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Relativity of Morality
“Relativity of morality” or moral values is a worldwide problem of our age. People have not concurred or reached a proper understanding about good and evil which is therefore responsible for a great number of misleading teachings. The actual aim is to establish common human standards for good and evil, i.e. how one should behave to be good? This problem is nowadays subject to widespread controversies, and so it is necessary to discuss it here.
Some people believe that morality and the standards of good and evil are relative. In other words, they claim that to be a human being is something relative, and it means that human standards are subject to change at different times and places. It implies that something which is morality good at a certain time and under certain circumstances may be considered immoral at other times and under different conditions. This is what they means by the “relativity of morality”.
It is to be noted here that basic principles of morality and primary standards of humanity are not at all relative, whereas secondary standards and principles are. We can observe this reality in Islam as well. So far the Prophet’s practical attitude is concerned, there were some principles which he considered invalid and impractical under all conditions whatsoever. Our Imams ( A.S) too, never employed such principles, for Islam has basically forbidden them for all times, all places and all circumstances.
We Shiite Muslims unlike our sunni brethren, have been gifted with a treasure. The sunni brethren have twenty – three year period of the Holy Prophet’s life after his appointment to prophecy , which is greatly instructive so far as his practical attitude under different circumstances is concerned but the Shiite have in addition, a period of 250 years of “ infallibility” ( related to the immaculate Imams) which is significant as it shows how our Holy innocent Imams lived under different conditions, profound study of which can provide us with proper methods and insights which we can apply to our everyday life situations. This reality distinguishes us from other Muslim brethren who merely rely on the former period (23 years) and believe that the Holy Prophet has been the only immaculate personality.
Imam As- Sadiq , for instance ,lived in the Abbasid period, the similitude of which had never been occurred to the Holy Prophet. Thus , we are richer than our Muslim brethren in this respect, because the unanimous rejection of certain principles by the Prophet as well as by our Holy Imams under all circumstances can lead us to the fact that they are not subject to the principle of relativity of morals.
It may be noted by the advocated of relativity morality that treachery is one of the principles or standards that people may apply in their dealings with others. The majority of the world politicians employ treachery to attain their goals. Some base all their policies on it an others use it on certain occasions. They believe that morality is meaningless in politics and thus not worth being taken into account. A politician may promise, swear or sign a treaty to do or not to do something, but he remains loyal to these so long as they are to his benefit, but as soon as they start proving harmful to his interests, he will in all probability not respect his promises. In his book, “ The Second World War” Winston Churchill refers to the Allies’ attack on Iran and states that they were in agreement with Iran and thus should not have attacked it. Yet, he himself adds, such agreements can be conformed to only on a small scale, between two persons for example. But in politics, when benefits and destinies of a nation are concerned, they lose their significance: He further states that he could not ignore the interests of Great Britain on the mere ground that the violation of an agreement with country was immoral and against the principles of humanity.
Mu’awiah also based his rule on this same policy of treachery. On the contrary, Ali’s (A.S) refusal to make use of such a policy, even at stake of the Caliphate, is one of the qualities which puts him apart from all would politicians. He believed that the guardianship of human principles, truthfulness, honesty and loyalty constituted the philosophy behind his Caliphate. Then how could he sacrifice these to claim the caliphate? In fact, not only did he himself follow such a philosophy but , he also clearly notified to Malik Ashtar, his commander in Egypt in his illustrious letter saying:
If you conclude an agreement between yourself and your enemy or enter into a pledge with him, then fulfil your agreement and discharge your pledge faithfully…
Besides , Muslims, even unbelievers have abided by the agreements because they realized the dangers to come in the wake of violation ( thereof).
Therefore, do not deceive your enemy…
Allah guarantees agreement and pledge as a sign of security…
Now we ask the advocates of absolute relativity of morality whether they believe that a leader should follow this principle even as regards treachery, that is being treacherous as well as honest according to the exigencies of time and place? No! This principle is absolutely wrong.
This means the one should not go beyond one’s rightful limits, even against enemies. Is there any limit to be observed while confronting unbelievers? Yes! The Holy Quran says:
“ And fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you ( the unbelievers): but do not transgress. God loveth not the transgressors.” The Holy Quran (2:190)
The Holy Prophet of Islam and the Commander of the Faithful always advised their companions not to inflict harm upon the injured enemies, their woman and children and the old disabled persons and those who also could not fight, having lost their limbs, and to deprive them of water. Even concerning the Quraish unbelievers, who were not only literally in enmity with the prophet, but who also fought him for about twenty years, leaving no stone unturned, killed his dear ones, tormented him and his beloved companions as much as they could during the Prophet’s stay in Mecca (before his immigration to Medina) and broke his blessed teeth and forehead, the Holy Prophet adopted a just attitude toward those who survived after the conquest of Mecca, when the Muslims had absolute authority over enemies. They treated them according to the following verse in Sura , Al- Ma’ edah ( the last sura revealed to the Holy Prophet just after the conquest):
“O ‘ ye who believe! Stand out firmly for God, as witnessess to fair dealings, and let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. But just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do,”
The Holy Quran ( 5: 8)
Now, is it actually lawful to exceed one’s limits in certain situations? Never! Everything is bound to some scales and limits which should not be exceeded. Why man basically fights his enemies? If he does so to get rid of his complexities and hindrances, it would not be compatible with Islam. If he fights to remove an obstacle from the way of mankind, when his aim is realized he should stop fighting so as not to transgress his limits.
Supplication and Submission to Tyranny
Seeking the sympathy of the enemy through supplication and entreaty and also submission to tyranny and cruelty are wrong principles which the Holy Prophet (S) and his successors ( the Imams) never followed in their lives. These and the other previously – mentioned wrong principles were rejected by the Prophet (S) and the Immaculate Imams (A.S).
noble character of the Holy prophet of islam- pages: 49to55
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