By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
08 October 2016
In my article Religion
as a Civilizing Influence which I wrote three and a half years
ago, I had argued that it is the moral principles from religion that have
civilized us and without them; we would never have made the transition from
living like savages to becoming civilized. The article however did not identify
what the first moral principle may have been that helped man make the
transition. What we know from modern scholarship is that the very first moral
principle may have been what we have come to know as the Golden Rule which is
found to exist in every civilization and common to every religion. Charles
Gibbon was the first to use the term “Golden Rule” in 1604.The most familiar
version of the Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto
you.”The rule also comes in the form of a negative injunction: “One should not
treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated”
As savages, we lived in small communes
separated from other communes, had great mistrust of others, which often lead
to raids and ambushes, resulting in a high death-rate. It is easy to see how
the Golden Rule transformed such people. Once this rule was accepted and
practiced by a wider group under a common religion, cooperation and trust
between them developed giving them obvious survival advantages. Peace within a
large group comes from shared values as is the case when people share the same
beliefs or religion. To this day, people trust their coreligionists and
distrust people from other faiths. This is why inter-faith dialogues are
necessary to bring out what is common and shared across people from different
The rule is found in the Talmud, Torah and
the Bible and in every other religion and civilization.
"Now this is the command: Do to the
doer to make him do." (c. 2040 – c. 1650 BC)
A Late Period (c. 664 BC – 323 BC) papyrus
contains the Golden Rule: "That which you hate to be done to you, do not
do to another."
"Avoid doing what you would blame
others for doing." – Thales (c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC)
"Never impose on others what you would
not choose for yourself." — Confucius c. 500 BC)
"Regard your neighbour’s gain as your
own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss." — Laozi (c. 500 BC)
One should never do that to another which
one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of
dharma. Other behaviour is due to selfish desires. — Brihaspati, Mahabharata
What the Scholars say:
“…numerous studies show that it (Golden
Rule) has been endorsed in all of the major and most minor religions.” (Neil
The golden rule is shared by virtually all
the world's religions. (Jeffrey Wattles)
Interestingly Jeffrey Wattles calls it
"the principle of the practice of the family of God." which sounds
like Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
The Golden Rule in the Quran
The Golden Rule differs from the maxim of
reciprocity and is a unilateral moral commitment to the well-being of the other
without the expectation of anything in return. In the Quran the Golden Rule is
presented in its most refined form. We are asked to repel evil with what is
good. It is conceivable that when wronged, we may think that the person who has
caused us injury, or we ourselves in the same position, will not expect to be
treated well, and may act according to such reasoning. The Quran gives no scope
for such reasoning and instructs us to repel evil with what is good.
41:34. Nor can
goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he
between whom and you was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate!
35. And no one
will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and
self-restraint,- none but persons of the greatest good fortune.
36. And if (at
any time) an incitement to discord is made to you by the Evil One, seek refuge
in Allah. He is the One Who hears and knows all things.
The Quran acknowledges that behaviour of
such a high moral standard is difficult but shows the way to achieve such a
standard and encourages us to follow the rule. The objective is to make even an
enemy an intimate friend. This is more than even forgiveness since forgiveness
does not require returning what is good for the evil.
Confirmation that the same message was
given to the apostles before
is said to you that was not said to the apostles before you. Verily your Lord
has at his Command (all) forgiveness as well as a most Grievous Penalty.
“This Qur´an is
not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a
confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of
the Book - wherein there is no doubt - from the Lord of the worlds.” (10:37)
The Signs that the same message was
delivered to all people
"See ye if the (Revelation) is (really) from Allah, and yet do ye reject
it? Who is more astray than one who is in a schism far (from any purpose)?"
The blessed Verse in question is saying:
You see for yourself that the revelation is
really from Allah and yet you reject it! Who is more astray than one who knows
the Truth but still denies it and opposes it with such vehemence? Such a person
has gone to extreme in his opposition and enmity to God Almighty and all
will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in
their own being, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. Is
it not enough that your Lord does witness all things?
