Universal Morality

March 28, 2006

Today I was talking with my sister about the philosophical school of “moral relativism“.

I found an Islamic book on the topic, but I am curious to know if there are any good books in favor of the theory.

I, of course, am of the opinion that morality is universal, that certain undying principles and morals are inherent in human beings and that all human beings are, by the decree of the Creator, entitled to certain inalienable rights. In other words, a person either has morality or he does not. While the way someone perceives morality can vary, the presence of it is pretty black and white.

My sister asked an interesting question about whether or not those rights extend to animals (i.e. some cultures kill animals for food, clothing, etc., while others hold them to be sacred and never kill them). I would say that their rights are different with us just as they are different with each other (in other words, a lion, by its nature eats a gnu, and a man, by his nature, eats a chicken).

Nevertheless, the right to kill can only be granted by Allah. And that is the real reason that we (the followers of the Prophet’s household) only eat meat that is slaughtered in the name of Allah (zabiha). It is not the method of slaughtering that is so important but rather, as Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) said, “the name that is important.” It is important to recite Allah’s name over it, thus acknowledging the animal’s right over you and seeking Allah’s divine permission to kill it.

I mentioned to my sister the example of Native Americans, particularly the Lakota, who believe the animals to be sacred (or perhaps even divine in the case of the buffalo — tatanka), yet they certainly ate it, wore it, used it for tools, housing, and just about everything else. By using it in every aspect of their lives, they honored it. To kill it for sport, however, would still be considered wrong. This is, in my estimation, the correct moral approach, and al-Islam clearly supports this view. Killing, whether of people or animals, can be sanctioned under certain circumstances, but it can never become a sport or something taken lightly (according to one’s own immoral values).

I intend to write a more lengthy discussion on these issues on OneUmmah.net, insha’Allah, if time and longevity of life permit.


One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this insight. I appreciate it. I am repeatedly compelled to explain to people why I do not eat the meat…even though it isn’t pork…and I’m not a vegetarian. Some people actually get confrontational when they find out that it must be slaughtered in a specific way and the name of Allah must be mentioned at the moment it is killed. One Christian lady told me, “We thank God for it before we eat it!” And I told her, “We do too; but we also have to recite the name of God at the time of the slaughter, because God is the creator of the animal’s life and we are taking its life.” I think she understood then.

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