|NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS CURRICULUM SUPPORT
Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies
Morality in the Modern World: Islam
Amanullah de Sondy
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Section 1: Crime and punishment 8
The purpose of punishment 8
Capital punishment 10
Section 2: Gender 13
Gender stereotyping 13
Economic issues 15
Section 3: International issues 18
International aid 19
Section 4: Medical ethics 20
Genetic engineering 20
Section 5: War and peace 22
Responses to war 22
Modern armaments 23
Morality in Islam – An overview of Islamic law
Before understanding a Muslim’s sense of what is right and wrong it is necessary to explore Islamic law (Shariah), its nature, sources and development. The term Shariah literally means ‘the way to the water hole’ but it can also mean ‘the right path’ and thus came to mean the right way of living, or law. Islamic law is God’s law and by following the Shariah Muslims are living a life that is pleasing to Him.
Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger of God (Allah), sent to guide people on how to live their lives. He lived in the region that is modern-day Saudi Arabia from 570 to 632 CE. Muhammad preached the revelations that he received from Allah with the central message to worship one God. These messages from Allah are reproduced in the Holy Qur’an exactly as they were dictated to the Prophet. Muslims receive guidance on morality from the Qur’an and also the teachings of Muhammad. Muhammad’s understanding and wisdom played an essential role in conveying the message of the Qur’an to Muslims.
Before Muhammad died he preached a final sermon on the mount of Arafat. He said that he was leaving behind the Qur’an and his way of living to guide Muslims. The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Hadith), and his actions, are used as tools to determine his Sunnah (way, path, guidance). The Sunnah basically attempts to find a solution to any problem through the vantage point of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, sayings and actions.
After the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the Muslim community was divided about who should be his successor. This led to the emergence of two main branches of Islam: Shi’i and Sunni. It is widely accepted that the Qur’an and Sunnah are recognised as basic sources for both Sunni and Shi’i Muslims, but the Shi’i place greater emphasis on their Imams, who are said to be divinely guided leaders descended from Muhammad.
The Prophet Muhammad was not a legal expert; this was not his role as a messenger of God. It was only after the Prophet’s death that Islamic law began to develop. Students of Islam regularly attended and participated in heated debate on theology. This led to four main schools of law in Sunni Islam: the Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali. Each school of law is popular in different parts of the Arabic world. Their ideas vary on how best to work out what is right and wrong. However, the historical
development of Islamic law provides an interesting observation of unity through diversity; the different schools of law have more in common than in dispute.
What is permissible in Islam?
Muslims believe that the things which God has created, and the benefits derived from them, are essentially for man’s use, and so are permissible. This main principle comes from the Qur’an: ‘It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth…’ (2:29). Nothing is unlawful except what is prohibited by a sound and explicit passage from the Qur’an or Hadith.
When Islam was a young religion the followers of Muhammad tried to sort out exactly what was allowed and what wasn’t. Salman al-Farsi, who was a well-known companion of the Prophet, asked the Prophet one day whether people were permitted to use animal fat, cheese and fur. The Prophet answered ‘permissible is that which God has made lawful in his Book and the unlawful is that which he has forbidden, and that concerning which He is silent he has permitted as a favour to you.’
How do Muslims work out what is right or wrong? When making moral decisions, Muslims use the Qur’an and the practice and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah). However, the Qur’an and Sunnah do not give explicit guidance on all issues. When guidance is not clearly given in the Qur’an there are several other sources of law. For example, guidance can be sought from Fiqh, which means ‘understanding’ and is the science of jurisprudence: the science of human intelligence, debate and discussion.
The other sources of law developed over time. Just after the death of the Prophet, Islamic law was still being formalised. Early Islamic scholars exercised their own personal opinion known as Ra’y. Qiyas developed after Ra’y and became universally recognised as the third source of law. Qiyas is translated as ‘analogical reasoning’ and it allowed the development of new laws by analogy with existing ones: for example, the prohibition of alcohol, which is based upon an understanding of Qur’an 5:901 and also the Hadith,2 led to some legal experts prohibiting the taking of recreational drugs.
Scholars of Islamic law believe that Qiyas emerged after the Prophet had returned to Madinah; messengers of the kings of Yemen came to him announcing that they and the people of Yemen had become Muslims. They requested that some teachers should help them to teach Islam to the people.
For this task the Prophet chose Muadh Ibn Jabal. He then put the following question to Muadh:
‘According to what will you judge?’
