Lessons from the ancients: Why technological advancements must be guided by ethics

Khakan Ahmad, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya UK

Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives and has transformed the way we interact with the world around us, shaping society as we know it today. For Islam, it has presented new possibilities to gain knowledge and spread the message of Islam Ahmadiyyat. However, at the same time, technology has spread immorality and harmful content.

Pompeii was once a thriving civilisation. It had an advanced water system, underground sewer systems for hygiene, carefully designed buildings and a thriving economy. Despite all of these achievements, it turned from one of the most advanced civilisations into a city buried in ash; forgotten for centuries.

While Pompeii was a place of great advancement, it also harboured moral decay. They had found ways to defeat their discomfort and boredom, but they weren’t able to combat the spread of immoral imagery and lack of spirituality. Immoral imagery, acts and graphic statues showed how morally decayed the society of Pompeii had become. Rather than using these advancements for spiritual growth, they valued their desires more. The consequences were that God destroyed the city as a reminder of the dangers of prioritising immorality and hedonism over morals. (“Pompeii: The City Destroyed By God”, https://majallah.jamiaahmadiyya.uk)

Advancements in society are a double-edged sword. While they bring many benefits, they can distract us from growing in our spirituality, and cause us to prioritise our desires over our moral values.

Unfortunately, Pompeii isn’t the only nation with such a fate. In the Quran, Allah the Almighty mentions the nation of Solomonas, which was once an advanced world power with unmatched military prowess.(Holy Quran, Ch.34: V.14) However, after the demise of Prophet Solomonas, the arrogance and disobedience of Solomon’sas people led to the nation’s downfall.(Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 4, under Ch.34: V.15)

This nation’s downfall serves as another reminder of the consequences of forgetting the real purpose of all of these advancements and losing sight of God and his laws.

Allah had made these past nations an example for us so that our technological advancements would not make us arrogant in thinking we do not need God. Unfortunately, history shows that humans often fall back on the same mistakes they made before. If we continue down the same path, we risk our own downfall.

Our society has been making – continues to make – advancements that history has never seen before. From planes to the internet, we now live in a “global village”. We can stay connected with people thousands of miles away, which people in the past could have only seen as “magic”.

Despite our technological advancements, we risk following the same path as Pompeii. The ease of access to immoral content and the impact it’s having on our society are causes for great concern.

While there are legitimate concerns regarding these advancements, we also can’t deny the positive impact they are having on Islam. Through technology, it has been easier than ever to connect with people around the world and spread the message of Islam.

When the phonograph was invented in 1877, the Promised Messiahas found out that one of his companions, Hazrat Nawab Muhammad Ali Khanra, owned one. He took the opportunity to explore this new invention and recognised its potential for spreading the message of Islam.

He got his companions to record recitations of the Holy Quran, a Persian poem and some brief commentary of Surah Al-Asr. (Ashab-e-Ahmad, Vol. 2, pp. 474-476) Seeing the capabilities of this invention, he wrote the following poetic verse:

آواز‭ ‬آرہى‭ ‬ہے‭ ‬یہ‭ ‬فونوگراف‭ ‬سے

ڈھونڈو‭ ‬خدا‭ ‬كو‭ ‬دل‭ ‬سے‭ ‬نہ‭ ‬لاف‭ ‬و‭ ‬گزاف‭ ‬سے

“This voice is coming from the phonograph; Seek God from the heart; not through boasting and pomposity.” (Al Hakam, 24 November 1901, p. 5)

The Promised Messiahas recognised the phonograph could be used for the propagation of Islam. Despite the fact that the phonograph was not really used for any useful purpose at the time by others, the Promised Messiahas recognised how we could use it to spread the message of Islam.

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Before the time when recordings became common, the companions of the Khulafa-e-Ahmadiyyat scribed the speeches and sermons of the Khulafa and then copied, printed and published them on paper so that Ahmadis around the world could read the guidance of the Khalifa of the time. This was hugely time-consuming, taking days – sometimes weeks – to distribute printed sermons. Today, with the flick of a button and from the comfort of their homes (or wherever they may be), millions of Ahmadis can turn on the live Friday Sermon of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa and watch it on MTA International.

In recent months, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has dominated headlines and sparked widespread concern over its potential dangers. While there are indeed risks associated with the development and use of AI, one of the most pressing concerns is the possibility of creating deep fakes and spreading misinformation. With the rise of AI chatbots, there is a risk that people will rely solely on these bots for information, rather than engage in the hard work of researching and verifying facts.

However, it’s important to recognise that the danger of misinformation is not unique to AI chatbots. Social media has long been plagued by the spread of false information, yet it has also served as a powerful tool for spreading important ideas and movements, including Islam. With proper training and a thoughtful approach, AI has the potential to be similarly leveraged for good.

By recognising the dangers of AI and taking steps to mitigate them, we can work towards a future where AI is used to enhance our understanding of the world and our relationship with God, rather than hinder it. Through thoughtful engagement with technology, we can harness its power to spread truth and promote the values of love, compassion, and justice that are at the core of our faith.

Technological progress brings with it both benefits and dangers. It has the power to uplift societies and bring them closer to God, but it can also lead to moral decay and the downfall of entire civilizations. How we choose to use technology is therefore a matter of great importance and responsibility.

As Muslims, it is our duty to harness the power of technology for the greater good and to use it in a way that aligns with the teachings of the Holy Quran. We must learn from the lessons of past nations who, like us, were blessed with technological advancements and influence. Yet, their moral regression ultimately led to their ruin, as they forgot the laws of Allah and succumbed to their own pride and arrogance.

To avoid a similar fate, we must approach technology with humility, recognising its potential pitfalls and using it in a way that promotes justice, compassion, and the greater good. By doing so, we can ensure that technological progress is not a cause of moral regression but rather a catalyst for spiritual growth and social benefit.

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