A Forthcoming Book on Philosophical Ethics in Islam…

‘Are there moral road maps?’ A question that has baffled humankind since time immemorial. What is the right, proper and ethical way of doing something? Philosophers, both religious and secular, have toiled and vexed over these fundamental questions. Yet, there are some things that we all unanimously agree, are good, and others, we unanimously agree, are bad; it is the blurry grey areas that make us lose sleep at night – and there is no easy answer.

Historically, it was via the institution of religion that humans first heard the call to ethics and moral responsibility. The Abrahamic scriptures – Genesis and the Quran – tell us that it was Noah who first held humans accountable for their wrong doings.

Then came the Greeks, who, through their ingenuity, converted ethics into a science and philosophy. The forerunners here were the Sophists. Frequenting Athens and other Greek cities they would teach virtue and social morality in the second half of the fifth century B.C. Socrates came thereafter, who through his dialogues, greatly expanded upon the themes of the Sophists until finally Aristotle entered the scene and left his indelible mark on the pages of history with his Nicomachean Ethics.

The story does not end there. Religion makes a second appearance in the forms of Christianity and Islam. This time, Christianity and Islam adorn the philosophical musings of Aristotle and his ilk in religious garb and lay the bedrock of trying to harmonise reason and revelation – their entire focus here being the salvation and felicity of humankind in this world and the next.

During medieval times in the Islamic world, from Baghdad to Cordoba, where there was a constant struggle to try and harmonise reason with revelation, ethical philosophy was also argued, rebutted and debated along similar veins. One group, known as the philosophers, held that reason was the foundation upon which religious dictates needed to be built, and more importantly, conform to.  They thus attempted a Hellenistic commentary of religion. To this group belong: Farabi, Ibn Miskawayh, Avicenna and to some extent, Averroes.

On the other side were the Sufis, who argued that religious rulings are fundamental, and that reason is to be only regarded as a tool to understanding the complexities of the Divine. Prominent amongst this party were: Suharwardi, Ghazali, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Ibn Qayyim, Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah.

Differences aside, what is apparent is that ethics as a science benefitted tremendously from these scholarly debates.

Why then a need for another book on virtue and ethics? Why am I resurrecting out-of-date and antiquated morals in a postmodern era? My answer is simple: a civilization without a moral compass will find itself very soon out-of-date and antiquated.

While life is confusing and challenging, it is these underlying moral foundations that provide guidance without which there is only confusion. My attempt in this book is to primarily lay bare that guide for myself in this ever-confusing world. I have delved into many books of eastern and western origin in English, Urdu, Arabic and Persian. Whilst my search lasted over a decade, it resulted in vain. What I mean by this is that books on this subject have either dealt with the subject from a rational perspective, or from a religious one – none from both. My attempt here is to provide a comparison from both rational and religious aspects to draw a line of comparison and to enable and articulate a clear path of demarcation. How successful I have been in this attempt I shall let the readers decide. Whilst not making any boastful claim on my behalf, if I have helped the reader even the least bit further to understand ethics, or appreciate the scholarly discourse on ethics or catch something of value for their own practical lives, I would claim that my humble attempt is justified.

I have divided this book into four chapters: the first three chapters deal with traditional and contemporary aspects from both religious and rational corners; the fourth and final chapter deals solely with the Islamic ethical framework.

Come read with me…

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Something I wrote to a student of mine:
‘Arabic grammar on its own is not sufficient. You need to widen your reading to include: Arabic grammar, prose and poetry. I’ll give you list of some books I recommend on each below.
Grammar
Sharh Shudhoor al-Dhahab by Ibn Hisham
Alfiyya ibn Malik with its various commentaries – I recommend the one by Ibn Aqeel and edited by Ahmad Shirbasy.

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A Letter From a Servant

 

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Dear God,

They say we keep repeating what we don’t repair. So here I am, in all my broken glory. Precariously placed at the precipice of desperation- by a mere thread, hanging. Stumbling amidst the throngs of life and its responsibility, subconsciously escaping just that. I am reaching the realisation that the bravado I have spent my days carefully constructing is slowly but surely beginning to crack. I am coming undone. And I don’t know how to fix it. My human hands are proving far too weak, as my feeble fingers fail to fill the spaces between the cracks. And I am tired of running. So tired of haphazardly giving parts of myself to all the wrong things- the parts of myself that you have lovingly created just for yourself. Continue reading →

A Day in the Life….

 

 

 

 

Dear Friend,

How are you coping after a month in lock down?

In case it’s any help I thought it might be worth sharing a typical day now that Ramadan and lock down coincide. Let’s look at how I spent yesterday, Monday 27th April:

 

2:30am Alarm goes off. Pray tahajjud and eat sehri: a bowl of porridge and chamomile tea. Read a portion of Quran and Altaf al-Quds by Shah Waliullah.

4.00am Fajr prayer, dhikr, muraqaba and Hizbul Bahr. Sleep.

8:30am At my desk in the study preparing for remote teaching.

9.00am Teaching English for Academic Purposes and Interactive Learning Skills & Communication. This is my first day of remote teaching. Students are in different time zones around the world.

11:00am Meeting with university staff.

12:30am I like to ‘sharpen my axe’ by reading each day, either learning something new or revising something I should already know. Today I spend an hour in the company of David Fromkin, reading his ‘A Peace to End All Peace’,  learning about how the Middle East was created and the Ottoman Empire was brought to an end.

