The Divide Between Ethics and Faith

by Waleed Ali Khan

I belong from a country that is in constant battle against terrorism and I wonder if it will ever stop. If it will, how? Clearly military action is not working, and is in fact heightening the problem. This also leads me to think about whether the word “terrorist” will ever be dissociated with us.

It has become clear to me the fight against terrorism is an idealogical one. Where military power falls short, the power of the pen takes control. History has seen how dialog through literature and the arts has caused revolutions. I remember my philosophy professor, Dr. David Gray, talked about how important interfaith dialog is in achieving peace, and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think dialog that helps us dig in to our fundamental beliefs and identity, can solve many, if not all, the problems faced by muslims today.

The reason why I wrote this post is to talk about the idea of Faith and Ethics inside the minds of many Muslims. To us, they no longer appear to be the same. In fact, faith is at a much higher level to ethics, when it should be complementing it (they should be in fact, considered the same!).  It is sad to see that many of us lie, cheat and abuse others but still pray 5 times a day and claim to be good muslims. Faith stems from Ethics. The 5 pillars that define Islam has some fundamental basis. For example, if Zakat is one of the pillars, it so much more than just giving alms; it is teaching us fundamental lessons about taking care of those who are financially less fortunate to us. I therefore find it funny that the arab world gives so much in Zakat, but has a controversial human rights record when it comes to migrant labor workers. What I mean to say is that ethics is a component of islam, and that component is often ignored, because faith is taken to be this seperate entity and placed at a very high level, with ethics coming secondary. If you understand faith properly (at least in the case of Islam), you will perform ethical acts and faith and ethics will be indistinguishable.

Terrorism, in my opinion, perfectly exemplifies this paradox. To terrorists, their so called “Faith” has been taken to a level so much higher than ethics, that killing in the name of faith is considered acceptable to them.I am sure no one, not even terrorists, consider killing innocent women and children ethical. Had ethics and faith been one, the idea of terrorism in the name of religion would cease to exist.

I think this is where our society should move towards. We need to instill in our future generations the fundamental ethics in parrallel with the teachings of a particular religion, so that they become adults who can make life decisions with integrity.