia and that there are so many Muslims living here, living under democratic rules with a vast diversity in race, language, and religion, but a certain Islamic group (which you may call them ‘Islamists’) who calls on Muslim people to bring back Islam to hold Sharia law as a state foundation by establishing Caliphate, would that be a problem for us Muslims for not responding to their call or do we have to move on with our lives as per usual? I do know your opinion on the Caliphate. But this leads me to another question.

    Does desiring an Islamic Caliphate is similar like that of Jewish to establish Israeli state?

    Reply
    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      As discussed in this answer (http://hawramani.com/the-hadith-on-the-re-establishment-of-the-caliphate-is-unauthentic/) there is no strong evidence that Muslims are required to establish a “caliphate”. People who call for a caliphate often get it completely wrong. They think we must seize power then force a caliphate on everyone for everyone’s good. That has nothing to do with the Islamic ideal. The Islamic ideal is for each person to be good on their own and working toward the betterment of society, so that all of them together can naturally make a functional and moral society.

      Islam is focused on long-term, lasting change over the generations and centuries. Caliphate advocates are politicians who only see the next month and the next year and think that a Muslim’s top priority should be seizing power.

      So a Muslim who understands these things shouldn’t just avoid such caliphate advocates, he should speak against them and point out the weaknesses and flaws in their thinking.

      There is no desiring a caliphate in my Islam at least. Islam is a process, not a goal to be established. We can live fully Islamic lives this very moment. We have no Temple to restore or caliphate to establish. To be Muslim means to be the very best steward of God you can be wherever and whenever you are. It has nothing to do with political plans for gaining power. Muslims should not form into gangs (political parties) and seek power because power is something granted by God to whomever He wants.

      However I support individual Muslims working in politics if they do not pretend to be representatives of all Muslims and if they are not part of an Islamist party. If God gives a single Muslim the opportunity to be a powerful politician, they can make use of it while only representing themselves and the people who elected them.

      A Muslim’s politician’s power must be something that they naturally acquired rather than something they acquired by riding on people’s Islamic feelings and pretending they have some divine right to restore “Islam”.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        I see. Thank you very much for your explanation. I pretty much grasp what you have just written above.

        Reply

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