Manual Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics

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These and others constituted a body of jurisprudential practices in the classical age that often responded to actual sociological and cultural demands within their time and age. Whether and to what extent the jurists behind these determinations incorporated or relied on ethical or moral visions varied greatly from one jurist to another and from one place and time period to another. The function of jurists was to resolve actual conflicts and disputes presented to them and not necessarily to act as moral philosophers or ethicists.

By the ninth century the works of Greek physician and philosopher Galen of Pergamon had been translated into Arabic and became the basis for the Galeno-Islamicmedical tradition. But what is most striking about the numerous texts generated by classical Muslim scholars throughout the medieval period is the extent to which they paid attention to a holistic approach to treatment. The physician and patient worked together to bring the patient in harmony within himself and with his environment.

These principles would effectively seek to ensure that the researcher or doctor has done his or her due diligence before God, while upholding the rights of God and people. Especially in the field of bioethics what is mandated is no less than that the researcher or doctor act in a godly manner. Moreover, the patient must be sufficiently informed as to be able to make decisions that discharge his or her responsibilities before God.

To go through the enlightenment of finding peace in God does not necessarily mean the annihilation of the self into God, but it does mean gaining the wisdom to understand the balance between the self, the other, and God. It also necessarily means to exist in harmony with the self, creation, and the Maker. Finding peace in God means comprehending the just balance of rights and struggling to preserve this balance by giving each right its due.

"Law And Ethics in the Islamic Normative Tradition." In Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

In struggling to submit to the Almighty, a Muslim struggles for liberation from and against falling captive to godlessness—a condition marked by ignorance, anxiety, alienation, and fears. Godliness is not just a conviction or belief; it is a practice and a state of being. And this state, which is quintessentially interconnected with beauty—with the attributes of divinity such as love, mercy, justice, tranquility, humility, and peace—is in direct antipathy to egoism which in turn is associated with the ailments suffered in a state of godlessness such as hate, cruelty, inequity, arrogance, anxiety, and fear.

The more they drift away from themselves and descend into and settle for godlessness, the more elusive and misguided their quest for happiness will be. However, the alleviation of suffering and hardship is not the same as the achievement of happiness. Even if the most faithful try their utmost to end hardship, suffering, and misery, this does not amount to the realization of happiness. They are in a state of harmony and peace with themselves, creation, and God. This is a state of blissful tranquility, equilibrium, and ultimately peace.

For instance, the obligation to lift suffering and hardship is not limited to the context of doctors treating patients but to the entire field of bioethics. This obligation would apply equally to all living things including creation itself. One cannot indulge in waste or in the needless destruction of nature without infringing upon the rights of God and risking descending into the graceless state of godlessness. When it comes to human beings, the ethical obligation is not fulfilled by simply refraining from inflicting harm or suffering but to an affirmative duty to act to further the well-being and satisfaction and contentment of individuals, when such a duty is owed, or in all cases, of the collectivity of human beings.

This does mean that the pursuit of knowledge and the removal of obstacles to learning and awareness, such as the search for cures or means for avoiding disease, is an ethical duty that brings people closer to Godliness. The use of biological knowledge to threaten humanity with destruction or to manufacture weapons of destruction is behavior consistent with a state of ugliness or godlessness. It is true that Islam, like all systems of faith, can be used to make pain more bearable or to mitigate the harshness of suffering.

However, patience or forbearance when confronted with trials and tribulations is an ethical obligation upon the person afflicted. Unlike the obligation to lift harm or aid in achieving happiness, it is not an affirmative obligation that implicates the rights of God or human beings. Each person is expected to reflect, ponder, learn, and act and then face the consequences of their conduct before God. This means that one is free to make the right or wrong choice, including the right not to believe or to choose the path of godlessness instead of Godliness.

Compulsion, duress, and obfuscation to perpetuate a state of ignorance are all considered objectionable and repulsive because they compromise the autonomy of the moral agent. But it also means that there is an affirmative duty to disclose all relevant information that would enable a person to make a decision consistent with her or his own integrity.

Reason and Revelation in Islamic Thought

The intellect is sacrosanct because it is the very basis for the Divine covenant between God and human beings. It cannot be diluted or weakened by alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants, and it can never be forgotten that an individual is ultimately responsible for his or her decisions. This, however, carries a corollary ethical duty upon caregivers to fully disclose all relevant information so that patients can make a fully informed decision about their own care.

