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Prevention of Moral Degradation in Light of Islamic Teachings

2010 West Coast Jalsa Salana at Baitul Hameed Mosque, Chino, CA
Nasir Mahmood Malik, National Tarbiyat Secretary, 12/25/2010

Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency and manifest evil and transgression.  He admonishes you that you may take heed.’ (16:91)

Honored Guests of the Promised Messiahas:

It is our common observation that to protect society from any serious disease, responsible and knowledgeable leaders of society warn people about the potential risks from that disease and advise them of what they should or should not do.  As human knowledge is not complete and is based on limited experience, such warnings and advice are neither complete nor pre-emptive.  Nonetheless, those who heed such warnings and advice remain relatively safe and those who do not suffer the effects of that disease.

Moral degradation is worse than a complex and serious disease with devastating long term consequences.  It refers to the process of declining from a higher to a lower level of morality and is seen as preceding or concomitant with the decline in quality of life as well as the decline of societies and nations.  It has destroyed individuals, families, dynasties and nations alike from within.  It starts slowly with seemingly harmless choices by some individuals but then it spreads like an epidemic affecting the society at large.

Moral decline or degradation begins when transcendent moral values, which have proven to be beneficial over time, are discarded for vain lustful desires.  A study of human history suggests that moral decline begins with prosperity.  In early America, the tendency to drift away from faith in times of prosperity was observed by a Puritan preacher Cotton Mather (1663-1728) who stated, “Religion begot prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother.”

Secular society, perhaps in the name of freedom of choice, is unwilling to condemn or prevent the spread of moral degradation; and even when it tries to it is unable to because of human limitations of knowledge, reasoning and wisdom.  Such society goes in circles chasing the symptoms and dressing up the outcomes rather than addressing the root cause.  In our times, examples of this phenomenon abound; like immodesty, adultery, cohabitation, teenage pregnancies, drinking, drugs, pornography, homosexuality, financial and political corruption, etc.

Reflecting on the current condition of man, the Messiah of this age, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, writes:

The remarkable material progress of the current age has been more than counterbalanced by its deplorable spiritual decline, to the extent that the souls of men have lost their ability even to grasp obvious truths.  It is apparent from a close study of humanity that a hidden and formidable force is pulling it downwards, and man is swiftly being dragged into a pit which is termed Asfalus Safilin (the lowest of the low).  Such a complete change has come over the intellects of men that they have come to admire and praise things which are abhorrent and detestable to the spiritual eye.  Pure truths are laughed at and ridiculed, and complete submission to God is looked upon as an absurdity.  (How to be free from sin)

Unlike secular society, religious society looks towards sacred scriptures and traditions to prevent moral degradation.  However, all religions are either silent or inadequate on this subject, except Islam.  No other religion claims to be complete and universal, except Islam.  It is only Islam that claims to provide perfect guidance for all human needs: physical, moral and spiritual.  It is only Islam that addresses the root cause of moral decline in profound ways and provides a panacea to the believers for the cure of this fatal disease when it proclaims:

We gradually reveal understanding of the Qur’an which is a healing and a mercy to the believers…. (17:83)

In the next few minutes I wish to first describe an overview of how Islam purports to prevent moral degradation, then present a specific framework in which Islamic Philosophy and Teachings can be applied to prevent moral decline, and finally some simple Islamic tips that you and I can use on a daily basis to save ourselves and others from moral degradation.

Overview:

Islam prevents moral decline by:

(a)  Explaining the nature of man (i.e., his strengths and weaknesses, his potential to do good and his propensity to do evil)

(b)  Differentiating right from wrong

(c)  Warning about the risks and dangers of moral degradation

(d)  Providing complete guidance (dos & don’ts) on avoiding those risks

(e)  Presenting the Holy Prophet Muhammadsaw as a model of moral excellence:

Verily, you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model,… (33:22)

(f)   Exhorting good people to prevent moral degradation with love, wisdom and compassion:

Let there be among you a group of people who should invite to goodness, and enjoin equity and forbid evil. (3:105)

As an example, let me review one profound Islamic teaching on the fundamental chemistry of moral development and degradation.  This is the verse of the Holy Qur’an I recited in the beginning.  Allah says:

Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency and manifest evil and transgression.  He admonishes you that you may take heed.’ (16:91)

Paraphrasing the explanation of this verse by Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IIra:

This verse contains three commandments and three prohibitions which briefly deal with all the various stages of moral and spiritual development of man.  On the positive side it enjoins justice, the doing of good to others and kindness as between kindred; and on the negative side it forbids indecency, manifest evil and transgression.  Adl (justice) implies that a person should treat others as he is treated by them…  Higher than adl is ihsan (goodness) when man should do good to others regardless of what sort of treatment he receives from them…  The last and highest stage of moral development is ita’e dhil qurba (giving like kindred), where a believer is expected to do good to others prompted by a natural impulse like a mother whose love for her children springs from natural impulse.  After a believer has attained this stage his moral development becomes complete.  Moral decline is identified with three words, viz., fahsha (indecency), munkar (manifest evil) and baghy (transgression).  Fahsha signifies vice of which the knowledge is confined to the doer and munkar signifies those evils which others also see and condemn, though they may not suffer any direct loss or infringement of their own rights by them.  Baghy, however, comprehends all those vices and evils which not only are seen, felt and denounced by others but which do them direct harm as well.  These three simple words cover all conceivable vices.

This commandment and insight into human nature is so profound and critical that it is recited every week in the second portion of the Friday sermon lest we forget.  This also shows that Islam relies heavily on the system of reminders because humans are forgetful by nature.

Framework:

Now, let me apply Islamic Philosophy and Teachings on a specific framework to prevent moral degeneration.  As individuals and families are the fundamental building blocks of society are individuals and families, the building blocks of Prevention of Moral Degeneration are preservation of morals and integrity of individuals and then families.

Individuals:

According to the Holy Qur’an, the fundamental root cause of all evils is shirk (i.e., associating gods with Allah).  To preserve the morals of individuals, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

Thy Lord has commanded that ye worship none but Him… (17:24)

Explaining this verse, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states that shirk causes man to sink morally and spiritually.  Belief in Divine Unity is a seed out of which grow all virtues, and lack of which lies at the root of all sins.

We observe that a lot of people proclaim that they believe in One God but still commit sins.  Explaining this paradox, The Promised Messiahas writes:

Belief only means accepting something in good faith, but true awareness means to actually experience that belief. It is impossible for true awareness—Ma‘rifat—and sin to dwell in one heart, just as it is impossible for it to be day and night at the same time.  (How to be free from sin)

Regarding shirk, The Promised Messiahas writes:

Anyone who gives reverence to his own plans, mischief or clever designs as he should revere God alone, or depends upon another person as he should depend upon God alone, or reveres his own ego as he should revere God alone, in all such conditions he is an idol-worshipper in the sight of Allah.  (Siraj-ud-Din ‘Isa’i ke Char…)

In this respect, Hadrat Khalifatul Masih Ira says:

To associate anyone in the name, action, or worship of Allah constitutes shirk, and to carry out all good deeds solely for the pleasure of Allah is called worship.

Warning against shirk, Hahdhrat Khalifatul Masih Vab states:

Among the ills that take over imperceptibly is shirk.  Even a hint of shirk is unacceptable to God.  A Muslim who claims to be firm on the Unity of God, needs to understand the subtlety of the concept of Unity of God and the subtlety of shirk and be extremely careful in this fast developing world.  (Conditions of Bai’at)

So, the first step in preserving the morals of individuals is belief in the Oneness of God and condemnation of shirk.

The second step in preserving the morals of individuals is his obligation towards his parents.  Allah says:

Thy Lord has commanded, that ye worship none but Him, and that ye show kindness to parents… (17:24)

Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states that it is his parents who first of all direct a man’s attention to God and it is in the parental mirror that Divine attributes are reflected and on a minor human scale are given practical expression….Man is told that since it is not possible for him to repay God’s favors, he should at least refrain from shirk.  However, in the case of his parents, man can return their love and kindness, although only very inadequately.  Therefore, he is commanded to be kind and generous to them.

