Though it seems that the world is so different now than it was at the time of the Prophet (pbuh&hp), we know that human beings are the same at their core. They possess the same base instincts, needs, and flaws that they had at the dawn of humanity and even later at the advent of Islam. We are prone to fall into the vices of our souls, being greedy, lustful, selfish, and angry, but we also have the potential to illuminate virtue and be generous, modest, caring, and patient. In any case, we remain the same creation of God even though the circumstances and mechanisms through which we carry out our innate desires change. Similarly, it behooves us to recognize that the universal and immutable code enacted by God for humanity is timeless and just as applicable now as it was at the beginning of the human experience, 1400 years ago, or even fifty years ago. This is because the All-Wise Creator always knows the state of humankind and the prevailing forces that seem to shift their tendencies.

For a believer, standards of morality do not change through time; they are now what they were before, and they will be the same tomorrow. Moreover, fickle sentiments of people and the mores of society do not define these standards. Yet, what we see is people shaping their lives according to the dictates of a transient human system—any system, which establishes a certain way of thinking, normative behavior, and social relationships. As such, human communities throughout history, and even today, have included the presence of people who choose to live an alternative lifestyle from what God has ordained. This includes not only the practices that people engage in privately, but also personal relationships between people, whether collegial, friendly, or intimate. For this reason, God describes the believers by saying, “(Paradise) is also for those who, when committing a sin or doing injustice to themselves, remember God and ask Him to forgive their sins.”1 He specifically says fahishah, which means a sin that is severe in its ugliness (i.e., an act that severely deviates from God’s code), and as such, it is used for sins like fornication or zina (infidelity). This description has warned humankind from the time of Prophet Adam (p), through the time of Prophet Lot (p), to the time of the last Messenger (pbuh&hp). Therefore, the only recourse when it comes to sin of any kind is abandonment of that sin; repentance and seeking forgiveness; and resolving never to repeat what God has expressly forbidden.

It is not easy to conquer, change, or even deny in some instances, certain tendencies that occur within a person, particularly when they feel natural. Yet, the course that a person chooses depends on how they answer the following question, “Is the course of my life determined by what I conclude is the truth, or do I follow what is laid out for me by the Creator?” Morality is an implicit component of this truth. A believer recognizes, despite every impulse, temptation, or desire to justify their life choices, that the code defining what is right and wrong must originate above the level of humankind, from a place that singularly and comprehensively knows people in all their states, conditions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and deficits. Thus, urge, attraction, infatuation, or so-called love notwithstanding, a believer honors their relationship with God before all else. The Holy Quran describes this willpower, strength, and fidelity in the story of Prophet Yusuf (p) and his response to the advances of Zulaykha, “She was determined to have him and were it not for his faith in God, he would certainly have yielded to her. Thus, did We protect him from evil and indecency. He was certainly one of Our sincere servants.”2

Considering these valuable lessons and insights mentioned in the Quran, it is important to realize that each one of us faces challenges because of the circumstances in which we live. Those challenges, however, prod at universal aspects of our human self, or nafs. As a result, we must address our flaws and shortcomings at their universal root, primordially our own selves, and hold ourselves to account. The pitfalls of our nafs are always the same despite what we might consider to be the collective advancement of human society and civilization.

First, we must recognize the challenges we face on a personal level., This requires introspection and a deep assessment of ourselves, and our faith tradition emphasizes the significance of self-accountability. Though we may face legitimate temptations, thoughts, and feelings that push us to stray from the path of God, part of the reason God placed us on this Earth is to train ourselves to resist these temptations. It may seem as though our challenges are different, given the way our environment may validate or exacerbate these temptations. So, one important thing to realize is that people in every time and place have had the urge to sin. These desires, which are sometimes quite strong, are not exclusive to right here and right now. Instead, it could be that they were just as overpowering hundreds of years ago, but that society did not speak of them as openly and acceptingly as we now do. Another misunderstanding we often fall into with regard to our personal struggles is assuming that resisting temptation and being obedient to God is an all-or-nothing state in which either one is a sinner or one is not, and that God does not see and reward our sincere struggle. The Quran tells us that obeying God is not a small feat and that continuous strife and toil in His way receives countless rewards. “One who obeys God and the Messenger is the friend of the prophets, saints, martyrs, and the righteous ones to whom God has granted His favors. They are the best friends that one can have.”3

Secondly, we in Islam have a responsibility to our community. Today, many people simultaneously belong to several different communities. These may be familial communities, a bond shared with immigrants from one’s native country, or communities based on common interests, careers, life stages, or places of residence. Moreover, today we also have the added complexity of interacting with our various communities both in person and online. With an increasingly connected world, our responsibility to conduct ourselves appropriately and seek betterment for our fellow community members increases. Unfortunately, this increasing connectedness can also be a double-edged sword. While we have easier interactions, we must also be cognizant that one audience may understand and appreciate our actions and words, and another may not. In any case, our responsibility of enjoining the good is first to the community of believers who share our Islamic values and will benefit from positive guidance. Indeed, the believers are a support for each other and a reminder to each other of the limits of God, “The believers, both male and female, are each other’s [guardians].”4

Beyond this, a believer is a beacon of goodness and spreads righteousness through words, actions, and even silent approval or disapproval. God says, “Let there be a group among you who will invite others to do good deeds, command them to obey the Law, and prohibit them from committing sins. These people will have eternal happiness.”5 According to Islam, seeking betterment in our communities is a measured process that requires deliberation, understanding, and wisdom. God says, “Call to the path of your Lord through wisdom and good advice and argue with them in the best manner.”6 This is because one must understand the appropriate place for advice and the potential impact of any corrective action, which often has unforeseen consequences.

