NORMS AND VALUES IN ISLAM

Prof. Dr. Ahmet Akgunduz

Rector of the Islamic University of Rotterdam

 

There is a continuing international debate around the world in general and in the Netherlands in particular. There are a lot of views and opinions about globalization of norms and values. The Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende intents to establish a commission to discuss about the norms and values.  We hear the speakers of each religious, political or ideological group profess that their religion, group or ideology, which has a contribution to existing values and norms. So I can imagine that a lot of people wonder in this country about possible contribution of Islam to the existing norms and values What are the basic values of Islam that afford strength to the structure of society, its foundation, and progress? Does it have principles and aims which it specifies from the point of view of the social structure and human relations? Does it take moderation, positive action, tranquility and peace in social life as its basis, or is its aim enmity, blood, and revenge?

Let’s forget the negative publicity of the last months around Islam and everything, which has to do with Islam, because it’s temporary, in my opinion, let’s hope as it is at least. Of course only to hope is not enough, we have to take actions in order to establish or continue the harmony. The Netherlands has a long common history with the world of Islam. Islam has been a scientific study-field of the Dutch academic world for centuries. Both facts have to do with the presence of the Netherlands in the present Indonesia.

The Central Office for the Statistics has figured out that on the first of January 2002, there are around 900.000 Muslims in the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, Islam is the biggest religion with 13% in the same year. It has nothing to do with a high percentage of conversion, but with the presence of Muslim minority groups since the sixties.

The current situation and the future of this arbitrary composed Muslim-society in a secular state like the Netherlands is continuously a topic of the Dutch public, politics and media. A lot of problems around this topic are discussed daily. Unfortunately, the Muslim minority is not emancipated enough, therefore the positive contribution of Islam and Muslims to the norms and values in the Netherlands is also not clear or not in progress yet, although Islam, like other religions, can provide a certain contribution to the harmony and peace.

I will try to expound the view of Islam about norms and values, and discuss which of these values can be useful in this society. The fact that the norms and values are discussed nowadays gives me occasion to research if it has to do something with fading away of the religious factors.

First, we have to make a distinction between religions and followers. For example, while it is obligatory that all attributes of all Muslims should be Muslim, in the reality it is not always thus. We should not refer to Islam all bad or good attributes of Muslims every time.

I- ISLAMIC VALUES CAN BE DIVIDED IN THREE GROUPS

These basic values and needs which define the foundations for good individual and social life, are classified into three levels, or hierarchy, namely (1) necessities (dharuriyyat); (2) convenience (hajiat); and (3) refinements (kamaliat). In the legal theory (usul al fiqh) of Islam there is a maxim "the general aim of legislation” in Islam is to realize values through protecting and guaranteeing their necessities (al dharuriyyat) as well as fulfilling their importance (al hajiyyat) and their embellishments (tahsiniyyat).  The human basic values consist of life (al nafs), reason (al 'aql), descent (nasab), property (al mal) and religion (al din). Islam protects these primary human values, and prohibits any violation of them.

1. Five Basic Values for All Mankind

According to Islam there are five basic values for humanity, which are advised to be protected every time. Depending on circumstances to build up harmony and universal peace, advises to preserve the five basic values at the lowest level or the barest minimum for an acceptable level of living. These basic values therefore includes the ability to perform moral responsibilities; protection of life, securing food, clothing and shelter, education, the right to earn a living, to set up a family, etc. It is to be understood that at this level, one has enough to live but not necessarily to be in some comfort. Islam preaches to that a human being cannot live without these basic values. Individuals and states are advised to protect or at least to respect these basic values.

A) Life (Physical Self): This includes basic items such as food, clothing, shelter, transport, health etc. In other words, physical self means all those that could provide a healthy body to lead a purposeful life. Islam, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against innocent human beings a grave sin, this is emphasized by the following Qur'anic verse: “... whoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption and mischief in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! Many of them became prodigals in the earth” (the Qur’an, 5: 32). In fact, Muslims serve for life, not for death. In Islam and other religions, all men are equal, regardless of color, language, race, or nationality.

Internationalized crimes are threatening life like drug trafficking and the trafficking of women and children which became much more difficult to control today because of their international character. Like crime, disease has also become globalizes and threatens the life. AIDS is one of those epidemics spreading in the world, which can only be brought under control through a global effort. The porous borders of today's world have made it all the more difficult to check all kinds of contagious disease.

B) Religion: Religion is considered as a basic value or fundamental right of every individual. One is free to practice the religion of his choice. There should not be any compulsion in choosing one's religion, nor obstruction to practice it. The religion is for providing guidance, peace, tranquility, comfort and purpose in life. The religion is for teaching man to uphold truth, justice, and all the virtues. The religion is for teaching man to avoid the vices. There is no coercion in Islam; Islam came with the just word of our creator. In Quran 2:256; God said "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error...”

