Sunday, 4 October 2015

Morality and the Intellectual Leadership of Islam

Section 1: Introduction
  •       Terminology
  •        The ‘Is/Ought’ Problem
  •          The Trolley Problem

Section 2: Summary of Theories

Theories which look at the Action

2(a)        Teleological Theories (View consequences of actions)
2(b)        Deontological Theories (View duties)
2(c)        Situational Ethical Theories (Moral Relativism)

Theories which look at the Actor

2(d)        Virtue Ethics focus on the person. 

Section 3: Analysis of Theories 
Teleological Theories

3(a)        Assessing the Outcome for the individual:
3(b)        Assessing the Outcome on others
3(c)        Assessing to Outcome of others with no regard to oneself
3(d)        Assessing the outcome as defined by the goals of nature. 

Duty bound or Deontological Theories

3(e)        Divine Command Ethics
3(f)         Rationality based
3(g)        Moral Sense Theories

Situational Ethical Theories (Moral Relativism)

Virtue Ethics

Section 4: Contemplation

4(a)        Why is there no uniform viewpoint?
4(b)        Why did Europe seek to change the dominant view of Morality?

Section 5: Refutation of Secular Morality

5(a)           Refuting Teleological Morality
5(b)           Refuting (Secular)Deontological Morality.
5(c)           Refuting the Situation Approach (Moral Relativism)
5(d)           Refuting Virtue Ethics

Section 6: The Islamic Position

Section 7: Practical Steps

Section 8: Conclusion

Section 1: Introduction

In the current climate where the Islamic values and rules representing the Islamic moral standards are being attacked, vilified and misrepresented, the need to clarify the subject of morality and ethics and the evolution of Moral Philosophy has never been so pressing.

The standards of morality in the West, developed during the enlightenment, is used to criticize many rules from Islam, such as rules related to the role of women, the punishment system and the rules of apostasy according to the human rights doctrine.

Perhaps the best summation of what constitutes the Western Moral basis, is as captured by the works of John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873).

Mill wrote 3 influential books on liberty, utilitarianism and women’s rights. Mill argued that to be progressive, nations should allow their citizens to be free, adopt democratic forms of government and accountability, the belief that the greatest good is to be had through the individual seeking to do the actions that lead to the greatest pleasure (utilitarianism) and also had views about gender equality.

All these areas capture the essence of the West’s value system and all attempts have been made to project these values as the only valid values for any progressive nation to follow and values that the Muslim community need to adopt. Attempts have been made to smear the Islamic values as if they are against the rights of women, against open and elected forms of government etc to name a couple of areas.

It is the aim of this paper not to present a ‘them vs us’ narrative as so many commentators tend to do, but to show that this whole area of what constitutes western values and morals is far from uniform from the intellectual tradition through the enlightenment, but are instead largely cobbled together as a result of seeking to de-legitimise the hegemonic Church throughout medieval Europe, stating with the reformation in the 16th Century.

Due to the reactionary basis upon which morals and moral guidelines for behaviour were adopted, it is clear that a real objective study of the subject was lacking and this is what this paper seeks to do. It then seeks to offer an alternative narrative to foster a more healthy debate around values and morals than the one that the West is embarking upon which is one whereby the western moral basis is upheld as if it is a self evident and objective truth into which all other viewpoints must melt.

This paper seeks to pick up the struggle the ancestors of the ordinary masses endured, people we see as our fellow citizens and trace the struggle for liberation from the dark ages and present a different prognoses to the route that the enlightenment took in the 18th Century.   


First and foremost, the need to agree on terminology is vital if the debate is to be furthered in a way conducive to engagement. For the purposes of this essay, the following terms are defined:  

Values – These are the goals which are sought from ones actions in life, such as to be free to achieve your human potential.

Morals – These are the set of standards for judging individual behaviour as right or wrong. The correctness or otherwise of the behaviour is measured according to the values which are sought in life.

Ethics, or Moral Philosophy, are the philosophical principles that allow for the formulation of such moral codes.

The ‘Is/Ought’ Problem

Secular Morality in the Western tradition is captured by the words of the 18th Century enlightenment philosopher David Hume who framed the essence of the question, as the “is/ought” problem.

There is a clear divide in knowledge between the positive and normative realm. The positive deals with factual and objective phenomena such as the statement “it is raining today”.

