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.

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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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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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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Shah Rafi Uddin’s Metaphysics

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John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816-1887) version of Blind Men and the Elephant:

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

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A World Without Islam By Graham Fuller

What if Islam had never existed? To some, it’s a comforting thought: No clash of civilizations, no holy wars, no terrorists. Would Christianity have taken over the world? Would the Middle East be a peaceful beacon of democracy? Would 9/11 have happened? In fact, remove Islam from the path of history, and the world ends up exactly where it is today. Continue reading →

Rethinking Secularism

Excerpted from chapter one of Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011).

We live in a world in which ideas, institutions, artistic styles, and formulas for production and living circulate among societies and civilizations that are very different in their historical roots and traditional forms. Parliamentary democracy spread outward from England, among other countries, to India; likewise, the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience spread from its origins in the struggle for Indian independence to many other places, including the United States with Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, Manila in 1983, and the Velvet and Orange Revolutions of our time.

But these ideas and forms of practice don’t just change place as solid blocks; they are modified, reinterpreted, given new meanings, in each transfer. This can lead to tremendous confusion when we try to follow these shifts and understand them. One such confusion comes from taking a word itself too seriously; the name may be the same, but the reality will often be different.

This is evident in the case of the word “secular.” We think of “secularization” as a selfsame process that can occur anywhere (and, according to some people, is occurring everywhere). And we think of secularist regimes as an option for any country, whether or not they are actually adopted. And certainly, these words crop up everywhere. But do they really mean the same thing in each iteration? Are there not, rather, subtle differences, which can bedevil cross-cultural discussions of these matters? Continue reading →