Dangers of the Age and Safeguarding of Islamic Values

43The Review of Religions – August 2006 The dangers I have chosen to discuss are materialism, alcohol, gambling, the internet, the free social mixing of men and women, diseases such as Aids that are closely related to unchecked and uncontrolled promiscuity, and finally deceit and untruthfulness. Materialism The Holy Qur’an refers to this condition where it states: Vying with each other for amassing wealth had made you oblivious. Even when you reached the graveyards. Nay! You will soon come to know. Nay again! you will soon come to know. Nay, were you to know the certain knowledge, You will surely see Hell in this very life’. (Ch.102:Vs.2-9) The desire to own things and to fulfil that desire occupies a very prominent place in the struggle to find contentment for most people. Newspapers, cinema, television and radio repeatedly broadcast to lure prospective and often susceptible customers to buy the latest accessories or other fashionable luxury items and shopping centres are specifically Dangers of the Age and the Safeguarding of Islamic Values By Bilal Atkinson – Teeside, UK (A former policeman and currently Regional Ameer, North-East Region) (A speech delivered at the 2006 Ahmadiyya community’s UK Jalsa Salana Annual Conference) 44 The Review of Religions – August 2006 designed with images of fashion and glamour to entice us as we walk past. A high-paying job, a fully furnished modern house, a new car and expensive clothes are high on the priority lists of most people who see them as ‘must have’ commodities rather than asking themselves ‘do I really need it?’ or ‘can I really afford it?’ When material wealth and values becomes the goal in life, one can become blind to the financial nightmare that inevitably accom- panies it. In pursuit of that goal, a person often becomes selfish and loses consideration for the welfare of others and has no regard for the true values of life at all. A superficial glance at some national economies, especially those in the West, gives the false impression that they are rich and flourishing. A superficial look at normal family living standards also gives this same false impression. However, on closer inspection, in most cases, all the amassed wealth of a nation or a family in the form of houses, cars, furniture, clothing and major household items have been bought on credit or at a hidden price. Any economy whether national or individual which relies on spending unearned income does so at a very high cost. Most economies are run on the basis of interest, and banks are ever willing to lend the money. Thirty years ago it was not so easy to borrow money from any financial institution as there were safeguards in place based on personal income and the ability to repay the loan. However, many of those restrictions have now been removed, so much so that people who are engulfed in debt are encouraged to borrow more. Ultimately they are not really borrowing from the banks; they are borrowing from their own personal future. The Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) has addressed the dangers of pursuing the wealth of the world. He stated: ‘Too much indulgence in luxurious, easy, irresponsible living is a curse, as it is ill mannered, and heartless, to be indifferent to the sufferings of others. Every rich man is as much answerable over the due discharge of his obligations to his Creator and his fellow men, DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 45The Review of Religions – August 2006 as a poor man is. In fact a rich man is more answerable. Indeed, how unfortunate is he, for the sake of this brief life in this world, who completely turns away from God’ (Kashti-e-Nuh, 1902) The Egyptian Pharaohs’ tombs were filled with all their riches and belongings as they expected to take it with them into their after-life. They arrogantly thought they could take their amassed wealth with them into to the next world; at least they thought about it, but wrongly concluded about the Hereafter. People in this age seem to have no thoughts of their life after death and this is the main cause of their moral and spiritual decline. They remain engrossed in worldly pursuits and desires until death comes upon them and they find they have wasted all their precious life chasing perishable wealth instead of pursuing the Creator of all their wealth. This increasing pursuit of materialism has caused and continues to cause a decline in spirituality. It is the blind craze for worldly things that prevents disbelievers from acquiring the higher and much more commendable moral and spiritual values. The Holy Qur’an states: O ye who believe! Spend out of what We have bestowed on you before the day comes wherein there shall be no buying or selling, nor friendship, nor intercession; and it is those who disbelieve that do wrong to themselves. (Ch.2:V.255) A Muslim should always try to follow the example of the Holy Prophet(saw). Although he became the undisputed ruler of Arabia, his lifestyle was very simple and this simple life is one that is best and uncomplicated to follow. As far as the material world is concerned, we should question the true need for material goods. We should avoid borrowing money and paying interest for luxury items. We should eat simply and well and should not waste food. Regular fasting promotes a real understanding of the needs of those who ‘have not’ and a desire to help the poor and to eradicate poverty. We should give willingly to DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 46 The Review of Religions – August 2006 charitable causes and respond to all appeals of the Khalifa of the day. We should encourage an interest in sport and other outdoor pursuits as well as personal hobbies rather than visiting expensive restaurants, cinemas and other similar establishments. Islam does not forbid us to seek worldly