Fri. Jun 14th, 2024
Dr Amin Rehmani

Introduction

Morality is a subject that is found in many disciplines such as philosophy, religion, psychology, sociology, law and of course education. It has been also debated in politics.

Moral education is all about virtues and values that are important to have in one’s life as well as in social and communal life. It is about making choices between right and wrong and good and bad. Some aspects of morals and ethics are governed by the law that is promulgated by respective governments for the public good. Aspects of morality come through social and cultural norms, tribal customs and prevalent general attitudes and behaviours in a given society. Moral and ethical principles are also derived from a set of religious beliefs. Secular societies view morality as separate from religion whereas, religious societies emphasize moral principles that are derived from and are embedded in their religious beliefs. Both lead to a search for meaning and purpose in life.

In the field of education, the importance of imparting moral and ethical education can hardly be overemphasized, especially in this technological era of increasing digitization where students have to make choices of its use and abuse and in deciphering what is right and what is wrong. But are they equipped to make such choices on their own? Does our curriculum plans, instructional materials and pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning are designed and developed to prepare our children, teenagers and youth to have a deeper understanding of making the right choices? These are some pertinent questions politicians, governments, educationists, philosophers, social scientists and social media persons need to ask themselves.

Morality is not limited to issues of technology only, it pertains to our whole way of life, our attitudes and behaviours towards others, our values of integrity, generosity, service to others, respect and mutual coexistence, shunning away prejudices, understanding of the role of diversity and pluralism. There is a notion of work ethics, professional ethic, ethics in delivering services, respecting and recognizing rights of others; ethics to having a responsible attitude towards our environment, leaving the world for the next generation as a better place to live.  Being civilized and taking care of natural resources, their prudent use, these and many more aspects are to be informed by ethical and moral values.

Ethics plays a crucial role in governing people and in ruling over countries. Muslim history informs us of such books which were written on norms and ways of ruling over Muslim countries. One such book was written by Muhammad b. Ali is known as ibn Tiktaka (1262-1309 AD) entitled الـفـخـري فـي الآداب الـسـلـطـانـيـة و الـدول الإسـلامـيـة Al-Fakhri fi al-adaab al-Sultaniya wa al-duwal al-Islamiyya, English rendering ‘al-Fakhri; on the systems of government and the Moslem dynasties’ (was prescribed for MA in Arabic, Karachi University, has been translated into several languages and was first published in 1858 from Egypt).

Counsel for kings: wisdom and politics in tenth-century Iran. Volume II, The Naṣīḥat al-mulūk published in 2016 from Edinburgh University Press and سلوك المالك في تدبير الممالك  Sulūk al-mālik fī tadbīr al-mamālik ( 2010) Author Ibn Muhammad ibn Abi al Rabi.

Such books were wary of how rulers should rule over Muslim countries; councils were given to them and they provided ethical frameworks. One of the recent books in Urdu is Akhlaqiat ek taruf by Dr Muhammad Amin.

Today when we hear phrases or words coming out of the parliament regarding politics and ethics, they speak volumes about corruptions, corrupt practices, manoeuvring, lack of integrity and so on within the political ranks.

Moral Education and Religious Education

In some societies, these are two distinct areas of study. Religion is seen as a set of beliefs and ritual practices whereas, morals are understood to be social and cultural norms and how one ought to live within those norms. It is to rationalize what is good and what is bad and make choices between right and wrong.

Societies that are germane to religious teachings draw their moral beliefs and ethical norms from their religion. Islam is a way of life that guides on how to live in a society, what are the responsibilities of a Muslim towards his/her family, kinship, neighbours whether Muslims or not, respecting others, doing honest trade, avoiding hoarding, bribes, corruption and ill-doing. Doing good, being generous, helping others, respecting and caring parents, being tolerant, spending in way of Allah, giving charity etc., the very fabric of Islam is based on ethics. Yet when we look at our society we find that little we act on and drive our ethics from our Faith.

