Moral Teachings of Islam 1 – Main Ethical Questions

Jamal Badawi


Channel: Jamal Badawi


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In the name of God the benevolent the Merciful, the creator and the Sustainer of the universe, peace and blessings upon his servant and messenger Muhammad forever amin, I bear witness that there is no god worthy of worship except the God. And I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger and slave servant of God. I greet you with the universal greetings of peace. The greetings that have been used by all the prophets from Abraham to Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon them. Assalamu Aleikum which means peace be unto you. I'm your host Hama Rashid. Today in our Islam and focus program, we start a new series, dealing with moral teachings in Islam. Joining me as usual on the

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program is Dr. Jamal Badawi of St. Mary's University, brother, Jamal Assalamualaikum, Ronnie from cinema. Brother, we've just completed our a 12 part series, dealing with the Pillars of Islam. I'm wondering if perhaps, to keep the continuity between

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our last series dealing with pillars and the new series that we're about to embark on, if you perhaps could just explain the connection that exists between the previous series and the present series that we're gonna be starting on today? Okay, I think the significance of your question relate to the fact that

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many writers about Islam are not totally familiar with Islam. When they speak of the so called Pillars of Islam, or the five pillars of Islam, it is presented in such a way that that's the whole of this land, what all this land is about. And the point that we tried to make clear last time that it took us 12 session just to even explore it in some reasonable degree of depth, not really, totally

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the meaning and significance of each of the five pillars of Islam, believing, believing in God, the performance of the five daily prayers and the various aspects relating to prayer is more than just ritual.

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The poor do the fasting pilgrimage. But even then,

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the way this

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Pillars of Islam relate to the present series, is the fact that they represent the very bare minimum. Remember the example I gave in the very first program of that series that when we talk about Pillars of Islam, it's really about pillars. Not talking about walls, ceiling, furniture, partitions, that doesn't constitute Islam, the five pillars in itself, it's the basis bare minimum. So by the same token, also, when you talk about human conduct, relating to the ethical and moral values, requirements, things to be done or not to be done.

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They actually start basically with the five pillars of Islam as a basic training as a foundation. But that's not all. Islam has its own ethical and moral system that covers all aspects of life independently of any other existing system, whether it's secular or religious. That's how actually it can be regarded as an elaboration more on the specifics of that subject. Okay, moving into our program today, then, to begin with, how would you define ethics and morals?

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Well, how are ethics and morals defined?

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I do not wish to give too many academic definitions, but perhaps I just start with one and then I put it in a very simple term. But usually, ethics is defined as a study of human conduct

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as it relates to certain basic ideals.

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That's why ethics is regarded as a so called normative science rather than a positive science, normative in the sense of something that studies what ought to be there must be some ideal, and this is what you're supposed to be doing.

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To put it in simpler terms, perhaps, we can also say that ethics and morals is a field of study that focus on the knowledge of good and bad, of good and evil.

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On what this is our way to evaluate some aspects of behavior as good or bad.

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This is a very simplified form, what ethics and morals is all about.

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Now, many people, I believe in

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today would raise the question

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as to whether or not discussion and consideration of ethical and moral factors is really has any relevance, given the advanced nature of our civilization and environment or technology and so on? Are these ethical questions that are really relevant to our day to day life? Well, it is interesting to note rather hand that from time immemorial, since mankind lived on this earth content Nowadays, there was never a point where mankind ceased to contemplate and think about this basic moral questions of good and evil. Now, when people speak today about the so called modern technology and civilization, Space Age, yes, definitely mankind did achieve great strides and the in this areas.

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But is that really the kind of progress or advancement in the total and complete sense that human beings are really aspiring to?

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In fact, when you look at it more closely,

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you will see that the relevance of this subject or the relevance of modern ethics

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is so great that in one, view, at least, that all our prison social, economic and political problems, in fact, lie into the moral problems. In other words, sometimes we could put our heads in the sand you can ignore and say, Oh, you know, this moral and ethical stuff, you know, forget about this type of things.

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But indeed, this is a very superficial view. Because at the heart of all of our contemporary problems, is the basic ethical question.

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Just to give a few examples, when you talk today, about technological advancement, how much did we advance in the human sense? What is happening to the institution of the family breaking down? You hear about growth, marriage, and people cohabitate, you know, living together without any bonds or any responsibility,

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younger generation and you hear about generation gap, antagonism and frustration, discontent that exists among the younger generation, lack of sense of purpose.