This is a positive and objective (is) statement which objectively describes an aspect of the physical world which is not subject to ones opinion. This is contrasted with the normative statement “Children should listen to their parents”. This latter statement is subjective and depends on ones viewpoint and perspective. Hence this is a normative statement (ought) statement as it rests on ones values and opinions about the world and cannot be measured directly for its correctness as was the case for the positive statement above.

Can we get an ought from an is?

The question for those engaged on Ethical questions is this essentially can one obtain an objective basis for measuring questions which are essentially subjective in nature? Put in another way, can one get an ‘Ought’ from an ‘Is’?

It is argued that if one can asses morality according to an objective criteria the way a positive statement can be measured for correctness or otherwise, then the basis for morality, which is essential within the normative and subjective realm, is likewise definitive and the Western claim for its moral compass being superior and worthy of being followed by all of humanity can be considered sound and a viable proposition. It is this question which forms the heart of this essay.
 The Trolley Problem

To demonstrate the lack of conformity amongst people with regard to questions of ‘Ought’ as opposed to questions of ‘Is’ is the example of the trolley (or runaway train) problem. 

The scenario is that there is a runaway train and there is an observer who sees the train approaching a group of unsuspecting railway line workers. He is unable to warn this group of individuals in time and the only way to save them is to pull a track lever which will divert the train to a side track which has a single worker working away. So the dilemma is does one save 5 and kill 1? Or is it morally wrong to proactively kill under any circumstance?

Most people when asked would agree the ‘right’ thing to do is to pull the lever, however when presented with a similar scenario where the observer is standing on a bridge above the track and this time the only way to stop the train from killing the group is to push an unsuspecting man who is sufficiently large to derail the train onto the track from behind!

Interestingly most people now argue against intervention; however the effect of both actions is to kill one to save 5, or saving 4 lives.

This simple hypothetical example demonstrates how there is no easy and objective basis to such moral dilemmas and thus reinforcing the difficulty of treating the subjective questions as objective and measurable as in the case of questions from the positive realm. 
This is the heart of the debate between moral subjectivism, which argues that you cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ and moral realism which advocates that you can get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.

Section 2: Summary of Theories

In the Western tradition, this debate has its origins in the discourse of the famous Greek Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle around 500BC and has carried on to more recent thinkers such as Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and Thomas Hobbs.

Let us consider 3 broad sets of theories which capture the spectrum of thought on the subject of normative ethics:
Action Based Theories

2(a)        Teleological Theories

From the Greek ‘telos’ (end) and logos (science). These are consequence based theories which asses the action and its moral soundness on the basis of the actions predicted outcome.

2(b)        Deontological Theories (Duty Approach)

 From the Greek ‘Deon’ (duty) and logos (science). These theories focus on the action of the moral actor and pay no regard to the consequences of the action. So this view of morality deems the action to be moral if it complies with stipulated criteria.

2(c)        Situational Ethical Theories (Moral Relativism)

These theories, are a hybrid in relation to the above dichotomy as they propose the notion or right and wrong are relative to the situation in which they particular moral code arose i.e. the situational context.

So it is argued that the action must adhere to moral codes (as is argued by those who call for Deontological Theories) but the outcome is also key as the outcome depends on the relative norms for the unique society being considered. So moral judgements are considered relative to a societies’ unique experience and this negates the notion of moral supremacy of one view over another.

Note: Nihilism (advocated by Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 - 1900) is an extreme view under this category which goes one step further than Moral Relativism by questioning the degree to which Moral relativism is truly free of Judo/Christian biases and opens up the criteria of right and wrong further considering why it is wrong to steal, kill etc.

Person Based Theories

2(d)        Virtue Ethics focus on the person.  This is captured in one of his sayings “Excellence.... therefore, is not an act, but a habit”

A well known proponent of this approach was Aristotle who advocated that man should display certain characteristics that would help him achieve an elevated life leading to ‘human flourishing’ or ‘Eudemonia’ in Greek.

The basis of such morals is what is well known in society and this model focuses on balance between extremes in character. This approach implies that a scale for each human quality is defined so between cowardice and bravery for example and Aristotle would call for a middle ground to achieve a high moral state.

Section 3: Analysis of Theories
Teleological Theories

These theories as mentioned fall under the branch of Ethics which use the consequence of actions as a basis to judge the actions validity or correctness. The action itself is ignored to a great extend and can therefore change and still be moral different contexts. This would explain why certain laws change over time and also why something that was morally abhorrent in the past can now be considered morally virtuous. 

There are some sub-divisions amongst this camp according to a view of the outcomes or actual consequences sought.