According to many scholars, religion will be one of the prime factors of the 21st Century. Huntington, in his theory The Clash of Civilizations" analyzed the present international conflicts in terms of clash of civilizations -conflict between the two cultures two civilizations -Islamic and Western civilizations. But this is not true.

In the world of humanity, from the time of Adam up to now, two great currents, two lines of thought, have always been and will so continue. Like two mighty trees, they have spread out their branches in all directions and in every class of humanity. One of them is the line of prophet-hood and religion, the other the line of philosophy in its various forms. Whenever those two lines have been in agreement and united, that is to say, if the line of philosophy, having joined the line of religion, the world of humanity has experienced a brilliant happiness and social life. Whereas, when they have become separated, goodness and light have been drawn to the side of the line of prophet-hood and religion.

C) Intellect or Knowledge (Al Aql): The intellectual nature of man is made up of mind or intelligence or reasoning power. To this aspect Islam pays extraordinary attention and builds the intellectual structure of man on most sound foundations. Islam classifies knowledge into two, the basic or fundamental which must be secured by every individual and the specialized knowledge which should be secured by only a few in a society.

D) Family Life and Offspring (Al Nasab): In a time when values tend to be turned upside down, family life as the very heart of society was attacked just as much as many other handed-down traditions. About ten years ago, when it become fashionable for young torchbearers to live in "communities", share sex and children and earnings, many people feared that this might mean the end of family life. Fortunately, this is not so. In the end, the overwhelming majority of young women still dream of having a wedding ring on their finger, living in a comfortable flat as "Mrs. So-and-so" and bringing up their children in an orderly home, just as young men prefer to introduce "her" with the words" "This is my wife". Neither socialism nor any other "isms" were able to uproot what has been implanted into human nature from time immemorial.

E) Wealth (Al Mal): Wealth is obviously a fundamental human value. White-collar crimes such as money laundering, embezzlement and corruption "transcend frontiers and have become similar everywhere" and threatening this value. Due to the globalization process, the maximum wealth of the world is now accumulated in few hands. Less than one billion people now possess 79% of the total wealth and 11.2% people are controlling 62.5% income of the world. US (4.6% population) are getting 25.7% of the world income, which is 26% of the total wealth. Unfortunately the total income of the whole Muslim world (total population 20.5%) is only 3.5% and they control only 5.3% of the world trade.

There is erosion in this value. The immoral character of the global economy is becoming even more apparent in yet another sphere. Globalization, aided and abetted by the removal of national controls over cross-border financial flows and the computer revolution, has resulted in short-term capital entering and exiting markets at lightning speed. Because this capital is as massive as it is volatile, it is capable of wreaking havoc upon an economy, which may not have the mechanisms to deal with it. The dramatic outflow of capital from the region, triggered off to a large extent by currency speculation, has had a devastating impact upon undeveloped countries’ economies. Millions of women and men have lost their jobs; millions more are struggling to survive as hunger and poverty ravage home and hearth. It is not just the tragic consequences of capital volatility that religion would regard as a blot on the human conscience.

2. Secondary Values: Conveniences (al hajiyyat)

Conveniences comprise all activities and things that are not vital to preserve the five foundations, but rather, are needed to remove difficulties or impediments in life. Examples include the use and enjoyment of things that man can do without, but with difficulty, such as the use of some mode of transport (a car), a carpet in winter, etc.

3. Luxury Values: Refinements (al tahsiniyyat)

This category includes items that are beyond those for convenience. They do not only remove difficulty but improve the comfort. For example, if a car is considered as an item of convenience, than a chauffeur-driven car is obviously a refinement.

 


II- ISLAMIC NORMS

Islam has paid great attention to norms, which can protect basic values. We can’t explain all Islamic norms relating to basic values, which we have mentioned above. But we would like to mention five important norms here as examples:

1. Self Interest vs Selfsacrifice

While the present economic order, right from a small level player to Trans National Companies, is self-centered, Islam advocates the concept of selfsacrifice. It accepts that secret of progress lies in self-sacrifice, and in holding the nation's benefit above personal benefits. Every Muslim should expend all his effort and energy for the society he belongs to. Such efforts of his would be rewarded by Allah not only in this world but hereafter also. 'Should I die, let my community live, for I have an everlasting life in my community’.

2. Extravagance vs Frugality

The present economic world order generates profit as well as consumer in a cyclic manner. It has produced a society, which believes and practices a wasteful or extravagant life-style and considers it their right to "use" because they "have" it. This is in total contrast to Qur’anic model of modesty, simplicity and frugality.

The All-Compassionate Creator desires Thanks in return for the bounties He bestows on mankind, while wastefulness is contrary to thanks, and slights the bounty and causes loss. Frugality, however, shows respect for the bounty and is profitable. Yes, frugality is both a sort of thanks, and shows respect towards the Divine mercy manifested in the bounties, and most definitely is the cause of plenty.