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You talk about the disintegration of sexual morality,

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that even became regarded as good and good as regardless, even things have been lopsided. Everything's put upside down. Now, all bets in the name of progress and modernism.

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Honesty, became for many people meaningless unless it pays, it must be some benefit that you derive from honesty.

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People who think that they are not worshipping any gods, because they are so called liberated. They are indeed worshipping other false gods, the gods of wealth, power, expediency.

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Needless to go into the suffering that the world has gone through, in two world wars, and other numerous other worlds, where a great deal of cruelty has been done, by man to his fellow man, to the point that one great philosopher, Bertrand Russell, at one point even said, it probably would be unfair to beasts, to say that man has descended to the level of beasts,

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and dead if I may add to that, that sometimes beasts are regarded as more humane because when a beast kills, it kills for food, and that's it. But the senseless killings, the senseless murders, contemporary news, this week, last month, look any point of time,

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give us a very clear indication that we can no longer put our face in the sand and say, Alright, let's look at technology and progress and forget about this old stuff of

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morality. But we have time I could quote you a few examples of this, which they have

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this very nice little booklet here that we will be using, quite

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effectively in this program. It's called ethical viewpoint of Islam by a great Pakistani scholar by the name of mouth duty.

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It was written originally in Urdu, and the translator added a few useful editorial comments. I just selected three quotations, not by Muslims by actually Western

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scholars reflecting their concern as to what's going on. For example, Lewis Mumford in his book

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the conduct of life says, All this talk is talking about the invisible breakdown of our civilization, the erosion of values, dissipation of human purpose, the denial of distinction between right and wrong, good and evil and reversion to subhuman levels of conduct.

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Harold Titus in his book, living issues in philosophy,

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speaks there and he talks about man, he says, Man was, or has devised numerous plans, and organizations for gaining greater security and comfort. Yet, he suffers from a mental and emotional security as to the meaning of life, the nature of the world in which he lives and the kind of life he wants to live with his fellow men.

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And eloquent expression, about the same kind of problem has been given by Northrop, in his book, The meeting of east and west, in which he says it would be it would seem that the more civilized we become, the more incapable of maintaining civilizations we are. So this clear signals, the relevance of the moral question is not simply important, but perhaps even more important than it used to be.

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When you were defining a few moments ago, the

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the meaning of ethics and morality, I think you mentioned that ethics and morality, the main concern of ethics and morality has to do with the study of good and evil. I'm wondering if perhaps you could elaborate on this a little bit more, and perhaps you could indicate the major areas that are studied in ethics?

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Well, I've that's a very simple chart that

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summarizes the very major questions not to sit in that corner, we have the men ethical questions that mankind has

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examined, and the answers, at least from the secular morality point of view, at this point.

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And we'd say basically, four questions are commonly found in books of philosophy and ethics. First of all, what is the supreme good? That is to say, what is the

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ultimate criterion, or yardstick to judge something as good or even the ultimate good?

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Or goal of life something that is worth living? For?

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Second question.

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What are the sources of knowledge about good and evil? How do we know

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what we derive this

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information? A third question is who sanctions morality?

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What is the power

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that makes sure that people follow morality? What do you do we force people, motivate them? appeal to them? What?

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And finally, a related question, what truly represents the motives of moral conduct?

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Aside from sanction, what causes people to follow a particular moral law? This is just In brief, the headlines are the main issues. Okay, could we now look at the other side of the coin and examine some of the some of the answers to these questions, specific inequality? Right, the kinds of answers that are okay. Well, if we refer to the chart again,

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we have listed here three measures, answers to the first question, what is the supreme good? I just go through the answers and then give some critic briefly.

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But one answers is that the ultimate thing is happiness. That is anything that

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causes happiness, make people happy, that's good. Anything that makes them feel,

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you know, sorry, or sad or disappointed, then it's

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a second

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answer or school

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is perfection, that is to say,

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the attainment of perfection that human beings

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should be able to develop fully their capacity and their ability to achieve that level of perfection. And that's the criteria for good and evil, anything that helps them in this development is good. The reverse is even.

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A third suggestion was duty for the sake of duty. This is the idea presented by Emmanuel Kant, one of the famous philosophers,

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which basically say that people really are the ultimate goal.

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To do good for this order to do your duty for the sake of duty, not for any other purpose.

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If you really look at this type of answers, you find that all of them really belong to what we have here is called as a secular morality.

