The ills of modern society and how to safeguard against them

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Omar Farooq

Student Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيْقَهُمْ  بَعْضَ الَّذِيْ عَمِلُوْا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

“Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought, that He may make them taste [the fruit] of some of their doings, so that they may turn back [from] evil.” (Surah al-Ra‘d, Ch.30: V.42)

Head lowered like a branch fully laden with ripe fruits, a triumphant ruler rode upon his horse into a city that had persecuted, shunned and exiled him. Yet he spoke no harsh word, raised no sword and desired no wealth for his aim had never been such. Indeed his opponents had suffered a horrible defeat, however, his true victory was in the fulfillment of a prophecy made long before him as he “shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints.” (Deutronomy 33:2 [KJV])

In a mere 10-year period, a nation rose from the ashes of a dead society, a vile and degenerate world, devoid of all light, akin perhaps to a black hole obliterating the light of morality and righteousness into its bottomless pit of nothingness and oblivion. No society bears more striking resemblance to our own modern global village of moral and spiritual decrepitude, where Satan’s claws are extended forth clasping upon the throat of morality, virtue and belief, than this one.

Yet, such a phenomenon manifested upon the sands of Arabia over 1400 years ago that the dead became alive, the blind began to see and the deaf began to hear. Hence, it is entirely befitting that in order to find the lost light and life amongst the rampant darkness and death in our world, we must turn the dial of time back, once more, 1400 years. It was upon the sands of Arabia long ago, that the solution to all evils, ills and vices that have risen again to plague society at a hitherto unbeknownst intensity and scale was miraculously manifested by the nurturing and moral training of our master, the Seal of the Prophets, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. It is regarding this wonderful miracle that the Promised Messiahas writes beautifully:

صَادَفْتَھُمْ قَوْمًا کَرَوْثٍ ذِلَّۃً

فَجَعَلْتَھُمْ کَسَبِیْکَۃِ الْعِقْیَانِ

“You found them to be a group of people who [owing to their sins] were despicable like dung; But [due to your spiritual power] you transformed them into an ingot of pure gold.”

It may not be possible to do justice to this vast topic by attempting to discuss every moral issue and ill facing our society. It is in fact impossible for human beings to even comprehend the innumerable ways in which we are forever increasingly plunging into certain moral and spiritual decays. Hence, it is only fitting that we should look upon the only One who knows all and sees all, Allah the Almighty.

Allah, the Most Gracious, has blessed us by simplifying the whole complicated affair into three words in the following verse:

إِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيْتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ

“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.”(Surah al-Nahl, Ch.16: V.91)  

This verse lucidly defines for us the various aspects of all evil and sin: fahsha (indecency), munkar (manifest evil) and baghy (transgression). The Holy Quran also teaches us which steps must be taken in order to combat the various evils.

Islam seeks to provide total cure from these ills; hence, it also deals with specific ills and vices and clarifies for us what our response to them should be and what their solution is. Furthermore, the greatest quality of Islamic teachings is that it truly strikes at the root of all problems and solves all issues and matters by demolishing their root and base. Hence, in order to understand and find a working, pragmatic method to safeguard against the modern world’s moral ills, it is imperative to explore all these aspects.

The Promised Messiahas has explained multiple times that the root of all sin is a lack of ma‘rifat (deep insight), hence, in order to uproot evils and vices, we must first gain knowledge and understanding into their true nature and ill effects on our body and spirit. Once a state of understanding and recognition is reached regarding any harmful action, we naturally will avoid this action and any path that leads to it. For example, if we are certain that cobras inhabit a place, no one would dare even take the path that crosses this place. Hence, recognition and understanding lies at the root of safeguarding ourselves from such evils.

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II and Musleh-e-Maudra states:

“In order to safeguard against ill deeds, it is imperative to gain a perfect recognition of God” (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 7, p. 643)

Fahsha are such indecencies and moral evils as pertain to the individual and their personal wrongdoings. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra has explained in Tafsir-e-Kabir under this verse that in this category fall all ills that may not be affecting other members of society but may be done in secret and their circle of influence is the person committing them.

