Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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Good, positive moral values are common to all religions and even a non-religious society and negative moral values are not appreciated by any religion or society.

While living in a non-Muslim society for more than two decades, I have met and known many non-Muslims who are good human beings and have many good qualities and good moral values. These non-Muslims have been my colleagues, co-workers, patients, neighbors and friends. I appreciate their honesty, integrity, truthfulness, and hard work. I wish some times they would become a Muslim, since Islam is the chosen religion of God.

However, when we Muslims look upon ourselves, we find some of us having very few qualities of being a Muslim or even of a human being. If this was not the case, then all negative moral values (for example, theft, murder, rape, adultery, dishonesty, bribery, injustice, slandering, backbiting, etc.) would have been non-existent in Muslim countries. But they do exist. If the believer (Muslim) actually believed in what he says he believes in, then what prevented him in practicing what he says he believes in. "It is a grievous matter in the sight of God that you say that you do not do" (61:3). "Will you enjoin what is right on others and forget yourself " (2:44).


It is in human nature from birth to start recognizing certain behavior as good and normal and others as bad and abnormal. Influence of parents, peers, and society in general or state laws at large do modify, but appreciation of good qualities and denunciation of bad qualities are inborn parts of human nature. In fact, discarding the latter is a precursor of incorporation of former. You always take off soiled socks first before you put on new ones. Therefore, all religions and societies, whether they believe in God or not, to some degree still forbid and disapprove negative values (for example, selfishness, stealing, adultery, rudeness, misbehavior, falsehood, injustice, dishonesty, cruelty to fellow human beings and animals, fraud, bribery, slandering, backbiting, bigotry, breach of trust, rape, murder, robbery, etc.) Whether they are completely eliminated from society or not, at least these values are denounced by public in general or by the State. So Islam is not unique in forbidding the above, the only difference being that Islam does it more forcefully and offers more severe punishments for the offenders, both in the life here and in life hereafter.

In the same context, Islam, other religions, and even non-religious cultures appreciate positive moral values as a good quality in a human being. Therefore, kindness (to fellow human beings and animals), helping (the sick, the old, the neighbors), compassion, courage, patience, truthfulness, dignity, restraint, politeness, fidelity, justice, honesty, trust, loyalty and peace loving are all good qualities recognized by Islam and other moral systems.

So what are the differences? Why should a Muslim say that his moral values are better than that of others? The differences are on the following points:

1. The emphasis placed by Islam on good virtues is unparalleled and unsurpassed. The Quran and Hadith (traditions of Messenger Muhammad are full of instructions to Muslims on moral conduct in our day-to-day life. It is unfortunate that we Muslims are either not aware of orders of God or do not believe in them. To refresh the memory of those who might have forgotten, I am narrating a few examples.

"Whenever you are welcomed with a greeting, then answer back with something better than it (or at least return it)" (4:36). A Tradition states, " Muslims owe to fellow Muslims six good points: 1) They should greet them when they see each other. 2) They should accept (invitation) when they are invited. 3) They should bless them when they sneezes. 4) They should visit each other when one is sick. 5) They should join in their funeral when they die. 6) They should desire for others what they desire for themselves" (see Bukhari and Muslim).

"Restrain anger and pardon all men for God loves those who do good" (3:134).

"And walk not on earth haughtily (for) of a certainty you cannot rend the earth nor reach the mountain in height" (18:37). "And swell not the cheek with pride at people-for God loves not any arrogant boaster" (31:18).

"O you who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others; it may be that the latter are better than the former, or let not some women laugh at others; it may be the latter are better than theformer, or defame, nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by offensive nicknames" (49: 1 1).

"And spy not, neither backbite one another Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother, No, you would hate it, and fear God, surely God is relenting, merciful" (49:12).

"When you hear vain talk, turn away from there and say, to us our deed and to you yours" (28:55). Tradition: "It is better to sit alone, than with bad people, it is still better to sit with good, than alone. It is better to speak to a seeker of knowledge than to remain silent, but silence is better than idle words."

"Do not use God as an excuse in your oaths to keep yourself from being virtuous, doing your duty, and improving matters among mankind. God is alert and aware" (2:224).

"You who believe, if a scoundrel should bring you some piece of news, clear up the fact, lest you hurt some folk out of ignorance, and afterwards, feel regretful over what you have done" (49:6). Tradition: "Do not think evil of each other nor probe into each other's affair, nor excite one against the other. Keep yourself away from mutual hatred and jealousy." Tradition "One's friendship and enmity should be for the pleasure of God only. Whatever you give should be given because God likes it to be given and whatever you withhold should be with held because God likes it not as a gift."

"Show kindness to both parents, to near relatives, orphans, the needy, the neighbor who is related as well as the neighbor who is a stranger, and your companion by your side and the wayfarer and anyone under your control" (4:36). Tradition on duty toward neighbors: The Messenger said,

1) The rights of neighbor were so much emphasized to him by Angel Gabriel that he feared neighbors may be asked to share inheritance.

2) A person who enjoys a full meal while his neighbor is starving has no faith in Islam.

3) A woman used to offer her prescribed prayers regularly, kept the prescribed fast and gave alms, but her neighbors were sick of her abusive tongue. The Messenger said that she deserved only hellfire.

