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The ideal norms of behavior that Muslims observe have been founded through a long historical process. Ernst (2003) argues that the Arabic, and therefore Islamic, ethics are a parallel to the Greeks notion of ethics and the Roman concept of mores which is basically morality (p.109). The roman and Greek concept of morality emanated from philosophical ideas that bound people to act upon them. Different from following ethics as philosophical ideas, the Arabian ethics became incorporated into Islamic religion. Ethics become religious when the patterns of conduct are attributed to a divine being or important religious figures. According to Ernst (2003), the knowledge of right or wrong based on our own thoughts is philosophical ethics, while knowledge of the same based on divine instruction is religious ethics (p.110).
Admittedly, most ethical systems are a hybrid of philosophy and religious authority, and so was the case with Islam, which aimed at addressing the issues not covered by the scriptures. Islamic ethics were influenced not only by the Islamic scriptures, but also by pre-Islamic cultures such as the Greek philosophy, and the matrilineal inheritance in the Maldives islands (p.110).
The Quran is the most revered Islamic text and though it lacks many direct ethical instructions, forms the foundation of Islamic ethical perspective. However a number of other authoritative texts are used besides the Quran. The Hadith, a model developed by Muhammad to be imitated by the faithful for example, stipulates correct behavior, with half of it addressing purely religious issues and the other issues covered pertain to family, economics, politics and other aspects of ordinary life (p.111).
Other authoritative texts such as niche of lamps were later compiled by scholars and were used to set general legal principles which others used to deal with jurisprudence cases that the Qumran and Hadith did not address (p.113). However the belief in righteous struggle commonly called holy war or Jihad is mentioned in the Hadith.Just like in the Jewish tradition; ethics and religion in Islam are intertwined. Different from the Jewish and Christian ethics which are applicable to religious and internal community affairs, the Islamic sharia law is complex and addresses politics, family, economics, religious practice and ethical behavior in Islamic societies (p.115).
Jihad or holy war which is attributed to prophet Muhammad, has been interpreted in different ways, with some Muslims believing that it means that they should struggle for what is true. The Arabian empire was an efficient tool for conquest, and as they conquered other empires, they also adopted some of their sophisticated civilizations. Ernst (2003) establishes that for ethics and politics, the major sources included the animal fables of India, the powerful traditions of the Persian kingship, and the philosophical heritage of the Greeks (p.121). The Jalalian ethics for example is a synthesis of Greek philosophical ethics with Islamic values and was written by Persian prime minister and philosopher, Davani. It covers such areas as ethics proper, economics and politics (p.122). This law also stipulates the conditions of mercy and forgiveness in times of war as well as the concept of prophecy, which were practiced by Aristotle, indicating adoption from the Greeks.
The concept of prophecy was adopted by the Greeks from Jews. The last Arab prophet, Avaroes and Mulla Sandra borrow much from the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato (p.124).
In conclusion, the sharia law is the result of the laws as outlined in the Qumran and the saying of the prophet Muhammad. In addition, the laws formulated by scholars as they practiced jurisprudence on issues not covered neither by the Qumran nor the prophet, are part of sharia law. The formulation of the Islamic laws was also critically affected by the philosophy ethics of the Greeks, Romans and the Jews.
The Islamic religion has over time been viewed differently by different groups of people. There have been notions that there was a gap between ethical Islamic principles and actual practice by orientalists. Ernst (2003) argues however, that this notion was fronted by the west with a view to divide the Muslims (p.109). The Muslim faith strongly promotes the concept of Islamic unity as opposed to the ideas of the groups that seek to divide Muslims. During the empire of the early caliphate, the practice of Jihad was viewed as a means by the Muslims to conquer the world. Some Islamic jurists, according to Ernst (2003) agreed to the notion that jihad was indeed an Islamic way of conquering and dominating all the non-Islamic realms (p.118). Other jurists asserted that the concept of jihad was only accepted for self defense.
Despite the latter proposed argument, the European colonial officials and orientalists believed that Muslims always had intentions to go to war with non-Muslims (p.118). The Europeans believed that the only possible extremists could be Muslims. This view was reinforced by the fact that the nineteenth century fight against British, French and Russian colonialists was characterized by jihad, the fighters claiming to be struggling for truth. The assertion that there is a standard set of ethics, which elevated the Euro-American customs as ideal did not take seriously the notion that there can be different systems of religious ethical needs (p.118).
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This view, which was a consequence of the obvious gap between ethical principles and actual practice, implied that Islamic laws were great and the laws of other religions were lesser. The Europeans, while denying philosophy among Arabs and proclaiming the superiority of their own philosophy thought that they were coming to revive philosophy. What they didn't know however was that the Arabs had their philosophy, but what kept it secret was the fact that it had not been translated into Latin (p.126).
It was a tradition among European powers that upon conquering a country that they abolish all the legal systems of the conquered and impose those of the conqueror. However, in the case of the British, the intrusion was not absolute and the preservation of local customs persisted for fear of resistance (p.127). To facilitate convenience in the running of the colony, the British allowed the combined use of common law and the sharia law in India. The overthrowing of the elite and institutions created by Islamic law through encouraging philanthropy, such as Muslim educational institutions led to the fall back of core curriculum focusing on scripture (p128).One of the strategies the British employed to ensure that Islamic laws do not influence the running of the government was to decline the employment of graduates from Islamic schools.
Classical Islamic education became irrelevant to secure a successful career in government since English had become necessary for entry into the service with the British (p.129). The Ottomans viewed it as a means of gaining power as well as controlling Muslims in Russia. They adopted the title caliph in religious pretension to give them a kind of political jurisdiction over Muslims in Russia (p.132). Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the leader of Islamic turkey was compelled to declare turkey as a secular state in 1922 after four European armies fought in her soil. He also abolished the office of the sultan and most of the religious institutions including the caliphate, which was the symbol of Islamic international sovereignty. This was a great blow to Islam.
Upon gaining independence, the leaders of the formed states were socialists and secularists and they introduced one-party rule and leadership-for-life styles. These leaders viewed the Islamic groups as a threat to their government. In countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria, Islamic reformists were either suppressed, imprisoned or executed (p.133)
The promotion of a purely Islamic state does not necessarily spell the end of social activism. In recent years, the establishment of Islam associated institutions such as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Eidhi foundation in Afghanistan to offer micro-credit and health services respectively, has shaped a new perspective that Islam has solutions to common social problems (p.135). At the same time, most Islamic states continue to have debatable political expressions. In some of them, exemplified by Afghanistan, the presence of Taliban, which threatened the countries stability, merited the intervention of the United States. This shows the intrusion and contribution of foreign country in charting the destiny of a nation (p136).
The United States invasion of Iran in 1953 due to Iran's intention to nationalize the oil industry shows that Islam is perceived as a threat to international security. With the formation of a modern state in Iran with the state religion being Islam, the Islamic laws play a fundamental role in the constitution. There has been a gradual rise of liberal Islam, the main mission of which is to champion democracy, religion and freedom of thought, women's rights and human rights in general (p.140).
In conclusion, the Islamic religion has been viewed differently by different groups. The colonizers viewed it as a threat to their supremacy; others viewed it as a means used by Muslims to conquer. The perception of some developed that Islam is a threat to international security persists to date. In the recent years due to efforts to solve social challenges in society, Islam has been viewed as capable of bringing development. These visualizations were from both the Muslims and non-Muslims.
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