A Moral Compass
In Part I we discussed the contemporary scientific understanding of childhood in the past and how it drastically opposes present day objections against the Prophet Muhammad (saws) and his relationship with the young Aisha (ra). We found that in all areas of cognition, biology and social fitness, younger people of the past can not be portrayed in light of our present day experiences of children. In other words, ‘children’, back then, had to adapt to the given conditions of their natural and social environments, thus not really making them children. Given these facts, moral judgments that are easily applied to today would be fallacious to apply to antiquity. Conclusively then, Klingschor and those who believe that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) had committed an immoral act by marrying Aisha (ra), are simply incorrect.
Though we touched up on their invalid biases, this portion of the presentation will focus more on the philosophical underpinnings that influenced such misinformed judgments. While this philosophical model does not apply to all critics of the accusations against the Prophet (saws), it does appear to apply to most. This model is a form of Enlightenment influenced morality called ‘Moral Progressionism’, or the idea that somehow societies have or are capable of becoming more moral than those before them. Perhaps a widely accepted view in most of the Western world today, it underpins moral judgments towards past societies and cultures. Unlike the utopian constructs of most religions and its followers, which see a better world in the far future as a result of a Transcendent God’s Will and Power, Moral Progressionists attempt to construct such a world in the here and now. This does not mean, however, that religious individuals have not likewise adopted this view, despite what I believe, is in contradiction to their own scriptures and past authorities.
The problem with this view, if we are to look at things from an evolutionary standpoint, is that it is a form of social Lemarkism. While many of the tenets of Lemarkism have been categorically rejected in the field of evolutionary science, it still appears to be popular in the social sciences and among the general population.
This perspective has resulted in very narrow interpretations of past societies and cultures, as well as brought about quick change without concern for deeper issues and a lack of foresight of long-term consequences. Such a model has been one of the underlying influences behind some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th and 21stcenturies, metamorphosing into its more fanatical form known as ‘Social Darwinism’, persisting today in a regressed state as still something by which to force onto so-called, ‘third world nations’. Due to its narrowness, it has also influenced its followers to create a causal link between technological-economic progress and moral virtue. This is characteristic in most contemporary social engineering, where arbitrary notions such as human rights are valued in the same light as economic gain or loss. Things like happiness are primarily based on limited concepts of wealth and freedom, with little to no concern for individual or societal perceptions of either. Just because one society is happy with a model, does not necessitate that others will likewise appreciate it. This entirely escapes most Progressionists mindsets, however, given that they believe their form of ‘progress’ can and should be universally applied at all costs for the sake of some homogeneous objective ideal of humanity. This is also why societies based on Moral Progressionism tend to adopt ‘one-law-for-all’ systems and have no problem imposing said systems onto others. Both the majority of religious and non-religious secularists, including religious extremists, fit into this mindset.
As Habermas states, this is a
perspective in which the development of the social systemseems to be determined by the logic of scientific-technical progress. The imminent law of this ‘progress’ seems to produce objective exigencies, which must be obeyed by any politics oriented towards functional needs. But when this semblance has taken root effectively, then propaganda can refer to the role of technology and science in order to explain and legitimate why in modern societies the process of democratic decision-making about practical problems loses its function and ‘must’ be replaced by plebiscitary decisions about alternative sets of leaders of administrative personnel. 
Never mind critiquing the system of democratic rule itself or if said societies have a right to police the world – but the cycle continues without so much a critique of the underlying philosophy that drives its concerns. Heidegger had similar views of how humanity had become a slave to technological progress and absent-mindedly applied the same standards to itself.
The opposite extreme of this perspective, called Moral Relativism, attempted to remedy these problems by suggesting that moral values are sound based on a subject by subject assessment. Rather than merely applying this as a practical methodology on how to interact with individuals and societies external to ones own, it turns these relative values into an objective ideal of how morality really is. So, in the same way, it commits to a form of utopianism, that while not as pro-active, is just as damaging in its complacency.
The alternative perspective that I believe can both be applied universally while considering the various differences in ideals and social practices — and that I believe is the most correct — is what I like to call ‘Normative Circumstantial Morality’. Not only do I think that this form of morality is more evolutionary sound by considering the various cultural, economic, and ideological conditions of societies and how humans adapt to said conditions – or, as the label implies, the “circumstantial” aspects of human options and behaviors – but it appeals to basic normative needs and desires of human beings, while recognizing that one cannot cultivate said standards by forcing their interpretations on to others. This ‘freedom’ aspect of NCM is intrinsically understood through the combination of both what is Normative and Circumstantial, and as such produces a far more nuanced and carefully applied view towards contemporary societies, as well as those in the past. This does not mean, however, that all force can thereby be considered immoral or unnecessary, but it does limit the application of other doctrines on a larger scale, allowing human beings from various contexts to be understood and interacted with appropriately. In a way, its a form of Moral Realism with far more flexible applicability, while still guarding essential standards of various ideologies – of course, those not opposed to this one. This point may appear to be paradoxical or even contradictory, but I think there is room to argue about that.
Moving on, let us tie this perspective in with the current discussion regarding contemporary negative moral judgments placed on Prophet Muhammad (saws) in regards to his relationship with Aisha (ra).
With support from the research noted in Part I of this presentation, let’s apply the NCM model. Both the present and the past will be compared based on their different conditions – all-together known as ‘Circumstances’. They will be labeled respectively C1 and C2:
We will cite one overarching Normative and vaguely call it ‘happiness”’ considering the various sub-normatives, like survival, that would make this possible; the interpretation of which may change in details depending on the meta-narrative supporting it. Each Circumstance has various conditions that make it possible. Circumstance 1, known as ’600 C.E. Arabia’, is qualified by the following conditions mentioned above in figure 1. Circumstance 2, known as ’2013 C.E. Global World’, is also qualified.
So here’s a hypothetical. Say you had a time machine and could go back to 7th century Arabia. Based on the overarching universal Normative of ‘happiness’ and the different conditions present, would you pronounce a negative judgement on said societies for attempting to optimally reach the Normative with what options they had available? Would you also attempt to force contemporary standards of law on these societies despite the fact that their conditions would not be able to cater to said rulings? Would it be moral to say that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) was a pedophile or a child molester (astaghfir’Allah), or to force on to these societies that men and women be married and consummate their marriages at the age of 18 or above? Can your understanding of childhood in the contemporary period adequately be applied to the past, or would it destroy those societies by crippling their functionality towards optimizing the overarching Normative?
I think I’ll leave that answer to my readers.
In Part III of this presentation we will be focusing on how Islamic Law incorporates the NCM model into its framework.
1 Habermas, Jurgen. “Some conditions for revolutionizing late capitalist societies.” Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 15 (1-2), 4
Categories: Responses to anti-Islamic Polemics