3(a)        Assessing the Outcome for the individual :
               Ethical Egoism as discussed by Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)

3(b)        Assessing the Outcome on others as a means of furthering a positive outcome for oneself,
               aka The Golden Rule/The Silver rule or “do unto others as one would want to have done to
               Ethical Utilitarianism – John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)

3(c)        Assessing to Outcome of others with no regard to oneself:
              Ethical Altruism. True altruism is considered by many as irrational or very rare and in
              reality more likely to arise from deontological ethics!

3(d)        Assessing the outcome of an action as defined by the goals of nature.

The theory of Natural Law was put forward by Aristotle but championed by Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Also known as Natural Law Theories, it is closely tied to the idea of Deism which was prevalent in the US during the 18th Century during the revolution and key in the formation of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

It was also a key weapon used during the French revolution to de-legitimise the prevailing view of the time which gave Kings the divine right to rule in God’s name and authority so in effect that which was decided by the King was by proxy decided God himself. 
It is argued that an observation of nature shows that nature is replete with observations of life forms trying to sustain the following patterns of behaviour
o   Struggle for life
o   Drive for reproduction
o   Orientations towards family or collectivism
o   In the case of humans, the search for knowledge

Proponents of Natural Law theories look for the consequences as defined by the fulfilment of these outcomes when assessing the moral basis of actions. So the immorality of abortion is defined by its contravening the struggle for life for example. Similarly the regarding as immoral the action of subversion or the attempt to undermine an established order is considered as a violation of collectivism.

Duty bound or Deontological Theories

These theories unlike the Teleological theories above which focus on the consequences of actions as a criterion to judge the action instead focus on the action itself.

There are 3 sub-divisions

3(e)        Divine Command Ethics

 Actions are considered right or wrong according to the dictates of scripture. Consequences     are not entertained in considering the action. Therefore speaking the truth is the moral actions and lying is immoral irrespective of whether the short term effect is deemed to be damaging.
3(f)         Theories grounded in rationality (Categorical Imperative : Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)

The mind can independently arrive at right and wrong based on 2 key formulations (there are 3 but the 3rd is a subset). To arrive at a moral actions, the following conditions are considered:-

One must act in a way that one would want others to act such that the action would become universally applied and accepted. Once one conceptualizes the correct behaviour, then one must not violate this standard ever irrespective of the consequences.

So if the disregard for the property of others through its theft were to become widespread, this rampant theft of property would contradict the notion of the right to own, so as to avoid this contradiction, to steal would be considered wrong irrespective of the context or consequences of stealing.

People should not be viewed as a means but always as an ends in themselves. So to lie even when it helps someone is morally wrong according to the categorical imperative as lying if it were to become widespread would mean that a moral agent would be manipulating another agent from his or her own goal and this would

3(g)        Moral Sense Theories or Sentimentalism

Look at emotional response to experience (Adam Smith and the theory of moral sentiments)
AKA ethical intuitionism – similar to the fitra argument with the exception that Islam does not believe that the moral boundaries for action can arise from the fitra alone. 

Situational Ethical Theories (Moral Relativism)

These theories look to acknowledge cultural and historical diversity to the judging of moral standards amongst societies so the acceptance that there is no universal criteria to judge morality is accepted by 
Moral Relativists.

However they do argue that there is a right and wrong within Morality, but that is for the particular society, with its unique history, culture, believes etc to formulate and act upon.

Nihilists, such as Friedrich Nitchze  (1844 – 1900) went a step further and argued that the moral relativists had implicit standards within their moral code that were tainted by judo/Christian moral traditions and that these criteria’s and standards needed to be removed. They argue that there is no right and wrong inherently so killing the innocent is not inherently wrong.  Hitler once referred to him in a speech on Great Men!

This was a very extreme and radical view and nothing was deemed to be inherently wrong according to this view points. It is not surprising that it was never adopted in any mainstream discourse beyond some interest by extreme psychopathic rulers such as Adolf Hitler who studied the ideas of Nitchze and was probably influenced by his ideas.
Virtue Ethics

The main proponent worthy of mention is the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. He suggested that individuals should be virtuous and made the actor rather than the action the focus of the subject.

According to this view, a scale needs to be placed with respect to every characteristic and the moral actor would be the one demonstrating a balanced position between the 2 extremes. The balanced position would be the one which demonstrates virtue or arĂȘte

For example between bravery and cowardice or between miserliness and generosity.

Section 4:  Contemplation

Let us consider the following questions and observations from the preceding analysis:

4(a)        Why is there no uniform viewpoint?

