Are “shared values” universal?

Ghulam Esposito Haydar is the head of Manchester New Muslim Network

Ghulam Esposito Haydar from New Muslim Network describes his encounter with an Egyptian humanist from a Muslim background.

I managed to stop a particular lady in her tracks one day. It all started with an initiation card which generated some interest. She asked me what I was doing.  I explained that we were discussing the purpose of life – “Is it all fun and games, to live and die or do we have some sort of greater purpose?”

What was interesting about this lady was her background. She was from Cairo in Egypt and her name was Fatimah, the same name as the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw). She was in the UK to improve her English. Although she was from a Muslim background, she didn’t believe in religion. She was a humanist. She believed in shared human values and the ultimate purpose in life is to live a “good moral life”. She admitted to being a theist, but she disagreed that the Creator would provide us with strict guidelines in the form of an organised religion. It was enough just to be good to one another and that would be it. There was no place for religious guidelines.

Are “shared values” universal?

It’s worth noting that a person should be praised for having a moral perspective of life, especially living in a time where many openly celebrate their lack of morality – a dog eat dog world – it’s all about survival and getting as far as you can. Such attitudes are a poison to any society and are often the precursor to many crimes. So I praised Fatimah and she agreed with me that all religions share a moral perspective. She also affirmed it makes sense to believe in a “Creator” since everything that exists within the universe suggests design and creation.

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Since everything in life suggests a purpose. Even the inanimate non living things seem to serve us in one way or another, wouldn’t it make sense to question our purpose? Fatimah agreed with this, but believed it was up to humans to collectively decide on our purpose, and she had already decided that our purpose is to live with each other with shared values. On the surface of it, agreeing on common values and living by them seems like a reasonable way of living. No harm in it right? Let me explain why there is a problem.

As humans it is good to share values. I am not in anyway downplaying this, but these values are subjective and also limited. You have to understand the limitations of subjective morality. What may be “moral” and “good” to one person or even a group of people depends on their level of intellect, their ability and their life experiences. What is good or moral in one part of the world could be completely different in another. Some of our values may even clash. It can even lead to war. It has lead to wars!

Purpose of life

So what about our purpose in life? Surely this concept is susceptible to change in the same way as morality is if we adopt the principle of working it out as we go along by ourselves. An individual’s ability to think and create an understanding of the world changes with their age, their ability and their experiences.

During childhood, life is all about fun and games. As you move in to your teens, life becomes about being cool and accepted. Shortly after, it moves over to obsessing about coursework and exams and when this finishes, it finally becomes about the career and then the family.

My point is, our perspective on life is always changing. So is it possible to rely on ourselves when the variables that contribute to our way of thinking are always changing? The standards to determine the ultimate criterion for purpose in life and the moral framework in which to live such as intellect, ability, emotions and experiences will always vary, individually and collectively. If this is the case, surely it makes more sense in believing the One who created us, and provided us with the solutions to these problems. Universal standard truths, purpose and how to live.

As Muslims, this is what we believe. It makes sense to not only believe in the Creator, but to follow His guidance as He knows best. He can tell us why He created us and how to live a worthwhile life. He can tell us who He is and what He has prepared for us after we leave this world. Anything other than taking this approach is at best, a best guess. It is speculation, no matter how hard we try. Our Creator in His guidance can provide us with the detail on how to have a relationship with Him and how to live with one another to live a righteous “moral” life.

The Creator’s guidance, Allah’s guidance is the standard by which to implement morality as He knows best, and thus religion is the standard in which to live by.

Fatimah agreed it made sense and would be looking into Islam to gain a better understanding of God and how to live a meaningful life.

You can follow Ghulam on Twitter @ghulestero

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