‘According to the Book of God,’ replied Muadh.
‘And if you find nothing therein?’
‘According to the Sunnah of the Prophet of God.’
‘And if you find nothing therein?’
‘Then I will exert myself (exercise ijtihad and qiyas) to form my own judgment.’
The Prophet was pleased with this reply and said: ‘Praise be to God Who has guided the messenger of the Prophet to that which pleases the Prophet.’
From Qiyas came Ijtihad: independent creative legal reasoning which is left at the sole discretion of a learned legal scholar, who may conclude a ruling based upon their insight on a variety of matters.
Ijtihad lost its fervour in Islamic history based on another source of Islamic law, Ijma, which means ‘consensus of the community’. This was based on a Hadith of the Prophet in which he said ‘my people will never agree together on an error’. The community here is the community of scholars and learned ones. However, on a practical level it is difficult to achieve a consensus of the scholars of Islam. This is one of the reasons why contemporary scholars are asking for Ijtihad to be reinstated fully.
There is also another source of Islamic law: Urf, or ‘custom’. As the Arabs at the time of the Prophet had no written legal system it was their customs and traditions that regulated their social system. The leaders who followed Muhammad (Caliphate) adopted some important customs that were pre-Muhammad. Customs were endorsed so long as they were compatible with what is written in the Qur’an and Hadith. However, some customs could never be endorsed: for example the drinking of alcohol may become a common practice of a particular society but it can never be lawful in Islamic law.
Istihsan is a method of exercising personal opinion (ra’ay) to avoid any rigidity and unfairness that might result from literal application of law.3 Legal scholars are known as Ulama, which literally means ‘those who are learned’. The Ulama offer guidance and support to the Muslim community.
Jonathan is doing a project in RE looking at Islamic morality. He wants to know whether it is acceptable for Muslim children to join in the craze of Scoubidou (making models out of plastic string, using a special knotting technique). Trace the steps that Jonathan would have to use to find out whether Muslims should take part in this game.
Section 1: Crime and punishment
The purpose of punishment: On what grounds can punishment be morally justified?
It is said that a crime is an act or conduct whereby a person (i) breaks the law, and (ii) infringes upon the rights of others. In Islamic law this would be noted as a ‘sin’. In Islamic thought every crime must be punished for the sole purpose of upholding justice in society. This is in line with the fact that every Muslim is free to choose good or bad behaviour and must accept that their actions will affect their relationship with God and the society around them. In Islam, punishment is not seen as atonement or a means of being forgiven for sins, because this can only be achieved by faithful repentance before God. Muslims believe punishment should educate the criminal and act as a deterrent for others.
Punishment in Islamic thought is morally justified because of its deep root in scripture and divine laws. It is stated in the Qur’an: ‘We sent aforetime our apostles with Clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice’ (Qur’an 57:25) and ‘O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah’ (Qur’an 4:135).
Harsh punishments are found within Islamic teaching:
In some Islamic countries, people are flogged for drinking alcohol. Qur’anic teaching is clear that drinking alcohol is wrong because of the problems it leads to in society: for example, crime, violence and poor health.
In some Muslim countries, thieves who persistently offend have a hand amputated. However, this takes place only after a thorough investigation is carried out to ensure that the thief wasn’t stealing because of hardship.
The Qur’an teaches that adultery should be punished by 100 lashes.
There are basically three categories of punishment in Shariah:4
The first is Hadd, which includes divinely prescribed forms of fixed punishment based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah. These are punishments set to preserve the public interest; they cannot be lightened or made heavier, nor can the offender be pardoned.
The crimes for which the offender has been punished instil a deep feeling of abhorrence in the society. Such crimes include drinking alcohol, armed robbery, theft, illicit sexual relations, the rejection of Islam by a Muslim, and slanderous accusations of promiscuity.
The second form of punishment is called Qisas, which is the punishment for homicide and assault. Whenever a person causes physical harm or death to another, the injured person, or the family of the deceased, has the right to retaliation. A unique aspect of Qisas is that the victim’s family has the option to insist upon execution, accept monetary recompense, or forgive the offender, which could even involve avoiding punishment altogether. This leaves the door open to compassion and forgiveness. Settlements are therefore encouraged out of court, as within a court the judge must decide the punishment.