There is no lack of such shameful immoral actions in our society. In fact, all around such heinous propaganda to jump into this abyss is apparent as puts any decent person to shame. This category of moral ills includes all matters related to sexual misconduct – hyper-sexualisation, premarital and extramarital relations – and may include other addictions.

Munkar (manifest evil) points to such evils as not only affect the individual, but rather negatively affect others as well. Let us first understand the ill effects of these moral evils on our body and spirit; as Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has explained, lack of understanding and true recognition is the mother of sins.

Recent studies which have been reproduced time and again show that by the age of 20, 75% of Americans have premarital relations, and by the age of 44, that percentage jumps to 95%. Among those 25% of Americans who abstained until the age of 20, 81% were no longer celibate by the age of 44 (Dr Lawrence B Finer, Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954–2003 Public Health Reports [2007] National Centre for Biotechnology Information). Approximately 30-60% of all married persons in the United States of America had an affair and did not remain faithful to their partners (Dr David M Buss and Dr Todd K Shackelford, Susceptibility to Infidelity in the First Year of Marriage, Journal of Research in Personality [1997]).

Premarital relations have a strong connection with extra-marital relations because, due to the culture of dating and breaking-up, they make light of the bond of marriage which can be broken whenever desired. Hence, the rate of divorce also rises, which destroys families, and such children as grow up in these broken family systems often grow up to repeat the same wrongful behaviours, thus beginning the cycle anew.

Islam places great importance upon family systems, because they are the building blocks of a society and the centre for the moral training of future generations. As these building blocks crumble under the nonchalant, “playful” and careless behaviour of dating and cheating, it only escalates immorality and the domino effect of moral destruction keeps claiming one generation after another. As premarital relations and affairs have risen, so have the divorce rates naturally risen. It is estimated by some studies that in the earlier 20th century, the divorce rate was under 5%, however, now studies suggest that in the United States, divorce rates are as high as 40-50%. (www.politifact.com/new-jersey/statements/2012/feb/20/stephen-sweeney/steve-sweeney-claims-more-two-thirds-marriages-end/)

As far as pornography is concerned, no statistics are required for this. It is a disease so rampant that seldom is one safe from it. Simply pondering over the effects of this evil reveals that it is also directly connected to divorce, hyper-sexualisation, objectification of women and, worst of all, assault and violence cases against women. In a study included in Rolling Stone magazine, in the 1960s it was found that 11% of men and 44% of women were sexualised, meaning they were purposefully portrayed in an overtly over-sexualised manner. In the 2000s, the numbers increased to 17% of men being portrayed in such a manner and an astounding 83% of women (Patricia Donovan, Study Finds Marked Rise in Intensely Sexualized Images of Women, Not Men, University at Buffalo News Center [website], 16 September 2018). That is a devastating 55% increase, how can we imagine that it would be without any ill effects?

All such immoral behaviors are creating a society which accepts and celebrates lustful thoughts and behaviors, be that in music, media or entertainment. This in turn destroys the moral base of society and severs the connection with God Almighty. Hence, Islam lays stress upon modesty and purity of thoughts. The Holy Quran calls adultery an abominable sin and forbids it, and striking at the root of all deeds, it guides regarding stopping the entrance of such thoughts into the mind. Before instructing women to cover their beauty and not display it, it states:

“Say to the believing men that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is Well-Aware of what they do.” (Surah al-Nur, Ch.24: V.31)

However, we must treat the problem at its grand level, so that a cure can be found which may be applicable not only in specific situations, rather may be effective against all issues. Allah the Almighty states in His blessed word:

اتْلُ مَا أُوْحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَلَذِكْرُ اللّٰهِ أَكْبَرُ وَاللّٰهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُوْنَ

Recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book, and observe Prayer. Surely, Prayer restrains [one] from indecency and manifest evil, and remembrance of Allah indeed is the greatest [virtue]. And Allah knows what you do. (Surah al-Ankabut, Ch.29: V.46)

In the simplest words, to answer our question of “how to safeguard against ills”, it is quite clearly stated in the verse quoted above: Salat. Salat is the answer that God Almighty has given us in order protect ourselves from both indecency and manifest evil. Hence, it is the most potent cure available to us in order to combat all forms of moral ills in our society, for these two categories encompass most of our modern society’s issues.

