The Fallacy of Utilitarian Morality

Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:

 إَنَّ الَّذِينَ لاَ يَرْجُونَ لِقَاءنَا وَرَضُواْ بِالْحَياةِ الدُّنْيَا وَاطْمَأَنُّواْ بِهَا وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنْ آيَاتِنَا غَافِلُونَ

أُوْلَـئِكَ مَأْوَاهُمُ النُّارُ بِمَا كَانُواْ يَكْسِبُونَ

 

Surely those who do not expect to meet Us, who are gratified with the life of the world and content with it, and are heedless of Our signs,their abode shall be the Fire in return for their misdeeds. (The Holy Quran, 10:7-8)


The statement that is being made here is that rejection of the doctrine of the Hereafter necessarily entails the punishment of Hell, and the argument that is being proffered in support of it is that those who are oblivious to the Hereafter commit, because of their disbelief in it, evil deeds which can only lead to them suffering the torments of Hell. This argument is corroborated by the entire record of man's past. It is quite clear that the lives of those who do not believe that they will not be held to account by God for their deeds; who work on the assumption that life is merely confined to the span of worldly existence; who measure human success or failure only in terms of the extent of material comfort, fame and power that a person is able to enjoy; who under the influence of such materialistic notions do not even care to pay attention to those signs of God which point to reality, assume an altogether wrong direction with the result that their life is vitiated. Hence they live a totally unbridled life, develop the worst possible character traits, and fill God's earth with injustice and corruption, with sin and transgression, and ultimately end up meriting the punishment of Hell.

The above argument about the Hereafter is drawn from human experience itself. Although in the present verse the argument is found only in an implicit form, it is spelt out at several other places in the Qur'an. The argument essentially is that unless man's character rests on the consciousness and conviction that he will have to render an account for all his deeds to God, both man's individual and collective behaviour will fail to have sound basis and direction. It would seem, therefore, to be worth asking: why is this so? Why is it that once this consciousness and conviction are altogether ended or greatly enfeebled, the human character turns to iniquity and corruption? Had affirmation of the Hereafter not been in conformity with reality, and conversely, had its denial not been opposed to it, then the evil consequences flowing from the denial of the Hereafter would not have been found with such unfailing regularity. If adherence to a proposition invariably leads to good results, and failure to adhere to it invariably leads to evil consequences, then this definitely proves the proposition to be true.

In an attempt to refute the above argument it is sometimes contended that even atheists who reject the Hereafter and follow a materialistic approach to life often lead lives that are on the whole good and decent, that they hold themselves free from corruption and injustice. Not only that but also that their actual conduct is characterized by righteousness and benevolence. However, only a little reflection will make apparent the fallacy underlying this argument. For if one were to examine any atheistic or materialistic philosophy or ideology one will not find in them any basis for righteous behaviour which draws such lavish praise from so-called 'righteous' atheists. Nor can it be established by logical reasoning that an atheistic philosophy of life provides any incentive to embrace such virtues as truthfulness, trustworthiness, honesty, faithfulness to one's commitment, benevolence, generosity, preferring the interests of others to one's own, self-restraint, chastity, recognition of the rights of others, and fulfilment of one's obligations. The fact is that once God and the Hereafter are relegated to oblivion, the only practicable course left for man is to anchor his morality on utilitarianism. All other philosophical ideas which are expounded are merely theoretical embellishments and have no relevance for man's practical life.

As for utilitarian morality - no matter how hard we might try to broaden its scope - it does not go beyond teaching man that he ought to do that which will yield to him or to his society some worldly benefit. Now since utility is the criterion of all acts, such a philosophy tends to make man cynical, with the result that in order to derive benefits, he will not differentiate between truth and lie; between trustworthiness and treachery; between honesty and dishonesty; between loyalty and perfidy; between observing justice and committing wrong. In short, a person under the spell of utilitarian ideas will be ready to do a thing or its opposite, depending on what serves his interests best. The conduct of the British is illustrative of this stance. It is sometimes contended that though the British have a materialistic outlook on life and generally do not believe in the Hereafter, they are more truthful, fairer, and more straightforward and faithful to their commitment.
The fact, however, is that the tenuous character of moral values under a utilitarian moral philosophy is amply illustrated by the character of the British.

