Sunday, May 31, 2015

Human Morals and Spirituality- I & II

No religion can claim to be perfect unless it contains full teachings concerning human morals, for, although morals are not part of spirituality, yet they constitute the first step towards it, and without perfect morals man cannot attain to perfect spiritual development.

A study of those principles startles one into the admission that the world was merely groping in the dark in the search for moral principles. As it is not possible to attempt a detailed exposition of the whole question, but through the grace of Allah I shall give a brief reference to some matters of principle.

The Natural Condition of the Humans

The first matter relates to the definition of morals. The nature of moral qualities has been misconceived and has led mankind into serious error and is responsible for long but futile discourses in religious books. People fail to realise that there is an intermediate stage between animalism and morals. Animalism signifies that condition of man in which, owing to defective training, disease, habit, ignorance or ill-will, he acts out of purely selfish motives for purely selfish ends, and has neither regard nor consideration for the feelings of others. But this is not the natural condition of man, for man has been invested with many natural feelings which prompt him to do good to others and which people mistake for good morals.

For instance, a man has been created social and these feelings are the necessary equipment of a member of society. Even a child who is brought up in strict seclusion and is deprived of every kind of instruction is bound to exhibit these feelings in his conduct, which shows that these feelings are distinct from morals and are merely natural instincts. For instance, affection and aversion are both equally natural feelings, and neither of them can, therefore, be described as good or bad; for if one of them is good and the other bad, we would have to confess that God had made evil inherent in our nature, which would amount to blasphemy. Beside, this doctrine is refuted by our experience, for a feeling of aversion towards certain things, for instance, towards oppression or evil doing, is highly creditable. But if every feeling of aversion were to be regarded as evil the repugnance towards evil-doing itself would be a sin, which is absurd.

Religion stands for Moral Perfection

A religion which merely exhorts its followers to be kind, or forgiving, or affectionate, or beneficent, or not to be extravagant, is merely enumerating our natural feelings and this does not amount to moral instruction of any kind. Only that religion can claim to have given moral instruction which lays down rules calculated to control the exercise of natural feelings and gives directions for their proper exercise. In other words, the exercise of some natural feelings and the suppression of others do not amount to morals; it is the conscious and intentional exercise of all natural feelings on their proper occasions and a restriction of such feelings on every undesirable occasion which is moral

Now let’s take for example the judiciary system of a country. The function of moral instruction is not to hang some of them and let the others loose to do what they please, for this is not government but anarchy; on the contrary, its function is to set limits to the conduct of each and to permit no one to go beyond those limits. This is the reason why human acts are described as moral, and similar acts proceeding from animals are not so described. An animal is often moved by pity, but nobody calls it moral, for all its acts are prompted by instinct. A religion that condemns any of them as evil, does not further morality, but helps to destroy morals and to undermine society. That religion alone can establish true morality which points out the proper time and occasion for the exercise of each natural feeling.

Islam gives us that beautiful panorama of the setting out of explicit rules as to maintain humankind, especially those who believe in it and mould their lives accordingly, in the limits of the permissible, and rendering the natural acts of men moral through the codes set in its perfect book, the Holy Quran." ( ----Extracts from the Friday Sermon of 15 May 2015 ~ (26 Rajab 1436 Hijri)

Religious Teachings on Stages of Moral Progress

Thus, the second principle concerning the moral teachings of a religion is that, in addition to indicating the proper occasions for the exercise of each moral quality, a religion must give an explanation of the different stages of good or bad morals that are likely to result from the proper or improper exercise of each natural instinct, for, if it omits to do this, most people would be bewildered and would either abandon at an early stage the attempt to improve the morals, or would follow along paths which could never lead them to the goal they need to achieve. They would be like a student who, desiring to acquire knowledge of the English language, starts committing the oxford dictionary to memory. They would make sacrifices of time and efforts, but would not arrive at any useful result. It is, therefore, the duty of a religion to illustrate the different stages of moral qualities, so that people in all stages of development may be able to take advantage of its teachings.