4(b)        Why did Europe seek to change the dominant view of Morality from the view dictated by
               the Church?

To answer the first question, If the Western values and ethics, as argued by those who insist that others melt into the predominant, supposedly universal and superior norms of behaviour, then there should be a universal morality that is a self-evident truth which stands apart from the crowd of ideas on the subject which is essentially subjective in nature?

It is often depicted that the Western norms of behaviour are in harmony with the natural state of man and are self evident truths. Other moral norms are portrayed as inferior and the nations which adopt such values are thus depicted as not worthy to lead the world and such nations are often told or forced in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan to reform towards such values and standards of morality.

However as the preceding analysis shows, there is much diversity in opinion and these differences are deep rooted and not superficial. Even if one considers those regarded as the highest authority of thought namely the ancient Greeks, we see radically different views towards the subject. Take the difference between Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) which believed in Eudaimonia (Human Flourishing) and Epicurus (341 -270 BC) who believed in Hedonism (self gratification) but a higher form than the animalistic form of pleasure seeking as advocated over 2000 years later by Jeremy Bentham.

To Aristotle hedonism (seeking pleasure of the basic desires) was the lowest level of happiness and he considered such people as living an animalistic life. Years later Jeremy Bentham looked at utilitarianism purely as a means of seeking pleasure employing a mathematical basis to looking at pleasure from the perspective of duration and intensity as the guiding framework for deciding on a actions morality. It was what prompted the writer/philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) to calling this form of utilitarianism ‘Pig philosophy’ and that a pig, who is more likely to live a life satisfying basic pleasures as being better than that of a human using Bentham’s logic.

To be fair to the debate however, John Stuart Mill did refine the ideas of Bentham by differentiating lower pleasures from higher more intellectual pleasures and that explains the way he resolved the ‘pig problem’ by his famous quote

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”

Note: Socrates was the teacher of Plato who taught Aristotle (all Ancient Greek Philosophers).

How then can the Western moral statement be beyond question and not be a candidate for re-evaluation given the lack of consensus and deep rooted divergence?

The issue here is that these values were developed in a reactionary way to thwart the influence of the Church during the post reformation era and thus adopted for the political expediency of the time and now surely need to be reassessed on the basis of the new situation we as humanity now find ourselves in. This leads into answering the second question 

To thus answer the second question directly, was there a political context to this transition? Were ulterior motives at play which leads one to question the real driver behind the moral reforms that swept the Western world during the enlightenment! Let us consider the historical context to when the transition to consequence based theories took root in Western society.

Let us start from the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe when the power of the Catholic Church (established as the central power from the time of the 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine’s adoption of Christianity to unify the flailing Roman Empires territory) was first questioned in any meaningful way by the German monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) in his.
Luther in 1517 questioned the power of the Church in issuing ‘indulgences’ or receipts that were paid for which were sold as a way to avoid transitional punishment (purgatory) for Christians that were not to be permitted direct access into heaven and who were destined for some time in torment after death.

This move lead ultimately to a split in Christianity and a new impetus to dethrone the Church as a political force and transition to a personal form of religious practice which was free from institutional corruption was set into motion.

Other variables also contributed such as the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg which allowed the translated Bible for example the works of people such as John Wycliffe (1331-1384) and later the 1611 King James Bible, from Latin to local languages, made the meanings of scripture more accessible to those who had been suppressed under the manorial/feudal system more bold in seeking their rights. Keeping the Bible in a language that was unknown to the masses was a means of manipulating its meaning to be one that justified the excess power of the Church and the political classes i.e. the Kings and other hierarchies that benefited under feudalism such as the earls, barons and knights and helped alienating the true meaning of Religion to the masses and this stain on the Western psyche persists to this very day.

This reformation and the ensuing Enlightenment sought to arrest the power and role of Church in society and to be effective the movement needed to split authority of the church from life’s affairs. To do so meant that a new moral code based around a secular foundation was needed to transition the need for the moral compass being directed by the Church which had lead the masses into believing that it followed a Deontological based approach (Devine Command Theory), but in reality was a corrupted entity benefiting from the lack of knowledge people had towards the bible and the true message of Prophet Jesus, which was obfuscated by a bible that only existed in an alien Latin text.
This movement to dethrone the role and influence of the Church was seen in most spheres of life not just Moral philosophy but in other areas:-

A)     Political theory which attacked absolute monarchy and called for more participative forms of government.