3. Greed vs Contentment:

"Excess and wastefulness lead to greed, and greed has three consequences:" The First is dissatisfaction. As for dissatisfaction, it destroys endeavor and enthusiasm for work, and causes the dissatisfied person to complain instead of giving thanks, and makes him lazy. Such a person abandons possessions which though few in number are licit and seeks possessions which are illicit and free of trouble. And he sacrifices his self-respect on that way, and even his honor. The Second Consequence of Greed is disappointment and loss. The greedy person drives away what he wishes for, is found disagreeable, and is deprived of assistance and help. He even confirms the saying: 'The greedy person is unsuccessful and suffers loss.' The Third Consequence: Greed destroys sincerity and damages actions in regard to the Hereafter. For if a God-fearing person suffers from greed, he will desire the regard of others. And someone who considers the regard of others cannot have complete sincerity. This consequence is extremely important and worth noticing. 

Excess and wastefulness leads to lack of contentment. And lack of contentment destroys enthusiasm for work; it causes laziness, opens the door to complaining about life, and makes the dissatisfied person complain continuously.

4. Generalizing a Crime vs Personality in Criminal Law

The “fundamental norm” in Islam that is explained the Qur'anic verse: ‘No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another’ which he used in its meaning of “No one is answerable for another’s faults or errors’. One of the most basic principles of “some human politics”, was “Individuals may be sacrificed for the good of the nation and society. Everything may be sacrificed for the sake of the country.” This “fundamental human law” had resulted in appalling crimes throughout history, including the two World Wars this century, which had “overturned a thousand years of human progress”, and had given the license for the annihilation of ninety innocents on account of ten criminals. Whereas the verse taught the principle that no one was responsible for another’s crimes. And no innocent person could be sacrificed without his consent, even for the whole of humanity. It establishes true justice for mankind.

We must not forget what the Qur’an states: "Namely, that no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another" (6: 164). There is a universal rule of law: No one can be punished without evidence. Another important rule: Freedom from guilt is principal, i.e. everybody is innocent unless the opposite is proved. The Prophet is reported to have said, "A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he doesn't kill another person illegally."

5. Peace and Forgiveness

In first step, Islam treats of peace in the eschatological sense, as the ultimate goal of human life, almost synonymous with salvation. A second way in which the Islam looks at peace might be called the psychological sense, as tranquility and peace of mind, an inner confidence born of faith that enables the religious believer to face adversity without anxiety or despair.  Particularly when one is facing the approach of death, the believer can attain a peace of mind, which will enable the person to overcome spiritual turmoil and fear. A third aspect of peace is universal peace.  It reflects the widespread conviction of the time that humankind can sink no lower in criminality towards its own kind and expresses the hope for a time of peace and prosperity for all mankind. According to Sayings for our Prophet, the virtues of civilization will prevail, the face of the earth cleaned of filth, and universal peace be secured.

Islam commands that “one believer should not be vexed with another believer for more than three days,” and that so long as there is no reconciliation, both sides perpetually suffer the torments of fear and revenge.”  Islam advices us like that: ‘Look at the defect in your own soul that you do not see or do not wish to see.  Deduct a share for that.  As for the small share which then remains, if you respond with forgiveness, pardon, and magnanimity, in such a way as to conquer your enemy swiftly and safely, then you will have escaped all sin and harm.’  Thus, self-awareness should lead to repentance, repentance to forgiveness, forgiveness to reconciliation and the seeds for a lasting peace are laid.

CONCLUSION

Religion in general and Islam in particular can play positive role in reviving common values for mankind and uniting people for justice and equality, particularly the weaker sections.

Today, people should interact with each other much more than the past. There should be cultural exchanges and greater understanding of other values and norms. Within each cultural and national values and norms there should be universal attempt to address problems of social inequalities, gender inequalities and human rights. We must work for global solidarity, and struggle against injustice and for the protection of human rights. Global solidarity is necessary for the protection of the environment, to respond to natural calamities and to tackle poverty. For all these concerns, one needs an international perspective and outlook, which overcomes the narrow nationalist outlooks, which are inadequate to address global environmental concerns, concerns for common values, human rights and gender inequalities. Addressing issues of violations of human rights, gender inequalities and environment go beyond boundaries and over ride nationalist concerns.

I can declare here, on the contrary of some pretexts about Islam and Muslims, Islam attaches great importance to the health and moderation of the social structure, and works to establish general peace and well being. It does not countenance at all movements that are destructive and divisive. It sees positive action as a duty and mark, and does not permit negative action. It makes firm love and brotherhood in the structure of society, and puts forward the necessity of union and unity. It rejects decisively movements, which destroy the common values and sincerity between members of society, like tribalism, racialism, and negative nationalism.

 


 

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