CILE held a seminar on “Politics and Ethics” 8-10 June, 2013 at its headquarters. The participants focused on two questions:
o What is a civil state with Islamic reference?
o What are the ethical limits on freedom of expression in Islam?
On the first question, the participants confirmed that such state must be a democratic one based on the right of people to choose their ruler. It has to be a state of equality between all citizens, and to abide by values and objectives of Islam.
On the second question, the participants stressed that the freedom of expression is an established right and a divine gift not a human favor. This freedom is absolute by default unless it causes harm to others. They affirmed the necessity of dealing with the matter of freedom ethically, not only as a reaction to some accusations or for self-serving propaganda.
The participants in the seminar are: Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, Dr. Hasan Al-Turabi, Dr. Rajaa Naji, Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, Dr. John Esposito, Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Dr. Abd Al-Majeed Al-Najjar, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, Dr. Jasser Auda, Mr. Chauki Lazhar. It was moderated by Dr. Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti.
The Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), member of Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, held a specialized research seminar on “Politics and Ethics” between June 8th and June 10th, 2013 at the premises of Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies. (See a list of participants annexed to this report). CILE asked the participants to focus on the following two questions:
o What is the civil state with Islamic reference?
o What are the ethical limits on freedom of expression in Islam?
The discussion of those questions led to many other questions focusing on the political values in Islam and Islamic perspective of the state, constitution, law and freedoms in light of the recent transformation into the rule of law and democracy in a number of Islamic countries. The discussions witnessed harmony and agreement on most of the major issues while some others witnessed controversy and intellectual disagreement due to the different approaches to contrasted things examined in this seminar.
Those contrasted things included freedom in relation to respecting others, coercion in relation to persuasion, ethics in relation to laws, equality in relation to peculiarity, religion in relation to secularism, the public in relation to ahl al-ḥal wa al-ʻaqd [i.e., those qualified to elect and depose a caliph on behalf of the Muslim community], etc. Here is a summary of the main issues dealt with in this seminar on which the scholars agreed or differed requiring further research.
What is the civil state with Islamic referential authority?
In answering this question, the participants tackled many important points. They defined civil state with Islamic specification and discussed the basis of citizenship under this state, whether it is religion as in the ancient empires or geography as in the contemporary states. What is meant by “Islamic reference” is it ethical and legal or symbolic and cultural? What is the relation between this and the matter of application of shariah and its status in constitutions and laws?
In their definition of “the civil state with Islamic reference” the participants confirmed that such civil state should have certain characteristics including:
First: It is a democratic state based on the right of people to choose their ruler. It is not a military or theocratic state that is based on any sort of coercion. This fact distinguishes it from the dictatorial kingdoms of the past and authoritarian ones of the present time.
Second: It is the state of equality between all citizens without double standards. This state does not recognize any kind of discrimination between people on the basis of religion whether in terms of human rights such as the freedom of belief and worship or public rights such as the right to assume any political office and post. Some participants criticized the stipulation in certain countries that the president or the ruler of the state must be a Muslim and considered this a kind of discrimination and violation of rights of citizenship. One of the participant scholars agreed to this stipulation in the countries of majority Muslims where the number of non-Muslims is insignificant.
Third: This state abides by values and general objectives of Islam. Its legal and constitutional system depends on the Islamic shariah and this distinguishes this state from other democracies which do not recognize any religious authority (reference) in its constitutional system. People in the Muslim majority countries want a political system compatible with and deduced from the Islamic values and principles even if there is some disagreement on the exact meaning and connotation.
The third criterion raised a lot of important questions on the application of shariah. The participants agreed that most of people in Muslim majority countries want both democracy and shariah and do not find any conflict between them. However, those people hold different opinions concerning the exact meaning of shariah and the limits of worldly and religious matters in the political system.
They also have different views concerning the status of shariah in the constitution and laws and the extent of interference by the state in people’s public and private affairs in the name of religion.
The participants agreed that the connotation of shariah has mistakenly became narrowed in the present time and limited to the legal aspect in Islam or specifically the penal law. This has negatively affected the balance of ethical and political priorities in the Islamic societies. Moreover, it contributed to the state of confusion, chaos and theoretical ambiguity concerning the application of shariah. Among the manifestations of this confusion is mixing up between the ethical aspect of Shariah, which is subject to the authority of conscience and relation between the person and His Lord, and the legal aspect which is regulated by judicial and political authority.
The majority of the participants maintained that it is necessary to distinguish between morality and legality, sin and crime but some others found it difficult to draw a clear line between the two aspects. They stressed on the importance of considering the social, cultural and political context in this regard. It may be better in some cases to leave the matter to the authority of conscience while it could be better to regulate it by law in other contexts where there might be social instability, violation of civil peace or encroaching on the rights of citizens. The participants preferred the view of diminishing the extent of codification and leaving the matter to the authority of conscience where possible to protect people’s freedoms, ensure faithful religiosity and prevent the political authority from dictatorship and authoritarianism.
The participant did not reach a decisive opinion concerning the interpretive and legislative authority but the majority maintained that the whole ummah holds the interpretive authority of the Islamic scripture. It also has the legislative authority through elected representatives of parliament in cooperation with the competent experts and scholars of shariah without giving them the authority to violate the public will and people’s right to choose. On the other hand, some of the participants believed that there should be a kind of legislative authority to be conferred upon the scholars of shariah but they did not precisely clarify the suitable procedures in this regard.
