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OPED: Contemplating an alternative conservatism
Changing morality and the conflict between conservative and liberal values have created a deadlock. Moral debates extend to legal realms and politicians exploit them to avoid vital discussions of economy, wars, etc. Here, I would like to introduce Islam’s approach in confronting our moral dilemmas.
Like Christianity, Islam is quite conservative (or more). Islam forbids alcohol, drugs, abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex — and even dating. Secondly, the scope of Islam is not just personal, but also social and political. Reading the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace) life would reflect this. Pseudo-liberal thinkers may reject these while some others may be apolitical and restrict Islam’s scope.
Historically, all biblical prophets carried scriptural laws. Jesus (peace) states in Matthew 5:17 that his purpose was not to eliminate, but to fulfill the law. The idea of religion-vs-state arose from the medieval-times church abuses where peasants were oppressed by the ruling class, scientists burnt alive and many sectarian conflicts happened which led to the birth of secularism. Despite the theory preaching faith-based politics and our professed values preaching church-state separation, our practice is confusing. Many U.S. states still have pre-marital sex bans and we are debating homosexuality and abortion. However, is the conservative party at least being loyal to religious values by pursuing these bans?
To understand religious law, we should understand its spirit. When some Jewish leaders had suggested stoning of an adulteress, Jesus simply asked the pure one among them to cast the first stone. Jewish society then was immersed in much literal religious interpretations. Jesus’ goal was not to reinforce the peripheral aspects of faith but faith itself. Later, legal pursuits could be made. Similar was the wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad whose purpose was to remind man of his Creator, his life’s meaning and his afterlife. The Prophet Muhammad’s wife said, “If the first thing to be revealed was, ‘Do not drink’, we would have never stopped drinking. If the first thing in The Quran was, ‘Do not commit adultery’, we would have never stopped committing adultery’. When this was the prophets’ wisdom any heroism we claim for enforcing a moral view is like claiming pride for holding onto a lion’s tail and being dragged while the lion has its way.
What to do then? First, we should acknowledge our values. The pope may have a softer tone on gay people, but is that the same as a softer tone on homosexuality? Secondly, we should acknowledge the scope of religion as being larger than just personal and explore the history of the Semitic faiths. Thirdly, we should study society carefully and intervene appropriately. Hypersexualization, liberal dress-codes and lack of parental supervision lead to casual sexual encounters and unwanted pregnancies. The solution to the abortion challenge is not to ban it, but to understand what led to it and create an alternative culture. Countries where divorce rates are incredibly low naturally have an aversion to homosexuality. Here, we need to talk about changing gender roles, compromise in relationships, spirituality, balancing work and raising children, etc. Answering the ‘in-born’ argument of homosexuality is for another day. What this means for the conservative person is that we afford depth, patience, effort and vision instead of blindly enforcing morality.
Final 10 points:
- It is pointless and counterproductive to pass moral bans that people are in mass disagreement with.
- The damages that happen to a society out of forced morality are greater than the damages we think can occur out of practices we want to forbid.
- Moral differences should not equal dehumanization, nor should they lead to hate crimes or discrimination.
- The conservative vision of love need not come in flavors of condescension. Saying “Oh I love you though you are gay” is a benevolent form of aggression. The Quran instead offers a response of individualism in 109:6, “To you, your way, and to me mine”.
- Powerlessness is more the story of religious history than authority. Recall the torments undergone by Jesus or the Exodus, or children throwing stones at Prophet Muhammad at Taif. In humility, did the Semitic religions grow.
- While I am criticizing legal pursuits of offence, I am not, those of defense. For instance, a faith-based private hospital opposed to abortion should have the right to refuse this service.
- A legal approach to moral matters can be pursued years or decades later when we are ready collectively (at least 80 percent) to embrace the conservative vision.
- Ideological similarities between Semitic faiths do not negate their differences which can also be explored.
- Liberal people should respect the existence of the conservative vision. A background of vulnerability for homosexuality does not take away the conservative person’s right to express his/her views.
- This article is relevant to liberal cultures but not conservative ones, including many Muslim countries where many of these laws are already in agreement with their public morality.
Author’s note: I am saddened by the recent loss of lives at the tragic Orlando shooting. This is an act of inhumanity and not justifiable in any way. Muslims everywhere condemn such actions and these are not sanctioned in Islam. My article relates to the proper and bold way of handling moral differences. It was written before the incident happened and is not a direct response to the event.
Those who would like to contribute to the victims may also do so at: https://www.launchgood.com/project/muslims_united_for_victims_of_pulse_shooting#/
— Yasir Ahmed is a mental health clinician working in the Lancaster area. He lives in Millersville and earned a master’s degree from Millersville University. He can be reached at email@example.com.