An ethical community

Julia Khadija Lafene believes that in order to influence wider society, Muslim communities should align their ethical standards with Quranic teachings


We all imagine that we know the meaning of ‘community’, a word much bandied about by leaders and politicians who talk about the ‘farming community’, ‘the Muslim community’, ‘the business community’, ‘minority communities’ and ‘the wider community’; that is a group of people and families living in the same area, sharing many things in common, such as ideals, culture and religion. This definition certainly applied in earlier times, when most people lived their lives in the same place, sharing the same environment and values. But in modern times these homogeneous communities have often been broken up by economic change, travel, emigration, instability and war. But the implication is still the idea that people in a ‘community’ have something in common even if it is only living in the same city and using the same services. And people by nature do try to seek others with whom they share common principles.

An ‘ethical’ community is one in which justice is practised; the weaker members are cared for; discipline and good manners are adhered to; people help each other in times of trouble; there is just distribution of wealth. This sort of community can be found everywhere in the world, especially those not unduly influenced by capitalistic economics and excessive individualism.

Usually there is an over-arching principle which restrains greed, be it belief in a higher power or in the collective welfare of the group. Muslim ethical standards of conduct in human relationships, if correctly adhered to, could indeed be a great force for good, being based on the idea that we are all accountable to a higher power.

So how can modern communities, inevitably less close-knit than those of the past, practise being and working together in an ethical way, which will be beneficial to themselves and society in general?
It is unfortunate that some Muslims have fallen short of the ideal, either by mistaking cultural tradi­tions for Islamic ones, or by a belief that Muslim ethics do not apply to dealings with non-Muslims.
These lapses have of course been seized on by the media, promoting the idea that the values of the ‘Muslim community’ are alien to British values. So Muslims need to work hard to restore the true ethical values of their community life which include proper relationships with other human beings created by the breath of the Almighty.

‘Community’ starts with the individual having self-respect and therefore respect for others. The Arabic words ‘adab’ or ‘courtesy’ and akhlaq (ethics) are the keys to this. Courtesy and ethical behaviour are not just good manners: they are founded on the behaviour of the Prophet(s) his compan­ions, family and the Imams and saints who followed him, and apply to every aspect of life. ‘The believers are but a single Brotherhood. Live like members of one family, brothers and sisters unto one another’. (Qur’an 49:10)

It is unfortunate that some Muslims have fallen short of the ideal, either by mistaking cultural tradi­tions for Islamic ones, or by a belief that Muslim ethics do not apply to dealings with non-Muslims.

If a person practises tyranny in his own family, but preaches otherwise in the outside world, he is not laying the foundation for an ethical community. There is an adab due to everything in creation, to oneself, one’s family, one’s fellow Muslims, fellow human beings, nature and animals, but above all to God. Unity amongst human beings can only be sustainable through spiritual awakening, which brings about respect, toler­ance, compassion and genuine care for creation.

Two sayings of the Prophet(s) are significant here: ‘Whoever covers the faults of his brother, God will cover him from his own faults on the Day of Judgment.’ and ‘If you start seeking faults in the Muslims, you will cause dissent among them or you will at least start dissension.’

This refers to common mistakes that we all make, such as losing one’s temper, or divisive criticisms of the practices of different schools of thought. There are also people who mistake cultural practices for ‘Islamic’, such as forced marriage – which is totally haram (forbidden).

Muslims need to counsel anyone they know who is carrying out such practices through ignorance and obstinacy, first ensuring that they themselves are free of such things. When offering advice one must do so humbly, being aware of the feelings and attitude of the person one is trying to counsel. Always check intentions before proceeding. It is recommended to recite chapter Fatiha (The Opening) from the Holy Qur’an before delivering advice. In receiving counsel, a Muslim should be humble and accept it. If it applies he should immediately acknowledge it and thank the advice giver. If it does not apply then accept the advice and refrain from argument and defending himself. God knows the truth of the matter.

This does not mean that really bad behaviour should be covered up or go unpunished; for example those so-called Muslims who abused young girls should definitely be brought to book. These people need to be severely punished, but also rehabilitated by helping them to realise the harm they have done, not only to their victims but to themselves and to other Muslims. Only by recognising that like all human beings they have a noble higher self can people reform themselves. Muslims need to be honest with one another, but not judgemental. Bad actions rather than individuals should be condemned.

As regards relationships with the ‘wider community’, some Muslims have been at fault by thinking that they need not behave ethically and courteously towards non-Muslims, while at the same time accepting benefits and protection. These people have forgotten the Holy Qur’an and the conduct of the Prophet(s) and his successors. There were of course times when they had to oppose other communities who were attacking them or betraying agreements, but in general relationships with them were based on respect and honour for all human beings irrespective of their reli­gion, colour, race, sex, language, status, property, birth, profession/job and so on. (17:70)

“O people, We created you from male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recog­nise one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is Omniscient, Cognisant.” (49:13)

Wherever possible, Muslims were to repel evil with good so that “the one who used to be your enemy, may become your best friend.” (41:34) If people ridiculed and scorned Muslim beliefs Muslims were advised to ‘leave to themselves those who do not give any importance to the Divine code and have adopted and consider it as mere play and amusement‘ (6:70) and not to sit in the company of those who ridicule Divine Law unless they engage in some other conversation. (4:140)

Inevitably because modern communi­ties are more scattered and intermin­gled with others, they have to behave according to principles they have in common, the chief of these being ‘do as you would be done by’; in other words, treat others as you would wish to be treated.

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