Furthermore, a believer must recognize and account for the innate dignity of every person during this process, whether they agree with the other’s ideology or not. This includes standards of morality commonly practiced within the limits of a secular system such as the one we live in. A respect for that system and the citizens who occupy it, albeit while simultaneously holding onto one’s Islamic identity and convictions, is part of being a good Muslim in our home country. However, sometimes we may come across a family member or close companion, who engages in behavior that is not Islamic and immoral. In these circumstances, it is not possible or easy to merely ignore them or accept them as having a different lifestyle. In such cases, a believer must carefully advise and gently counsel them about the consequences of their behavior, most importantly with respect to God. Critically judging the person, coercion, shunning, or ostracizing them is not suitable, and it rarely brings about any positive change. Instead, seeking out religious help through care, engagement, and true concern for determining the cause of this behavior is imperative so the person does not feel isolated and, worse, drift further away. As such, we must maintain the lofty morals of Islam while being compassionate and not denigrating, because cordiality and humane treatment of others is not dependent on their adherence to Islam’s code of ethics and morality.

Moreover, from a personal perspective, although it is best to avoid any circumstances and situations in which the limits of God are violated, as long as one is within the bounds of Islam and the behavior of others does not directly impact one’s religious adherence and obedience to God, Islam demands civility and in some cases compassion (i.e., in the event it can turn the other towards reform).

Thirdly, we live in a world as members of not only our geographic and Muslim community, but part of organized governed states called nations. We are citizens of nations, and thus contribute to the fabric of what defines a nation. There is no nation in the world that does not have areas that it can improve, including the challenges of corruption, detrimental laws, and self-serving rulers. As Muslims living in the West, we face different challenges in dealing with both the society and citizens of our nations than Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries. In addition, there are systemic obstacles created for Muslims, as evidenced by contemporary challenges around Islamophobia. As citizens of a nation, Muslims must be active in contributing to the decision-making that derives from their constituent base (e.g., vote, run for office). With the goal of upholding morality, decency, and justice for all, Muslims must actively participate in the national debate on the values that set the standards in our local communities using the inspiration we gain from the Quran and prophetic teachings. We have a role in preserving our religious values so we can continue to grow and seek perfection, in addition to setting an environment for our children to grow.

Finally, let us consider the recourse of a Muslim who faces moral challenges, both from a personal and social perspective. As a believer, one must honestly confront, assess, and resolve moral deficits. Clearly, the first and most necessary step is to stop the sinful act and institute daily mechanisms that will prevent a relapse. These include a constant remembrance of God and an increase in worship, maybe in the form of fasting (which builds patience and fortitude) and recommended prayers, or nawafil. Oftentimes, sinful behavior emanates from behavior that has become habitual, and to some degree subconscious; thus, the believer must attempt to remind themselves, or have someone else remind them, of the triggers or circumstances that bring about the behavior and the moments of greatest susceptibility. On the other hand, moral decay may occur due to personal issues (e.g., emotional), which need careful addressing with expertise, while simultaneously focusing on how the believer can return to the obedience of God. Many communities have professionally trained religious personnel (e.g., chaplains) who can listen to the struggles of a believing person, share both spiritual and practical advice that is Islamically sound, and continuously guide the individual. Moreover, national religious organizations can connect the believers to the right professionals if their communities do not have such expertise. The key is to immediately seek out help from the right source and strive for reform, and not allow feelings of shame or guilt to prevent one from returning to the right path of God. Every human being struggles with morality and firm adherence to God’s religion, and we all need help and support. Hence, we ask God Almighty to give us the strength and resilience to preserve what we believe and live by His code.

1.The Holy Quran 3:135. All Quranic quotes in this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2. The Holy Quran 12:24.
3. The Holy Quran 4:69.
4.The Holy Quran 9:71.
5.The Holy Quran 3:104.
6.The Holy Quran 16:125.

1.     قال تعالى: ((وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا فَعَلُوا فَاحِشَةً أَوْ ظَلَمُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ ذَكَرُوا اللَّـهَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا لِذُنُوبِهِمْ)
2.     قال تعالى: ((وَلَقَدْ هَمَّتْ بِهِ ۖ وَهَمَّ بِهَا لَوْلَا أَن رَّأَىٰ بُرْهَانَ رَبِّهِ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ لِنَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ السُّوءَ وَالْفَحْشَاءَ ۚ إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُخْلَصِينَ.)
3.     قال تعالى: ((وَمَن يُطِعِ اللَّـهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِينَ ۚ وَحَسُنَ أُولَـٰئِكَ رَفِيقًا.)
4.     قال تعالى: ((وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ)
5.     قال تعالى: ((وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ.)
6.     قال تعالى: ((ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ)

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