The third step in preserving the morals of individuals is his obligation towards his kinsman, the poor and the wayfarer and proper use of his wealth.  Allah says,

Give to the kinsman his due, and to the poor and the wayfarer, and squander not thy wealth extravagantly(17:27)

Families:

To preserve the morals and integrity of families, Islam provides a complete code of conduct.  The ideal Islamic family starts with the marriage of a believing man and a compatible believing woman and culminates with the raising of believing children.  To successfully navigate through this family journey, Islam defines the roles and responsibilities of the married couple first as spouses and then as parents.

Regarding the married couples, Allah admonishes:

Men are guardians over women…..Virtuous women are obedient and guard the secrets of their husbands with Allah’s protection….  (4:35)

Qawwamun means maintainers, protectors, or managers of affairs.  Thus, we infer that the husbands are responsible for the physical, moral and spiritual well being of their wives and children.  Such husbands can become qawwamun only if their wives cooperate with them and protect them by guarding their trusts.

Regarding the married couples as parents, Allah admonishes:

O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from Fire… (66:7)

So, as parents believers are responsible for striving hard in protecting themselves and their families from breaching any and all boundaries of human behavior commanded by Allah.  For example, Allah commands:

Slay not your children for fear of poverty… (17:32)

Explaining this verse, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states that:  “Those miserly parents who do not provide proper education (secular, moral, and religious), food and clothing to their children, in fact, contribute to their physical and moral death.”

Tips:

Now, let me review some simple Islamic tips that we can use on a daily basis to save us and others from moral decline.  As a general principal, Islam states that:

Follow not the footsteps of Satan. (2:169)

Who is Satan?  Satan means the rebellious and the one who transgresses or exceeds proper bounds.  So, to protect ourselves from any moral lapse, we should not follow those who exceed the boundaries set by the Islamic code of conduct, rather we should follow the practice of the Holy Prophetsaw.

In this context, peer pressure has a significant impact.  Granted that peer pressure is sometimes not in our control, but the choice of peers is largely in our control.  We need to be very careful in selecting our friends and peers, Allah says:

O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with the truthful(9:119)

The Holy Prophetsaw defines a worthy friend as the one whose very sight makes you remember Allah, whose conversation increases your knowledge and whose deeds remind you of the Hereafter.  (Bukhari)

In selecting our company, we should have the goal, and we all have the potential, to become those seeing whom others may remember Allah, listening to whom others may increase their knowledge and whose deeds may remind others of the Hereafter.  Obviously, in some professional and educational settings we may not have complete choice, but pious company should be our default setting.

We can have such pious company if we frequent our mosques for salaat and other jama’at or auxiliary activities.  Salaat, especially congregational salaat, plays a significant role in preventing moral decline as Allah guarantees that:

Surely, Prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil(29:46)

Similarly, we can find such company if we frequently watch MTA.

Lastly, Istighfar is the ultimate Islamic shield against moral degradation.  It is the most potent prayer for repentance and forgiveness of past sins and protection from potential future mistakes.

Conclusion:

In short, Islam is the only religion that has complete and perfect guidance on preventing moral degradation.  However, one may ask as to why do we see moral decline in Muslims?  The answer is that Islamic guidance is effective only for those who are righteous and believe in the hereafter.  Allah says:

Those who believe not in the Hereafter, We have made their deeds appear beautiful to them, so they are wandering blindly. (27:5-6)

Explaining this verse, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states:

It is a natural law that when man pursues an evil course, thinking that he is not accountable for what he does, he begins to justify his conduct as good and proper.

Hereafter generally refers to the life after death.  But, in making our daily choices, if we look at the long term consequences of those choices rather than the immediate gratification or expediency, we can save ourselves a lot of grief.  A sense of right and wrong and the potential to be good are built in our DNA.  Allah says:

And by the soul and its perfection – and He revealed to it what is wrong for it and what is right for it – He indeed truly prospers who purifies it; and he who corrupts it is ruined(91:8-11)

Explaining this verse, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states:

God has implanted in man’s nature a feeling or sense of what is good and bad and has revealed to him that he could achieve spiritual perfection by eschewing what is bad and wrong and adopting what is right and good.

As torch bearers of Islam, it is our fundamental obligation to prevent moral degradation in our community so that we may attract others to the beauty of Islam.  Ameen.

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