Some genres of music celebrate immorality and hypersexualisation

For a cure to be considered worthy of applying to such a massive issue, two things are necessary in order to testify to its potency and effect: firstly, whether the source of this cure is reliable and good, and secondly, whether it is proven to be working? In the case of the first question, the source is the Almighty and All-knowing God of all the worlds, the Creator and Master of everything, therefore, we must agree that the source is the best possible one. To answer the second question, we need only look at a mere 23 years of a once insignificant deserted peninsula known as Arabia, whose people would rise to become the leaders and teachers of the entire world, because a man of God taught them this simple cure. It not only transformed their personal lives but also their national identity. Where they once drank alcohol like water five times a day, it was replaced with five daily doses of its cure, and the results are evident to every person, friend or foe. The Promised Messiahas states:

“What is Namaz [Salat]? It is a form of prayer which safeguards a person from all evils and indecencies, making them worthy of goodness and receiver of divine blessings.” (Malfuzat, Vol.3, p. 37)

Hence, when we speak of any type of indecency and moral ill that may be rampant in our society and various ways to safeguard ourselves, the message of God Almighty, His Prophetsa and the Imam of the age is crystal clear; Salatis the answer. The Promised Messiahas further explains:

“Namaz is such a deed that by observing it, a person is saved from every type of evil deed and indecency.” (Al Hakam, 10 January 1908, p. 4)

This fact is also supported by the greatest servant of the Promised Messiahas, Hazrat Hakim Maulvi Nuruddin, Khalifatul Masih Ira. He states in the commentary of this verse:

“Namaz has been made obligatory for the purpose of safeguarding against manifest evil (munkar) and indecency (fahsha).” (Haqaiqul Furqan, p. 338)

Now that it has become abundantly clear from all these references that in fact it is Salat that is our greatest shield against all evils, we must understand how. How is it that a mere composition of movements – standing, bowing, and prostrating, while saying some words in Arabic – can possibly be considered a shield against all vice and evil? In order to understand this, we must understand the truth and essence of prayers and its various parts.

Islamic prayer known as Salatis not a simple exercise, rather every single part of it bears grand wisdom in it, and it provides the solutions to all forms and shapes of problems one may experience living in any society and at any time in the world.

The Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said that cleanliness is half of faith, therefore, this highlights for us that it must have an effect on our moral state as well. In fact, cleanliness has a deep connection with purity of mind and abstaining from lustful thoughts and eventual sexual misconduct. Islam clearly stresses cleanliness throughout one’s daily actions, and in fact this starts quite early in age.

According to one Hadith, prayer is to be taught to a 7-year-old and becomes obligatory at age 10 (Sunan Abi Daud, Kitab al-Salat). At this age a child generally learns of their private parts, and girls, in some cases, start their periods. Hence, with prayer, the emphasis on cleanliness should also be kept in mind.

Regarding the cleanliness of the child and its effect on them, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra states in Minhaj-ut-Talibin (The Way of Seekers):

“Let the child have a clean body. Its impact on his mind will be great. As a consequence, the child will come to have a clean mind and will become immune to sins which are caused by uncleanliness. Medical research bears out that a child commits their first sin because they are dirty. Dirt irritates the anal passages which the child rubs and manipulates. They find pleasure in the process and becomes conscious of sex. They can be safeguarded against sexual errors to a very large extent if they are kept clean. This training must begin the very day they are born.” (The Way of Seekers, p. 51)

The Promised Messiahas has explained regarding the importance of cleanliness while speaking about prayers:

“As long as uncleanliness remains in a person, Satan remains in love with him.” (Al Badr, 13 February 1903, p. 27)

There are various other ways that prayer protects us against moral ills. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra has explained in the commentary of this verse (Ch.29: V.46) that prayer surely saves one from impurities and indecencies. It not only saves us on an individual level but on a collective level as well, because the time spent in prayers, especially congregational prayers, will take time away from other activities and keep our minds focused on God. Also, Huzoorra mentions, that Salat contains many supplications, hence, these supplications shall be a source of not only personal but collective reformation. Then, Namaz also contains recitation of the Quran and professing God’s glory and praise, which has a very strong effect on the heart. The most influential effect of Salat, however, is that it “grants the human heart a shining light and with its help, a person can abstain from evils and bad deeds”.