B)     Economic theory where the church centric feudal and mercantile system of trade was attacked by Classical theories which empowered the people over the sovereign kings and clergy.

C)     Knowledge theory (Epistemology) which explores the question of how to establishing knowledge and fact whether through reason or sensorial data or a combination of the two.

This debate between the empiricists (John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume) and the rationalists (Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant) was key in breaking the strangle hold of the church by moving the seat of true knowledge from the unobservable (metaphysical realm) to the physical/observable (empirical) realm as it negated the notion of the metaphysical world of which the existence of God and the supreme power of the Church was contingent.

Now it is apparent that there was a political context to the debate which was more focussed on dethroning the Church than any objective formulation, let us analyze the various positions and form some objective judgements.

Section 5:  Refution of Secular Morality

5(a) Refuting Teleological Morality
As far as the consequences being utility (hedonism) as per the utilitarianism branch of the Teleological morality, the ‘paradox of hedonism’ encapsulates the problem with seeking pleasure as a means of becoming content and striving for a worthy moral target. This is due to the fact that people who aim at pleasure seldom get the pleasure and contentment they seek. The targeting of pleasure leads to it not leading to pleasure. Take for example those that seek material wealth as a means for happiness. Such people end up more anxious, wearier of their social circle and more agitated by the pursuit of more that they end up miserable relative to others who become content with less and target other outcomes.

More generally, the key criticism of Consequence based approach to judging actions as correct or morally viable is in part the inability to predict the consequences of an action whose effects will ripple throughout time with one cause becoming an effect which would in turn become the cause of a subsequent effect!

One cannot just look at the first effect and pass that off as the isolated effect as is often presented by those who believe in this view. Take a few examples to illustrate this phenomenon:-

Richard Nixon visited Beijing in 1972 and asked the leader Zhou Enlai what he thought of the French Revolution of 1789 to which the latter replied “it’s too early to say” captures the key fallacy of consequentialism.  The true and enduring effects of an action have a domino effect that one can never truly contain in any meaningful way so as to judge its merit.

Impossible to quantify longer term consequences of actions, you cannot see the good and bad,

1.      Subsidies appear good for companies in the very short term but create bureaucratic and uncompetitive companies in the medium to long term that die off after subsidies are removed and firms are open to global competition.
2.      The Quraish (the tribe of Prophet Muhammed) sought to vilify the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to the visiting tribes but this created more interest in his message.

3.      Law of unintended consequences show how the effect can often be at great odds with the intended effect. During the British Empire rule in India there was a problem with cobras which lead to a reward for people tuning in such pests which then lead people to breed them to turn them in. This is a good case of the law of unintended consequence and this has been referred to as the ‘Cobra Effect’   

When the outcome sought is Natural Law and phenomena which occur in the natural order which exists as propounded by the followers of Deism, it is clear that human interaction is significantly more complex than the simple and general patterns which exist when observing the natural world.

The Natural Law, as applied to the case of human beings, thus requires greater precision.

As an indication consider the case of suicide. Suicide contravenes the natural inclination to preserving life but in some cases, it is done to terminate pain which is also something that nature demonstrates an aversion to.  Similarly, some animals in nature kill their offspring, as the predatory instinct can get confused and offspring is mistaken for prey for example in the tomcat. Alternatively, lions eat their cubs should they die. To argue that it is moral for humans to eat other humans or kills them for food, including the offspring despite being ordinarily ready to kill to protect offspring is an example of the contradiction in the animal kingdom which shows how using nature to guide the moral compass does not lead to sound answer to complex questions of morality. 

So how does natural law mediate such contradictions without there being some detailed arbitration (divine guidance which helps weigh and arbitrate) when it comes to contradictory positions? Clearly there are issues when trying to apply the basic guidelines from the natural world to the realm of humans who display far more complex patterns of behaviour due to the existence of a mind which has enabled the human being to be elevated far above the rest of creation.

5(b)  Refuting Deontological Morality using the Christian experience and other secular               
         approaches to Duty based ethics

Regarding the duty based approach which looks at the action devoid of consequences, excluding the sub-classification which is based on true divine guidance, and then one can state the following of the approach modelled by Immanuel Kant who developed his approach called the ‘Categorical Imperative’.

Considering more generally the question of whether human rationality can arrive at a universal truth? Given it is subject to bias and thoughts are the product of the changing and unchanging aspects of the world we observe?

If we base our thoughts on the unchanging aspects of the world then we can arrive at sound conclusions such as the existence of an ultimate cause of all existence which is beyond the space and time continuum.

