You insist in a number of your articles that the moral sense is internal to the human soul and that God has standardized moral and ethical values for us. If your interpretation of Surah 91 verses 7 through 10 is correct, no Muslim can dispute either of those points. Yet, it seems that all good moral and ethical values – i.e. justice, truthfulness, modesty, compassion, the fulfillment of commitments and agreements, etc. – are adhered to because they allow for the smooth, harmonious functioning of a society. Furthermore, adherence to the opposites of all these values – i.e. injustice, dishonesty, shamelessness, brutality, betrayal, etc. – results in chaos and disharmony in a society (or whatever is left of a collectivity after these vices take their toll on a massive scale). In your response to Mr. Vuletic’s criticism of the moral argument, you write:
When being ‘moral’ is against the benefit of my society, would immorality then become moral? Under such circumstances, would injustice become just? If what Mr. Vuletic propounds is correct, then collective morality should be synonymous in implication with collective hedonism. Is that truly the case?
Please provide some examples of how being moral could be against the benefit of society – that is, against the smooth, harmonious functioning of society.
Of course, even if it is established that adherence to moral values produces a harmonious, stable society, such a result might be expected from an Islamic point of view by virtue of the fact that Islam posits the human being less as an independent individual than as a social being. Nevertheless, this observation (if considered correct) can be used as evidence for the argument that morality only appears when a group of people need to organize themselves into a society and, further, that the apparent standardization of moral values is the result of the collective human desire to establish a sound, harmonious society (and to avoid vices that unravel the social fabric) rather than the work of an external moral ‘standardizer’ (i.e. God).
A clear example of where being moral may go against one’s society is where a person is required to bear witness against the injustices of one’s own nation or society. There can, obviously, be other simple examples of the same principle.
It is quite clear that because morality is a phenomenon, which relates primarily to the interpersonal relations and interactions between humans, it would have a direct impact on the soundness or otherwise of these interpersonal relations and interactions. Nevertheless, the concept of morality and ethics is present even in a one to one interaction between individuals, even without society. Two persons coming from distinctly separate social backgrounds and having grown under the influence of different religions, when stranded on an island, where they completely lack all sense of society, would both not only be aware of but would also expect the other to act in a ‘moral’ manner.
However, I do submit that for a mind that refuses to accept Divine revelation and guidance, and is not willing to accept a creator for the excellent creation that surrounds him, even the question of his ‘inherent’ sense of morality is as confusing as that of the Hen and the Egg. Under such circumstances, the only thing that we can hope to do is to present our views according to the best of our abilities and then let the other person decide for himself. I really do not think that we can hope to achieve much debating with a person, who has his mind already made up.
July 13, 2002