Ethics on the Internet: a Much-Needed Concept

Berzikir © Muhammad Fadhli Adnan | Dreamstime.com

Ethics and morals are very often in short supply on the Internet. Yet it is a part of our lives that constitutes an exact replica of the real world, therefore it cannot be perceived as a value-free zone. The levers for promoting these usually take the form of strict regulation which in a free society may be interpreted as excessive government intervention. However, the freedom to do whatever you want is like the freedom to cut off your finger – it hurts badly and it is a fake.

The ethical principles valid for the Internet are first and foremost based on honesty: do not cheat. Do not cheat to get access to a person’s private information without the owner’s approval, do not cheat taking copyright material without the owner’s approval, do not cheat pretending to be someone else and leading others into delusion. In short, you should be honest and respect the rights and property of others in the Internet.

The enforceability of ethical norms in the Internet is the real issue at stake here. While everyone will nod in agreement to calls to be ethical, these same people will continue doing just the opposite and here ‘mind policing’ is not the answer. Neither is the creation of ideal society where one wouldn’t need to cheat, eavesdrop, use bad language and be debauched. This is alas science fiction. The only safeguard against unethical and immoral behaviour is staunch moral principles not to be shaken by the calamities of this world. And the only place in today’s world where one can find them is Islam.

For a Muslim, adherence to the commandments of the Holy Quran holds more value than in any other religion; the Holy Quran is a law in itself, therefore mere reference to a principle made in the Holy Quran is a reason sound enough to admonish a Muslim and make him change his ways.

Having said that, we must at the same time acknowledge that temptation and sin are still allowed by Allah to linger in this world thus diverting chaste minds from righteousness. There will be Muslims who sin, there will be Muslims whose behaviour is at variance with the teachings of the Holy Quran. One must admit that. But with the moral principles of ethics being preached as Allah’s commandments, the percentage of Muslims who swerve will be much less. Remember, the attitude to sin in ordinary Muslims is much more conscientious than that of the followers of any other religions. A Muslim will definitely think twice, no matter how hardened a soul he is.

It is not enough to take notice of Muslim ethical values. Those values are universal and apply in all societies and cultures. What is required is to actually be a Muslim. Others take notice, while Muslims adhere.

For those who only ‘take notice’, the only remaining answer is a set of levers limiting their ‘fake freedom’ to indulge in sin. Yet this again relies on a person’s ‘moral maturity’. So the answer is obviously dawa: talking to people, setting example, offering help.

Internet ethics is a game for two, what you give, you get back in return. And what exactly you must give is enshrined in the moral principles of your Muslim faith.