Call for Research Papers
CILE International Seminar (In Collaboration with the University of Cambridge)
The Conceptual Ground of Good and Evil in Islamic Discourse: A Fecund Domain For Ethical Reflections
5-7 October 2022
Between October 11th and 13th, 2022, the Research Center for Islamic Ethics and Legislation (CILE) hosted an international research seminar in collaboration with the Cambridge Inter-Faith Program through the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, titled “The Conceptual Ground of Good and Evil in Islamic Discourse: A Fecund Domain For Ethical Reflections,” and convened by Dr. Feriel Bouhafa (Cambridge University).
Dr. Mohammed Ghaly, CILE’s Acting Director opened the seminar, introducing the Dean of the College of Islamic Studies (CIS) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), Dr. Recep Şentürk. Dr. Şentürk thanked CILE’s leaders and Dr. Bouhafa for hosting the conference. His introductory remarks highlighted the importance of discussing this issue from ethical and legal perspectives, seeing the seminar’s questions as “pressing” and “timely” in the age of post-truth and postmodern perspectives on right and wrong. He maintained that seminar participants were taking part in ongoing interdisciplinary discussions on morality, ethics, actions, and consequences, and that the various perspectives adopted towards these issues can help develop diverse approaches to questions of “right” and “wrong.”
Dr. Bouhafa then thanked the CILE team for their interfaith collaboration with Cambridge University, as well as the CIS Dean and seminar participants. Throughout the seminar, she explained, she aimed to examine the various approaches to “good” and “evil,” and unpack discussions related to ethical issues in Islamic thought - specifically concerning concepts like khayr, shar, ḥusn, and qubḥ, as well as providence and suffering in Islamic fiqh and theology, questions of ḥusn and taqbiḥ, norms in fiqh, animal ethics, and good and evil in poetics.
Dr. Ghaly also thanked the attendees and explained that CILE holds various events including conferences and seminars on interdisciplinary issues related to Islamic ethics and Islamic thought. He also stated that the Center offers many opportunities to its internal faculty and researchers outside CILE to convene seminars and conferences, as CILE supports continuous academic partnership and exchange with researchers internally and externally, and many of CILE’s activities are held in association with other institutions, research centers, and universities.
Researchers have the opportunity to collaborate with CILE through:
- the Visiting Professor program, hosted for one semester, where professors gain research funding, and may also teach a course in the Masters of Arts in Applied Islamic Ethics
- the Journal of Islamic Ethics, published by Brill and indexed by Scopus,
- the Studies in Islamic Ethics Series, published by Brill
- an annual international conference
- the CILE Winter and Summer Schools, with the upcoming 2023 Winter School being held in January 2023
October 11, Day 1: 1st panel on Good and Evil in Theology, chaired by Dr. Robert Gleave (University of Exeter)
The seminar’s first speaker Dr. Safaruk Chowdhury (Cambridge Muslim College) presented on “Suffering, Islamic Consolation Literature and the Process of Meaning-Making.” Beginning by introducing the “meaning-making” approach to understanding suffering, Dr. Chowdhury stated that he desired to move away from the dominant norms of viewing good and evil. Founded by Victor Frankel, an individual achieves meaning through three potential ways in this concept: (1) doing good deeds, (2) encountering a person or event that gives them meaning, or (3) orienting themselves to suffering and adopting an attitude towards trauma. Dr. Chowdhury adopted a meaning-making model developed by Crystal Park, which looks at sentient suffering as the problem of evil, and proposed adapting meaning-making to Islamic ethical, theological, and philosophical approaches to suffering. He problematized the dominant analytic approaches to Islamic theodicy, maintaining that these approaches do not address the suffering individual. By adopting the meaning-making model, he argued, approaching the problem of evil takes various dimensions, and instead of speculating about suffering, Muslims can offer meaning for suffering, rooted in Islamic texts, like consolation texts, psychological literature, and other literature on suffering. This enables patients who have experienced trauma and suffering to undergo self-transcendence and enables them to reassess the concept, thus making meaning, to change how suffering, and ultimately life, is understood by the suffering agent. Dr. Chowdhury concluded by explaining that instead of viewing ethics and suffering from a metaphysical level, he viewed it from an agent-centered level, making the question of “what options suffering patients have” personalized.