We do find the Golden Rule in the furthest
regions of the earth from the earliest civilizations and these are the Signs
that the revelation is from Allah and sent to all people in all parts of the
world. This truth will become manifest to every person and God will be a
witness to it. If anyone disbelieves after this, it will be after the truth has
become manifest to them.
The Surah was revealed in the 7th century
when people had no knowledge that the same rule was common to every
civilization. This is a discovery of the 16th century. The Surah:
1. Gives us the most refined version of the
2. Confirms that the same was given to all
3. Predicts that God will show us Signs in
the furthest regions of the earth which will be evidence that this revelation
is really from Allah.
Was a wait of more than a thousand years
showing the Sign soon?
Verily a Day in
the sight of your Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning. (22:47)
For Allah, it is only like a day or
thereabouts. Moreover, if this was made known in the 7th century itself, it
would have served no purpose as it was not verifiable then.
There are several other verses of the
Quran which repeat the message that every nation on the earth was sent a
Prophet for their guidance.
And for every
Ummah (a community or a nation), there is a Messenger; (10:47)
And verily, We
have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (Qur'ân 16:36)
is not a people but a warner has gone among them." (35:24)
messengers We have already told you the story; of others We have not; (4:164)
And, indeed We
have sent Messengers before you (O Muhammad(P)); of some of them We have
related to you their story and of some We have not related to you their story,
Commentary by scholars on these verses:
The meaning of 41:53 “Soon will We show
them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own
souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth.” was to be
made clear by Allah only in the future, and therefore the commentaries by
scholars on this verse are speculative and completely off the mark. We find
this to be true even of ayat Al Nur as discussed in my article: An Exposition of
the Verse of Light (Ayat al-Nur). It was God’s intention that
the meaning of certain verses was to be made known only in the future at the
appropriate time. At a time when it has
become an axiom of western education that religion is only a construct of the
human mind and there is no such thing as God, this is the appropriate time for
the Quran to manifest once again, the truth of:
"See ye if the (Revelation) is (really) from Allah, and yet do ye reject
it? Who is more astray than one who is in a schism far (from any
However, nothing much may have changed, and
going by the past, the great majority of people may initially disbelieve until
a small band of core believers transform the world once again.
My article “An Exposition of
the Verse of Light (Ayat al-Nur) shows that Imam Ghazali’s
famous treatise Mishkatal-Anwar (The Niche of Lights) is in error which he
should have known and which should have been obvious even to a kid. While the
correct interpretation was not possible for any scholar of his times, the
incorrectness of his explanation is obvious and is falsified by the very next
verse from which it is apparent that the Light is external to man. What made
Ghazali give an erroneous explanation without acknowledging the flaw or
shortcoming? He is also the scholar who is responsible for advocating the end
of Ijtehad in Islam when his inability to come to grips with a single verse or
Ayat was proof that man was far from discovering every truth. Verse 41:53 is a
verse which makes it clear that more truths are going to be made manifest in
the future. It is appropriate that such a scholar should fall from his pedestal
paving the way for the end of Taqleed (blind imitation) of all such scholars
and opening the doors of Ijtehad. No scholar of the past or even the present
has shown the intellectual honesty to throw doubt on Imam Ghazali’s
interpretation and they have all more or less followed it. Nobody has been
critical of it. No wonder with such poor scholarship and blind imitation of the
same, both bigotry and extremism thrive. Hopefully, this realization will pave
the way for sweeping clean all the muck from the past. With more people
realizing the reality of the stagnant cesspool that Islam has become, we may be
able to build a brave new world free from bigotry and all forms of extremism.
This needs to be based on an understanding of the Quran free from the polluting
influence of every other source of “Islamic” literature.
How the majority are likely to react -
from the same Sura
41: 5. They
say: "Our hearts are under veils, (concealed) from that to which thou dost
invite us, and in our ears in a deafness, and between us and you is a screen:
so do thou (what thou wilt); for us, we shall do (what we will!)"
who pervert the Truth in Our Signs are not hidden from Us. Which is better?- he
that is cast into the Fire, or he that comes safe through, on the Day of
Judgment? Do what ye will: verily He seeth (clearly) all that ye do.