If we base our conclusions on events that are contained within a specific space and time, our view will be skewed by our own experiences and this will lead us to unsound conclusions. Take the following examples with regard to the notion of the primordial state of man, which led some to believing that man should be free (and Freedom and Liberty thus being self-evident truths) and this is the only means to unleash the human potential:-
 Thomas Hobbes was a famous 17th Century philosopher who lived through the English Civil War and concluded that man is inherently evil and should be contained by authority in the form of an absolute sovereign. He said “It is not wisdom but Authority that makes law”

Later on in 18th Century France, as a means of dethroning the legitimacy of the French authority which was ruled as an absolute monarchy justified by the Christian view of man’s original sin and wickedness and being in need of divinely appointed kings and monarchs, Jean Jacques Rousseau held the opposite view that man is inherently good (man is a noble savage) and is corrupted by civilization.

This lead him and others to argue that freedom and emancipation from the absolute monarchy was vital to allow man to manifest his innate goodness and maximize the human potential and these ideas spearheaded the revolt which was later known as the French revolution of 1789. These views were clearly related to the desire to de-legitimize the aristocracy of King Louis VI and Mary Antoinette who was aloof from her subjects as evident by her infamous “Let them eat cake!” remarks when faced with widespread hunger. 

These examples chosen for their direct correlation with shaping the moral compass of the western tradition, in the case of Rousseau’s view legitimizing freedom and liberty which would become the bedrock of the western moral foundation are clearly an evidence for the reactionary nature of human thinking were so much rests on the quirks of time and place rather than deep contemplation of reality based on the unchanging parameters of the universe we observe.

Turning more specifically to the Kantian view of the Categorical Imperative, when asked if it would be justified to lie to a murder who came to your door asking for the location of your family, Kant had to respond, to stay consistent to his theory’s second imperative that it is wrong to use another for one’s own end, that it would be morally wrong to lie in this situation. 

Clearly there are significant flaws in his approach to arriving at universal norms of behaviour and moral conduct. Furthermore the first formulation of his imperative presupposes that the human intellect can arrive at the notion of right and wrong which as shown by the preceding discussion, is prone to situational bias unless it is anchored to deep contemplation of the universe as far as its unchanging aspects. This distinction will become clear in the section which explores the Islamic position.

The other main subdivision in Duty based or Deontological Ethics is Divine Command Theory.

This approach looks at a divine agent, namely God to set and direct the moral compass of mankind through divine scripture. Such scripture or revelation sets out the laws which define the criteria of what is right and what is wrong. This is clearly different to the human being through his personal view defining the normative and subjective sphere and seems to make sense due to the limitations of the mind and how it cannot arrive at a universal viewpoint the way it can arrive at universal viewpoints across all cultures and times when it comes to the positive sphere. For example there are no peoples or cultures who would disagree that it was raining as this is a matter of fact (positive sphere) and not a matter of opinion (normative sphere).

However, due to the Christian experience, which was unique to Christianity, this approach to morality was never able to be demonstrated due to the corruption in the way device scripture was incorporated into practical and political life during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I during the 4th Century.

In summary, Constantine was a Roman Emperor who was facing a fragmented empire and needed a unifying force to hold the rapidly fragmenting territory of the Western Roman Empire together and the God of the Christians was the perfect means of achieving this. After claiming that he had a genuine vision of a cross in the sky, and fighting under the God of the Christians and achieving success against the odds, he set about bringing Christianity from the fringe of Roman society into mainstream life culminating in the Edict of Milan which cemented the rights of Christians who had for centuries been oppressed under Roman rule.

He embarked on a process of trying to mould Christianity to the tastes of the pagan Romans (a process known as the Constantine Shift or Interpretatio Christiana which is the Latin term for Christian Interpretation) which looked to convert pagan customs and tastes into a Christian context. Clearly designed to appease the wider Roman society, it shows how there was no genuine transformation to the divine guidance and as evident to the imagery of Jesus shown with the rays of the Sun being drawn around his head in state Churches to match the pre Christian pagan practice of Sun worship. The fact that Constantine left his baptism to the end of his life (after he had finished his military campaigns) shows further that there was no real transition to the real values and teachings of Prophet Jesus. Even his building of Churches was it is argued, atonement for the guilt of killing his son for a reason which was baseless it later transpired. 