The second speaker Dr. Ufuk Topkara (Humboldt University) discussed his paper titled “Pursuing the Good through Responsibility: Islamic ethics engages with contemporary thought.” Dr. Topkara aimed to engage Islamic ethics with modern philosophy by comparing the ethical thought and conception of responsibility in the works of two thinkers, Jewish thinker Hans Jonas and Muslim thinker Taha Abdurrahman. Dr. Topkara explained that examining and comparing contemporary Jewish and Islamic thought, specifically in modern Western contexts, is beneficial because Muslims today face similar sociocultural issues to Jews in the past, due to their minority positions. Arguing that Muslim thinkers can look to Jewish thinkers as a guide for balancing questions of modernity and religious thought. Dr. Topkara then discussed Jonas’s conceptualization of responsibility, explaining that Jonas places emphasis on self-evaluation and critique. He stated that this conception of responsibility, which also extends responsibility to others, the planet, and future generations, aligns with Islamic thought because self-evaluation is essential to Islamic thought and enables evaluation of one’s moral judgment and an expression of human agency. Dr. Topkara then analyzed and critiqued the thought of Abdurrahman, seeing that he aimed to challenge modernity rather than include it in Islamic thought, even though modern Western thought encourages self-criticism and evaluation, concepts that play important roles in Islamic thought. The discussion concluded with the assertion that both thinkers had similar ideas, but that Jonas advocated for the transformation and application of his religious thought, while Abdurrahman seemed more concerned with defending Islamic thought from Western criticism. Thus, he advocated for a re-imagination of contemporary Islamic thought and ethics in a manner that reconciles Western philosophy with Islamic thinking.
The day’s third presentation was by Hiroaki Kawanishi (Tübingen University) on “An Early Modern Discourse of Theodicy: ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī’s Mystical Theology of Good and Evil.” This discussion aimed to engage an interdisciplinary framework in the historical understanding of good and evil, with Kawanishi beginning by explaining evil in Islamic theological metaphysics (kalām), and how al-Nābulusī understood evil in relationship to God. In this mystical understanding, divine will enables evil because some aspects like disbelief and disobedience constitute divine wrath, thus belief (imān) and disbelief (kufr) are related to good and evil, and divine wisdom (ḥikma) plays an important role in relating these concepts to theological understandings of creation and existence. Then Kawanishi described evil and mystical metaphysics, where the universe is seen as perfectly created by God, including good and evil in the universe’s domain. He also explained al-Nābulusī’s theology of evil, based on two methods of knowledge, (1) scholarship through sharia, which informs people of good/bad deeds, and (2) divine truth (ḥaqiqa), which explains how creation comes from God and how God manifests in His creations. Finally, Kawanishi compared al-Nābulusī’s mysticism to Ibn al-‘Arabī’s, explaining that Nābulusīan metaphysics highlights divine will as essential in creation, aligning with divine wisdom to enable a perfect universe; this is because good/evil are understood through the lenses of theology and mysticism, and sharia and ḥaqiqa allow for good and evil which complement one another to enable different aspects of reality and maintain a perfect universe.
October 12, Day 2: 2nd panel on Good and Evil in Philosophy, chaired by Dr. Bouhafa
The day’s first speaker Dr. Ahlam al-Sayyid (al-Azhar University) presented an Arabic paper on “Divine Providence and the Existence of Evil in the World from the Perspective of the Mu‘tazilites and Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna)” (العناية الإلهية ووجود الشر في العالم عند المعتزلة وابن سينا). Dr. al-Sayyid explained that divine providence (‘ināya) relies on the obligation of doing good and divine assistance (luṭf), where God helps humans through “evils” like pain and suffering by giving them intellect, divine revelation, and sending prophets. These three enable humans to use wisdom and perform good actions by knowing God. The Mu‘tazilites saw harm (ḍarar) as bad (qabiḥ) and distinguished between metaphorical evil and real evil, associated with disobedience. She stated that the Mu‘tazilites believed that God only does good, and that people may interpret what God does as “evil,” when it is actually a benefit to them, and that, for the Mu‘tazilites, “evil” is important because it maintains world order. Dr. al-Sayyid also described Ibn Sīnā’s view, which differentiated between three types of evil: (1) natural evil that harms people, (2) moral evil that the mind perceives as harm, and (3) metaphysical evil related to imperfection that prevents the imperfect individual from achieving perfection (kamāl). According to Ibn Sīnā, God is not responsible for evil, humans are, and only eternal good comes from God. Thus, people are not in a position of choosing between good or bad, but of making the world more or less evil. Dr. al-Sayyid then concluded her paper by saying that the Mu‘tazilites and Ibn Sīnā agreed that metaphysical and natural evils exist, but they had different perspectives on these evils, as the Mu‘tazilite theory centered on people while Ibn Sīnā’s centered on God.
