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The Moral Problem of Islamic Ethics By: Serge Trifkovic
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 09, 2002


One in a series of articles adapted by Robert Locke from Dr. Serge Trifkovic’s new book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically-Incorrect Guide to Islam.

One of the silver linings of the violent civilizational conflict in which we are spasmodically engaged is that it is forcing us to return to first principles and re-acquaint ourselves with the fundamental religious values of our own civilization.  It is making us see, if we will only throw off the politically-correct "all cultures are equal" blinders, how the Judeo-Christian basis of our society is superior to Islam as an organizing principle for the moral life of man. For the ethical philosophy entailed by Islam is, upon examination, an astonishingly crude and impoverished construct, from which many of the Islamic nations' political problems derive.

The central weakness of Islam as a moral philosophy lies in its eradication of the individual conscience of Christianity and Judaism in favor of unthinking submission to the mere letter of revealed law. The Koran and sunna (example of Mohammed) stand above reason, conscience, or nature. A thing is right - including acts and laws abhorrent to "superceded" Biblical or "irrelevant" natural morality - simply because Allah says so, or because the prophet has thus said or done. The lack of any pretense to a moral basis for sharia (Islamic law) is open and explicit: there is no "spirit of the law" in Islam, no rationality behind it for human reason to discover by exercising man's God-given intellect.  There is no discernment of the consequences of deeds, and revelation and tradition must not be questioned.  Nor may any other standard of good and evil  - least of all any notion of "natural" justice such as that assumed by the founding documents of the United States -  be invoked. 

Sharia cannot be penetrated by reason (its apparent inconsistencies notwithstanding) and the very attempt is forbidden heresy. Every Moslem who is qualified to give a sound opinion on matters of sharia, is entitled to interpret the application of sharia when such interpretation becomes necessary, but where an explicit command of Allah or his Prophet already exists, no Moslem leader or legislature can form an independent judgment. Since Muhammad is the final prophet, there can be no further development in any judicial matters where the Koran and sunna provide guidance.  This deeply undermines the possibility of rational civic debate in Moslem nations and accounts for the distinctly medieval flavor of their legal systems.

Sharia is not at all a "moral law" that guides one's personal map of moral distinctions, but a blend of political theory and penal law, requiring the punishment of violators by the state. It presupposes and demands the existence of an Islamic state as an executor to enforce that law. To be legitimate, all political power therefore must rest with those who enjoy Allah's authority on the basis of his revealed will sent down through his prophet.  Islam assumes a basic pattern of movement in the universe, within which,

 "[p]olitics is in fact no different from religion: truth comes from on high and on the way down is met by responsibility moving up. Society is regulated by law and in the Islamic state the source of law is divine." 

Politics is not "part of Islam," as this would imply that in origin it is a separate sphere of existence which is then eventually amalgamated with Islam.  Rather, politics is the inherent core of the Islamic imperative of Allah's sovereignty.  Separation of mosque and state is impossible within the intellectual framework of Islam; it can only be imposed, as in Turkey, top-down by the armed force of the state.

Islam's denigration of the individual conscience derives fundamentally from its degraded view of man versus that implied by the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Islam, God may have "breathed His spirit into man", but He did not imbue him with godliness or fashion him in His image.  The Judeo-Christian belief in the Fall is inseparable from the concept of salvation and the yearning for the Savior. In Islam, by contrast, men are neither fallen nor saved and therefore can do no more than avoid disbelief in Allah to be granted everlasting life - if, of course, so be the will of Allah. There is no original sin in Islam, and man need only follow the robotic straight and narrow of understanding God's will and obeying it to obtain salvation.  Salvation involves just obedience followed by heaven and 72 virgins, not an existential redemption of man's soul.  The essential shallowness of this view is unmistakable.

The ultimate root cause of Islam's ethical (and indeed spiritual, as we see in the fact that the most spiritual forms of Islam, like Sufism, are unorthodox forms of the religion that rebel against its mainstream) shallowness is its arid concept of God.  Attributing human characteristics to Allah is regarded as a sin, tashbih, but so is its opposite, tatil, which means divesting Allah of all attributes. The difficulty of dealing with the nature of the Creator in Islam arises from seemingly contradictory views in the Koran, which describes Allah as unique, yet also refers to him as having eyes, ears, hands, and face. Tashbih is forbidden out of the fear that its practice will lead to paganism and idolatry; tatil is feared to lead to atheism and agnosticism. In other words,

"[Islam] preserves a rigid unity in God but only at the expense of real personality. It clings to a rigid simplicity but only by sacrificing his relatability. In short, it leaves us with an empty and barren concept of deity." 

Allah keeps precise cont of the good and bad deeds of every person and weighs all words and thoughts against each other to present an error-free account on that great Day of Judgment, the source of life-long anxiety for every Moslem. No one knows why He leads some to paradise, or why hell is the destiny of others. A Moslem prostrates himself on the ground before Allah like a slave before his master, who does not know whether he will be apportioned life or death, grace or damnation. He longs for mercy and his honest intent to worship the only true God earnestly brings no assurance of everlasting life. Christianity worships God the Father; Islam God the dictator, whose orders have no rational basis and whose mercy is caprice.  Again, the political consequences cannot be overlooked for societies that learn their fundamental picture of what authority is from this image.

Sinners are as predestined as the virtuous believers, and will suffer eternally in Gehena, Hell. But even this lamentable destination of "the heedless ones" has been willed by their Creator, who naturally had the capacity to make all virtuous, but "We have set a barrier in front of them and a barrier behind them" instead. 

Any notion of freedom distinct from that implicit in the complete submission to the will of Allah is not an ideal but a perilous trap.  To paraphrase Marx, freedom is the realized necessity of submission. In the conventional, non-Islamic sense familiar to Western nations and our political imitators, it is both impossible and undesirable. Only Allah creates our acts and enables us to act, while we are but transmission belts with a preordained balance of debit or credit that determines our destiny in the hereafter.

"He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of his knowledge except as he willeth." 

Our only purpose is the service of Allah.  "Freedom" is no part of that purpose, not any more than to "know God" or to become more like God. Men can strive no higher than obeying Allah's will as revealed by his prophet. Human imperfection is not subject to improvement in the direction of God, and any such notion is blasphemous.  Political progress of the kind that transpired in 1776 is not just impossible, it is irrelevant.

In the end Allah the unknowable and unpersonable is served out of fear, obedience, "submission," and hope of bountiful heavenly reward. Islam explicitly rejects the notion that "he who has my commandments and keeps them, he is it who loves me."  The Koran states the opposite: "Say, If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins."  This "love" is merely a means of winning love and forgiveness. Ultimately it is the love of the self, coupled with the hope of posthumous forgiveness as the reward for obedience. It is pure self-interest, i.e. not ethics at all.


Serge Trifkovic received his PhD from the University of Southampton in England and pursued postdoctoral research at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His past journalistic outlets have included the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, CNN International, MSNBC, U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Times of London, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is foreign affairs editor of Chronicles.


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