So Christianity from its inception was never allowed to define the society along the lines mandated by the divine command theory so the Christian theocratic experience and the entire chapter of the Roman Catholic Church must be excluded from the analysis of considering the merits of a divine agent directing the moral compass of mankind.  This then opens up a fresh outlook for the divine command branch of Morality as shall be explored in Chapter 6.

As far as the final classification of duty bound morality, namely moral sentimentalism being a sound driver for providing the moral compass, it is true that there is a universal human nature which has is innate within each and every child. This has been mentioned both in Islamic scripture (The Quran) and also mentioned by various secular based psychologists for example Professor Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University said that children are not born as a blank slate or ‘Tabula rasa’ in Latin  but “children naturally see the world in terms of design and purpose” (Bloom and Weisberg 2007)

However this inbuilt emotional design is primitive in nature and not adequately sophisticated to act as a moral compass through the complexity of the issues that face mankind. 

5(c)        Refuting the Situation Approach (Moral Relativism)

Moral relativism is the view that there is no absolute truth and all truth is relative. On this basis, proponents of this view argue that no moral code can be advocated for all people and different cultures and people have their own unique moral code which others should not judge. What is right for people in some rural communities in Africa as far as dress code is right for them it follows but wrong for people living in conservative societies.

Clearly there are universal truths and it is feasible to establish such universal truths as will be addressed in the Islamic section.

5(d)        Refuting Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics which were the Aristotelian position on the subject were criticised for not providing any definitive position and on being vague. This approach as mentioned looks at the human being rather than on the action or the consequences as in the preceding set of approaches and setup up a scale of extremes and defines the moral character on the basis of the one who represents a balance between extremes.

A criticism of this branch of ethics is that it is not easily to find a viewpoint on complex issues using this approach, yet there has been some re-emergence of interest in this branch or moral theory.

Section 6: The Islamic Position

The Islamic moral compass is grounded in divine scripture in the form of the revelation revealed to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) over 23 years. This revelation is the raw source from which qualified scholars of jurisprudence extract rules which describe the prescribed way in which to achieve any given objective. These objectives, in a broad sense, are common to all human beings.
This innate driving force is called ‘Fitra’ and creates drives at 3 distinct strata of drives within all people:
Needs that must be satisfied to sustain life such as the need for food, oxygen, water and sleep.
Needs which need to be satisfied to avoid the human feeling miserable such as the need for family, security through material possessions and the need to revere something that appears free from the imperfections that man himself feels.

Innate traits which push a person’s curiosity and innate sense of purpose and justice.

The key differentiator with regard to the Islamic position compared to the previous secular theories is that the rules of Islam are in harmony with the true fitrah of the human being. Fitrah has been translated as the natural inclination to Islam.

The Prophet SAW said that “every child is born on the fitra” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Evidence of fitra from the Quran:
Surah Rum verse 30

“So direct your face towards the religion, inclining to truth. Adhere to the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created all people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know”

The Fitrah bestows some innate awareness of certain concepts such as there existing a supreme power that was the ultimate cause of all reality, the concept therefore of causality, the sense of fairness and finally the sense that life has purpose and meaning to name a few.

However, the Fitrah, however, contrary to moral sense argument which uses natural innate sentiments to provide the moral compass doesn’t give us sufficient intuition to the complex rules which is why Prophets and Messengers were send over time to provide such details which were relevant to the level of sophistication of the society in question.

Due to the final Prophet Muhammad coming with the final message which had to cater for the rest of time, naturally the text from which rules are derived were very comprehensive in their ability to produce detailed rules for all matters ranging from social, political, judicial and economic matters.
The interplay therefore between the Fitra and the rules of Islam (which represent the moral compass) are in harmony much like the manufacturers manual is in harmony with the factory product that is relates to.

The fitrah however is corruptible if the rules God revealed are not blended into the early stage of development. The early hadith scholar, Ibn Qutayba al-Daynuri (d.276H) writes that children are born with a simple spiritual and intellectual inclination towards God.

A pledge was taken from the souls of all human at the time of the creation of Prophet Adam (as) as referenced in the following Quranic verse (ayat) :-

7:172 (Surah Al Araf  or The Heights)

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], "Am I not your Lord?" They said, "Yes, we have testified." [This] - lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, "Indeed, we were of this unaware."
Unlike the Christian view of man’s inherent wickedness and state of original sin or inherent evilness as discussed by Tomas Hobbes as mentioned, the Qur’anic discourse argues that the fundamental nature of human beings is inherently good. This is similar to the position adopted by Rousseau which resulted in the appeal of the idea of Freedom and liberty which it was believed would lead man towards ‘good’ as the antithesis of suppression which lead man towards evil and rebellion.