Then, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra continues that this is due to the prayers that Salat contains “through which the glory of Allahthe Almighty and Him being truly worthy of love becomes manifest upon the person.” (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 6, p. 643)

As far as addictions are concerned, nothing need be said regarding their physical and spiritual harms. That is an obvious and well understood fact. Addictions impair individuals on every level and block the process of conscious thought. It is for this reason a person is told to stay away from prayer in the state of intoxication (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.44). When something affects one’s prayer, then that impairs their ability to defend against other evils as well, hence, addictions in this manner give birth to countless evils.

Salatoffers a solution against this as well. Where the other effects have been discussed above, it is very interesting how Salat ties in with popular habit-reformation and behaviour-modification techniques and knowledge. The premise for most of habit-reformation techniques is quite simple, since habits are based on habit loops, starting from a cue, then a routine, ending with a reward.

Researchers such as Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habits, suggest that in order to reform a habit, we simply need to replace the routine while keeping the same outcome and cue. Let us now look at Salat. Most addicts and drunks indulge because they desire to alleviate a stress or other feeling from their life; this action provides them with pleasure and temporary relief. Now, what if the cue – stress, loneliness, company etc. – was followed by another routine that resulted in the same reward of pleasure and stress alleviation, while providing much better company? The Holy Quran states, “Aye! it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort.” (Surah al-Ra‘d, Ch.13: V.29)

This is not merely a theory, in fact, this was displayed beautifully in the lives of the companions of the Holy Prophetsa, when prayer became their safe-haven, their hobby and their passion; it annihilated all other desires. It is to this effect that the Promised Messiahas writes:

تَرَکُوْا الْغَبُوْقَ وَ بَدَّلُوْا مِنْ ذَوْقِہ

 ذَوْقَ الدُّعَاءِ  بِلَیْلَۃِ الاَحْزَانِ

“[Following your instructions, O Prophetsa] they gave up their [habit of] evening drink, and in exchange for drinking pleasure, they adopted the [practice of deriving] pleasure of prayers in nights of grief.

In conclusion, Islamic moral philosophy is quite simple: do not do things that take you away from God, and do things that take you towards God. All moral ills take one away from God, therefore, they are to be shunned entirely because God Himself is to be loved above all. His attributes – or as mentioned in the Holy Quran, “sibghatullah”–are to be adopted in one’s life in order to become closer to Him and save oneself from evil; this is the greatest weapon against moral decay and societal evils.

In order to achieve this, God Almighty provided us with the gift of Salat and the other forms of worship such as fasting, Zakat and Hajj. All of these are merely expressions of love for God and teach us to adopt His love in our lives, and therefore are not the cure themselves, rather, they allow us to reach the cure – the love of God.

All of Islamic moral philosophy is encapsulated by this simple understanding. At the end of the Biblical verse of Deuteronomy quoted in the beginning, it states “from his right hand went a fiery law for them”.This completes the prophecy and states that the law given by him will be a “fiery law”. As Muslims, this should not be very difficult to understand. Almost every Ramadan, we are reminded that fasting and Salatliterally mean burning because they burn away sins. This was the law of the Holy Prophetsa; it burned away all evil and he didn’t just theorise what this teaching would achieve, he practically showed its power and cleansed the rust and dirt from the hearts of the Arabs and the rest of the world for centuries.

It is not the movements or words of prayer or the act of fasting that safeguard us against evils, rather it is these forms of worship that connect us to God and allow us to recognise and love Him by providing the necessary pathway to reach purity of heart, mind and soul.

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