All other crimes are punished by the third category of punishment, Ta’zir, which is a discretionary punishment decided by the court. Some of the more common Ta’zir crimes are: bribery, selling tainted or defective products, usury (charging interest on loans) and selling obscene pictures. Different countries have different punishments for these crimes: for example, counselling, fines, public or private censure (being told off), seizure of property, confinement in the home or in a place of detention.
Ultimately Muslims believe that punishment is something which should be carried out by God. All people are judged at the end of time and receive reward or punishment which is dependent on how they have lived. The reason that people punish criminals is to educate them, to deter others and so that justice is seen to be done. However, it is Allah who will ultimately decide what people deserve.
God is indeed very Merciful, Loving and Compassionate, but He is also Just and Severe in punishment. According to the Qur’an, Allah is ‘Forgiver of sins, Accepter of repentance, the Stern in punishment, the Powerful…’ (Qur’an 40:3). It is wrong to accept only some aspect of Allah and ignore or negate some other aspects. When people believe only in the love of Allah and ignore His justice and power they become careless and do whatever they wish. When people believe in the justice and power of Allah and ignore His love and compassion they become hermits and monks and run away from the world and its enjoyments. Islam teaches a balanced life and so it teaches both aspects of Allah’s being.
(Dr Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President
of the Islamic Society of North America)
Allah says in the Qur’an:
O man! What has seduced thee from thy Lord Most Beneficent? – Him Who created thee. Fashioned thee in due proportion, and gave thee a just bias; In
whatever Form He wills, does He put thee together. But no, ye do reject Right and Judgment! But verily over you (are appointed angels) to protect you, – Kind and honourable, – Writing down (your deeds): They know (and understand) all that ye do. As for the Righteous, they will be in bliss; And the Wicked – they will be in the Fire, Which they will enter on the Day of Judgment’
Capital punishment: Is capital punishment morally justifiable?
It is difficult to say whether Islamic law is for or against capital punishment in principle, because this is dependent on the circumstances of each individual case. The Qur’an says:
...take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.
‘..if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
These two statements from the Qur’an give an insight into the sacredness of life in Islamic thought but are also evidence to support capital punishment. Muslims believe that all life is a gift from God and so is sacred. However, capital punishment can be justifiable in supporting and upholding justice in society.
If a murder was intentional, the Qur’an legislates the death penalty for this, although forgiveness and compassion are strongly encouraged. The murder victim’s family is given a choice to either insist on the death penalty, or to pardon the perpetrator and accept monetary compensation for their loss.
O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty…
Case Study 1
Three women in Saudi triangle
Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford, 55, was found stabbed to death at a military hospital complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Christmas Eve 1996. British nurse Deborah Parry, 39, was convicted of murdering Yvonne Gilford, and was sentenced to death. A British colleague, Lucille McLauchlan, 32, was sentenced to 500 lashes and eight years in prison after being convicted of involvement in the murder. Both women had confessed to their involvement in the crime; however, later they retracted their confessions saying that they had been threatened with rape.
Frank Gilford, the brother of Yvonne Gilford, agreed to accept around £750,000 in return for deciding to waive his right to call for the death penalty on Parry and McLauchlan. By accepting ‘blood money’ Frank Gilford symbolically showed forgiveness to the two British nurses. Saudi King Fahd pardoned both nurses who were released from prison and allowed to return home to Britain.
Defending Saudi Arabia’s death penalty, the King of Saudi Arabia’s youngest son, Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd, said that murder cases were 20 times rarer than in other countries, and said: ‘Our laws are based on Islamic Shariah law, God’s own law. We believe in its wisdom, especially in capital punishment cases.’
When asked about the nurses’ claims that they had been threatened sexually during interrogation and that their trial had been unfair, the prince replied: ‘It is only natural that they might say such a thing. Nobody likes to be seen as a criminal.’
From the BBC News website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/143386.stm
Fasaad fi al-ardh
The second crime for which capital punishment can be applied in Islamic law is ‘spreading corruption in the land’, which can mean many different things. It is generally interpreted to mean those crimes that affect the community as a whole, and destabilise society: for example, drug dealing, treason, apostacy (when someone leaves the Islamic faith and joins the enemy in fighting against the Muslim community), terrorism, or land, sea or air piracy.
Actual methods of capital punishment vary from place to place. In some Muslim countries, methods have included beheading, hanging, stoning, and death by firing squad. Executions are held publicly, to serve as warnings to would-be criminals.
