Islam and the Decalogue

I first noticed something unusual about Islam during the 1980s when I was doing research for my book, Ethics in Context. I devoted one section of the book to the “Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule, in its negative or positive formulations, is incorporated not only in Christianity (Matt. 7:12), where Jesus declares it is a summary of “the law and the prophets,” but also in other major religions. For example, in Judaism, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”; in Hinduism, “Let no man do to another that which would be repugnant to himself”’; in Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”; in Confucianism, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do unto others.”

I took this as evidence of the relative universality of rational ethical principles in the world. But in Islam, I could find nothing of the sort, rather just the opposite – a reverse Golden Rule, so to speak: “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Be merciful to one another, but ruthless to the unbelievers” (Qur’an 48:29); “Never take unbelievers for friends” (3:28). Furthermore, the commands in the Qur’an to slay the unbelievers wherever they find them (2:191), not befriend them (3:28), fight them and show them harshness (9:123), and smite their heads (47:4) – accentuate distance from the Golden Rule.

So I decided at that time just to omit any reference to Islam in that chapter. As I have discovered in further researches, however, the ethical/religious problems within Islam are even more serious. Just as Islam teaches the reverse of the Golden Rule, it teaches the reverse of the last seven of the Ten Commandments, which have to do with morality:

  • 4 th Commandment, Honoring Father and Mother: Al-Azhar University, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam states that retaliation is generally required for murder, but not subject to retaliation is “a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” Honor killings can go in the other direction, too. Boys captured by ISIS report that they were ordered to kill their parents, according to injunctions in the Qur’an – Suras 9:23, 58:22, 60:4, which mandate complete hatred of, and disassociation from unbelievers, even if they are kindred or parents.
  • 5th Commandment, no killing: Muhammad is considered by Muslims to be the “perfect man”, and offered numerous examples of murder for devout Muslims to follow – beginning with the murder of poets who ridiculed him in Medina and Mecca, and ending with beheading of hundreds of “unbelievers” in his various raids and battles. Osama bin Laden, in his 1996 “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” justified his Fatwa to kill Americans by quoting Quranic verses 3:145, 47:4-6, 2:154, 9:14, 8:72, and 9:5 (the “verse of the sword”). Terrorism is specifically supported in verses 8:12, and 3:151, and a hadith of Bukhari 52:256. And conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by execution, according to Bukhari 9.84.57, “[Muhammad ordered] ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him’.”
Persian painting of Muhammad’s vision (artist unknown), c. 1320
Persian painting of Muhammad’s vision (artist unknown), c. 1320
  • 6th Commandment, no adultery: “Adultery” in common parlance signifies infidelity to one’s spouse. But for married Muslim males, allowed up to four wives, easy divorce, and slave girls (4:3), it would require extreme carelessness to commit adultery. The Prophet himself offers the example of “avoiding adultery” with thirteen wives, concubines, and slave girls, permitted by Allah (Sura 33:50). For women and unmarried males, however, adultery is possible and severely punishable.
  • 7th Commandment, no stealing: Ali Dashti, in his biography of Muhammad, Twenty-Three Years, shows how, by combining in a single massive force, Muslims were able to capitalize on the already existing customs of Arab tribes “to indulge their greed by rustling two or three hundred camels in a raid on a weaker tribe,” and “became able to seize far more booty,” and “to conquer rich and fertile lands.” Sura 8 of the Qur’an provides comprehensive instructions on obtaining booty in war, including a special revelation (8:41) that “God and his apostle” should receive 1/5 of the spoils.
  • 8th Commandment, no lying: Unlike Christian martyrs, who were willing to die rather than deny their religion, Muslims are allowed by taqiyya to lie about their religious beliefs when this will support the advancement of Islam. Nonie Darwish, in The Devil We Don’t Know, describes how Islamic Sharia law incorporates taqiyya: “Sharia itself allows lies not only with infidels, but also to solve disputes among Muslims and in the wife/husband relationship, thereby covering practically all relationships. . . .The individual Muslim is taught that protection of Islam is a sacred communal obligation that is more important than family, life, or happiness.”
  • 9th Commandment, not coveting a neighbor’s wife: Muhammad himself, the model of Islamic virtue, offers the best example of nullifying this command. Smitten with infatuation for Zeinab, the wife of his adopted son, Zeid, he received approval from Allah (33:37) to take her for a wife. Similar incidents include his infatuation for Aisha, when she was six, who later became his favorite wife; and for a newly created Jewish widow, Reihana, taking her to bed the same night he executed her husband.
  • 10th Commandment, not coveting a neighbor’s goods: Wafa Sultan in A God Who Hates discusses the cultural and historical conditions which accentuated and still fuel the importance of envy in Islam: “Bedouins feared raiding on the one hand, and relied on it as a means of livelihood on the other. Then Islam came along and canonized it. Muslims in the twenty-first century still fear they may be raided by others and live every second of their lives preparing to raid someone else.”

As I suggested in a previous column, Islam may be best understood as a worldwide cult. It enforces honesty and loyalty and fairness among believers, but entails no obligation to respect the ethical canons of “unbelievers,” which include the Golden Rule and the Decalogue.

Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.