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Detailed report on International Seminar "Key Concepts in the Islamic Ethical Tradition: Semantics, Methods and Approaches"

Concepts and terms are at the heart of all disciplines and are reflective of their theoretical structures and holistic perceptions, serving as gateways to understanding them, but "Islamic ethics" as a major Islamic field is still in need of in-depth studies of its scattered conceptology and terminology in texts or disciplines where ethics constituted their subject matter. The existing models of studies on Islamic ethical conceptology, limited in number as they might be, reflect the importance of focusing on this field and exploring it further, hence the importance of organizing this international seminar which held by The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE) on “Key Concepts in the Islamic Ethical Tradition: Semantics, Methods and Approaches”, 1-3/12/2019, and  hosted researchers and academics from Morocco, Algeria, Norway, Germany, Bulgaria, Syria and Qatar. Theoretical and methodological issues of studying the ethical concepts was discussed, also models or semantic fields of key concepts in texts and the Islamic Ethical Tradition, or interdisciplinary.

The International Seminar opened with a general speech by CILE Academic Director, Dr Mohammed Ghaly, about the center's activities and research interests, and the importance of the Seminar's topic within the center's interests. Then the proceedings of the Seminar were as follows:


First day papers

The work of the first day started with an introductory lecture given by the Seminar coordinator, Abdulrahman Helli (University of Frankfurt) on “Studying the Concepts and the Ethical Theory: Methodological Questions,”. He focused on the importance of studying ethical concepts in texts and Tradition and its impact on studying Islamic Ethical theory, and pointed to some methodological problems that confront the study of the ethical concept, for example the frequency of ethical vocabulary between a scientifically stable term and a problematic concept. He warned in his lecture against studying these concepts with the concerns of modernity that we live in today, and against projecting the present on the past and on texts, and he also drew attention to methodological problems centered in particular on the relationship of the concept to the linguistic dimension and the contextual dimension, whether in structural or historical terms, before, within and after the text, and in Tradition as well. He concluded his intervention by emphasizing that the study of the Islamic Ethical concept is necessary and important, especially in terms of controlling historical development and distinguishing between basic values ​​and advanced practical ones.

The second paper was by Dr. Ghassan el Masri (Free University of Berlin) on "Qurʾānic Ethics, between Epistemology and Eschatology". He examines the difference between semantic and historical etymology and argues for the necessity of combining the two strands in a historical analysis of Qur’anic terms and tried to prove that Qur’an responded to the pre-Islamic culture in its Arabic and theological (Biblical) dimensions, relying in his paper on analyzing the origin of the linguistic significance and the interpretation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an, explaining the philosophical, psychological and epistemological significance of the Qur’anic concept. (Fear and Hope), and the role of knowledge in moral choice, versus the role of divine guidance. In his study, he touched on practical examples of relevant Qur’anic vocabulary, tracing its advanced connotations, and its moral function in the Qur’anic text.

The third paper was by Dr. Lena Salaymeh (Max Planck Institute for Comparative and Private International Law –Hamburg) on "Secular translations of the Islamic tradition (دين): converting Islamic law into ‘sharia’ and ethics". She discussed in her paper the problems that inhere in the translation of the Arabic term dīn as ‘religion’, and the translation of al-fiqh al-Islamī as Sharia (sic.) in English speaking, mainly American, discourses, which she relates to a secular distortion of the law. After giving examples of how secular ideology translates the Islamic tradition, Salaymeh explores the differences between historical Islamic terms and secular terms and concludes that the translated ‘Sharia’ is part of a colonial system of meaning, more so than a reflection of the Islamic understanding of law.

The forth paper was by Dr. Ivan P. Dyulgerov (University of Sofia) on "The Qur’anic Concept of Religion and the Related Principle of Non-Coercion". He explored the semantic structure of the concept of dīn within the Ara-bic text of the Qur’an, and argued for a research approach called “intratextual semasiology” – a method aiming at establishing the semantic organization of the Qur’an, he found out that the Qur’anic dīn appears in three interrelated meanings based on the well-known meaning of “judgment”, the afterworld; the record of the deeds according to which everyone will be judged in the hereafter, and attributed to God Himself – (dīnu Llāhi). It turns out that dīn is in fact an evident manifestation of the humanity’s free will inside the Qur’an, as it comprises in a clearly separate way everyone’s records of deeds completed by following or disregarding God’s law. The only exception are the deeds that stemmed from an act of coercion while a person was acting against his free will.