The third principle is that a religion must explain the grounds on which its moral injunctions are based, for, without knowledge of these, man would not experience that feeling of cheerfulness which is required to sustain the effort necessary for the attainment of a high moral standard.

Fourthly, a religion must point out the source of good and evil inclinations, and should teach men how to block the channels of evil and to open wide those of good ones, for evil cannot be destroyed till evil inclinations and passions (nafs) are suppressed, and unless religion deals with this aspect of the problem its moral teachings would remain imperfect. Mere abstract principle cannot be of much help, unless their practical working is explained, like I have done. Verily the Holy Quran deals with and illustrates all these aspects of the moral development of man, and thus established that Islam alone can be the true moral guide of mankind.

Another function of a perfect religion is to lay down principle which should govern the sociological aspect of man’s life and, by following which polity and civilisation may be perfected and peace and order may be established in the world. Islam through its teachings has uncovered to the world the wonderful truths embedded therein and removed the misconceptions which had become current concerning those teachings. A little consideration would show that it is only in a reformed and well-organised society that an individual has the best chance to show his moral qualities, because an ordinary person can make sacrifices to a certain extent beyond which he cannot go. To expect more of him would be putting a too heavy strain on his patience. The result would be that at first he would be bewildered and in the end he would lose self-control altogether.

Therefore, a reformed polity is essential for the development of the moral qualities of an individual, otherwise the higher moral qualities would be confined to a few individuals. Islam deals at length with this aspect of man’s life. Islam deals in great detail with the rights and duties of the sovereign and the subject, the freedom of the administration of justice, the sanctity of the rights of man, the relation of master and servant and the modes of settling disputes, that may arise between them, the duties of a Muslim citizen, the rights of the poor, the relations between different religions and different governments, etc., and one is forced to admit that it has the highest place, the highest status in respect to the other religions. 

Islamic Norms of Good Governance

With regard to the relations between sovereign and subject: first, that a government is the servant of the public and must always regards itself as such. The Promised Messiah Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) himself possessed a spiritual dominion, but concerning himself he humbly said: “Do not place a chair for me, for I have been appointed to serve”.

Two great principles of government, which are, that government is the servant of the public, and there is not rest for a government and that those who are placed in authority over others must sacrifice their comfort to duty and devote the whole of their time to the service of the public. It is their duty to sacrifice their own comfort and to provide for the comfort of others. On one occasion some people came to see the Promised Messiah (as), and, according to custom sat down very humbly at a distance from the mat on which he was sitting. He expressed great displeasure at this, and exclaimed, “I wonder at these people; the Messiah has appeared and yet they will not give up their old customs. Come and sit near me”.

Secondly, the administration of a country must, according to Islam, be conducted with the advice of the people. For a prophet also it is the case unless he receives express divine instruction about a matter which requires direct divine intervention. In the case of the Promised Messiah (as) also, he used to consult his followers, and each and any one of them was welcome to offer his advice, and he often followed their advice even when sometimes he differed with them, that they might learn the importance of consultation. Thus he revived the spirit of true democracy which Islam was the first to introduce into the world.

Thirdly, it is the duty of government to arbitrate in inter-communal disputes which are likely to lead to disorder and thus disturb the public peace. Government should secure public peace and order by procuring a decision of the matters in controversy by means of arbitration. But there are to be no kind of interference with liberty of conscience or with the rights of individuals.

Indeed, Islam teaches such sanctity of the rights of individuals that it goes so far as to enjoin upon a Government the duty of securing to every workman the payment of the full value of his labour. Every Government is compelled to pay attention to a dispute which is likely to affect the whole community, but the early history of Islam shows that even individual workman sometimes approached the Government with complaints that they were not being paid full wages, and the Government always looked into their grievances.

I end my Friday Sermon here for today. May Allah (swt) give me the Tawfiq to continue this sermon next Friday, Insha Allah. Ameen. May Allah keep guiding us on the right path and enrich us with His Ilm (Knowledge). Ameen.

----(Extracts from the Friday Sermon of 22 May 2015 ~ 03 Shabaan 1436 Hijri) delivered by the Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Saheb (atba) of Mauritius.