Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Ethic of Reciprocity

By Vazeer Alam Mydin Meera

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim as an outspoken backbencher a year ago, in commenting on the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Subashini v. Saravanan was reported in the media as saying:
“To Muslims, I say it is unfair to expect non-Muslims like Subashini to go the syariah court even if there is perfect justice in the syariah system because the law gives her the right to pursue her remedy in the civil courts and nowhere else. Muslims can do away with the civil courts if they so wish. They can seek changes to the law to incorporate criminal, contract, property laws, etc. as part of syariah law. What Muslims cannot do is to expect non-Muslims to submit to the syariah court.
How would we feel if it was the other way round? How would the Muslims feel if they have to submit to a Hindu court or to any other religious court? We should not do unto others what we do not want others to do unto us. That is the ultimate test of reasonableness. That is the test of a just legal system.”
I couldn’t agree more with the Zaid and am sure that most right thinking members of society would likewise agree with Zaid. It was with the aim promoting a just legal system that the Bar Council organised the now infamous forum which has become the focal point of debate both nationally and internationally. Many have commented on the impropriety of the protesters who stormed the forum resulting in its premature closure. It was indeed a sad occasion. The action of these fringe elements has further tarnished the good name of a religion that espouses peace and submission. I do not intend to delve into this aspect of the controversy. I would rather focus on a different aspect.

The golden rule of reciprocity is a fundamental moral principle that is common to all major world religion, faith and believe systems; flowing from ancient writings to the modern. Simply put, it extols us to treat others just as we would expect to be treated. Among its earliest appearance in English is Earl Rivers’ translation of a saying of Socrates (Dictes and Sayenges of the Philosophirs, 1477): “Do to others as thou wouldst they should do to thee, and do to none other but as thou would be done to.”

In many ancient cultures, traditions, and value systems, this golden rule has been a cornerstone of its teachings. I had occasion to browse the internet to see how far and wide this rule is applied and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is indeed a universally extolled principle of human behaviour. The website at is a treasure trove of information and reproduced below is the application of the principle in some of the major faith and believe systems:

Baha'i World Faith:

"Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not." "Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself." Baha'u'llah

"And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself." Epistle to the Son of the Wolf


"...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." Udana-Varga 5:18


"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31, King James Version.

"...and don't do what you hate...", Gospel of Thomas 6. The Gospel of Thomas is one of about 40 gospels that were widely accepted among early Christians, but which never made it into the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).


"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" Analects 15:23

"Tse-kung asked, 'Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?' Confucius replied, 'It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.'" Doctrine of the Mean 13.3

"Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence." Mencius VII.A.4

Ancient Egyptian:

"Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, 109 - 110 Translated by R.B. Parkinson. The original dates to 1970 to 1640 BCE and may be the earliest version ever written.


“This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517


"(5) Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity."

"(11) Humanists affirm that individual and social problems can only be resolved by means of human reason, intelligent effort, critical thinking joined with compassion and a spirit of empathy for all living beings. " 4

"Don't do things you wouldn't want to have done to you, British Humanist Society. 3


"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." The Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad - "Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths."

"Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you." — The Farewell Sermon of Prophet Muhammad


"Therefore, neither does he [a sage] cause violence to others nor does he make others do so." Acarangasutra 5.101-2.

"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self." Lord Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara

"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. "Sutrakritanga 1.11.33


"...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.", Leviticus 19:18

"What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." Talmud, Shabbat 31a.

"And what you hate, do not do to any one." Tobit 4:15 6

Native American Spirituality:

"Respect for all life is the foundation." The Great Law of Peace.

"All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves. All is really One." Black Elk

"Do not wrong or hate your neighbor. For it is not he who you wrong, but yourself." Pima proverb.

Roman Pagan Religion:

"The law imprinted on the hearts of all men is to love the members of society as themselves."


"The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form"

"Be charitable to all beings, love is the representative of God." Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga


Compassion-mercy and religion are the support of the entire world". Japji Sahib

"Don't create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone." Guru Arjan Devji

"No one is my enemy, none a stranger and everyone is my friend." Guru Arjan Devji


"The basis of Sufism is consideration of the hearts and feelings of others. If you haven't the will to gladden someone's heart, then at least beware lest you hurt someone's heart, for on our path, no sin exists but this." Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, Master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order.


"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien.

"The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful." Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49


"We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent of all existence of which we are a part." Unitarian principles.


"And it harm no one, do what thou wilt" (i.e. do what ever you will, as long as it harms nobody, including yourself). One's will is to be carefully thought out in advance of action. This is called the Wiccan Rede.


"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts."


"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself". Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5

"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others." Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

The above are some examples of the ethic of reciprocity found in the major religious and ethic systems of the world. If we use this ethic as the starting point in finding solutions to inter-faith issues, such as those challenging us in present times, I am sure we would be able to arrive at a just solution within a just legal system. If only we let reason to prevail, we can achieve much more than the divisiveness that is engulfing us.

Reading Zaid’s comments brought to mind the 1961 Norman Rockwell masterpiece called “The Golden Rule”. I first saw this painting in the Readers’ Digest some thirty years ago. Rockwell masterfully illustrates the ethic of reciprocity as a common theme of all the major religions of the world by depicting people of every race, creed and colour with dignity and respect; with the words “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” running across the canvas. This one of a kind painting is now portrayed in a mosaic mural reproduction in the United Nations Secretariat at New York presented by Mrs. Nancy Reagan, the then First Lady of the United States, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations in 1985. It is generally regarded as one of the finest works of art, with a theme of universal brotherhood. This aptly illustrates the universal application of the rule.

The Malaysian nation will be celebrating 51 years of independence in ten days time. It would be an opportune time to reflect on the past and to chart our common future. How best than to adopt this message of universal brotherhood and striving to minimise our differences and amplify our commonality.

About the author:

Haji Vazeer was formerly the Chairman of the Kedah/Perlis Bar Committee and former treasurer of the Malaysian Bar Council and a highly respected member of the legal profession.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hj Wazir,

I agree with you completely. It is fantastic that you have also quoted from so many scriptures and faiths.

Do allow me to quote from the Quran also. There are many verses in the Quran that teach the same thing. Here is just one:

"O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others towards you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do" Surah 5:8.

Even the hatred of others towards us should not deviate us from justice (the arabic text says 'adil'). Then how can our hatred towards others deviate us from being adil?

And why hate others? Kalau orang kita malas, pasal apa nak marah orang yang tak malas?