Critical Analysis: Qur'anic Ethics

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Islam: A Critical Analysis
By: S.T.
Introduction
Ch.1: Burden Of Proof
Ch.2: Judaism and Islam
Ch.3: Imperfect Text
Ch.4: Qur'anic Grammar
Ch.5: What Others Say
Ch.6: Hypocrisy in Islam
Ch.7: Hell
Ch.8: Violence in Islam
Ch.9: Logical Fallacies
Ch.10: Women in Islam
Ch.11: Muhammad’s Wives
Ch.12: Inheritance Laws
Ch.13: Qur'anic Ethics
Ch.14: Existence of Allah
Ch.15: What is Prophecy?
Ch.16: Unclear Qur'an
Ch.17: The Need for Hadith?
Ch.18: Miscellaneous
Ch.19: Numerical Patterns in the Qur'an
Ch.20: Summary
Ch.20: Quotations
Ch.22: Further Reading


secularislam.org writes:

We hear ad nauseum that ALL Koranic verses are well-meaning it’s just that they are taken out of context by hate-mongers. Well, consider verse 2:178

[2.178] O you who believe! retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain, the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female, but if any remission is made to any one by his (aggrieved) brother, then prosecution (for the bloodwit) should be made according to usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner; this is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy; so whoever exceeds the limit after this he shall have a painful chastisement.

Now clearly the above verse means: 1. If a slave is killed by a free man, then the innocent slave of the killer free man has to be killed (who is not the killer) 2. If a female is killed by a male, then a female (probably owned by the killer male) has to be killed Is there any way an apologist can defend this as the word of God? This single verse is enough to debunk Koran as the word of "God"

The rationalist

There are certain laws in the Quran forbidding gambling, intoxicants, interest, and stealing which at 1st glance seem reasonable, but in reality are too simplistic to be helpful. These laws do not seem to be the greatest laws ever written and can be improved.


Gambling[1]


[5.90] O you who believe! intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are only an uncleanness, the Shaitan's work; shun it therefore that you may be successful.
[5.91] The Shaitan only desires to cause enmity and hatred to spring in your midst by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to keep you off from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you then desist?

Some people are addicted to gambling and they devote a large amount of time, emotional energy and their income to gambling. However, many people spend a large amount of time, emotional energy and income to other pursuits such as education, exercise or attending sports events. But the reason the Quran forbids gambling is that it is Satan’s work. Given that people cannot see or sense Satan, it is futile to try to extrapolate this law. Further, some people gamble in moderation (e.g., once a year a rich person bets a few dollars) and it is hard to rationalize why that is worse than someone who expends much more time, money and emotional energy pursuing other activities.

Shakir’s translation above uses the phrase “game of chance” instead of gambling. It is hard to understand why occasionally playing a game of backgammon or poker without money is more evil than playing a game that only requires skill. (Games of chance very often require much skill in calculating the various probabilities).

Defining gambling is not that straightforward, as many items in life involve risk. Traveling to work involves the health and financial risk of getting into an accident to get the reward of a salary. A store owner takes the risk that by buying merchandise she will be able to sell it for a profit. There is no clear dividing line between gambling and investing. A Muslim takes a risk that their interpretation of the Quran is correct.


Intoxicants

[2.219] They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder.

[5.90] O you who believe! intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are only an uncleanness, the Shaitan's work; shun it therefore that you may be successful.

[5.91] The Shaitan only desires to cause enmity and hatred to spring in your midst by means of intoxicants and games of chance, and to keep you off from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you then desist?

Drugs and alcoholism can lead to major problems, so in that sense I agree with the Quran. However, is this because intoxicants are addictive or unhealthy? Should addictive foods such as sugar and salt be forbidden? There are many unhealthy foods. Having alcohol in moderation (once a year having an ounce of wine) is not a health risk. Today, there are all kinds of medications and processed foods such as aspirin, cough medicine, etc. which makes it difficult to know which of these products are considered intoxicants.

However, because the Quran threatens Muslims, a Muslim typically will not have even the slightest amount of alcohol. Yet, because Muslims are not explicitly threatened by Allah with respect to other addictions and unhealthy habits, they may indulge in those addictions and unhealthy habits in moderation.


Interest

Some Muslims would argue that laws against interest are ethical, since poor people are being overcharged to borrow money.

I have trouble with that argument:

1. In an ideal economy, there might be mechanisms built in to avoid overcharging. In a free market, this is via competition. In a controlled market, there could be price controls. But Allah did not bother describing the ideal economy that would effectively reduce poverty.

2. Poor people or people in general are overcharged for food, clothing, computers, etc. why just focus on interest?

3. If a rich person borrows from a poor person, then why shouldn’t the poor person charge interest?

4. In determining cost of goods sold, many businesses consider the time value of money. As an example, if a person owns a $100,000 home and can earn long-term risk-free interest at 20%, then it generally doesn't make economic sense for him to rent it out for less than 20,000 a year. Hence, the market-value of apartments reflects to some degree the time value of money. One would have to boycott the entire economy as most items sold either implicitly or explicitly reflect the time value of money.

Anyway, when using certain Islamic bank loopholes, it becomes even more difficult to rationally defend the usury law. Why is it unethical to charge interest when lending money, but not unethical to charge rent/profit/expense when lending money?

Stealing

[5.38] And (as for) the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off their hands as a punishment for what they have earned, an exemplary punishment from Allah; and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

Legislating laws are very complex. It is very difficult to anticipate every possible case. By attempting to list many cases, the lawbook can become very large.

There are different types of theft: stealing ideas, getting paid for 40 hours of work but only working 38 hours, or using some of the 40 hours for personal items, taking a sick day from work when healthy, taking an item from one's parents, borrowing without permission, robbing a bank, false advertising, lying on a job interview to get more money, lying on financial statements, cheating on taxes, petty theft like stealing a pen, etc.

There is also accidental stealing, deliberate stealing, accomplices to theft, stealing by minors (aged 10, 12, 14, 16), stealing by the mentally ill (there are degrees of mental illness), stealing when using violence and stealing due to poverty.

There are degrees of evidence, what is the burden of proof? It is unclear whether types of evidence available today that did not exist during the time of the Quran and Hadith are acceptable. For example, DNA, email transcripts, photographs, videos, etc.

It is unclear how much resources and what types of resources is ideal for judging cases correctly. For example, for a $100,000,000 robbery a 100 day trial might be warranted but for a $3 robbery, 100 days are not warranted.

There is a question of jurisdiction. Suppose a kaffir steals in a kaffir country, should he be subject to 5:38? How about a Muslim in a kaffir country?

Suppose there was a group that stole? Who decides whether they deserve a punishment? If people interpret 5:38 differently, whose definition do we follow?

How do you expect one verse, two verses or even 100 verses, to accurately portray a just system? 5:38 does not allow for all the above listed potential cases that need to be treated differently.

The Quran is unclear regarding what percentages of adults today should have had their hands amputated? It could be anywhere from 0% to 100%. It is up to whomever to decide.

Notes

  1. YUSUFALI in 2:219, 5:90-91 translates it as gambling instead of games of chance.


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