The day’s second presentation by Dr. Frédérique Woerther (CNRS, Centre Jean Pépin) was on “Averroes’ Middle Commentary on the Poetics, or the Ethical Education.” In this paper, Dr. Woerther examined the ethical treatment and nature in Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes) Middle Commentary, specifically focusing on the role of poetry in relation to goodness/badness and ethics. She began by explaining that every poem and poetical statement is either satire or eulogy, with satire representing all that is evil and ugly, and eulogy imitating people’s beautiful habits, noble reactions, and fortunate beliefs. Dr. Woerther next described the status and definition of objects imitated by poetry, then moved on to the transformation that accompanies the imitation, either embellishment (taḥsīn) or depreciation (taqbīḥ). This can be caused by the virtuous or noble natures of poets, resulting in poetry inciting people to be virtuous and avoid vices, with virtuous voluntary actions receiving praise (madḥ). Then, Dr. Woerther discussed how virtues are incited in the text, explaining the difference between rhetorical (khaṭabiyya) and poetical statements (shar‘iyya), with the former being more persuasive and the latter more imaginative, both bringing about the virtue of the soul to citizens. She focused on the different parts of eulogy poetics, including belief (i‘tiqād) and imagination, which incite virtues through the soul’s pleasure. A poem’s melody and rhythm play important roles here, as they enable the soul to imitate the person they intend to imitate and encourage youth to be virtuous. Passions and aesthetic pleasure also play an important role in inciting actions through emotions like fear and sorrow, where an individual’s imagination incites virtues and ethical behavior. Finally, Dr. Woerther concluded her discussion by explaining poetical pedagogy’s political nature.
The third presentation of the day was by Dr. Peter Adamson (LMU Munich) and Dr. Bligh Somma (Fordham University) on “Eudaimonism and the Human-Animal Divide in Philosophy of the Islamic World.” Their paper examined virtue ethics and animal ethics in the works of Miskawayh and al-Ṭūsī. First, the speakers described the basic premises of virtue ethics, making the distinction between virtue ethics and consequentialism, because virtue ethics is centered on the virtuous agent, not consequences towards others. Dr. Adamson explained that animals offer opportunities for these agents to display virtuous traits and perform virtuous acts. The speakers then discussed Miskawayh’s understanding of justice, where justice balances the soul and maintains order, explaining that, for him, a just person is just to other beings, including animals, and that animals are subject to human and divine justice. They also stated that animals have some perfections relative to them and, in al-Ṭūsī’s view, there are fields where animals can succeed humans, like the non-rational capacities of the soul. Then Dr. Somma explained Miskawayh’s hierarchy of perfection in animals, which places humans at the top of the hierarchy, and where animals can become closer to humans by imitating them - based on the animals’ characteristic proximity to humans. The speakers also discussed the connections the scholars made between being virtuous to others, including animals, and living a rational, and happy life. They concluded by maintaining that virtuous persons value the features that make lives excellent, through the virtues of mercy, generosity, and justice, and these people are especially virtuous to others, regardless of the identity of the agent - human or animal.
October 13, Day 3: 3rd panel on Good and Evil in Fiqh, chaired by Dr. Bouhafa
The day’s first presenter was Dr. Robert Gleave (University of Exeter) who presented on “Good, Evil and the Theory of mulāzama in Early Modern Shi‘i Jurisprudence.” Dr. Gleave focused on the development of a theory of rational correlation between good and evil, specifically the doctrine of necessary correlation (qā‘idat al-mulāzama), and the legal categories (aḥkām al-khamsa) in Shi‘i jurisprudence (fiqh). The doctrine is categorized into two types, the “strong mulāzama” and the “weak mulāzama.” The strong mulāzama is a rational assessment, which proposes two types of actions, good (ḥusn) or evil (qubḥ), classified into five categories of actions that may receive praise (madḥ) or blame (dhamm) based on the quality of the action (mubāḥ, wājib, mandūub, ḥarāhm, and makrūh). In this understanding, good acts are seen as beneficial (maṣlaḥa), and deserving of praise and reward, while evil acts are detrimental (mafsada), and deserving of blame and punishment from the lawgiver. Dr. Gleave then described the weak mulāzama which is a legal assessment where punishment and reward serve as the basis, and reason informs individuals of who deserves praise and blame while revelation explains who deserves punishment and reward. Dr. Gleave also examined debates surrounding the doctrine which had to do with legal rules and divine rule, as well as potential legal rules resulting from individual reasoning. He explained that there is no correlation between the goodness or badness of an action and the obligation to do it, the doctrine terms that it is good to do a thing, not that the thing is good. He then discussed the correlation between a rational assessment and the law, labeling rational assessments as “apparent,” not “real” because our rational faculties cannot offer definitive judgment on an actual ruling. Dr. Gleave concluded his discussion by explaining that there are various approaches to “rationality” and good/evil in the Shi‘i tradition and that the doctrine, in practice, does not balance with fiqh rulings because the law is determined by the interpretation of revelation, not the rational understanding of benefit.
