Islamic Ethics, Praxis, and Spirituality
By Imam Dr Ahcmet Salie
In Islam, ethics, praxis, family, and spirituality are sanctuaries. The moral mission of our exemplar (uswatun ?asanah), the Prophet Muhammad (peace be with him), was to cultivate marvelous manners bu?ithtu li utammima mak?rimal akhl?q. Muslims have the 10-13 commandments, the Golden Rule, as well as the Nobel Laws to love God with all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves; the neighbor includes all God’s creation/ Khalq Allah.
We have the same seven gifts that would bear 12 fruits. Islam is an abstract ethical Abrahamic monotheistic faith that should form part of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic Semitic tradition respecting other monotheisms as well as monistic faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Janism, etc.- l? ikr?ha fidd?n When a youth tortured a tortoise, an Ottoman q???/ judge gave him 40 lashes because he did not respect all of life. Recently a Belgian minister of Education resigned when a student on a field trip with his professor mindlessly killed and mutilated a duck. When asked about the reason for his resignation, the education minister responded, “Our goal in education is to teach students the sacredness of all life. I have failed to convince every student about the sanctity of all life”. Compare that to the mass slaughter of students by students in the USA.
In February of 2018, the eighteenth mass shooting took place in Florida by yet another white boy (these mass shooters are all white) that claimed the lives of 17 and injured 50; we had 290 since 2013, averaging one a week. These are just the school shootings- shooting in crowded theaters, clubs, and work places are also common. The USA, has 5% of the world’s population and yet 31% of the world’s mass shootings. Australia had 4 mass shootings from 1987-1996 and passed stricter gun laws; they did not have a recurrence for more than two decades. Those who migrate to the USA or merely visit are all at risk.
When the Prophet Muhammad fled his Meccan persecutors, and arrived in Madina, the Chief Rabbi of Madina, Abdulla bin Sallam, eagerly awaited his first sermon. The Prophet addressed all humanity. Y? ayyuhann?s, Afshus sal?m, wa a?’imu??’?m, wa ?ilul ar??m, wa ?all? wann?su niy?m, tadkhulul Jannata bi sal?m O humankind, build and spread peace, feed others, connect with family, pray when everyone sleeps. You’ll enter Paradise smoothly and with peace. Y? ayyuhann?s – the Noble Master did not address just the Arabs or a particular tribe such as the Quraish, ‘Aus or Khazraj, but all humanity 1) Afshus sal?m Becoming peace builders involves speaking truth to power.
It is patriotic to think and patriotic to defend the truth or speak truth to power, not as uncritical lovers or loveless critics (the bad patriots), but as good patriots in a lover’s quarrel with their community, tribe, or nation. False patriotism renders us blind to our community or nation’s misdeeds and only extols its achievements. We endanger our entire community if not enough voices of courage and reason speak up- when we become accomplices in the hurt our tribe or nation does to others in our name. The nuclear nations have become the greatest disturbers of global peace- to them, might is right. War is the terrorism of the rich; terrorism is the war of the poor. Our genocide of the First Nations and brutal slavery and Jim Crow laws will forever haunt us.
The world has become a global plantation where we routinely commit global lynching- in South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. More than 98% of the victims of military rogue Drones are innocent women, men, elders, and children (Glen Greenwald). At times, a single drone can exterminate 40 or more persons. In 2009, President Obama approved the use of 20,000 of these military drones. The name the First Nation of Detroit had for the city was Wawiatonong- where the water goes around. We have exterminated almost 90 million Native Americans including the five ‘civilized’ tribes such as the Cherokee that we Europeanized and Christianized.
Peace must be just. Justice is less about searching for sins, crimes, sinners, or criminals, but more about the search for innocents and innocence. If there is a one percent chance that a person is innocent, then the justice system must throw in everything to prove that innocence. Rabia Chaudhry in Adnan’s Story, referenced the Blackstone Formulation stating that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape than allow one innocent person to suffer. Islam has a hermeneutic of doubt- idra ?l ?ud?d bish shubuh?t; the Shariah code uses the slightest doubt- not a preponderance of doubt- in pursuit of innocence. Justice is often in the eyes of the law enforcement officers, FBI agents, lawyers, judges, juries, coroners, or forensic experts. If racism is pervasive and culturally entrenched, then minorities are always at risk. Injustice then masquerades as justice.