The rewards for bringing out the truth and
then, doth more wrong than one who utters a lie concerning Allah, and rejects
the Truth when it comes to him; is there not in Hell an abode for blasphemers?
(33) And he
who brings the Truth and he who confirms (and supports) it - such are the men
who do right.
shall have all that they wish for, in the presence of their Lord: such is the
reward of those who do good:
(35) So that
Allah will turn off from them (even) the worst in their deeds and give them
their reward according to the best of what they have done.
The rewards for bringing out the universal
truths and supporting them are great for obvious reasons. These truths can
revive and renew a dormant and misguided people. May Allah guide us to the
truth and make us support it. Allah knows the truth best and may Allah guide us
all to His Light.
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an
independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private
sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent
contributor to NewAgeIslam.com
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The Meccan period
Quran is replete with lessons from the people of the past as a warning to the
Meccans that if they did not heed the message and change themselves and profit
from such warning, their fate would be similar to the fate of the people of
these prophets. The stories of the prophets Noah, Lut, Moses, Hud, Saleh and
Shoeb are found in 32 of the 86 Meccan Surahs. There could not have been a clearer
warning. Read my articles:
Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) From the Qu’ran (Part 2): The
Clear Warning to the Meccan Pagans
Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (Pbuh) In the Qu’ran (Part 3):
Important Pointers from the Stories of the Prophets
The revelation of the
entire Quran has a context and is an example of experiential and interactive
learning. Every lesson is taught through what the people were going through at
that point in time or experiencing. Many of the verses are answers to questions
posed. “They ask you…… Say to them”
(6:42) Before you We
sent (messengers) to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering
and adversity, that they might learn humility.
(43) When the
suffering reached them from us, why then did they not learn humility? On the
contrary their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their (sinful) acts seem
alluring to them.
(44) But when they
forgot the warning they had received, We opened to them the gates of all (good)
things, until, in the midst of their enjoyment of Our gifts, on a sudden, We
called them to account, when lo! they were plunged in despair!
(45) Of the
wrong-doers the last remnant was cut off. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher of
(46) Say: "Think
ye, if Allah took away your hearing and your sight, and sealed up your hearts,
who - a god other than Allah - could restore them to you?" See how We
explain the signs by various (symbols); yet they turn aside.
(47) Say: "Think
ye, if the punishment of Allah comes to you, whether suddenly or openly, will
any be destroyed except those who do wrong?
(48) We send the
messengers only to give good news and to warn: so those who believe and mend
(their lives),- upon them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
(49) But those who
reject our signs,- them shall punishment touch, for that they ceased not from
(50) Say: "I
tell you not that with me are the treasures of Allah, nor do I know what is
hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to
me." Say: "can the blind be held equal to the seeing?" Will ye
then consider not?
(51) Give this
warning to those in whose (hearts) is the fear that they will be brought (to
judgment) before their Lord: except for Him they will have no protector nor
intercessor: that they may guard (against evil).
(52) Send not away
those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His face. In naught
art thou accountable for them, and in naught are they accountable for thee,
that thou shouldst turn them away, and thus be (one) of the unjust.
(53) Thus did We try
some of them by comparison with others, that they should say: "Is it these
then that Allah hath favoured from amongst us?" Doth not Allah know best
those who are grateful?
(54) When those come
to thee who believe in Our signs, Say: "Peace be on you: Your Lord hath
inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily, if any of you did evil in
ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is
Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
(55) Thus do We
explain the signs in detail: that the way of the sinners may be shown up.
Those who think they and mankind in general are self-sufficient
Surah 96 -The very first verses/surah revealed
(96:1) Proclaim! (or
read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-
(2) Created man, out
of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:
(3) Proclaim! And thy
Lord is Most Bountiful,-
(4) He Who taught
(the use of) the pen,-
(5) Taught man that
which he knew not.
(6) Nay, but man does
transgress all bounds,
(7) In that he looks
upon himself as self-sufficient.
(8) Verily, to thy
Lord is the return (of all).
(9) Do you see the
one who forbids-
(10) A votary when he
(turns) to pray?