4) Do not tease your neighbor by the smell of your delicious food. Rather, send a portion of it to him. If you bring fruits in your house, then send some to your neighbor, or at least do not throw the peels outside the door so so that your neighbors' children may not have a feeling of deprivation.

In brief, a practicing good Muslim is the one who submits to the Will of God, does good, and witnesses no falsehood, is a mirror for other Muslims, a leader among the believers, and cooperates with others in acts of virtue and piety and not in acts of sin and injustice.

After discussing connnon positive and negative moral behavior and values and elaborating the glorious injunctions of God and His Messenger for a Muslim's moral conduct, I want to establish the difference in the imposition and acceptance of Islamic versus non-Islamic laws of morality.

In non-Muslim societies, and even in atheistic civilization, there are moral laws. These laws are made by people for the benefit of people. "The Government of the People, by the People, and for the People," does not define what kind of people it is talking about. They may be God-fearing, good Christians or a group of mafia who may elect a leader of their choice or make a rule for themselves and call it a Democratic government. In Islam, the head of the state is God, He is the ultimate Law Maker. The Islamic government is the Government of God, by the people who believe in God, and for the pleasure of God.

A non-Muslim is responsible for his acts to the law makers and law- enforcing agencies of the state (the police, the FBI, the IRS). He may also have individual sense of responsibility to his self, family, employers, etc. Some criminals become habitual since they believe it is all right to do as long as you are not caught. The high rate of crime in this country (one murder every 27 minutes, one theft every 5 minutes, one motor vehicle stolen every 33 seconds, one robbery every 78 seconds, an assault every minute, one rape every 8 minutes, one burglary every 10 minutes) is because these criminals, while escaping the eyes of the police, FBI, etc. do not believe that someone else is watching them all the time and will take their account. True, these crimes exist even in Muslim countries but the incidence has no comparison. A Muslim is not only responsible to the laws of the land, but to the ultimate Law Maker, God He can escape the eyes of police, FBI and IRS but he will be caught on the Day of Judgment. The fear of God or Taqwa is what will prevent a Muslim from committing a crime.

The State laws are imposed from the top (for example, the highest level of government upon the people) whether they like it or not. Therefore, the laws are made with some resistance since someone else (another human being) is deciding what is right for them or how they should behave. In Islam, the believer accepts the law himself, which is not imposed upon him. The compliance is great when one accepts the law from within rather than by force.

Laws made by human beings are made according to the needs of human beings in that area and their cultural values. They vary in time and space. That is to say, what was unacceptable moral behavior (for example, degree of nudity 100 years ago) is perfectly acceptable now and what is normal in California (homosexuality) is unacceptable in a conservative state like Indiana.

However, Islamic moral laws remain unchanged for the last 1400 years. People have tried changing, but it has not helped them. In all means of modernization, by changing their dress, and script of writing, the "sick man of Europe" (Turkey) has remained a bankrupt, poor nation in political turmoil, much worse than she was "backward" under the Ottoman Empire. The modem Western laws are meant to crush the weak and protect the strong. The son of a rich man, after shooting the President, can hire an expensive lawyer and psychiatrist and get away by claiming temporary insanity while more than 1,000 not-so-rich fellow Americans convicted of similar or lesser crimes are waiting on the death row. In Islam, that is not the case, the law applies to everyone. The Messenger once said, "By God, even if my daughter Fatima is caught stealing, the same punishment will apply to her (cutting off the hand)."

In non-Islamic code of morality, the concept of repentance is different. The confession to the priest is not the same as repentance. The priest, a human being, should have no right to forgive the crimes which he will not be taken to account for on the Day of Judgment. After making confession, people do not correct but since their past sins are "forgiven," they get the green light to start over again and do the same thing. In Islam, since God is the Law Maker, it is He who can forgive and it is He to whom we can show our repentance. The doors of repentance are open. God says according to a Sacred Tradition, "O Son of Adam, as long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done and I shall not mind. 0 Son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. 0 Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partners to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it." And in Quran, God says, "And as far as those who believe and do good, we shall remit them from their evil deed and shall repay them the bestfor what they did" (29:7.)

Finally, a summary of the Ten Commandments of the Islamic moral code are given beautifully in 6:151-153:

1. Do not associate anything with Him (God).

2. Show kindness toward both (your) parents.

3. Do not kill your children because of poverty. We shall provide for you as well as for them.

4. Do not indulge in shameful acts, be they open or secret.

5. Do not kill any person whom God has forbidden except through (due process of) law. He has instructed in this so that you may reason.

6. Do not approach an orphan's wealth before he comes of age except to improve it.

7. Givefull measures and weight in allfaimess. We do not assign any one more than he can cope with.

8. Whenever you speak, be just even though it concerns a close relative.

9. Fulfill God's Covenant. Thus He has instructed you so that you may bear it in mind.

IO. This is My straight road, sofollow it and do notfollow other paths which will separate you from His path. Thus He has instructed you so that you may do your duty.

And for the Christians and Jews who might be reading this article, I repeat the call of God: "Say, 0 people of the scripture! Come to an agreement between us and you, that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partners unto Him, and none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: "Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him)" (3:64).