Ethics and Islam Essay
Ethics and Islam
The interpretation of secular vs. religious ethics is always interesting, when we try to understand which of the two deserve our support. Obviously, both ethical philosophies have the right to exist among us, but the provisions of the religious ethics in Said Nursi’s vision are not only unique, but are sometimes surprising, and are sometimes unacceptable to those, who keep to secular ethical traditions. Said Nursi insists on ethics having religious foundations. His ethical vision is based on the assumption that religion is the source of reliable ethical knowledge.
“For Nursi, the ultimate source of all ethical reflection is the Qur’an” (Markham 69). In this situation it is possible to suggest that Qur’an should be simple and understandable to the common people, so that they should be able to follow its provisions. The assumption is rather debatable: on the one hand, there seems to be nothing negative or threatening in the fact that Said Nursi keeps to religious foundations of ethics. On the other hand, I may suggest that those who refuse to accept the life of the prophet Muhammad as the source of ethical knowledge, risk facing opposition from religious ethics’ supporters.
This ethics loses its relevance as soon as it is faced with the fact that there are possible other sources of ethics in other cultures of the world. Moreover, and I would agree with Markham, in that there is no guarantee that being obedient to Qur’an means seeing its wisdom; in case we do not understand the provisions to which we should keep in our ethics, it loses its relevance and meaning. The strong side of religious ethics in Said Nursi’s words is in accepting violence as weakness in trying to resolve various disputes.
“Nursi is committed to handling disagreement with peaceful means not because he shared a western skepticism about the truth of religion, but because of the truth of religion” (Markham 72). Secular ethics would easily reject these religious attitudes. While Nursi tries to justify the strength of religion, he obviously forgets that this strength is relevant only within the limited religious circles. Secularism exists and cannot be denied. For those who consider themselves being secular the strength of religion is closely connected with the power of metaphysical phenomenon.
In the absence of the latter, the power of the former becomes debatable. Thus, religious foundations of ethics can be applied within the limited space of extremely religious eastern countries, which keep to Islamic religion. Especially interesting is Nursi’s ideas about personal ethics and social equality. His interpretation of a person in illness is rather curious, though is also natural within the eastern religious framework. “O ill person who lacks patience! Be patient, indeed, offer thanks! Your illness may transform each of the minutes of your life into the equivalent of an hour’s worship” (Makrham 74).
The question is whether patience is equal to inactivity. Recognizing the religious value of pain and suffering is what Nursi tried to convey in his ethical teaching (Markham 75) but this also risks confusing ethics with religion, without creating any distinct border between them. Social ethics in Nursi’s vision tends to support equality through rejecting interest and recognizing the importance of redistribution. In these terms, Nursi seems to reject the pluralism of social status in the society. Moreover, rejection of interest is closer to rejecting secularism, than to supporting religious foundations of ethics.
Conclusion The whole ethical theory created by Nursi deserves attention but seems to be founded on the grounds, which do not justify the strength of religion but better protect it from the intervention of the external knowledge. In this light religious ethics seems even more vulnerable, than Nursi tried to represent it.
Markham, I. “Secular or Religious Foundations for Ethics: A Case Study of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi”. In I. Markham & I. Ozdemir, Globalization, Ethics and Islam, Ashgate Publishing, 2005, pp. 65-78.