1:30pm Zuhr prayer and reading Quran. This Ramadan I’m reading ‘Tafseer Azizi’ by Shah Abdul Aziz. Originally written in Persian – I have an Urdu translation. What’s unique about it is that it was entirely dictated by him from memory in his latter years as he had lost his eyesight.

2:30pm Another Zoom meeting with colleagues from the University of Birmingham.

3:30pm Spent an hour and a half with the children: This was an eclectic mix of algebraic equations, multiplication tables, binary codes, counting in tens, using hyphens and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

5:00pm Reading Judd Harmon’s ‘Political Thought from Plato to the Present’. This is a history of political thought and how the ancients still influence us today.

6pm Time for a little siesta. Didn’t actually fall asleep but just lay down for 30 minutes.

6:30pm Made black eye beans curry for iftar. Wife made the roti and salad.

7:15pm Asr prayer and then, rather later than usual, time to leave the house for the one hour exercise. How strange the dynamics of meeting people on the street have become. I’m not exactly sure what ‘gorm’ is, but lots of people don’t seem to have any of it. One problem is speed differential. I can cope with the cyclists, as they tend to stay on the road and give you a wide berth. My big issue is with the joggers, especially those who have only started pounding the streets since lock down began. You can tell them by the awkward gait, the red face and the ‘I’m about to have a heart attack’ wheezing. They splutter and snort sending bodily fluids way more than 2 metres. If I see them in time I zip across the road to safety.

The other issue is with millennials who seem to think they are immune to infection and that moving into single file would be so uncool. I’ve adopted a new technique: when I see a young couple coming straight towards me who are clearly not going to move an inch. Out comes the tissue and a combination of a sneeze and a dry cough usually does the trick.

8.30pm magrib and iftar

10.00pm Isha and tarawih

Another day survived…

Wherever you are locked up (sorry, down), stay safe and stay sane.

Until next time

Shazad

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Lessons Life Left Me: A Decade in Retrospect by Sofia Khadim

 

 As any school teacher will tell you, the final furlongs of the year are the hardest. When the teenagers have switched off and despite your best intentions, so have you. The end of December has usually brought you keeled onto your knees- dragging your battered immune system to the finish line. Another year wrapped up. A fresh start on the horizon beckons- new opportunities, new goals, new destinations. But first you just need some sleep.

Calm, collected and recalibrated. After this much needed respite is when I usually look ahead at the blank canvas a new year brings. Like many, an ideal opportunity to renew focus and realign vision. This year, however, in all my tiredness I was caught unprepared. As I sat on the precipice of a new decade, I was asked to list my goals. What do I envision for this crisp blank page soon to be unfolded in front of me? Where do I want to go? As I sat there unpacking the different boxes of my life, I couldn’t help but glance back at the twenty-something who had walked into this decade and how the last ten years had led to the woman sitting here pensively on this cold and windy evening. Continue reading →

Why I Created U-Knowit

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My name is Shazad Khan and I’m passionate about learning and teaching. I founded U-Knowit to provide myself with an online platform to reach people that I couldn’t have reached otherwise. I’ve been teaching a range of subjects for nearly two decades now which include, Critical Thinking, English for Academic Purposes, Interactive Learning & Communication Skills, Arabic and Islamic Studies. I’ve also been blogging at micropaedia.org since 2010.  U-Knowit is basically an accumulation of my struggles, passions, reading, learning and meanderings; all systematically organised into modules for intellectual consumption.

 

But enough about me… I have a question for you – what type of person are you?

Are you passionate about empowering yourself?

Do you want to learn new skills and knowledge?

Do you struggle with the ability to write academically?

Do you struggle with being a Muslim in a Western context?

Do you find yourself in a pickle over pronouns and prepositions?

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Shah Waliullah: The Benefits of Congregational Prayer

Micropaedia

“To save the people from fatal effects that their own customs and rituals can bring them, there is nothing more useful than to make one of the religious services so common a custom and so public a ritual that it may be performed open before everybody by any person; whether he be learned or illiterate. Townfolk and countrymen should both be equally anxious to observe it. It should become a subject of rivalry and pride among all of them, and it should be so universally practised that it becomes a part and parcel of their social setup, so much so that life without it maybe worthless for them. If this is achieved, it will help in establishing the worship and obedience of Allah and will form a very useful substitute for those rituals and customs which could cause them serious harm. Since ritual Prayer is the only religious observance that surpasses…

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Education & Culture

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Sitting in a cafe last night with an old friend and student – Dr Khalid Hussain – we had a very insightful and lengthy conversation about education and its purpose. The conversation was interspersed with sweet cardamom tea and added more flavour to the discussion. It propelled me to write today’s blog.

One of the deeply rooted superstitions of our age is the notion that the sole purpose of education is to benefit those who receive it. What we teach, how we teach, what subjects we encourage, are all utilised for one underlying purpose – “what do the kids get out of it?” And this ignites another more detrimental question – “is it relevant?” – and by relevant they mean “relevant to the interest of the kids.” From these superstitions have arisen a multitude of other problems such as the abhorrence of rote learning. Continue reading →

Hujjatullah al-Balighah Course

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Are you struggling with why Islam has given us ‘strict’ rulings?

Learn the underlying theory of Islam in this course where Shah Waliullah’s masterpiece is explained.

 

Hujjatullah al-Balighah

Like the thread that slips through the holes of scattered pearls and brings them together as one exquisitely beautiful necklace, the Hujjah is what unites the sacred sciences allowing you to appreciate the Shari’ah’s beauty in its entirety.

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