Where Do You Get Your Values?
So where do you get your values from now? A muslim once quipped to me after I told them I had left my religion. It’s an interesting question, and we’ll get to that answer soon enough. What’s even more interesting is to ask the Muslim where they get their values from.
They might say from Islam. Or perhaps from the Koran. Or perhaps from God. Yet, if you dig a little deeper, that is not where they get their values. If that is where Muslims got their values, there would not be so many different interpretations of Islam. Give a recipe to someone, and they’re going to basically make the same meal. Instead, every Muslim I’ve met, especially those in the West, has their own interpretation of Islam. Ask your average Muslim about music, prayer, inheritance, war, violence, gender relations… and you will get a million different answers. It gets even funnier if you ask many Western Muslim woman about Islamic values, and somehow it won’t include a man’s right to concubines, or her duty to obey her husband.
They will call it interpretation, but all that means is that they are choosing their own values. It is ultimately, what most of us did growing up as Muslims. It is what almost every Muslim does today. It is why a Hijabi Muslim will call a Niqabi crazy. It is why some grow beards and others eat non-halal meat. Many Muslims will even seek out teachers who share a particular interpretation they want or they go shopping for fatwas to let them do what they ultimately want to do anyways. It is why growing up in South Africa, my Islam was heavily against slavery and racism as it was infused with my up bringing during apartheid South Africa.
In a sense, Muslims get their values from the same place every other person on this planet does. From their own mind. They take in values passed down to us by our history, culture, books, schools, family, life experience, and many other sources. They combine that with their own heart and intellect and come out with their values. The main difference being that non-religious people can’t just point to a book to say with the religious powers of the heavens, that God wants it this way. There is a certain flexibility that comes when you realize we're all just people trying to live a life. That is the answer to where I get my values from. The same as every other person on this planet.
As if the only reason they don’t do certain things is because it is prohibited in the religious texts. They don’t kill, steal, rape, have sex with their sister, drink their father semen or whatever examples they bring to bring sickness to your stomach, simply because it is banned in the texts. Well many really bad things are not banned in the texts. Slavery is not banned. Heck, even beastility is not banned in the Koran and it is not mentioned in Bukhari or Muslim hadiths. Neither are concubines. Not to mention how many bad things does Islam really stop. Rape, murder, theft, alcoholism, drugs, and every other things that affects other societies happens in Muslim societies. In many cases, they are worse in Muslim societies.
I asked the wife of a pretty religious orthodox man once about her husband’s right to take a second wife without her permission. Being quite orthodox herself, she said yes, But that’s not the scholar she follows. As if that someone invalidates her husband’s right. I wonder what she thinks of her right to be supported by her husband? Can he find a scholar to disallow her right. Or what if he find a scholar that validates his right to take a second wife. In their own choice in scholar, they've already chosen their values.Oh it is at times interesting to hear about values from the Muslim perspective.
There is however one interesting part about this. Many Muslims will turn to consult others for guidance. While, this is normally a religious scholar or imam, it is nonetheless, an opinion derived from some framework. Much like Christians might seek the advice of the local priest, or others consult an arbitrator or therapist, or someone studies a philosophy or a way of life. There is a method to living life according to some principles. Without a framework people tend to act carelessly and unfairly.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like religious people have an upper hand here. In my life, the number of religious people who simply take what they want without consulting a ‘fair’ source is simply vast. Men demanding the right of their wife’s obedience, while not performing their manly duties, such as supporting the home. Women demanding their right to be supported, while not performing their female duties, such as taking care of the home, being chaste, and being pleasing to their husband. Sons demanding their right to a greater share of the inheritance than daughters, while not taking care of their parents. Parents demanding their rights over children, while not really being very religious or potentially not doing their rights unto children. Islam is one of the biggest in terms of right and responsibilities. Yet having been a Muslim, I’ve seen many rights invoked with religious fervour, but how many would handle those responsibilities?
People who have left religion, like many in the secular age, should remember that we are human and need such guidance and we should seek it out as anyone else does. I’ve met some people who have left faith who unsure of forging their own values. Partially, I think this is because Islam is so overpowering in their life. It typically takes over family and culture, leaving everything seemingly from Islam; the very thing they are rejecting. But I write this to remind them, as well as myself, that we have been crafting our own values all along. We just need to keep that up.
It probably won’t take a religious source, but it might take philosophy or ethical training, or simply a therapist. It might be based on what has worked culturally or historically. Whatever it is, it is yours to discover. We will find seek out a value system that agrees with our mind and seek to adhere to it.