For their actual conduct clearly shows that they do not consider moral values to have any intrinsic worth. This is evident from the fact that even those values which are held by the British to be good in their individual lives are brazenly flouted when they act as a nation. Had the qualities of truthfulness, justice, honesty and faithfulness to one's committed word been regarded as intrinsic virtues, it would have been altogether out of the question for the elected rulers of Britain to cynically violate all moral principles in governmental and international affairs and yet continue to retain the confidence of the British people. Does such a behaviour of a people who do not take the Hereafter seriously prove that they do not believe in absolute moral values? Does it also not prove that, guided by concern for material interests, such people are capable of following mutually opposed views simultaneously? (The same arguemnt can be made against the United States and many other governments and societies of today.)

Nevertheless, if we do find some people who, in spite of their not believing in God and the Hereafter, consistently adhere to some moral virtues and abstain from evil, there should be no mistaking that their righteous conduct and piety represents the continuing influence which religious ideas and practices have over them - even if unconsciously - rather than their subscription to a materialistic philosophy of life. If they possess any portion of the wealth of morality, there can be no doubt that it was stolen from the treasure-house of religion. It is ironical that such persons are now using the same wealth derived from religious sources, to promote an irreligious way of life. We consider this an act of theft because irreligiousness and materialism are altogether bereft of morality. (slightly edited version of text taken from Tafheemul Quran)

Bearer of good news and a Warner

 Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ شَاهِدًا وَمُبَشِّرًا وَنَذِيرًا
 
(33:45) O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bearer of good news and a warner.
 One should note that a person's giving the good news of a good end for belief and righteous acts and the warning of an evil end for disbelief and evil acts, in his personal capacity, is a different thing, and another's being appointed by Allah as a bearer of the good news and a warner is quite another thing. The one who is appointed to this office by Allah necessarily possesses an authority to give the good news and administer the warnings due to which his good news and his warnings are invested with legality. His giving a good news for an act has the meaning that the Greatest of alI Judges, Who has sent him, approves of the act and holds it worthy of a reward; so, it is certainly imperative or obligatory or commendable in nature, and its doer will surely get a reward. On the other hand, his giving a warning of an evil end for an act has the meaning that the Sovereign forbids that act; so, it is certainly sinful and unlawful, and its doer will surely be punished. The good news and warnings of the one who is not divinely appointed cannot ever be invested with such an authority. 

The Similitude with which Allah has sent him


THE SIMILITUDE WITH WHICH ALLAH'S APOSTLE (MAY PEACE BE UPON HIM) HAS BEEN SENT WITH GUIDANCE AND KNOWLEDGE

Abu Musa reported Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying: The similitude of that guidance and knowledge with which Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, has sent me is that of rain falling upon the earth. There is a good piece of land which receives the rainfall (eagerly) and as a result of it there is grown in it herbage and grass abundantly. Then there is a land hard and barren which retains water and the people derive benefit from it and they drink it and make the animals drink. Then there is another land which is barren. Neither water is retained in it, nor is the grass grown in it. And that is the similitude of the first one who develops the understanding of the religion of Allah and it becomes a source of benefit to him with which Allah sent me. (The second one is that) who acquires the knowledge of religion and imparts it to others. (Then the other type is) one who does not pay attention to (the revealed knowledge) and thus does not accept guidance of Allah with which I have been sent. (Muslim, Book 030, Number 5668)

The Prophet of Islam by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah

[Taken from Introduction to Islam by Muhammad Hamidullah (Centre Culturel Islamique, Paris, 1969), with some changes to make it more readable. The changes are marked by pairs of brackets like around this paragraph.]

The Prophet of Islam - His Biography


IN the annals of men, individuals have not been lacking who conspicuously devoted their lives to the socio-religious reform of their connected peoples. We find them in every epoch and in all lands. In India, there lived those who transmitted to the world the Vedas, and there was also the great Gautama Buddha; China had its Confucius; the Avesta was produced in Iran. Babylonia gave to the world one of the greatest reformers, the Prophet Abraham (not to speak of such of his ancestors as Enoch and Noah about whom we have very scanty information). The Jewish people may rightly be proud of a long series of reformers: Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and Jesus among others.

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Rights of Neighbors in Islam

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Allah, the Exalted, says:

"Worship Allah and join none with Him (in worship); and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor), the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and those (slaves) whom your right hands possess.'' (4:36)

303. Ibn `Umar and `Aishah (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "Jibril kept recommending treating neighbours with kindness until I thought he would assign a share of inheritance".
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Commentary:  This Hadith illustrates the importance of nice treatment to neighbours in Islam.

304. Abu Dharr (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) commanded me thus, "O Abu Dharr! Whenever you prepare a broth, put plenty of water in it, and and give some of it to your neighbours".
[Muslim].

