x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Reinforce civil and religious values

A recent fatwa by Dubai's Grand Mufti illustrates the intersection of religious and civil values.

For many motorists, traffic rules are a necessary aspect of everyday life. But there are others who, quite alarmingly, seem to believe that compliance with man-made safety rules compromises their trust in God.

As The National reported yesterday, some think of compliance with safety precautions as makrooh, an act intended to evade God's ordained plan.

That is why the statement by Dubai's Grand Mufti - that ignoring traffic laws is sinful - is important to change widespread attitudes. Dr Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz Al Haddad explained that taking safety precautions is encouraged by Islam. Wearing a seat belt, for example, is a sensible means of protection.

The mufti told the story of a man who asked Prophet Mohammed whether to leave his camel loose and trust in Allah. The Prophet replied: "You tie it up and put your trust in Allah."

The fatwa is the mufti's own opinion with a degree of authority because of his position, but motorists are unlikely to immediately change their behaviour. If a person's belief system questions wearing a seat belt, it will naturally take a while and much effort to change that attitude.

But the mufti's statement also sheds light on a related, more general issue: there is often a differentiation between civil values, which promote the well-being of society and the state, and conventional values, which protect belief and traditions. In many cases, these two spheres should be mutually reinforcing, but they are nonetheless viewed as separate.

In general, people in the region tend to privilege conventional values, such as not stealing or lying, more than civil values, such abiding by traffic rules. Many young drivers, for example, do not wear seat belts for fear of being ridiculed by their friends or colleagues - if it were a question about stealing or lying, peer pressure would operate more positively.

Many religious leaders maintain that civil values - or any acts that advance society - are part of the faith that is so integral to everyday life in the region. But nurturing such values must not be limited to religion.

Values must be promoted through education, in family, schools and at work. Promoting them is a more sustainable strategy than heavy fines or punitive measures, especially regarding behaviour that costs hundreds of lives every year.