our moral compass

Our Moral Compass & Multiple Identities

Our Moral Compass & Multiple Identities

Saleha Suleman The writer, Saleha Suleman (Cape Town, South Africa) is a scientist and Public Health specialist and has been involved in leadership and community service positions from a young age.


uman beings are made up of multiple identities. These include our social identities, as well as our gender, race, culture and religion.

When we meet someone for the first time, we are not judged my any of our deeper identities, nor our hidden lived experiences. We are judged by the bits of our identities that a person can see – our genders, race and often, religion.

Our moral compass is naturally shaped by each of these identities, and as a result, shapes our interactions with others. It informs our decisions, guides our actions, and helps us interact with the different aspects of right and wrong on a day to day basis, as well as when we are faced with larger ethical dilemmas.

Moreover, our moral compass shapes the way in which we perceive others, communicate with them and show (or do not show) empathy towards them. We may communicate in a way that fosters certain relationships, or provokes feelings of happiness and satisfaction in our brains. For example, you may come across a homeless person on your journey to work, and decide to give some charity. This will make you feel good, because you know that giving charity is a good deed.

On the other hand, you may be in a public space – by the beach, for example. You hear a group of people making lots of noise, being inconsiderate of those around them – you will immediately judge them for their behaviour, and may even attribute it to one of their perceivable identities. If you have to interact with them at any point, their behaviour will have already swayed your moral compass and that interaction is unlikely to be pleasant. In the same situation, though, it is also possible that your moral compass will guide you towards conflict resolution instead. To try and understand their perspective, to communicate effectively your challenge with them, and to seek a compromise that is suitable to the wellbeing of everyone.

For this reason, I believe that when a person meets me, their interaction with me is likely to shape their idea of what a Muslim is – which means they will keep that preconceived notion, whether good or bad, with them. And that will shape their interactions with others.

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