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And what we mean by secular morality? Is the system of morality that is divorced from belief in God. In other words, say that we can answer this question we could, without necessarily believing in God or believing in the life we're after. But if you look into each of these answers, you find that there are lots of conceptual problems. First of all, you talk about happiness as the ultimate good.

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But again, what do you mean by happens? What type of happiness? sensual, spiritual, mental,

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it doesn't answer it. Clearly.

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Not only this, whose happiness are we speaking about? The individual happiness, group, society, and nation, or the happiness of mankind at large? There's a great deal of ambiguity.

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Moving on to the second answer, or the second school perfection.

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What is the standard of perfection? How do we know when we talk about perfection? Was that some standard?

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How did you get that standard of perfection? What it is?

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Similarly, like we said, in happiness, whose perfection? Should we really strive for?

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perfection of the individual, the group, society, nation, mankind.

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God for the sake of God, that's perhaps one of the most ambiguous way of defining something that should really absolute and clear supreme good.

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What exactly is the contract? What does it mean, to do your duty, only for the sake of just like other slogan saying, learning for the sake of learning, but even then, this is more ambiguous? And who laid it down? Who gave that?

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clear definition of duty for the sake of duty? What's the rationale for people to do that duty?

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That's not totally clear, either.

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Looking at the second question, how do we know whether or not a given behavior is either good or bad? How does How is this question addressed by sector morality? Even in terms of what we call the hidden the charge the source of love knowledge? Yes. What? Similarly, we'll find the answers again, under secular morality, quite considerable, you get all kinds of answers, you know, that are piles of books of philosophy that give you all kinds of rationale and explanation, which shows again, the deficiency and the approach altogether, but one, school

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the is called empiricism. Well, that sounds like a big term. But what it really means is that human experience

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should be regarded as the ultimate source of good and bad. So we, as humans, we try we learn on the basis of that learning, we can find out what is good and what's evil. That's one.

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A second school is called intuition ism, coming from intuition, which means that human beings, by their nature, have some kind of insight. They have kind of field for what is right and what's wrong.

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A third school is called rationalism, or I put it simply reason.

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Many of the famous philosophers in the past like, play to our Stoffel, Spinoza, Hegel, were all basically in that school nationalism. That is, we can discover Good and Evil by examining using our reason to find out what really is good or evil.

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Now, again, this might sound interesting, of course, it may have some gems of truth into it. But let's look at it more critically. When we say, experience as a source of what is good, or what is bad.

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Now, whose experience are we talking about?

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If you're talking about universal human experience, it means that you've got to have

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full data

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on experience before you can really come up with an answer. But even when you evaluate human experience to come up with your conclusions, you run into lots of problems. Because you Ideally, you should get someone who not only have access to the full data, but who is very open minded was very objective, that you would not be biased in his interpretation. And that's impossible. Because you get any number of experts and everybody would interpret human experience depending on his own field of study or competence. You can get a universal agreement and he

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Don't get universal agreement, then you're talking about relativism, that everything becomes relative, you're not talking about absolute and final source of good and evil.

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The other problem also that when you talk about experience, that means perhaps you have to wait for too long until you have this full data.

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That means he like he let people be lost for essentially without finding a clear,

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crystallized answers to the questions because simply haven't got the data, both other schools, intuition and reason.

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Both of them, perhaps may be partial

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source just like experience of judging what is good and what is evil. But again, there are only patches there in themselves, insufficient intuition, as we described in previous programs. Also, it's not necessarily totally accurate. It's biased, sometimes reasoning also might be biased, it could be all kinds of problems that arise. So the we are left here again, in the second question, they will not really knowing exactly how to find the final answer for that question. Okay, can we move on in and look at the question of sanctions? So who's according to the secular scheme of things? Who what are what are the viewers school think about the question of who's who sanctions

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morality? Well, first of all, one school, I just put that as self enforcing, that they claim that the main sanction for morality is basically the nature of morality itself, that automatically, it sanctions itself. So the there is some happiness that you derive when you do the right thing, there is some bad feeling when you do something wrong, just like happiness or perfection that we talked about before the same kind of thing. So virtue itself leads to enforcement. Virtue itself is self enforcing fuel.

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Another is the so called the law of practical reason. That is,

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there's a kind of self imposed law,

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that following morality is practical. So in other words, it imposes itself it enforces itself. In a way, it's similar, again, to self enforcing, just to kind of another

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angle of looking at it.