It is important to note that there is no place for vigilantism in Islam – a criminal must be properly convicted in an Islamic court of law before the punishment can be meted out. The severity of the punishment requires that very strict standards of evidence must be met before a conviction is made. For example, before a person is found guilty of adultery there must be four witnesses to the crime, or there must be a confession. The court also has flexibility to order less than the ultimate punishment (for example, imposing fines or prison sentences), on a case-by-case basis.
Section 2: Gender
Gender stereotyping: Is the stereotyping of male and female roles morally justifiable?
According to Islam, men and women complement each other. They are equal members of society, and they have their duties and responsibilities. Islam does not teach that women are inferior to men. God has created both men and women, and they are equal in the Sight of God. If they are equal in the Sight of Allah, then they cannot be inferior in society or in the sight of men. The whole notion of gender stereotyping is challenged by looking at historical examples. The Prophet Muhammad was known to mend his own clothes and also cook. He married one of the most powerful women in Arabia, Khadija, who was an astute businesswoman.
There are some who would argue that there are some differences between the roles of men and women in society, but these differences do not make one gender superior and the other inferior. Women are equal to men in the pursuit of education and knowledge. Muslim men and women must both seek knowledge in order to deepen their spiritual relationship with God.
In Islam, women are entitled to freedom of expression as much as men are. Women narrate a large number of Hadith. Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, contributed greatly to the narration and commentary of Muhhamad’s Hadith. Her sound opinions are taken into consideration and cannot be disregarded. It is reported in the Qur’an, and in historical sources, that women not only expressed their opinions freely but argued and participated in serious discussions with the Prophet himself, as well as with other Muslim leaders.
There were also occasions when Muslim women expressed their views on legislative matters of public interest, and stood in opposition to the Caliphs (spiritual leaders), who then accepted the sound arguments of these women. There were four Caliphs who succeeded Muhammad after he died. The second Caliph, ’Umar ibn al-Khatab, had tried to limit the amount of money paid to women on marriage. ’Umar had declared that, if anyone paid more to his wives on marriage than Muhammad did, then the excess should be taken away and put into the Public Treasury. A woman from the Quraish came to him and said ‘You have just prohibited the people from giving an excessive amount for dower but Allah has stated in His Book, “And if you have given them a great amount of gold as dower, take not the least bit of it back”’ (4:20). And then ’Umar said two or three times ‘Woman is correct and ’Umar is mistaken.’
Historical records show that women participated in public life with the early Muslims, especially in times of emergencies. Women used to accompany the Muslim armies
engaged in battles, to nurse the wounded, prepare supplies, serve the warriors and so on.
On the issue of equality, Ibn Baz, who was the Grand Mufti (lawyer) of Saudi Arabia, appointed by King Fahd in 1994, says:
Islam has given woman rights and privileges. This can be understood when the matter is studied as a whole in a comparative manner, rather than partially. The rights and responsibilities of a woman are equal to those of a man but they are not necessarily identical with them. Equality and sameness are two quite different things. This difference is understandable because man and woman are not identical but they are created equals.
While the Qur’an clearly promotes equality between the genders there is also teaching in the Qur’an which supports women adopting a role which is subservient to, but not inferior to, their husbands. Man is not the master of women, God is. However, Muslims believe that the family works better when there is a clear leader. A woman who loves and respects her husband will be happy for him to take that role. If she is not happy, divorce is simple within Islam. No woman is expected to be obedient if her husband is acting against the teaching of Islam.
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard.
While Muslims are clearly in favour of equality between the sexes they also argue that it is better for the family and society if men and women take on different roles. Muslim women often care for their husbands and children in the home. Men provide for their families financially. However, these roles are not compulsory within Islam, and many Muslim women work.
Economic issues: Will economic equality between the sexes lead to a more just society?
Economic equality is supported within Islamic teaching and practice. There should be no obstacles in society to prevent an individual from making a living according to their capacity and talents; nor should there be any social distinctions that safeguard the privileges of a certain class, race, dynasty or group of people.
Islam has always permitted women to work inside or outside the home. The wives of the Prophet Muhammad used to work at home. For example, they used to dye their own clothing and tan hides, in addition to their other housework activities, such as preparing food, cleaning their houses, and serving and taking care of the Prophet. The Prophet’s wife Aishah used to prepare the herbal medicine prescribed by his physicians, and she herself also used to give it to the Prophet, and nurse him, in addition to her housework.