In fact, in cases of real need, there might be an ethical obligation derived from the duties of mercy and beneficence toward others to donate blood or organs.


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The two ethical duties of mercy or compassion and beneficence mandate that the suffering of others not be approached with arms-length detachment, and that healing the suffering of others not be approached as a form of granting charity. A society in which people suffer treatable illnesses without aid or recourse, or where animals suffer because of genetic interference, or even because of neglect and lack of care, cannot be just societies.

Because of the theological emphasis on these ethical values, in the classical period, Muslims established the first charitable trusts pl.

Islam- An understanding from beliefs to values

Unfortunately, these ethical values and their role in establishing a just society have lost much of their authoritativeness in modern Muslim societies. The principle of justice always mandates that a decision maker look beyond the confines of his or her personal preferences and interests to weigh in the interests and rights of others as well as the rights of God.

However, other than clear-cut questions of death and life, justice requires that all rights, whether of human beings or God, be weighed and balanced with care and deliberation. On most issues, after weighing the balance of rights, a person will have to decide in accordance with his or her conscience. Nevertheless, there is an important point of caution. For these deliberations to be genuine and meaningful, a measure of humility and self-awareness is imperative. Justice itself mandates that those directly affected by a biomedical decision be included in the consultative process for this process to be meaningful and considerate.

After the completion of the consultative process, who gets to make the final decision and whether such a person is bound to follow the consensus or majority opinion depends on many factors. For example, the decision to terminate life support to a patient who is clinically brain dead is too serious a matter to be left in the hands of a single person, such as a spouse. The mandates of mercy, compassion, and beneficence, leave alone justice, would seem to counsel that a decision like the termination of life support should be a consensus-building process where no loved one is left to feel betrayed or let down by others.

By definition, negotiated solutions will mean differences of opinion and a plurality of judgments. As long as practitioners deliberate upon the duties not to cause or perpetuate harm, to pursue happiness, to seek justice, to deal in mercy, achieve beneficence, and honor the integrity of human beings, then at the very minimum, they have discharged their obligations toward God and acted in a Godly manner. Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Cambridge, U. Lanham, Md. Aksoy, Sahin, and Ali Tenik. Arab intellectuals such as al-Farabi , Avicenna and Averroes authored lengthy commentaries on early Greek treatises on democracy, theology, psychology and many other subjects that are still studied today as classics.

In the later Middle Ages, it was from Arabic translations that Aristotle re-appeared in the west, reintroducing logical and dialectical rigour into medieval Christianity, and heralding the gradual revival of Greco-Roman classicism that culminated in the Italian Renaissance. Over centuries, through empires and crusades, through the rise and fall of whole civilisations, the body of wisdom weaving steadily through Islam, Christianity and Judaism was Greek philosophy, the great example being Spain in its golden age.

Yet some insist that secular philosophy is anti-Islamic.


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And the students who approached me found themselves in the situation of many young Muslims in the west today. Even the choice to attend a class on law and ethics can provoke dilemmas of identity and allegiance. Anyone familiar with Plato knows that nothing is taboo in Greek philosophy.

Nor is any proposition admitted on faith alone. Logic and nature, ethics and politics, even art, music and literature must be justified through reason.

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No custom, tradition or religion stands above scrutiny. The very existence of God — or the gods — must be cast off if good reason cannot be mustered in support of it. For those who believe that a meaningful human life requires faith coupled with reason, the ancient Greeks make unsettling reading.

Religious people of all faiths have at times shunned secular philosophy. Religion , like science, closes minds when it leads people openly, or secretly, to declare, "We have all the truth we need. We don't need philosophy! My two students had no intention of shutting down their minds. Both decided that their Islamic faith in no way bars them from free and critical inquiry into ethics, history and society. They embrace Islam to bring a wider world in, not to shut it out.

They have no fear of Aristotle.

Reason and Revelation in Islamic Thought

They are, like Aristotle, the arbiters of their own minds. They see in the Greek canon not crusty dogma, but living dialogue. Aristotle poses no more of a threat to them than would an interfaith educational or cultural forum. How can that be?

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