Second day papers

The fifth paper was by Chafik Graiguer (Ministry of Education, Morocco) on “Insān and Marʾ: study the Moral Essence in the Qurʾān". He focused on the Qur’anic use of insān and marʾ and attempts to match them with the modern notion of the ‘person’ as an ethical subject. Graiguer defines the ‘person’ in the ethical sense of a subject possessing identity, responsibility and dignity. He argues that the word insān in the Qurʾān does not express this meaning, because of the latter’s metaphysical, rather than moral, connotations. It is the notion of marʾ, rather, that is closest to the philosophical concept of a ‘person’, in the sense of a responsible ethical agent.

The sixth paper was by Dr. Rachid Boutayeb (Doha Institute for Graduate Studies) on "Neighborhood as a Moral Concept: A Study in Islamic Heritage and Philosophy". He argued that the ethics of neighborhood, as expressed by monotheistic religions in general, and Islam in particular, establishes an open ethics that does not demand hegemony over the other, and that it would provide an answer to the challenges posed by immigration or multiple societies. He relies on Levinas' theory, and proposed a new approach called "critical ethics", and ha propose that "neighborhood ethics" transcends the closed horizon of identity or identities. He based in rooting the concept of Islamic neighborhood on the foundations of piety and good deeds in the Qur'an where faith is achieved through it, meaning living for others.

The seventh paper was by Dr. Nora S. Eggen (University of Oslo, Norway) on " al-ʾAmāna as a key ethical concept". She examined the notion of ‘social trust’ (Ar. al-amāna al-iğtimāʿiyya) through the contributions of four scholars: Ibn Abī l-Dunyā (d. 281/894), al-Kharāʾiṭī (d. 327/939), al-Māwardī (d. 450/1058), and al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111). By investigating how the four prominent authors negotiated the issue of ‘trust’ in their works, the author sheds light on a network of ethical concerns that relate to elements of ‘trust and mistrust’ in a single semantic field that includes vocabularies pertaining to amāna, tawakkul, thiqa and ḥusn al-ẓann.

The eighth paper was by Aalaa Sarhil (Syria) on “Quranic Ethical Concepts Related to Repelling Harm: Semantic Fields and Their Moral Implications”. She attempted to formulate the Qur'anic view of the morality of repelling harm. Within two levels: The first is theoretical, asserting that harm is a continuous and steady phenomenon, and that repelling and eliminating harm is one of the major purposes of the Qur’an. The second level is practical, it establishes the approach to repel harm according to its type, and it varies according to different cases and people, that all kinds of legitimate repayment are conditional on not being unjust or offensive. She discussed the details by studying the semantic fields related to repelling harm in the Holy Qur'an.


Third day papers

The ninetieth paper was by Dr. Chafika Ouail (The Orient-Institute Beirut (OIB)- Lebanon) on "Towards the Ethics of Hearts: Love as a Moral Alternative in the Sufi Experience". In her paper, she studied the conceptual transition of ethics between Islamic schools and the mystical approach, and tried to highlight the features of that by building the concept of ethics and its ontological source, and Sufism replaced rational consideration with heart consideration or love. She concludes that Sufism provided empirical knowledge bearing ontological features of moral value. As in the moral experience of Al-Nefry, through the model of love as a model of divine ethics.

The tenth paper was by Dr. Hafid Harrous (Dār al-Ḥadīth al-Ḥasaniyya, Morocco) on “Wealth as an Ethical Concept in Sufism until the End of the Seventh /Thirteenth Century”. He traced the meaning of ghina (wealth, sufficiency) as a key concept of the Sufi tradition. He included in his analysis a discussion of the ethics of healing the soul from ailments of material attachment, and the role that the notion of ghina plays therein. His analysis surveys the career of the concept in the Muslim canon before it became a standard concept in the mystical tradition.

The last paper was by Dr. Eisa Al-Akoub (Aleppo University – Syria) on "Al-Shukr as an Ethical Concept in Islamic Sufism: Significance and Perspectives". He analyzed the development of the concept from Arab life before Islam as an opposite of kufr to the development of the concept's movement in the spiritual, mental and behavioral development that the Arabs witnessed since their pre-Islamic ignorance. It came to mean acknowledging the grace of the One God. And starting from the middle of the second century AH, thanking took an adjective standing among the Sufi shrines, becoming, with Al-Ghazali, an adjective for every verb that met the requirements of wisdom.

The final session of the seminar discussed the entirety of the papers of the three days, and the prospects for developing research for later publication in a special issue of the Journal of Islamic Ethics, which is issued by the CILE and Brill.

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