The second speaker was Dr. Mohsen Javadi (University of Qom) who presented “Three Interpretations of Moral Goodness and Badness in Islamic Philosophy and Theology and Their footprints in the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence.” This presentation covered the goodness and badness of actions from the perspectives of Muslim philosophers, the Ash‘arites, the Mu‘tazilites, and Shi‘is, examining their understandings of reason and the intellect. The Ash‘arite perspective of goodness and badness is considered a divine legislative one that relates moral properties to divine will, and is thus seen as a form of moral anti-realism. Dr. Javadi then described the approaches of the Mu‘tazilites and Shi‘is, which espouse cognitivist and objectivist theories, viewing goodness and badness as related to an act or trait. He also discussed the philosophical views of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) on goodness and badness, who understood these concepts through the public’s determination of good and bad. Dr. Javedi then explained the views of Ākhūnd Khurāsānī, a Shi‘i scholar who defended the Mu‘tazilite approach and viewed morality with respect to the differences in praised or blamed actions, as well as Muhaqiq Isfahani, who defended Ibn Sīnā’s understanding of moral goodness/badness and proposed a “socially and rational constructive” perspective of goodness/badness. Finally, Dr. Javedi concluded his presentation by discussing Ash‘arite and Shi‘i Uṣūlī views on the principles of jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh), divine will, and morality.
Hisashi Obuchi (University of Freiburg), the day’s third speaker, presented “A Nominalist Approach to Goodness (ḥusn) and Badness (qubḥ): ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Samarqandī’s (d. 1144?) Māturīdite Theology, Legal Theory, and Ethics.” He began by explaining the Māturīdī’s rationalist approach to good and bad, which is grounded in reason and often compared to the Mu‘tazilites’ approach. However, Obuchi argued against the dominant interpretations of al-Māturīdī’s understanding of good/bad, which are often realist or divine command theory interpretations regarding ḥusn and qubḥ. He then described the essential premises in Māturīdī theology (kalām) and examined the potential problems with these premises. Obuchi explained that, in this view, the attributes connected to actions are additional characteristics (ṣifāt iḍāfiyya), which are names given because of a link with things and that ḥusn is an additional name (ism iḍāfī) defined as that which is acceptable to human nature, reason, or revelation. Obuchi concluded his presentation by explaining that, for al-Samarqandī, values are not created by divine command, revelation (shar‘) motivates people, and the human disposition (ṭab‘) inclines people to perform an action which is then described as good/bad by others based on reason or their perception, thus goodness (ḥusn) does not truly exist.
The seminar’s final speaker Dr. Felicitas Opwis (Georgetown University) examined “The Scale of Justice in ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s Ethical and Legal Normativity.” Dr. Opwis described how the Mu‘tazilite Shafi‘i judge ʿAbd al-Jabbār saw goodness/badness and understood the relationship between the ethical and legal value of an act. She explained that his understanding was based on how he perceived divine justice, which extended not only to the relationship between God and an individual but also between individuals. ʿAbd al-Jabbār divided acts into neutral acts (mubāḥ) and acts with good/bad attributes, and evaluated acts based on where they deserve praise (madḥ) or blame (dhamm), also considering whether the action was voluntarily and purposefully performed. Dr. Opwis stated that ʿAbd al-Jabbār saw all of God’s actions as purposeful, good, and beneficial, and that human actions should mimic divine actions, only receiving praise and considered “good” when they are beneficial. She explained that this means that his understanding of ethics and the way in which he determines an act’s ethical status is a consequentialist one, where good acts receive praise and reward, and bad acts, which actively result in harm and have no benefit, receive blame and punishment. She also asserted that ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s classification of acts, based on the praise/blame criteria and harm/benefit consequence, was applied to acts of revelation and rational acts. Dr. Opwis then examined his classification of legal norms and legally good acts, which have consequentialist and deontic interpretations. In ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s normativity theory, she explained, humans are obliged to act in accordance with divine commands, and it is morally right to act, which aligns with his conception of moral good and derives from his understanding of divine justice, God’s acts, and God’s goodness. Dr. Opwis concluded by explaining that what adds to the act, its consequence, benefit, and harm is what determines an act’s ethical status, and that praise/blame are functions of benefit/reward or harm/punishment.
Besides the speakers listed above, the seminar was also attended by CILE’s faculty, Dr. Mutaz al-Khatib, Dr. Samer Rashwani, and Dr. Ray Jureidni.
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