pursuits, that is, to gain knowledge or wealth, or occupy ourselves in business and industry. It only changes our point of view. It teaches us to give preference to divine commands over everything else. In this way, we acquire spiritual blessings and God’s pleasures as well as worldly attractions. Devotion to God does not deprive us of worldly rewards. In fact, these rewards follow us like a servant. Our goal is our God and we must keep this goal in our mind every minute of our life. Excessive materialism is at the root of many social problems, such as gambling, narcotics and crime, which often also lead to family, social and community breakdown. Alcohol Likewise, an even greater malaise which destroys family life and has a huge and destructive impact on society at large, is the problem of alcohol. The Promised Messiah(as) addressed this issue and said: ‘O ye wise. This world will not last forever. Take hold of yourself and be steady. Give up every excess, leave all intoxicants. Alcohol is not alone in that it destroys man, but opium, marijuana, cannabis and every intoxicant that becomes habitual, disrupts the mind and eventually kills you – You must avoid them!’ (Kashti-e-Nuh, 1902) In many societies, alcohol consumption seems to be the staple diet among an increasing number of people, especially the younger generation. It also seems to be an irreplaceable component of socialising and other forms of entertainment. No social gathering seems complete without alcohol as its soul mate. At weekends, the goal in life of some people, mainly from the younger generation is not to have a ‘good time’ as was the usual practice some years ago, but to ‘go out and get drunk’. That is, DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 47The Review of Religions – August 2006 to lose one’s senses, decorum and modesty. According to The Independent newspaper, 2nd November 2005: ‘A large majority of people consume alcohol and it is well known that an increasing number of these become alcoholics.1.1 million adults in England suffer from alcohol dependency’. Consumption of alcohol not only destroys the individual, it destroys their family, their economy, their physical and mental health and in the long term, it damages the community at large. As a direct outcome of alcohol consumption, it has been proved beyond any doubt that morality and a sense of responsibility cease to exert any influence on those afflicted. Criminal activity also pursues a relentless advance in terms of thefts, burglaries, violence, domestic violence, child abuse, rapes, suicides and death by dangerous driving to name but a few. The British Crime Survey 2004/2005 revealed that 48% of all violent crime and 60% in cases of stranger violence occurred where the offender was under the influence of alcohol. According to a study by the Institute of Alcohol Studies UK (2006) entitled ‘Alcohol in Europe’,‘Apparently, one in every four people in Britain enjoys drinking with one single aim – to get completely drunk. Binge drinking is no longer a male domain either, adolescent girls and young women are just as likely to go out and get “plastered as males.”’ To redress the issue of ‘binge drinking’ and alcoholism, the British Government have, in my opinion, erroneously, actually increased the number of hours a licensed premises is allowed to remain open. In fact, in some areas, alcohol premises are allowed to remain open 24 hours per day. The teachings of Islam in this regard have given the perfect answer, the perfect antidote and the perfect reasoning. The Holy Qur’an states: They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard. Say: ‘In both there is great sin and DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 48 The Review of Religions – August 2006 also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage. (Ch.2:V.220) It was reported by Anas(ra) that the Holy Prophet(saw) said: ‘God’s curse falls on ten groups of people who deal with alcohol. The one who distils it, the one for whom it has been distilled, the one who drinks it, the one who transports it, the one to whom it has been brought, the one who serves it, the one who sells it, the one who utilizes money from it, the one who buys it and the one who buys it for someone else.’ (Sunan Ibn-I-Majah, Vol.3, Book of Intoxicants, Chapter 30 Hadith No. 3380) Further to this the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) said: ‘Alcohol is the mother of all evils and it is the most shameful of evils.’ (Sunan Ibn-I-Majah, Vol.3, Book of Intoxicants, Chapter 30 Hadith No. 3371) We should therefore teach our children about the bad effects of alcohol and should lead by example. We should avoid pubs and bars even though our non- Muslim friends may frequent them and we should only ever offer them non-alcoholic drinks. Gambling A recent survey by a UK newspaper (The Independent 25th May 2006) revealed some very interesting but shocking statistics in regard to the DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES ‘GOD’S CURSE FALLS ON TEN GROUPS OF PEOPLE WHO DEAL WITH ALCOHOL. THE ONE WHO DISTILS IT, THE ONE FOR WHOM IT HAS BEEN DISTILLED, THE ONE WHO DRINKS IT, THE ONE WHO TRANSPORTS IT, THE ONE TO WHO IT HAS BEEN BROUGHT, THE ONE WHO SERVES IT, THE ONE WHO SELLS IT, THE ONE WHO UTILIZES MONEY FROM IT, THE ONE WHO BUYS IT AND THE ONE WHO BUYS IT FOR SOMEONE ELSE.’ (SUNAN IBN-I-MAJAH, VOL.3, BOOK OF INTOXICANTS, CHAPTER 30 HADITH NO. 3380) 49The Review of Religions – August 2006 UK as a gambling nation. £50 billion was spent on gambling in the UK in 2005. Since 2001, there has been a 700% increase on the money spent on gambling and more frightening, since the year 2001 there has been a 23,000% increase in online (Internet) betting. It has also been reported that there are 370,000 people addicted to gambling and it is expected that this number will increase to 700,000 within the next five years. In total disregard to the increasing number of addicts and the destruction of their family lives, the British government, seduced by the lure of extra revenue from gambling have, this year, introduced the Gambling Act (2006) which will allow eight small, eight large and one regional or super-casinos to be built. The whole nation is also encouraged to gamble each week on the National Lottery where gamblers are enticed by the lure of instant fortunes. As a result, those people who seek to climb out of the depths of poverty are usually the ones who waste so much money on the Lottery leaving them more and more penniless and frustrated as they are unable to fulfil their dreams. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling, Nottingham Trent University has commented: ‘Gambling is a voluntary form of taxation although people do not see it as such. By expanding gambling, the Government can bring in more money. There has been no great public push to liberalise it. It has all come from the gaming industry and the Government. But if you tried to reverse it there would be uproar.’ For many, gambling may become very addictive – and due to the ease of betting using the internet, it has become a much more accessible idea to certain groups of people. It is very simple to turn on a computer and log on to a website. Everywhere on the internet are recollections of users who started by placing a small bet and eventually ended up losing their homes as they tried to re-coup their losses by spending more and more on gambling. Even worse, there are players who go into major debt DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 50 The Review of Religions – August 2006 because they use their credit cards and bank accounts to gamble. This can result in severe financial hardships, bankruptcy, marital and family strife and unfortunately in some instances, suicide. Islam gives the answer and solution to the ever-growing maladies of alcohol, drugs, and gambling – it simply commands ‘Abstain from them that you may be saved.’ There are no other means and no shortcuts to control this malignant epidemic. Islam’s social teachings are very important for the protection and survival of the family system. These dangers tempt and attract us to their worldly advantages until before we realise it we are sucked into an addictive behaviour, so much so that we justify to ourselves no harm in partaking in these vices. This is a very slippery slope that we must guard against at an embryonic stage. A greater openness of money matters between husband and wife, engaging in more existing interests such as study skills, creative crafts, and spending for good causes are some of the solutions to benefit the moral and spiritual health of mankind. The Internet We have all heard of the many dangers of the Internet. Although some of these dangers have been greatly exaggerated, it does not alter the fact that a computer and its operator, connected to the Internet are susceptible to very real attacks on their conscience both overtly and covertly. The Internet can be a very useful tool for the pursuit of knowledge; however, there are people who feel compelled to use their knowledge about computers to access files remotely in illegal and unethical ways. Subsequently, they make life difficult for other Internet users. There is no true and proper policing system of the Internet and it is open to abuse by unscrupulous companies and individuals seeking to amass great wealth or knowledge without regard to the moral well-being or vulnerability of the people they are targeting. The Internet is also open to abuse by criminals. For instance, there are paedophiles and other DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 51The Review of Religions – August 2006 perverted sexual deviants who try to ensnare young people by pretending to be someone other than who they actually are and this can be illustrated in the use of what are known to be Chat rooms. People can enter a chat room without any verification of who they are. The anonymity of the Internet allows chat room participants to feel more comfortable to speak without fear of being judged. The majority of Internet users may be genuinely looking for a person of their own age and interests to talk to, but how can they tell? One’s true identity is never revealed online and as a result one’s inhibitions and social conscience are lowered. Therefore, chat room conver- sations and topics of discussion are usually vastly different from normal interaction and often include topics one would never speak of to someone’s face. In chat rooms, discussions can be violent, abusive, and can even promote hatred against others. The Internet also gives free access to shopping, music, games, films, pornography, etc. where a person can spend many hours pursuing these often addictive and useless pastimes which distract from healthy normal daily life. Internet use, no matter how innocent it may seem, can become addictive, and push the user beyond a balanced life. It is becoming increasingly chal- lenging to monitor someone’s activity on the Internet while respecting their privacy at the same time. Parents worry that children will have contact with someone online who may wish to harm them and there is always the fear that increased Internet use will lead to children accessing inappropriate content such as pornography, racism and violence. A child’s safety is hard enough to protect in real life, let alone on the vast expanse of the Internet. They should be restricted to using the Internet to access information and for talking to pre-existing friends only and the computer should be in a room that is under the responsible control of the parents. Children should also be encouraged to read books and other literature as a prime source for gaining knowledge. DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES 52 The