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And then, some also claimed that it is the political power in any particular society, that sanction morality, they force you they have, they've got the power, they got the police, the jails and everything. You know, so they say you do it to us. So that's it.

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Others would say it's not exactly political power, but maybe can also speak of informal social pressure, that society in any particular society, there are certain norms of the do's and don'ts. People are pressured to follow those norms. And that's how people are

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forced on or in a way product to follow and respect the moral. No.

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Question number four, in question number three, on your chart, I think are closely related, if not interrelated? And this question of

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the motive, right moral conduct, you could explain how the various schools of thought Look at this, under the secular morality, okay, they are related, but of course, we separate them, because here you're talking really about who has the right to enforce morality. And here, we're simply talking about what really causes people internally, or motivates them internally to,

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to follow morality. One claim is that people have people have an inherent inborn respect of the law.

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Of course, those who said that, perhaps were not aware with before the development that is taking place in the last two decades, what kind of respect of law you get.

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Others claim that it is simply the desire for perfection that people try their best to achieve a high level of perfection and that motivation itself, important, again, attitude or inclination to try to be perfect. As much as humanly possible, of course,

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a third school or amalgam of schools really because there are all kinds of use, and that can be summarized actually in two words, punishment, and reward. That is people follow morality simply because if they don't, they're subject to some kind of punishment. And if they follow the moral code or moral law, they are given certain rewards. But the schools vary as to who gives that word which word is more important in the mind, of the individual? One claim is that it's basically a reward

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by the state, that would be the counterparty of the political power in sanction. Okay. The other say that it's basically reward and punishment by society. That's the counterpart of social pressure, which means socially, you're punished by what? being ostracized, being rejected in society, or you're rewarded also by society by being accepted, respected and all that. But it mainly relates to this basic utilitarian type of attitude that something benefits me

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that causes me to follow or hire me so that I avoid doing it. As you notice, by the way, in both of these,

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just like we're talking about the first two questions, when you talk about sanctions, or motives, you're back in square one using the same problem again, sanctions and motives with respect to individual groups, society, mankind at large,

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your left still in confusion on the basis of secular morality,

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this chart that we've been discussing, and the the main questions and the answers, and so on, that are provided by the various schools of thought and second, moralities very helpful in terms of getting an understanding?

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Would it be reasonable to conclude, or let me ask for another way, the weaknesses that we've discussed here today in today's program in sexual morality,

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this can be inferred from the historical record of being fired from this. But the secular moral thinking is really completely unreliable and is completely devoid of any kind of truth or utility. Why did I I've got to be fair on that, of course, has been critical in many respects. But of course, to be fair, one cannot say that any of those ideas that represent the fruits of human thought and great efforts of many philosophers throughout history is on devoid of any truth. If you recall, even in one point, I mentioned that there might be some gems of truth in each of these, but there is a big problem with them that most of these points might represent partial aspects of understanding

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basis of ethics and morality.

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So their main problem is that when you don't have a complete and comprehensive system

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of ethics and morality, you're left with a situation where there are so many gaps and so many unanswered questions. in that kind of situation, you find many philosophers or many thinkers trying to fill those gaps. They don't fill it necessarily with something that's solid, sometimes just based on assumptions imaginations, which may not may or may not help, is all those

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these problems.

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The other point, again, is that

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even though there have been some attempts, laudable efforts, I should say, to answer some of these questions,

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we don't really get a clear indication as to how could you use this foundations of morality, your answers to these four questions as a foundation and a basis upon which you could then simultaneously an individual who is righteous and a society also that's righteous without getting to one extreme or the other, without being too totalitarian or just laissez faire or just open type of loose system where there is no social control? This does not necessarily stem from this kind of thing. But above all, and perhaps this is the most crucial critique, I should say, for this whole notion of secular morality, regardless of the various schools of thought and the various ways the question is

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answered. And that is, it establishes or attempts to establish a moral system, as if mankind is independent of God, to divorce the discussion of morality, from believing in God and in the hereafter.

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Thank you, brother Kamala, in our program, and today, our introductory program on moral teachings of Islam we've been examining, critically analyzing many of the main questions and answers that are implicit in the study of secular morality. We want to invite you back next week when we'll continue our second program in the series on moral teachings of Islam. And we'll take another look at the morality of religious morality. Thank you for watching. ostermalm alaikum peace be unto you