The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), a member of College of Islamic Studies (CIS) in Hamad Bin Khalifa University, cordially invites you to its upcoming public lecture titled:
"The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts: Tensions, Norms and Models"
It will take place on Monday, May 9, 2022 from 6-8 PM, at the Auditorium of the College of Islamic Studies, Doha, Qatar.
This public lecture aims to provide the general public with key notions, tensions and possible models of the moralising state in Muslim contexts. We focus on the specificities of the state’s role in public morality taking into account the contemporary views of Islamic ethics and the interactionist nature of states and religion in the Muslim world (as opposed to the confrontational relationship between state and religion in Western secular contexts). The countries selected for illustration are Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.
- Abdessamad Belhaj
- Takao Kenichiro
- Carool Kersten
- Mohammed Ghaly (Moderator)
UPDATE: Public lecture to be held virtually via Webex
Kindly, use the below link to attend the public lecture from 6 PM to 8 PM (Doha Time)
Webinar password: 1234
Report on Public Lecture: “The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond”
The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) hosted a public lecture on May 9, 2022, titled “The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts and Beyond,” as part of its seminar with the same name, where panelists Dr. Abdessamad Belhaj (UCLouvain, Belgium), Dr. Takao Kenichiro (Middle East Institute of Japan), and Dr. Carool Kersten (KU Leuven) presented their papers set in the morality contexts of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. Moderated by CILE’s Dr. Mohammed Ghaly, this talk enabled members of the public to learn more about the complexities of public morality from an Islamic legal perspective and how it is applied and approached in Islamic societies and states.
The first speaker, Dr. Belhaj presented “The State and Public Morality in Muslim Contexts: Some Theoretical Remarks and a Study of the Moroccan.” He began with a description of state models to affirm the existence of a “plurality of state models and moral orders,” which impact the concept of “public decency” (ḥayāʼ ‘āmm), the definition of which differs from state to state. He also noted the precedence of taʼdīb (disciplining), which is enforced, in Muslim societies and Muslim political thought, by rulers and has evolved to enable “moralizing states.” In Morocco, the state acts in conjunction with religious figures to moralize, performing a role that is supported by the constitution, Penal Code, and Supreme Council of Religious Scholars. Public decency offenses, to what the state defines as “immoral,” range from fines to imprisonment. Yet, what the state deems “immoral” can, at times, be contradictory and is not disciplined in all cases. For example, the Moroccan state has fined visitors for holding hands with members of the opposite sex, but “tolerated” a shared Facebook photo of a kiss between students. In doing so, Morocco toes the line between protecting moral security and maintaining its own legitimacy. Dr. Belhaj concluded by saying that moralization should account for different contexts, values, and peoples, as from an Islamic ethical perspective, the state should not monopolize the role of moralizing, other actors should play a role, and moralizing Muslim societies primarily do so today to maintain their sovereignty.
Dr. Kenichiro offered the second presentation, “Public Morality Facing Modernity in Saudi Arabia: the Case of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.” He began with a historical background of the rise of official Wahhabism and the establishment of Saudi Arabia, maintaining that it is important to recognize that Wahhabism is a political ideology meant to establish an Islamic state and preserve Islamic morality in the public sphere. Indeed, the phrase “Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” (PVPV) is repeated in the Quran and was established in medieval Islamic jurisprudence, fiqh, as hisba, which, according to al-Mawardi, refers to “promoting virtue when neglected.” Ibn Taymiyya also believed that hisba was a “duty” compulsory on all Muslims, especially those with “power and authority.” The Muhtasib agent takes on the role of preserving hisba and used to patrol medieval markets to ensure fair trade, notably economic and financial fairness. Saudi Arabia’s religious police (PVPV) was founded in 1924 in Mecca, after the House of Saud captured Mecca, and was later relocated to Riyadh, where Wahhabism has historical roots. The PVPV has faced many criticisms for its actions, including gender-related ones such as the 2002 girls’ school fire where male firefighters were banned from entering the girls’ school, as the girls were uncovered, and 15 young girls died. Since 2016, under the Saudi Vision 2030, the the PVPV has promoted openness, with its role replaced later in 2019 by the Ministry of Interior. In doing so, Dr. Kenichiro argued, the Saudi state has transformed crimes against religious law, to, instead, become crimes against secular law - religious immorality becomes an issue of public indecency. He concluded by asking the audience, “what should the change from PVPV to public (in)decency be called?” Is this transformation an example of “modernization,” “tolerance,” “secularism,” “populism,” or “openness?”