(11) Do you see if he
is on (the road of) Guidance?-
(12) Or enjoins
(13) Do you see if he
denies (Truth) and turns away?
(14) Does he not know
that Allah does see?
(15) Let him beware!
If he desist not, We will drag him by the forelock,-
(16) A lying, sinful
(17) Then, let him
call (for help) to his council (of comrades):
(18) We will call on
the angels of punishment (to deal with him)!
(19) Nay, heed him
not: But bow down in adoration, and bring thyself the closer (to Allah)!
(1) By the Night as
it conceals (the light);
(2) By the Day as it
appears in glory;
(3) By (the mystery
of) the creation of male and female;-
(4) Verily, (the
ends) you strive for are diverse.
(5) So he who gives
(in charity) and fears (Allah),
(6) And (in all
sincerity) testifies to the best,-
(7) We will indeed
make smooth for him the path to Bliss.
(8) But he who is a
greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient,
(9) And gives the lie
to the best,-
(10) We will indeed
make smooth for him the path to Misery;
(11) Nor will his
wealth profit him when he falls headlong (into the Pit).
(12) Verily We take
upon Ourselves to guide,
(13) And verily unto
Us (belong) the End and the Beginning.
(14) Therefore do I
warn you of a Fire blazing fiercely;
(15) None shall reach
it but those most unfortunate ones
(16) Who give the lie
to Truth and turn their backs.
(17) But those most
devoted to Allah shall be removed far from it,-
(18) Those who spend
their wealth for increase in self-purification,
(19) And have in
their minds no favour from anyone for which a reward is expected in return,
(20) But only the
desire to seek for the Countenance of their Lord Most High;
(21) And soon will
they attain (complete) satisfaction.
does claim in several verses that the revelations teach what man did not know. (96:5) Taught man that which he knew
not. Also see 10:37 and 24:35 explained in my article An Exposition of the Verse of Light (Ayat al-Nur)
It also stands to reason that the scriptures cover the gap that man is incapable
of covering on his own or else why do we need the revelations?
There is immense
learning involved from birth until death. I am glad that it is conceded that
moral values are learned mostly except for the nurturing of the young which is
instinctive. Otherwise, the impression created from the first two comments was
that it was all instinctual, common-sense etc. etc. It is in the nature of man to
be ungrateful and consider himself self-sufficient and refuse to acknowledge
what he has gained from the scriptures and continue to deny the truth despite
the overwhelming evidence which point to the scriptures as the sole source of
all moral principles.
(80:5) As to one who
regards himself as self-sufficient,
(6) To him do you
(7) Though it is no
blame to you if he grows not (in spiritual understanding).
discussion on this subject is closed from my side unless someone is genuinely
seeking an answer and not merely arguing or trying to prove a point.
The scriptures do not contain guidance on
what is instinctual - for example the nurturing behaviour of a mother towards
her child. There is no need to teach anything which is covered by instinct and
the scriptures are silent on it. However, the right way to treat dependent
parents is not instinctive and needs to be taught. The scriptures provide
guidance on this matter in a very effective manner and are covered in my
article: Deen-e-Islam or the Moral Way of Living in Islam
We come equipped with the emotions of happiness,
sadness, pleasure, pain, disgust, ecstasy, anger and fear. Emotions and
feelings are automatic physiological responses to external stimuli and help us
take split second decisions such as fight or flight when facing danger or in
simpler contexts like or dislike, happiness or disgust, sadness or ecstasy,
fear or anger. What emotion we will feel in a given situation is determined by
the moral values that we have imbibed. For example, while one group of people
kill cows for food, another group will kill the killers of a cow. As can be
seen, such behaviour (killing of the killers of a cow) has nothing to do with
instinct while it is certainly based on their acquired concept of what is
moral. The irony of “morality” is that perverted concepts of morality can
justify killing a human being because a cow is killed! While it is considered
moral for people to feel that those who commit immoral acts deserve to be
punished or even that it is wrong to “let them get away with it”, it is
ironical that most people take pleasure in inflicting the punishment
themselves! “The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to
moralists” (Bertrand Russel). This is very common and ironical although the
scriptures do not sanction individuals meting out punishment which is the job
of the State. As a matter of fact, the Quran strongly discourages “catching
them out” and prescribes punishment for such behaviour.