Furthermore, the wives of the Prophet’s companions used to do housework and other work, and Muhammad did not disapprove of this. For instance, Fatimah (daughter of the Prophet) used to run the quern (hand mill for grain) herself until her hands became swollen. Asma’ bint Abi Bakr, wife of Az-Zubayr ibn Al-`Awwam, used to feed the camel and the horse, look after her husband and children, and go on foot to fetch the fodder from her husband’s land three kilometres from Medina; the Prophet once saw her on her way and he did not show any disapproval. Other examples of working women during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad are Rufaydah Al-Aslamiyyah, the first female doctor in Islam, for whom the Prophet specified a tent in his mosque in Madinah in order to treat and nurse the injured Muslim warriors; Ar-Rabaiyyi` bint Mu`awwidh and Umm Sulaim, who used to set out with the Prophet in his various battles to provide water for the Muslim warriors, hand weapons to them, prepare food for them, treat the injured, and carry the martyrs to the burial places; and Ash-Shifa’ bint `Abdullah, who used to go out to teach Muslim women to read and write, and to practise medicine. The Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed a woman named Ash-Shifa’ to occupy a position called al-hisbah, or market inspector; she checked that scales were just and accurate, and that transactions were carried out according to the rulings of Islam.
While economic independence is something that Muslims believe is a right of all, they do not believe economic equality should be enforced. Muslims do not agree with the Marxist view that all should receive equal pay or an equal share of wealth. Muslims believe that Allah has chosen the role of each in society. People should work to improve their position but society should not force economic equality on people.
The case study which follows shows moves to establish greater economic equality in the Muslim country of Pakistan. The story was written in March 2002.
Case Study 2
Pakistan: Musharraf promises women equality
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has told women his government will end discrimination and violence against them.
“Political empowerment will enable women to fight for their rights”
President Pervez Musharraf
eneral Musharraf said his administration wanted to ensure Pakistani women enjoyed greater political and economic rights.
He was addressing a gathering of hundreds of women at a meeting in Islamabad on the eve of International Women’s Day.
‘It is through political empowerment that women can emancipate themselves. Political empowerment will enable women to fight for their rights themselves,’ he said.
In January, President Musharraf expanded the country’s National Assembly to 350 seats and reserved 60 of these for women.
That may not be enough to free Pakistani women from the difficult lives they are often forced to lead. Last year human rights organisations reported that many women suffer beatings by male members of their own families.
Some husbands, and occasionally fathers and brothers, have been known to torture their womenfolk for minor mistakes or small disagreements.
There have even been reports of ‘honour killings’ of young women who married against the wishes of their male relatives.
President Musharraf said he was moved by tales of discrimination told by delegates attending the meeting. He identified the lack of education as a root cause of women’s problems.
Nearly two-thirds of all Pakistani women are illiterate, compared to just about half of Pakistani men. The president said this inequality would be addressed on a priority basis and discrimination in primary education would be removed by 2010.
Some women in Pakistani cities have already taken the initiative to take charge of their lives.
“Women can take charge of their own lives – why should we be dependent on our husbands?”
Postmistress Farzana Nisar
hey have taken up jobs usually considered a male preserve in this male-dominated society. Last year, Pakistan’s first women’s post office opened in Karachi.
It is managed and staffed entirely by women.
But while many Pakistani women from affluent families have joined the professions, it is harder for poorer women to break into job areas traditionally dominated by men.
From the BBC News website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1859556.stm
Section 3: International issues
Globalisation: Is the process of globalisation morally justifiable?
Effective globalisation to create a more just and peaceful world is strongly welcomed in Islamic thought.
Globalisation is the spread and exchange of people, goods, and ideas across the globe. Characteristically, it is directly associated with change, modernisation and an increasingly interdependent relationship between different regions of the world. ‘Globalisation is an aspect of human life that has always been there since the beginning of humanity. Human beings are “social animals.” The tendency of humans to exchange ideas and experiences with others around [them], in order to achieve and realise the best chances of life is natural and is what God wants.’5
At the heart of Islam is a sense of cooperation, to be helpful to one another according
to principles of goodness and piety (but not to cooperate in evil or malice). This principle was stated by the Prophet Muhammad who said that a Muslim must help their fellow human being regardless of anything. Globalisation can result in greater cooperation and understanding for all.