The final presentation, by Dr. Kersten, was on “Statehood, Religion, and Public Morality in Indonesia.” He began by reminding the audience that Indonesia is an interesting case study as the largest Muslim nation-state, with a populous multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, and where mass Muslim organizations play an important role. While some of these actors became active during the 1920s, the most important doctrine on religion, and morality, was conceived at the beginning of Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch, the Panchasila (Five Principles Doctrine), which mandated that citizens subscribe to one of Indonesia’s five major religions - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, or Daoism. After a discussion of Indonesia’s changing political history, which impacted the roles of Muslim political organizations, Dr. Kersten explained that Indonesian Muslims benefitted from the country’s growing oil revenue, in the 1970s and onwards. This enabled scholarship funding for students to study Islam in major universities located in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the West, and created a new ‘Ulama class in the 1980s, introducing new understandings of maqasid al-sharia (objectives of Sharia). With Indonesia’s 1999 regime change, Islamic leaders also won important political positions, putting political Islamic thought at the forefront of Indonesia’s social and legal systems. In 2005, the Ulama Council declared secularism, pluralism, and liberalism un-Islamic, and, around the same time, “Shariatization” was enforced by some local villages who espoused their view of Islamic morality. Dr. Kersten concluded by explaining that, although new understandings of Islam arose in the 2010s with wasatiya (middle-ground) movements, traditional Muslims are perceived as open-minded and open to religious and ethnic plurality than their modernist and progressive counterparts.
The panelists’ own questions started the question and answer portion of this public lecture, with many of them responses to Dr. Kenichiro’s talk on Saudi Arabia, including discussions regarding the meaning of ma‘ruf and munkar (virtue and vice), the roles modernization, openness, and tourism have had in changing Saudi society’s perception of morality, as well as the state’s transformation between its socially and religiously conservative past to today’s socially and religiously open present. Saudi’s tourism industry, Dr. Kenichiro affirmed, also plays an important role in creating the image of a tolerant state since most tourists visit larger cities and heritage sites, they do not visit, however, small towns and villages which may host individuals who view foreigners as morally indecent.
This discussion then became a question of what other mechanisms could have been used to enforce morality in society, not only by the state but by other actors as well. One panelist suggested sports as a state-monitoring and entertainment-maintaining tool, specifically in Saudi Arabia before its political, social, and cultural reform. Linguistics emerged as another mechanism to maintain morality, with Dr. Belhaj revealing that in Morocco and Algeria swearing in public was normalized in the 1970s, but with the region’s rising Islamic movements that followed in the 1980s and 1990s, and with imported Saudi and Kuwaiti religious television programs, these societies began changing the way they spoke, considering swearing un-Islamic, not of the adab of a Muslim. Dr. Kersten explained that similar conversations about Islamic speech were ongoing in Indonesia, with politicians questioning whether citizens should use Arabic Muslim greetings, or if this would alienate non-Muslim Indonesians.
After that was a question from the audience on the topic of public decency, indecency, and the moralizing state, to which Dr. Belhaj answered that there are conceptual issues in some Muslim states’ legal systems. Most formerly colonized Muslim states built their legal systems on the Napoleonic codes, including their laws on public decency. While these laws have changed in France, Muslim states have not adapted their laws. What makes changing laws more difficult in Muslim societies, according to him, is the concept of ḥayā’, which cannot be disregarded as it is an intrinsic Islamic notion. Further, the modern state plays many roles and maintains different relationships, there are religious ethical opinions and other factors, performed through ethical and unethical means, that preserve moral order and state sovereignty. Since there is no fixed understanding of hisba, even in the jurists’ opinions (ex. al-Mawardi), the more societies liberalize and Westernize, the more they must deal with these, and other issues.
Finally, the concluding question was regarding the religious police’s role in enforcing the state’s morality and understanding of public decency against the state, itself. To this, Dr. Belhaj answered that Morocco has an institution that, while playing a minimal role, sometimes prosecutes corrupt government officials. What is important to recognize is that the state in Muslim contexts is authentic, local, and evolving, and it needs a balance between power and authority. He argued that Muslim states have always had a legitimacy problem, and they use religious authority to justify their legitimacy, creating tensions between power institutions and religious institutions that can threaten the state’s authority. Thus, hisba is a small state sector that offers the image of a state’s religious morality. While Indonesia does not have a national hisba institution, answered Dr. Kersten, its Islamic organizations act as hisba preservers, with non-state actors, notably Nahdat al-‘Ulama, monitoring human rights affairs in Indonesia and publishing annual reports guided by maqasid al-sharia. The state itself, however, has “superficial” notions of enforcing morality, including an anti-corruption governmental committee, segregating the sexes, and observing prayer times.