    In another narration of Muslim, narrated Abu Dharr (May Allah be pleased with him): My friend, (Messenger of Allah (PBUH)) advised me saying, "Whenever you prepare a broth, put plenty of water in it, and give some to your neighbours and then give them out of this with courtesy.''

Commentary:  This Hadith makes it clear that Islam does not like a Muslim to ignore his poor neighbour and eat up everything himself. It stresses that one must take care of his poor neighbours. If a person is not in a position to do more, he should at least add some water in the broth he cooks for his own food and send a portion of it to his deserving neighbour. It leads us to the conclusion that a Muslim should in no case be unmindful of his neighbour and if he is well-to-do, he should be all the more charitable to his neighbours.

305. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (PBUH) said, "By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.'' It was asked, "Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?'' He said, "One whose neighbour does not feel safe from his evil".
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Another narration of Muslim is: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "He will not enter Jannah whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct".

Commentary: This Hadith reveals that hurting or troubling a neighbour is such a serious offence that it causes Allah's Wrath, and thus punishment in Hell.

306. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "O Muslim women! No one of you should consider insignificant (a gift) to give to her neighbour even if it is (a gift of) the trotters of a sheep".
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Commentary: This Hadith means that neighbours should present gifts to each other. The rich men and the poor according to their means. One who is poor should not think that what he is presenting to his neighbour is not worthy of giving. Even his humble gift, provided it is presented with sincerity, will find acceptance with Allah. According to the Noble Qur'an: "So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an ant (or a small ant) shall see it.'' (99:7)

It is, however, better for a rich person to present a gift which goes well with his means. He should not give anything to his neighbour which is stale or which he does not like for himself because apart from insincerity, such a thing shows his contempt for the neighbour while gift is, in fact, a token of sincerity and brotherhood.

307. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "No one should prohibit his neighbour from placing a peg in his wall". Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) added: Now I see you turning away from this (Sunnah), but by Allah, I shall go on proclaiming it.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Commentary:  The importance of the injunction contained in this Hadith comes into prominence in localities comprising huts and tents, or at places where the two neighbours still have common walls between their houses. (In big cities each house has its own independent walls.) In any case, it is evident from this Hadith that a Muslim should be considerate of his neighbours. Islam ordains us to co-operate and sympathize with them. All Muslims are likened to a body each organ of which is linked with the other. In the light of this injunction, one can very well understand the rights of the neighbours in Islam.

308. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "He who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him not harm his neighbour; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him show hospitality to his guest; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him speak good or remain silent".
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Commentary: This Hadith unfolds the fruits of Faith. One who does not have the qualities mentioned in it, is deprived of the blessings of the Faith. Faith of such a person is like a fruitless tree, or a flower without fragrance, or a body without soul.

309. Abu Shuraih Al-Khuza`i (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (PBUH) said, "He who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him be kind to his neighbour; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him show hospitality to his guest; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him either speak good or remain silent".
[Muslim].

310. `Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported: I said, "O Messenger of Allah (PBUH), I have two neighbours, to which of them should I send a present?'' He (PBUH) replied, "To the one whose door is nearer to you".
[Al-Bukhari]

Commentary:  When a Muslim does not have the means to present gifts to his neighbours and wants to present a gift only to one of them, he should go by the principle laid down in this Hadith. The principle enunciated here is: "One who is the nearest neighbour, should have precedence over all others.''

311. `Abdullah bin `Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "The best of companions with Allah is the one who is best to his companions, and the best of neighbours to Allah is the one who is the best of them to his neighbour".
[At-Tirmidhi].

Commentary: Companion is a common word which covers companions in journey and stay. Muslims are ordained to treat all of them nicely. But one's neighbour has precedence over others. Nice treatment to him is the best means to attain a distinctive place with Allah.

 

Reference: Riyadus-Saleheen, Chapter 39

Short Quotes

Enter Islam in whole

 يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ ادْخُلُواْ فِي السِّلْمِ كَآفَّةً وَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ خُطُوَاتِ الشَّيْطَانِ إِنَّهُ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

(2:208) O Believers, enter completely into Islam and do not follow in the footsteps of Satan, for he is your avowed enemy.
God demands that man should submit, without reservation, the whole of his being to His will. Man's outlook, intellectual pursuits, behaviour, interaction with other people and modes of endeavour should all be completely subordinate to Islam. God does not accept the splitting up of human life into separate compartments, some governed by the teachings of Islam and others exempt. (Tafheemul Quran)