April 25, 2006

Public Space Morality

Posted in Malaysia, Reflections, Religion at 11:09 pm by egalitaria

Do you know that Islam Hadhari is going to be (or is already) the basis for Malaysia to move forward in all levels of development? Yes, socio-economic development.

Islam Hadhari was introduced in 2004 as a comprehensive and universal development framework for the nation.

Let's investigate two ways I could respond to this:

1) First, I could practise verstehen (read: German for understand), or putting myself into their shoes. Islam is a holistic religion, that basically sees the religion as central to how one views the world. In fact, it is no more a religion than it is a 'state of being', since the word Muslim really means 'one who subjects himself to the will of God'. So, anything under the span of the heavens that is under the comprehensive authority of God, is basically Islamic in nature. It matters not whether a label is specifically placed. A person who helps someone altruistically is practising an Islamic act. As a Christian, I understand this exact way of thinking. I would say the same, that a generous and selfless act is in fact Christian in nature.

When you therefore are able to extract the morals away from theology of every religion, yes indeed religions do seem to preach the same teachings. Do good, be kind and gentle, forgiving to all, advocate social justice. This is the public space morality, the public sphere where commonalities can be addressed adequately – for the sake of society's good.

However, things aren't usually so black-and-white. Hence, response no. 2…

2) It is all well and good if all religions can really agree upon the public space morality. However, I do think this is only possible in terms of the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. In other words, we can conceptually agree upon what is good and bad. We can agree that intention to do evil is unilaterally a no-no. But the problem comes about when we talk about the daily practice of it. I am fearful that when there exists a contradiction on the definition of decency of dressing, behaviour and language, one religion's moral values might override another's. No guessing whose.

As I responded recently to my own posting, it seems nothing will change if one party remains inward looking. They too ought to look into Max Weber's verstehen to comprehend that to a non-Muslim, even widely practised common Islamic moral values seem preposterous if imposed upon one.

I personally agree with most of the Islamic (Hadhari) moral precepts (theoretically: belief in God, a just and trustworthy government, etc). But how about atheists and agnostics? What sort of public space morality is available to them, that which is congruent with Islam?

Then I would have to go into a thorough study of the beginnings of Morality and Ethics: Kant and the like… How laborious! *grin*



  1. egalitaria said,

    thanks! extremely helpful and well-written, as usual.. 😉

    very pertinent.

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