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.

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 →

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

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“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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My Ustadh: Shaykh Yusuf Motala

I walked into the library of Darul Uloom. Orderly rows of Arabic books, handsomely bound in rich colours framed in arabesque and stamped in gold and silver surrounded me. I looked at the titles around me that ran boldly across the spines of all the volumes. I could see the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Tafsir of Tabari and Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah. 

I slowly walked forward and saw a crouched man before me, sitting cross-legged reading some penned notes on pieces of paper. He raised his head as I came forward, and replied to my nervous Assalamu ‘Alaykum. I sat myself down before him and conveyed Shaykh Asad Madani’s salam to him. A conspicuous smile lit his face and he replied, ‘Alayhi wa ‘Alaykas Salam‘. This was my first meeting with my ustadh, Shaykh Yusuf Motala, who departed this temporal abode on the 10th of Muharram this year. Continue reading →

The Lost Tools of Learning

In days gone by, not very long ago, the adhan, a letter, or human contact were the only interruptions we had to our day. Then came the telephone; but for most people this was not an intrusion. Then, mobile phones appeared, followed by the smartphone. In just a few years the number of notifications and interruptions increased astronomically. No longer is it just a phone call. It is text messages, group chats, Twitter and Facebook. Add to this emails, appointments via a calendar, breaking news and other unimportant information coming in all day long. There is never any silence. Never any solitude. Never any contemplation.

I came across Dorothy Sayers’ article on the Lost Tools of Learning around twenty years ago. Written in 1947, it still as pertinent today as it was then. In her own words:

 

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“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?”

And this was before the invasion of social media. The need for critical thinking skills in ever more important today. I have reproduced here speech her in full for all to read and ponder.

 

 

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) briefly entered on a teaching career after graduating from Oxford. She published a long and popular series of detective novels, translated the “Divine Comedy,” wrote a series of radio plays, and a defense of Christian belief. During World War II, she lived in Oxford, and was a member of the group that included C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. By nature and preference, she was a scholar and an expert on the Middle Ages. In this essay, Miss Sayers suggests that we presently teach our children everything but how to learn. She proposes that we adopt a suitably modified version of the medieval scholastic curriculum for methodological reasons. “The Lost Tools of Learning” was first presented by Miss Sayers at Oxford in 1947.


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The Importance of Learning Traditional Arabic

arabic-home-design-modern-home-design-traditional-arabic-home-designOne of the greatest pleasures that providence has thrown my way is that I was given the opportunity to learn Arabic in the traditional manner studying at the feet of masters. This prodigious good fortune to have inherited from my forebears a language that has two really special features. One is that it is the language chosen by our Lord Most High to be the vehicle for His Divine Message. The other is that during the last fourteen centuries, it has been, one of the great vehicles of thought, communication and culture of all time.

I personally believe that there is no better way that you can spend your time – that is to say, that there is no way you can spend your time more valuably, more satisfyingly, or even, other than in the sense of instant and swiftly-come-and-gone gratification, more enjoyably.

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The Quran – Deciphering Holy Writ

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Literally, the Quran in Arabic means recitation. Fulfilling this purpose, it is perhaps the most recited – as well as the most read book in the world. Certainly, it is the most memorised book in the world, and possibly one that exerts the most influence on those who read it. So great was the Prophet Muhammad’s, Allah bless him and give him peace, regard for its contents that he considered it the major miracle that God worked through him. He himself, unschooled to the extent that he was unlettered, could not have produced a book that provides a ground plan of all knowledge and at the same time is without poetic peer.

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The Importance of Being Grateful

WordsworthThe onslaught of technology has left us with little energy or mental space to ponder over creation. In times gone by, nature spoke the language of God; it still does but we fail to comprehend it. William Wordsworth, the celebrated English poet, repeatedly lamented the loss of the connection with the divine. His ode, ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ begins with these words:

‘There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light

The glory and freshness of a dream.’  Continue reading →