M. Miasami, who has worked for the Global Policy Forum in the USA, states:
The relationship between Islam and globalisation has been open to much interpretation and acrimonious debate. At the crux of the current debate is the idea that Islam is somehow opposed to the process of globalisation. [I would say] this debate should more accurately be deemed as a debate between Islam and Westernisation. I argue that Islam is not against the process of globalisation per se, but rather that the tension is due to the process of Westernisation.
‘Globalisation targets the narrowing of the gaps separating different communities. This is done by exchanging benefits in all aspects of life – economic, social, scientific, and political governance. That is, they exchange information, understand each other’s values and codes of ethics and build a common ground.’6 In contrast, Westernisation does not consider such an understanding or building of such common ground to be worthwhile enterprises.
Globalisation is a process in which ‘the whole world becomes like a small village, where the less advanced communities can develop their capacities’ and that ‘tends to be a two-way street process, which makes it possible for each community to take as well as to give.’7
(M. Miasami, ‘Islam and globalisation’, Fountain, issue 43, August 2003)
Many Muslims object to Westernisation as they feel that it doesn’t promote an exchange of ideas; it simply spreads its own ideas.
International aid: Is international aid an appropriate moral response to world poverty?
Muslims believe that international aid is only one way the world’s poor can be helped. While the governments of Muslim countries, like those of non-Muslim countries, send money to help peoples of the world who are experiencing hardship, Muslims believe international aid is not the only appropriate response to world poverty.
Islamic thought stipulates clearly that every individual has a responsibility to alleviate poverty throughout the world. In response to poverty, Islam has prescribed some mechanisms such as Zakat, which is a tax of 2.5% per year on the total accumulated wealth of every Muslim. Zakat makes up one of the five key pillars of Islamic practice and wisdom for Muslims. The annual Zakat should also be charged, at a specified rate, on cattle owned by anyone who has more than a certain minimum number. The amount of Zakat collected each year is spent on the poor, the orphans and the needy in Islamic society. The giving of compulsory tax (Zakat) and voluntary contributions (Sadaqah) are a means of building a closer relationship with God and humanity and of cleansing the soul of sin. This system aims to provide a means of social insurance whereby everyone in an Islamic society is provided with at least the necessities of life.
There are many Muslim international relief organisations which aim to provide immediate aid, and also help with development, in areas of need around the world. For example, Islamic Relief is a charity that works throughout the world to help the poor. It was founded in 1984. Much of the work of Islamic Relief is aimed at helping those who are the victims of natural disasters or war. The work includes giving emergency help, such as medicine, food and shelter, in times of need. The organisation also helps to provide education and health care, and encourages people to sponsor orphans. The Red Crescent is another organisation that helps those in need of emergency care or those affected by famine. The Red Crescent is the Muslim branch of the Red Cross.
Section 4: Medical ethics
Genetic engineering: Can any form of human genetic engineering be morally justified?
Muslims are divided on whether genetic engineering can be justified. Many Muslims believe that only Allah can decide the genetic make-up of a human being. A child born into the world is as God intended, and any attempt to alter this process is against Allah’s will. However, there are Muslims who believe that every step should be taken to help those who are suffering and alleviate pain. The Qur’an clearly encourages Muslims to help others.
…if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
(Qur’an 5:32 )
For many Muslims, genetic engineering is an acceptable method of curing illness and saving lives. Muslims accept research on embryos as they do not believe that embryos are living beings until the soul has been ‘breathed in’ by Allah. Some Muslims believe that this is 42 days into the development of the embryo; others believe that it is 120 days. Muslims will allow the use of embryos which are left over from IVF treatment, but they do not believe embryos should be created specially for the purpose of research.
Cloning is the technique of producing a genetically identical duplicate of an organism. Muslims believe that, from conception to the point of death, human life is a divine act in Islam. There is no scope for replication:
We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term.
However, Muslims also believe that if cloning was to become successful one day then it would be in accordance with divine will. It would not compromise the beliefs of Muslims, as the primary materials, namely the somatic cell and the unfertilised egg, are both a result of the handiwork of God. Some Muslims do support therapeutic cloning if it is done for the purpose of saving lives.
Muslims are concerned about the impact of cloning on the family involved. Who are the parents of a cloned child? A child born from a process of cloning would be robbed of ancestral roots, and this would undermine the Islamic laws of inheritance. Therefore the majority of Islamic law councils are against cloning in any form.
Euthanasia: Can any forms of euthanasia be morally justified?
