A Fils for Your Thoughts

August 28, 2008

The Ethics of Death

Filed under: Ethics — Haider @ 8:32 am

This post is not about whether it’s moral or immoral to die. I think we know the answer to that question!

It’s about how Muslim preachers remind people of their impending death in order to jolt them towards morality. The basis of the argument is that you will soon be held accountable by God, and you should, therefore, make sure you are prepared for judgment, and make use of your time on earth to improve the outcome of the life you’ll live beyond the grave.

How Morality is Understood

Muslims, in general, see morality as a list of actions that we must perform, and others that we must avoid, in order to be graded on the Day of Judgment. The value of morality is seen in the rewards we expect to receive in heaven, and the torments we wish to avoid in hell.

Many preachers usually counsel their fellow believers when facing difficulties to uphold Islamic ethics by pointing out that non-Muslims seek the pleasure of this world, whereas Muslims should seek the pleasure of the akhirah (the after-life, i.e. life after death). This argument is bizarrely used to explain the rationale behind Islamic practices: “Practice X doesn’t make sense in this world, but it makes sense from the point of view of the akhirah.

This approach can be and is being used to justify any practice, since the criteria of the “akhirah” is very vague. If you think you can blow yourself up in a crowded market and enter heaven, then you can easily justify burying young girls (the practice of pre-Islamic Arabia, which the Holy Koran vehemently condemns) and enter heaven as well. Both practices don’t make sense on earth, but they can equally be justified if you can assume that God has sanctioned them.

The idea that morality is only for the after-life is based on the following assumptions:

– That morality is something noble, and this world isn’t. Therefore, morality cannot be seen to serve a purpose on earth

– Morality isn’t a tangible subject. Therefore, it shouldn’t be measured by “worldly” instruments, such as reason, knowledge, science, philosophy, etc.

– Morals aren’t based on principles, but commandments. Therefore, the basis of morality is obedience in order to secure a better life after death..

The Collapse of Morality

The ethics of death separates morality from principles and principles from understanding. If you subscribe to the ethics of death, then you do not know why you observe the moral instructions that you observe, apart from the rewards or punishments you expect after you die. In other words, you cannot determine the consequences of your actions, or evaluate the consequences you experience on earth.

This understanding of morality doesn’t promote morality, but death. It asks you to shun this life and to work for the day you die. And if we wish to blame anyone for the collapse of morality, then we should turn our attention to these preachers, and the idea of morality they are promoting.

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