Generally speaking, ours is one of the most intolerant societies where hate, enmity and corruption prevail, bribery is the norm of the day to get things done. We lack in our duties towards the State in paying our taxes. How far the golden three principles of the father of the nation, faith, discipline and unity are being practised is known to all and sundry. The teachings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) are based on morals and ethics in all walks of life. He (s.a.s) not only preached ethics but practised it all through his life. How far do our people and for that matter our children know the principles of the state of Madina, the first tolerant and pluralistic state, where people of all faiths lived together. Muslim societies, for centuries, followed these principles.  

It is not to portray a very dismay picture of our society. Others are doing much good to the people. There are philanthropic and charitable institutions that help people by providing education, health and other support and such individuals and institutions are well known in our country and their work is also recognized internationally.

Yet, we must ask ourselves, have we gone wrong somewhere?  How much weightage has been given in our curriculum on morals and ethics? What educational materials are available for inculcating moral education in children and youth? Such questions arise due to everyday events that take place in our society: young girls and even kids are raped, children being abducted, molested and killed, women being harassed on roads, at workplaces; young boys being abused at the hands of their teachers, fathers molesting daughters, mothers at times kill their young kids (even though reasons may be varied, poverty, illness, hunger, squalor, stress etc.).

 A relevant question to ask: would teaching morals and ethics alone solve all the ills of society? How about issues that may lead to unethical behaviours such as poverty, illness, squalor, not having a shelter, lack of civic facilities, not having enough parks, gardens, playgrounds, picnic areas to vent one’s frustrations and stress etc. all may also lead to social behaviours that have nothing to do with how one practices one’s faith. Democratic norms, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, freedom to move around without fear (though, within the ethical principles and framework), have respect for diversity and pluralism, of mutual co-existence all contribute to a healthy society where these principles are valued and nurtured.

Teaching of Ethics

Educating children in morals and ethical norms is part of their holistic development. Their growth and development devoid of ethics whether based on societal norms, law or religious beliefs would be considered as a peril to society. How far and how morals or ethical values can be taught are philosophical and pedagogical questions. Ethical values can be exemplified rather than taught, how social and cultural norms prevail and practised by elders would have an impact on younger generations. When a toddler learns to walk for the first time, parents hold his/her hand or give a walker so that he/she does not fall and can learn to keep a balance. I think similar is true for morals. Parents, elders, teachers and other people in the society ought to set and lead young generations through examples.

As far as classroom teaching is concerned, one pedagogical approach could be to teach morals through stories. Stories usually have a moral to teach at the end. Secondly, to give scenarios to children to talk about and discuss which path they would choose and why. Students need to think back and reflect before sharing their decisions of choices. This could also be done through drawings and paintings of certain events. Real-life situations may be related to a student’s life. Examples of daily events from newspapers can be shared and discussed in the class. Students may be asked to give their opinion on a burning topic under discussion on social and electronic media. Certain dramas or movies with strong moral messages can be useful resource. Case studies may also prove to be useful. Such approaches can also help in developing decision-making skills and analytical skills. Respecting other views and without being judgmental about someone’s choices may develop a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, the value of diversity and empathy.  

Ethics need to be interwoven in all subjects and particularly in the subjects of Islamiyat and Ethics. There is much to be desired when one looks at the national curriculum for secondary and higher secondary levels for these subjects.

In conclusion, much needs to be done in the area of teaching ethics and morality to students from an early age. Curriculum and textbooks need to be imaginative, as well as integrative. Socio-economic issues ought to be addressed by the respective governments. A healthy, prosperous, just and educated society may lead to better social and ethical behaviours, free of corruption, bribery, squalor, poverty and moral decay. The teaching of morals is just one aspect, many other aspects need to be taken care of to nurture morality. 

By Dr. Amin Rehmani

The author is a writer, Educationist, PhD. from the University of London. His areas of interest include, curriculum development, teacher education, teaching and learning and assessment. His writings are available at AKU e- Commons and academia.edu

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