Muslims are completely opposed to euthanasia. Life does not belong to people. It is on loan from God and only He has a right to take it away. People who kill themselves or help another to die are interfering with Allah’s will. Allah decides the length of time that a person will live.
In the Qur’an it is clearly stated: ‘Nor take life – which Allah has made sacred – except for just cause’ (Qur’an 17:33). The Prophet Muhammad spoke of a man who was injured in battle. The man was so badly injured that he cut his own wrists in order to die more quickly. Muhammad said that Allah spoke these words to him: ‘My Slave hurried in the matter of his life therefore he is deprived of the garden (Paradise).’ Muslims believe that the fate of this man is also the fate of those who commit suicide or euthanasia.
Muslims believe that they should accept all that God gives to them as part of their submission. Allah does not test people with more than they can endure. Illness is part of the challenges that God gives, which are part of the test of life. People must experience death with patience and faith. It is the responsibility of others to do all they can to help a dying person, and to alleviate suffering, but that should be in the form of comfort and medicine, not death.
Section 5: War and peace
Responses to war: Is war ever morally justifiable?
Muslims seek peaceful means to ending conflicts and disputes. However, they will support war in some circumstances. Imam Dr Jalil Sajid, a UK-based Islamic scholar and political scientist, states:
Islam permits fighting in self-defence, in defence of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. For Muslims, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
For Muslims the Qur’an declared:
Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors
And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. But if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression
But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah. For He is One that heareth and knoweth all things
War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law of the Shariah. The Qur’an supports a war against injustice:
And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? – Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!’
The aim of war according to the Qur’an is not to spread Islam, nor is it to expand the territory of the Islamic State or to dominate, politically or militarily, non-Muslim regions. The obligation to protect the right of Muslims, and all religious communities, to promote their beliefs and values should be carried out through peaceful means and in a friendly manner. Muslims believe that they should not use violence to force people to accept Islam. Religion is a matter of choice: people should be free to accept or reject Islam.
The often misunderstood and overused term ‘Jihad’ literally means ‘struggle’, not ‘holy war’ (a term not found anywhere in the Qur’an, Hadith or in the Shariah law). Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be: an inner struggle against evil within oneself; a struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; or a struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary.
Modern armaments: Can the use of any types of modern armaments be morally justified?
When war is justified through Islamic law, the use of weapons and arms is inevitable. Muslims throughout history used a variety of arms in warfare. In Islamic history we read about battles that took days to complete because of the long process of war that was conducted with fairly simple weapons such as daggers or bow and arrows. In the contemporary world we have seen a great boom in modern armaments, and many nations of the world pride themselves on having their own source of modern armaments. For the warrior it was an achievement if their simple arrow killed an enemy but today a touch of a lethal button can detonate nuclear weapons, devastating the lives not just of one person but of many thousands at a time, and also leaving remnants for future generations to suffer. The American nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 caused extensive damage and destruction at that time but caused a rippling effect in years to come also.
Because of the sanctity and sacredness of life, a Muslim aims to minimise destruction and chaos on earth in view of the life hereafter. God’s wrath becomes a central guiding factor in the actions of the warrior. Modern warfare and armaments may well have benefits in promoting justice, but they also carry enormous danger. The use of high-tech missiles and fighter jets would allow the destruction of the enemy in a matter of moments, but they can also cause serious collateral damage. Islamic law clearly stipulates that women, children and animals must be protected during warfare, but this protection is difficult to uphold when a nation is being sprayed with cluster bombs. Muslims also oppose the use of biological and chemical weapons because of the devastating impact on civilians.
As modern armaments can cause widespread suffering of innocent human beings, wildlife and animals, this clearly contravenes Islamic law. Every Muslim is obligated to uphold the rights of God and the rights of their fellow human being. A Muslim must
obey God’s sacred law, which aims to guide a God-fearing human being in becoming a ‘good’ human being. When a Muslim achieves this they will remain committed to protecting rather than destroying society.
However, it must be acknowledged that many Muslim countries do pride themselves on possessing modern and up-to-date armaments. Pakistan became the first and (currently) only Muslim country to possess nuclear weapons, which some argued was not something to be proud of. Some other Muslim countries have attempted to follow suit but with little support from the international community. Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was overthrown based on the assumption that he had ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Iran has recently come under the wrath of the international community for stating its commitment to producing nuclear power, which it says is solely to be used as an alternative energy source, but which would also enable the enrichment of uranium to produce devastating nuclear weapons.