Review of Religions – August 2006 DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES Free social mixing between men and women. In Islam the free mixing of men and women from the time they become sexually aware is prohibited. On the face of it, this may appear rather harsh, but if we examine the effects of unrestricted contact between the sexes, we will soon see the wisdom behind this restriction. Today, in the world, every type of crime that results from free mixing of the sexes is on the increase with a parallel degeneration of morals. Whilst morality is on the decline, immodesty and licentiousness seem to be more and more acceptable to modern society. In the West particularly, men and women can walk semi-naked in public, swim topless, drink and dance in bars and clubs, and feel free to have casual sex with anybody they choose. Pornography, prostitution, adul- tery, divorce, one-parent families, abortion, co-habiting couples and same sex couples, as well as immodest dress and speech seem to be much more acceptable now than they were in the past; and the results and consequences are quite devastating. The so-called ‘permis- sive society’ in which we live has proved to be quite destructive in terms of family unity, human dignity and self-respect. Families are often torn apart, diseases are spread and people’s characters become twisted and distorted. There are many practices in modern society that may slowly affect the institution and acceptability of purdah for both Muslim men and women. If the Islamic concept of purdah is not followed by both men and women, then it is an institution that will be lost. In additionto offering prayers in congregation, men, women and their children should keep company of the righteous and regularly attend at Jama’at functions. This should be their priority to avoid segregating themselves from Islamic values. Islam restricts this free and unrestrained intermixing of the sexes. Umm Salamah reported that she and Maimunah (who were both wives of the Holy Prophet(saw)) were with the 53The Review of Religions – August 2006 DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES Holy Prophet(saw) when the son of Umm Makhtum, who was blind, came to speak with him. The Holy Prophet(saw) told his wives to observe purdah in front of the visitor. Umm Salamah said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, he is a blind man and will not see us’. The Prophet said, “He may be blind but you are not, and do you not see him?’” (Sunan Abu Daud Book 32 Number 4100) In the Qur’an, God explains the essence of Islamic purdah or covering which embodies the attitude of both men and women and is reflected in dress and behaviour. The Holy Qur’an gives guidance and teaches: Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them… And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts… (Ch.24:Vs.31-32) Not only do women have to cover themselves in front of men who are strangers to them, but they are also required to lower their gaze. Men are also required to observe purdah, thus preventing them from falling into any moral lapses. Purdah should be observed in a most appropriate manner but it should not be restrictive. We should never become lax in our values especially as more of us are now interacting at work and other social gatherings. We must still maintain the spirit of purdah e.g. we should try to avoid attending office parties and other functions especially those where alcohol, music, singing and dancing is ‘the order of the day’. Handshaking between men and women should also be avoided. The more frequent the oppor- tunities for social interchange between men and women, the more likely is the natural attraction which God has placed between them; this will result in relationships that are bound to endanger morality in a society. Then there are the diseases, such as Aids, which are partly fuelled by uncontrolled promiscuity and sexuality. 54 The Review of Religions – August 2006 DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES A decline in moral and spiritual standards almost inevitably leads to a decline in physical health. The spread of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as neurotic, mental and psychological diseases that claim hundreds of thousands of lives of people are among the acknowledged effects of sexual promiscuity. One of the most dangerous diseases is Aids which is caused by the HIV virus. This virus is responsible for damaging the body’s immunity leaving it vulnerable to all factors of decay. AIDS has reached all the continents of the world and continues more or less unabated despite certain drugs that may prolong the life of those infected. Millions of people have succumbed to this menace, a fact that provides a modern piece of evidence for the words of the Prophet Muhammad(saw) who said: ‘It never happens that permis- siveness overwhelms a people to the extent that they display their acts of sex shamelessly and they are not uniquely punished by God. Among them, invariably, pestilence is made to spread and such other diseases, the like of which have never been witnessed by their forefathers.’ (Sunan Ibn-e-Majah. Kitabul- Fitan, – ‘Uqoobat.Vol.11. Dar- ul-Fikr Al-Arabi, p.1333) Again we should encourage an interest in sport and other outdoor pursuits as well as other interests such as design and construction or agriculture and gardening rather than watching unsuitable indecent, lewd or violent programmes and films on TV or at the cinema. Deceit and Untruthfulness Falsehood is the basis, the starting point of most sins. Today, lack of truth is found all over the world without any exception. Of all the moral evils, lying is the worst and has a variety of complex causes. Most people look upon the telling of a so-called ‘white lie’ as socially acceptable. A lie is a lie no matter what colour you paint it and no matter how acceptable it is to society. Many moral, social and economic problems in the world stem from lack of truthfulness, honesty and integrity. Without truth there can be no proper justice, and without justice, 55The Review of Religions – August 2006 DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES bitterness and recrimination is spawned. In the end, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man pursues a relentless and most damaging course. When we allow materialistic values to enter our daily life and rely on falsehood, then we surround ourselves with unscrupulous people and thus get into a spiral of betrayal of trusts and treachery. Speaking the truth is a great virtue that should be instilled in every person and every child as if it was an actual limb without which the body cannot function. For a truly truthful person it is essential that he follows the truth without any regard to his own personal desires or interests. Only those people who stick to the truth, even at the risk of loss of life, honour or property, are really truthful. Once, a man approached the Holy Prophet(saw) and explained to him that he had many evil habits which included lying. He asked how he could free himself from such a sinful way of life. The Holy Prophet(saw) gave a very simple answer – he told him to always tell the truth as this would rid him of all his evil habits. The man soon realised that if someone enquired about his day- to-day activities he would have no choice but to tell the truth. Submission to truth proved to be the most appropriate medicine and a cure for his evil ways. The teachings of the Holy Qur’an in regard to truthfulness is complete and of the highest order: The Holy Qur’an states: Truthful men and truthful women……Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward .. (Ch.33:V.36) In this verse, the nature and philosophy of the truth is described and all aspects are fully covered. The Holy Qur’an says that truth should be for the sake of God alone. We know we cannot hide anything from Him. Also, if we really believe that God is Omniscient, then we cannot hide behind a lie or falsehood to save our skins. We should therefore self-reflect every day about our own actions and their consequences and strive to reform in accordance with Islamic teaching. A verse of the Holy Qur’an summarises the requirements mankind needs to fulfil in order to maintain and preserve high moral standards and to shield it from evil influences. It states: Verily Allah requires you to abide by justice, and to treat with grace and give like the giving of kin to kin; and forbids indecency and manifest evil, and transgression. He admonishes you that you may take heed. (Ch. 16:V:91) The words of this verse are quite plain and simple and can be easily understood by persons of all intellectual abilities. In a nutshell, this verse has enjoined justice, the doing of good to others, kindness as between brothers and has forbidden indecency, manifest evil and wrongful transgression. This particular verse of the Holy Qur’an combines all the essential qualities of a perfect teaching and encompasses the complete course of moral and spiritual evolution and growth of man and by following such Divine guidance, a true believer is ensured delivery from all conceivable vices. As Ahmadi Muslims we should remain as close as possible to the Khalifa of the day and his instruction as they will safeguard us from the ills of the age. Khilafat is a blessed institution, a gift from Allah the Almighty, which we should cherish and use to help us maintain our Islamic values. If we ignore his guidance then we have no excuse for our moral decline. Avoiding vices of the modern age is indeed the fundamental way of fighting our modern day jihad – the upward struggle for self- improvement, achieving closeness to Allah and vying in the doing of good deeds. Unless we remove these vices from ourselves we cannot reach Allah and we cannot convey the beauties of our perfect religion to others unless we are practising it. In his pursuit of theoretical worldly happiness and contentment and by developing selfish ways, man 56 DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES The Review of Religions – August 2006 disregards the true purpose of his life, which is to attain closeness to God and the road to true happiness and contentment. The Holy Qur’an states: Those who believe, and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Aye! It is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort. (Ch13:V.29) ‘This beautiful verse embodies a profound truth. The more the people of the world gain the paltry goods of this life, the greater becomes the hunger and the consequent burning of their heart. But as for those who seek God, the more they turn to Him, the greater is their peace of mind. This shows that the search for God is the innermost yearning of human nature and the real goal of man’s life and when that goal is attained man begins to enjoy perfect peace of mind.’ (P.1212, Commentary 1640, Holy Qur’an edited by Malik Ghulam Farid, Islam International Publications Ltd. 1994) In conclusion, I have only highlighted a small number of the many dangers and obstacles facing mankind today especially the unity and stability of our family life. It is only by faithfully and sincerely adopting the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an and the practice of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad Mustafa(saw), that Muslims, can preserve and safeguard their moral Islamic values. Faithful practice of Islamic values will safeguard them for the next generation. Muslims and especially Ahmadi Muslims should be easily recognisable in modern society as torchbearers for strong moral values contributing to a moral and just society for now and for the future of our children. 57 DANGERS OF THE AGE AND SAFEGUARDING OF ISLAMIC VALUES The Review of Religions – August 2006