Morality and societies


Respecting laws is what makes a society


Societies world over base laws on a balance between rights of individuals vis a vis other members of the society and between rights of groups vis a vis those of organisations, governments and society as a whole, and in the context of the bigger picture by using governing relations between one nation and another. Many laws are based and developed over time on religious values and morality. Though it may be easier to define religious values being directly a derivative of one’s religion (though many a time the different interpretations may lead to contradictions), morality may be a more difficult value to define. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says; “The term “morality” can be used either 1) descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society a) or some other group, such as a religion, b) or accepted by an individual for her own behavior or 2) normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.”

Morality is not restricted to a religion, but generally accepted by different societies as an accepted code of conducting oneself. There may not be any explicitly laid out rules of morality unlike religious laws or laws dealing with rights and responsibilities yet there may be an overlapping between religious values and morality. Distinguished from the moral behavior is the immoral behavior that flies in the face of the former. Collins dictionary defines immorality as: “1) The quality, character, or state of being immoral 2) immoral behavior, especially in sexual matters, licentiousness, profligacy or promiscuity 3) an immoral act.” To quote one example only Nefarious Crimes, Contested Justice: Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice 1557-1789 by Joanne M Ferraro is based on two themes: the first is incest and the second is murder of newly born children by their mothers. Both are immoral acts as well as being religiously unacceptable and punishable under law.

According to Bradford G Schleifer, “In our society, the nuclear family is the last bastion of morality, and its defences are being breached.” (The Real Truth Magazine) The reasons for this breach are many, including a ‘faster’ lifestyle, desire for financial and career development leading to lesser involvement with the offspring to imbibe in them moral values, the evolving of nucleus families resulting in a shrinking role of the elders, excessive exposure to issues owing to greater access to information, internet etc. Acceptable behaviour has changed from society to society, from different times within a society and may be different for different groups within a society at the same time.

Bradford G Schleifer goes on to connect morality with laws by saying, “Legislators have introduced bills and statutes that would give pedophiles and other “alternative lifestyles” legal standing.” Succinctly put indeed. Issues need to be faced in order to be addressed. This brings us to different nations developing laws governing their societies and handling of issues that are specific to their societies. Let me add here that the degree to which societies are successful in maintaining a moral fabric within will also depend upon providing healthy outlets for the youth in expending their energies, education, career advancement opportunities, access to justice, creating a culture of fairness and merit, and above all, a sense of positive direction to the society. In any given society, laws govern the working within. In absence of laws or where their implementation is weak, societies are little more than the jungle rule with individuals taking law in their own hands and some being more equal than others, being treated as above the law and thereby punishment.

Coming to Pakistan, the personal laws for the predominant Muslim majority in Pakistan are governed by Islamic laws. Islam is a fair religion. Everything enunciated within is based on logic and maintaining harmony within the family, the basic unit of the societal structure and the society itself. Many crimes that damage both or either are punishable under law.

The Constitution of Pakistan 1973, under Article(s) 62 and 63, metes out qualifications for members of Parliament. “The qualifications relating to Islamic way of life and Islamic teachings and practices are not applicable to non-Muslim candidates, though they are required to have good moral reputation.” (Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan by Justice Muhammad Munir (1996) p531)

Article 62 (d) that lays out the benchmark of qualifications of a member aspiring for seat of Parliament states, “He who is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions.” This simple one line lays a heavy cross on the shoulders of a Parliamentarian to lead by example and to have had a clean reputation, not having fallen below the standards acceptable.

The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 under Article 63 (g) states a citizen stands disqualified if having committed an act against morality and having been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction on the charge. Clause (h) of the same article disqualifies him if convicted for any offence involving moral turpitude or “sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release”. Moral turpitude is defined as, “An act of baseness, vileness, or the depravity in private and social duties which man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to accepted and customary role of right and duty between man and man.” (Black’s Law Dictionary 1891-1991, p1008)

Therefore drinking, having extramarital affairs or sex without marriage (as stated also in The Offence of Zina (Enforcement Of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979, Ordinance No VII of 1979), crimes of moral turpitude, so on and so forth too are not acceptable and fall outside the ambit of acceptable moral behaviour. But in crimes of sex, having intercourse with a member of the opposite sex is not the only crime.

We live in changing times where more complex manners of committing wrongs are coming to the fore. With changing times, laws too, need to undergo changes. Laws, after all, are meant for societies, societies are not for law. Nations who fail to grasp this basic difference are condemned to destruction of the moral fabric of their societies.

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