The problem however was that although Rousseau was correct to assess the nature of man as being noble and essentially good, he and his followers didn’t see how this innate tendency for good was inadequate on its own to provide the necessary guidance at the detailed level of leading him towards good actions especially when it came to the details of such actions.

As a result the fitra became corrupted as happened so often by men who started with such noble aims only to become corrupted by images of grandeur (and the whisperings of Satan). Take for example a contemporary of Rousseau namely Maximilien Robespierre known as ‘The Incorruptible’ who set out with such noble aims to dethrone the absolute power of the monarchy in France only to become corrupted and the object of reverence once he turned the tide of power on King Louis VI.

In his work on reason and revelation ‘Dar’ ta’arud al-Aql wa’l-Naql’, the famous Islamic Scholar Ibn Taymiyyah writes, 

The servants of God are inherently compelled by their fitrah to love God, though amongst them are those who corrupt this fitrah… and this love of God intensifies according to one’s knowledge of Him and the soundness of one’s fitrah. And it diminishes with diminished knowledge, and the pollution of one’s fitrah with corruptive vain desires.

Section 7: Practical Steps

The preceding analysis of the evolution of moral theory in the Western tradition shows that there is no single self evident truth which can act as a universal anchor and definitive anchor or compass to direct morality. This is despite the terminology used which obfuscates the truth of the debate such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which presents a normative position as if it were a positive statement of fact.

Morality (if one excludes the notion of a supremely omnipotent agency directing the correct code of conduct or Allah in the case of Islam) is essentially a matter of personal opinion and as any normative study, purely subjective and not a matter of fact the way a positive statement can be demonstrated to be correct or incorrect by observing the physical world.

5 practical arguments can be made to arrest the pressure being placed on the Muslim community which is being forced to capitulate on its moral compass and adopt the western interpretation of morality:  

  • One needs to show that the impetus to Western Morality was based on political expediency and the needs of the time which were to dethrone the legitimacy of the Church. It was not based on a careful and thorough investigation of the nature of reality.

  • Show that the pride in the achievement of the Enlightenment has created a dogma to all that has been a by-product of the uprising against the hegemonic enslavement of the Church since its adoption during the 4th Century by the Emperor Constantine. This dogma has become a barrier to any critical re-evaluation in the modern time.
  • Expose the politically directed campaign against the alternative solution to managing human affairs at the behest of the power elites (Plutocracy of our time). It is also worth exposing how those who have the most to lose from an open debate on the subject are at the forefront of misrepresenting the Islamic moral framework through the influence of the media apparatus.
  • Refute the idea that is postulated under moral relativism that Muslims should leave Europe if they don’t agree with the moral values of the host country on the basis that our own political expression has been denied to us through the imposition of dictators in our lands!
“But there was a more serious and considered answer given by the National Security Council, the highest planning agency. They pointed out that there's a perception in the Arab world that the United States supports status quo regimes which, of course, are brutal and oppressive, and does so in order to secure its own interests in obtaining oil, and then they said, well, it's hard to counter this perception because it's correct. They said it's natural for the United States to link itself up with the status quo regimes and try to sustain them and to pursue its interest in obtaining oil. So the end result is that there's a campaign of hatred against us among the people who we're basically robbing and on whom we're imposing harsh, brutal, repressive and corrupt regimes, and it's pretty difficult to counter that campaign.”

  • Become conversant with how to defend and project Islam with respect to the controversial arguments that are made against it by those who lack the full awareness of the Islamic rules and standards for right and wrong. Always avoid loaded questions!

Section 8: Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that there is no clear and uniform Western value system into which the Muslim world is being asked to assimilate. To ascribe the illusion that there is a set of universal and self evident norms of behaviour  using terms such as the ‘Universal declaration of human rights’ is a mere smokescreen to conceal the deeply uncomfortable reality that what is right and wrong, without an objective anchor based on divine guidance, is as vague and subjective as it can be.

This is the case with any subjective and normative study and the irony is that such subjectivity leads to rampant and vibrant debate in other spheres of life and enquiry in the Western tradition (for example scientific enquiry) but not in the morality sphere due to political biases and vested interest.

Let the debate be re-ignited and a fresh look at the subject be made and let not the Muslims be made to feel that they have no place in shaping the debate that will liberate them from the yolk of imperial endeavour at the hands of the power elite who are subverting all peoples in the name of so called universal values.