The participants held different opinions concerning the status of shariah in its broader meaning in the constitution of the civil state with Islamic reference. Should it be the sole source, the main source, a main source or even a source? One of the participants held the view that it is not necessary to stipulate the sources of legislation in the constitutions as the society is the holder of both legislative and interpretive authority and its representatives will reflect its value system in the new laws to be enacted.
The participant did not see any wrong in the variation of sources of law in the civil state with Islamic reference. For example, there is no problem in codifying the social custom or deducing from the laws of other countries, be Muslim or non-Muslim, as long as this does not violate any of the established Islamic principles. One of the participants expressed this view by affirming that certain aspects of secularism can be integrated in the political and legal system of this civil state with Islamic reference, but he did not elaborate more on those aspects.
The participants differed in their evaluation of the Islamic political experience in the past where some of them criticized it severely and considered it a retraction from the Islamic political principles after the period of the rightly-guided caliphate. They criticized the process of marginalizing the public, not involving them in the political decision, and discrimination against non-Muslim citizens. Some others called for a fair evaluation of this experience within its temporal context, acknowledging its advantages. The Islamic political experience in the past, they maintained, was not totalitarian like the modern dictatorship.
Concerning the written Islamic political literature, the majority of participants saw it to be almost disconnected from the sources of revelation and major political values of Islam. This literature was affected by the reality of political oppression, so it is a jurisprudence of necessities limited to its temporal circumstances and unsuitable for establishing a state of justice and freedom in our time.
What are the ethical limits on freedom of expression in Islam?
In answering this question, the participants stressed that the freedom of expression is an established right and a divine gift not a favor from any human being to another. This freedom is absolute by default unless it causes harm to others. They affirmed the necessity of dealing with the matter of freedom ethically at the first place not only as a reaction to some accusations or only for self-serving propaganda.
The majority of the participants insisted that Muslims must be ethically consistent in their attitudes, through respecting others’ belief and feelings as they require others to respect theirs. You may not believe in the sanctity of others’ beliefs and rituals but you have to respect their feelings and avoid abusing them. In our contemporary world, ethical consistency is not only an ethical obligation but also an urgent interest to protect Muslim minorities all over the world.
The issue of freedom of belief and killing the apostate has been raised, and the participants maintained that there is a dire need to reconsider the literature of Fiqh in this particular issue to adopt a stance consistent with the Holy Quran and the contemporary international standards. They emphasized on the necessity of abiding by the principle of “No compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256) with all its exigencies in the matters of doctrine, ethics and rituals.
One of the participants distinguished between “non-aggressive apostasy,” which is confined to the negative theoretical stance towards Islam, and “aggressive apostasy” which is translated into a harmful action or saying. This distinction is welcomed by other participants of the seminar as it is very important to face opinion with counter-opinion and face action by action.
The participants numerated a number of ethical limits to freedom of expression including: “public utterance of hurtful speech except by one who has been wronged” (Qur’an: 4:148), defaming and reviling others in their absence, violation of the right of privacy, acrimonious speech, hostile argumentation… etc
The seminar discussed the issue of reactions to insults against Muslims and their various sensitivities. The participants acknowledged that the aggressors are to be blamed and bear the largest part of responsibility, but Muslims should exercise wisdom and self-control, and be more proactive than reactive. Muslims should also make themselves familiar with the exigencies of the freedom of speech even in matters that are traditionally untouchable, and stop exhausting their energy in endless reactions to endless provocations.
Present Context and Future Horizons
Some participants who are involved in political action called for considering the current context of transition in some Islamic countries without sacrificing values and basic freedoms. They also called for distinguishing between the temporary procedures and permanent principles in this context.
This view maintains that some new democracies may resort to certain unusual procedures like depriving the old regime figures from assuming political offices for a certain period of time, and this does not represent violation of the democratic principles. Laws enacted to protect revolutions may be necessary but should be temporary. On the other hand, some views warned against excessive use of such laws that limit freedoms and make constitutional texts irrelevant.
At the end of the seminar, the participants suggested that CILE should pay more attention to some particular issues related to the current transformation in the Islamic world. These issues include:
o Shariah and Freedom.
o Human dignity.
o Al-Shura (Consultation) and its contemporary applications.
o Considering context in applying values.
o Popular will as an ethical value.
o The rule of law.
o Citizenship and Ummah.
o Unity and disagreement
o Multiple Identities.
o National security.
o Development & ethics.
o Muslim minorities.
o Immigration and boundaries.
o Loyalty to state and Ummah.
o Islamic unity.
o Status of Muslims in International order.
o Islamic penal law.
List of Participants
o Sheikh Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi, president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
o Dr. Hasan At-Turabi, sudanese politician and Islamic thinker.
o Dr. Rajaa Naji, professor at Muhammad V University, Morocco.
o Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, ambassador of South Africa to the United States.
o Dr. John Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University.
o Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, President of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies, Malaysia.
o Dr. Abd Al-Majeed Al-Najjar, Member of the National Constituent Assembly in Tunisia.
o Dr. Tariq Ramadan, CILE Director.
o Dr. Jasser Auda, Professor at Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies.
o Mr. Chauki Lazhar, CILE Deputy-Director.
The seminar was moderated by Dr. Mohamed El-Moctar, Associate Professor of Islam and Political Ethics at CILE, and he wrote the Arabic original of this report.