Anti-Islamic sentiments are racist; Arabs were called blackamoors even when Algerians and many north Africans were lily white. Islamophobia is an industry, institutionalized, and imperialistic (Nathan Lean). The Quran sees justice as closest to birr/piety and taqwa/deep reverence of God- ‘i‘dil? huwa aqrabu lit taqw?. The Quran makes almost 600 references to ‘adl and qis?– justice, fairness, and equity, including condemnations of injustice/ ?ulm. Every Muslim should campaign against mass incarceration of innocent people guilty of artificial crimes. We have more than two million persons in the prison industry (see the film 13th); the larger number of seven million include those parts of the probate, prison, and parole system; the systemic, systematic, institutionalized, culturally entrenched racism that disproportionately targets blacks and Muslims needs to be addressed. These ghettoized communities have been set up to fail or enter a pipeline from poverty to prison.
Taking people out of crime is possible. In the 1920s, most of the poor whites were turned into law abiding middle class citizens through the GI bill and playground movement. Brazil moved 50 million of its people out of poverty and China helped 500 million of their poor to join the middle class. It only requires political will and an end to cultural racism. Unless, of course, we need the poor to feed the military machines in hugely profitable war efforts. Oftentimes, crime pays and become highly profitable; the orchestrated crimes in South Africa generates a revenue of almost half a billion. The US military and its tentacles invades with impunity; we fool only ourselves when we say we do so to outsource democracy and freedom; our greed to pillage the lives, labor, liberty, resources, and livelihoods of others is insatiable.
2) a?’imu??’?m- Feeding others include feeding animals and plants. Islam has an ethic of pure altruism and philanthropy! The Dalai Lama found this the most admirable quality of Muslims. Muslims and Arabs have contributed greatly to civilization, law, medicine, technology, and science and they continue to do so. One cannot argue against contribution. Our charities should be humble and truthful- not traps followed by reproach or injury. 3) wa ?ilul ar??m Maintain ties with family no matter how dysfunctional they are! Family is a sanctuary, safety net, and a haven; every house should be a safe house. Also, remember that we are all God’s family- ann?s ‘iy?lull?h and the children of Adam. 4) wa ?all? wann?su niy?m Prayers or invocations when no one sees are crucial to our spirituality. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not emphasize religiosity or a visible display of piety such as the communal prayers or pilgrimage. The heart of Islam is Islam of the heart- qalb ul Islam Islam ul qalb. The Arabic word qalb means heart, mind, and conscience all at once; only those with pure hearts, minds, or consciences can enter Paradise ill? man ata All?ha bi qalbin sal?m. The Prophet wanted us to center ourselves- to be deeply anchored in the Divine and find inner peace and settled serenity; we cannot offer peace when we are in pieces.
We are raising generations without a spiritual minimum, without a moral minimum, and without an ethical minimum. Our Ivy League schools have churned out moral degenerates with money, lust, and power as their gods. Actions are just the 5% tip of the iceberg; 95% of the iceberg consists of our cosmology, faith, values, meaning, virtues, mottoes, life goals, and principles.
Our values could come to our rescue when we face hardships or psychological inflexibility. We could heal through values and meaning (read: Victor Frankl’s logo therapy); many addictions are cured through a genuine faith or spiritual conversion. Truth, charity, humility, compassion, inclusivity, gratitude, optimism, love, forgiveness, dignity, and integrity are some key virtues. Optimism and hope are mandatory; pessimism is a form of ingratitude; those who persecute the Truth are often persecuted by the Truth.
Umar, the would-be assassin of the Prophet became the greatest champion of Islam. Immediately after a few Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri mosque in India in 1992, one of them embraced Islam along with his family. Recently one of them converted, became an imam, and built almost 100 mosques. Ingratitude (kufr?n al ni’mah) is the most vile and wicked quality in a person; this is a view shared by many Roman, European, and other philosophers. Seneca regarded ingratitude as worse than murder, rape, and theft; W.D Ross and Kant also regarded ingratitude as vile. We love only to be at everlasting peace; we hate only to be at everlasting war. We are humble when we admit our weaknesses; failures, and limitations; only the Devil displaces blame- fa l? tal?m?n? wa l?m? anfusakum. Pride comes before the fall. There is no place in Islam for arrogance. Azazil- the leader of the angels- became the Accursed Devil because of arrogance.
There is no place for white privilege; those who benefit consciously or unconsciously from white privilege are not humble. In the Muslim community, there must be no place for Arab privilege l? fadla li ‘Arabiyyin ‘alal ‘Ajamiyyin ill? bit taqw?– Catholic friends speak of Italian privilege; Italians claiming to be uniquely Catholic. Inclusive excellence and non racialism is Islamic. Compassion is a core value; science without conscience leads to mass drone massacres and pulverizing villages and cities through our bombs. Dresden, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima were laid to waste by the USA; in The Fog of War, McNamara, secretary of state during the bombings, claimed that dropping these bombs were unnecessary. Many leading feminists are calling for a compassionate feminism; egalitarian feminism has made women more independent and richer, but sadder. Islam is anti- patriarchal.