As we have seen above, morality can be
perverted where what is immoral is held to be moral and indeed a great deal of
immorality can be attributed to religion but this part is not traceable to the
scriptures but are human additions or perversion of divine guidance.
We imbibe moral values the same way we
learn our mother tongue. The process is both similar and simultaneous. If a
six-month baby is able to display rudimentary moral judgment, this is similar
to her ability to recognize a few sounds, words or gestures and respond to
these at that age. According to Noam Chomsky, “we are born with a “universal
grammar” that helps us to analyze speech in terms of its grammatical structure,
with no conscious awareness of the rules in play. By analogy, we are born with
a universal moral grammar that helps us to analyze human action in terms of its
moral structure, with just as little awareness. The moral sense is as much an
innate part of human nature as is our ability to learn a language. However,
what moral values we imbibe, or which language we learn, depends on the child’s
mother and her environment. Humans learn the concepts of empathy, kindness,
generosity, giving, sharing, nurturing, modesty and humility early in their
childhood. If these are not learned
early enough, man will grow without the capacity for feelings and moral
emotions and will exhibit psychopathic behaviour. The earlier, the moral
precepts are learnt, the greater their chances of making an indelible mark on
the person. Up to the age of 3 years, a person accepts all that it is taught
without filtering. Beyond the age of 3 years, a person filters new messages
through what he/she has already learnt. Noam Chomsky’s most powerful single
idea is that there is a universal capacity for language but it is expressed in
different ways in different cultures. Every baby has the capacity to learn all
the world’s languages but what the neurologists call synaptic pruning in the
early years reduces that child’s capacity to the languages around her. A
songbird which does not hear other songbirds singing at the crucial stage of
its development can never sing. That account of language can work for morality
too – indeed the two are closely related, depending as they both do on human
The parallel between learning a language
and developing the moral sense can be seen among growing children. Children and
even adolescents, with their as yet not fully developed moral sense, are
capable of unspeakable cruelty and cannot therefore be left unsupervised.
Urchins on the street are seen to practice cruelty on animals and even stone
the mentally handicapped roaming on the streets. Such behaviour is rare among
adults. They also exhibit the same confusion as with words. A kid will easily
learn to empathize but will take time to learn when this is appropriate and
when it is not. For example, a child may
cry because “the trees are getting wet in the rain” and become inconsolable
because her parents will not bring them inside the house to save them from the
drenching! Another kid may cut up insects with a blade and not feel a thing but
when taught that the insects can feel the pain and taught to empathize with the
insect’s suffering, will develop feelings of abhorrence for all acts of
There is an interesting novel “Lord of the
Flies” published in 1954, by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding
about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern
themselves with disastrous results. The book portrays their descent into
savagery; left to themselves on a paradisiacal island, far from modern
civilization, the well-educated children regress to a primitive state. Although
this is only literature and not science, but the insights are amazing and what
may be expected to happen with children whose moral sense is not yet fully
The scriptures cover a gap that cannot be
covered any other way. If this was not so, there would have been no
revelations. Scriptures do not copy from life nor appropriate to itself the
existing moral norms of society. The very idea is the height of a person’s wilful
rejection of the Truth in the face of clear evidence to the contrary! There is
no cure when a person is bent on rejecting the truth.
Do people really need a divine commandment to know it's wrong to hurt people? No. Basic moral rules are common to all cultures.
We know we can choose on our own to be kind and compassionate. These virtues have intrinsic value, and showing kindness and compassion often leads to kindness and compassion by others. We recognize our responsibility for making the world a better place for everyone.
For more complex issues, especially ones that touch on public policy, we have science and reason to help guide us. We study different behaviors, and we use facts and data to help determine which behaviors are truly harmful and which ones are actually benign. We decide right and wrong based on real-world experience, not on tradition or what a god wants or doesn't want.