1 Islamic articles on: Islam and morality

Table of contents for the topic Islam and morality
  1. The foundations of morality in Islam: Reason or revelation?

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.