Muslims cannot be patriarchal in the Western sense; the hadith (Prophetic saying) about the place of one’s mother makes patriarchy difficult to justify Islamically: “Your mother, then your mother, then your mother, then your father, then those after them” are most entitled to your companionship- ummak thumma ummak thumma ummak thumma ab?k thumma adn?k wa adn?k. Philosophy without religion and piety leads to nihilism and a suicide epidemic; many Western philosophers have committed suicide. One Islamic motto states that there should be no mutual harm or harassment l? ?arara wa l? ?ir?r. Be beautiful and you’ll find everything beautiful kun jam?lan taral wuj?da jam?lan. Gentleness beautifies; harshness and violence attract ugliness- m? k?nal rifq fi shayin ill? z?nahu wa m? k?nal ‘unf fi shayin ill? sh?nahu. Prophet Abraham peace be with him, could tame four vices represented by four birds; the goose representing greed, the peacock with its false pride, the crow with its ugly sound, and the hen with its cackling virtue.
All these birds, of course, have other virtues. He trained them, sacrificed them, and then recalled them. They miraculously came to life and ran towards Abraham. Many a sinner became an exemplary saint; the story of Malcolm X is well known. The story about Abraham and the birds also underscores the importance of believing in miracles. Miracles happen to those who believe in them. Transformation from vice to virtue is still one of the greatest miracles.
If there is anything we learn from the life of Christ, peace be with him, then it is in the title mas?? (from masa?a– meaning touching mas?? or being touched and mams??). Christ, son of the perpetual Virgin Mary (peace be upon her), befriended before he healed. He led with affection and healed with compassion. A leper could not come within 30 cubits; Christ ignored that, touched and healed that leper and many other lepers. The modern-day lepers include all those that are dehumanized, marginalized, stereotyped, and demonized; for example, all Muslims are terrorists; all Hispanics are drug dealers; all Blacks are criminals, all Native American are savage, etc. We are Christ-like when we touch the lives of others with loving mercy (ra?mah), wisdom (?ikmah), and affection (mawaddah). We are Christ-like when we are touched by the lives of others. A single dot differentiates the Arabic word for Christ (mas??) from the Arabic word for the Anti-Christ (mas?kh). The meaning of mas?kh is to conflate, distort, and deceive; the media, our current president, many politicians, priests, imams, and academics could also become anti-Christ-like when they distort, conflate, or deceive. Ignorance is no excuse.
Forgiveness is a form of love; one fifth of the Quran mentions love (read: Prince Ghazi). Muslims are making a name for themselves as American heroes. ‘A??m Kham?sa in The Power of Forgiveness forgave the teen murderer of his son ??riq-a bright honors student at university in California; he not only started a forgiveness movement, but also secured the early release of the teen murderer who then worked for the movement. On July 19, 2011, Ra’?s Bhuiyan petitioned for the life of Mark Stroman- age 41- who killed a Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim in Dallas four days after 9/11. Rais was shot but survived. Stroman before his execution by the state of Texas called Rais one very remarkable man- a survivor of his hate who forgave the Un-forgivable. The family of the murdered Muslim, Waqar ?asan, also championed Stroman’s release; other Muslims joined the movement as pro bono lawyers, peace activists, and interfaith activists. Islamic law recognizes victim opinion evidence and victim impact evidence; unfortunately, US law does not. Shariah law in many ways could inform and help reform US law.
It is said, Life is fragile, handle with prayer. Let us fervently pray. Dearest Lord, Grant us all the ability to bring peace where people are in pieces and wounded, and healing where there is hurt. Transform all our weaknesses into strengths, threats into opportunities, and vices into virtues. Let us heal through values and meaning, oh meaning of All Meanings. We pray for the ability to turn tragedy into triumph, hurt into healing, hostility into hospitality, meanness into meaningfulness, bullying and bigotry into benevolence; let us create fusion from confusion, and provide the true and grand narrative of Islam, Americanness, and patriotism.
There are three patriots; two bad and one good. The bad patriots are loveless critics and uncritical lovers; the good patriot has a lover’s quarrel with his or her nation, (community, family, or beloved). Let us live our faith eloquently. Let us live our sermons eloquently, and help us live our faiths creatively.